Sunday, March 21, 2010

TSOUREKI or GREEK EASTER BREAD


This tsoureki will take eight hours to prepare, including the six hours needed to let the dough rise. The recipe yields one large loaf or two medium ones. You can whip up this bread at Easter or at any time of the year.  Give it a try. It's not difficult to make at all. You just need a free afternoon. The recipe makes a very fragrant and tasty tsoureki.  I guarantee that you will be overjoyed with the way it tastes!  Plus, there is no kneading by hand, as is the traditional way.  Here, the stand mixer takes over this job.  
Other than for Easter, when it's usually served with coffee at the end of the meal, tsoureki can be eaten year round as a snack or for breakfast. Try it toasted with some orange marmalade on top.



Ingredients:

  1. 3 tablespoons active dry yeast
  2. 1/4 cup lukewarm water
  3. 2 tablespoons plus 6 cups all-purpose flour, plus more flour for dusting of your work area.
  4. 2 tablespoons plus 1 ½ cups sugar
  5. 1/4 teaspoon salt
  6. 4 eggs plus one egg white
  7. 2/3 cup milk, lukewarm
  8. 14 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  9. 1 teaspoon mahlepi, ground up (see note)
  10. 1 or 2  pieces of mastic, ground up (see note)
  11. rind from one large lemon 
  12. 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  13. butter or vegetable oil(not olive oil) for greasing bowl
  14. parchment paper for the pans
  15. Sliced or slivered almonds to be used for topping
  16. 1 beaten egg mixed with 2 tablespoons milk to make egg wash for topping



Directions:

Reserve the 2 tablespoons flour and sift the 5 cups of flour with the mahlepi and mastic.

In a medium sized bowl mix the yeast with the warm water. Add the reserved 2 tablespoons flour, 2 tablespoons sugar and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Stir, then let it stand in a warm place until the mixture bubbles and foams, about 10 minutes. 

In the bowl of an electric mixer and using the paddle attachment, beat the 4 eggs and the egg white. Add the remaining 1½ cup sugar, the milk and the melted butter.  Beat well, on low speed.  Stir in the yeast mixture and then add the vanilla and lemon rind. Keep beating on low speed until incorporated.
From now on, you will need to use the dough hook with your electric mixer, so go ahead and change to it.  

Add the flour, one cup at a time, beating well on low after each addition.  Keep scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Gradually a dough will begin to develop which will be sticky at first.  Keep beating on low, adding flour just until the dough stops clinging to the sides of the bowl. 


Here the dough is starting to separate from the sides of the bowl.  Just about another minute before it's done.




When the mixing is finished the dough should be soft and really pliable.  Not sticky, not hard. Remove it to a floured surface. 
  

If you can pull the dough easily as I have done in the picture below, the right consistency has been achieved.  The dough is not sticky, and not hard.



Form the dough into a round shape.

Place the dough into a large bowl that has been greased.  

Cover with a piece of plastic wrap and one or two or three clean towels. Leave it in a warm place free of drafts. 
Pretend the dough is a baby and wrap it really well. Protect it as a mother would!

Let it rise until it has almost doubled in bulk, about 3 hours. Punch it down and turn it over in the bowl. Cover it again with the plastic wrap and the towels. Let it rise again until it has almost doubled in bulk, about 2 hours.

Outside weather such as humidity, heat, or cold influence the way tsoureki dough rises.  It's more temperamental than regular bread dough because tsoureki contains heavier ingredients such as eggs and butter. If it's cold outside, it might not rise as required. If its too hot, the dough could be sticky and require more flour. If it's humid.... well you get the picture. Just do your best and keep in mind that practice makes perfect.  A friend of my mother's decided to buy an electric blanket to cover her dough with so that it can rise at the optimal temperature. She reports that all her tsoureki troubles are now over, and her dough rises beautifully. Perhaps I should follow her example and buy an electric blanket.  We'll see.  
This recipe, even though it requires patience during the rising, makes a very fragrant and tasty tsoureki. I guarantee that you will be overjoyed with the way the Easter bread tastes.



Once the dough has risen to double its size flour your work area and prepare to roll it out. Separate the dough into 2 even sections.  Take each section, cut it in 3 pieces, and roll each piece into a rope about 14 to 15 inches each.  

Braid the ropes by starting at the middle of the braid.  

The method of braiding is the same as braiding long hair. Don't braid too tightly so that it can bake evenly.



At this point preheat the oven to 350° F.  You will want a really hot oven. 
Place each braid on a cookie sheet covered with greased parchment paper.  Let rise about an hour until it has doubled in bulk. Brush it with the egg wash and sprinkle it with the almonds.



Bake 30 minutes until it's golden in color. Keep an eye on the oven because baking time varies with each oven.  If the tsoureki begins to brown before it's done, top it with aluminum paper while it finishes baking. 


Let the Easter bread cool for about 20 minutes to half an hour before slicing. 
Tsoureki can be stored in the refrigerator.  It can be eaten cold, at room temperature, or even toasted. You can even freeze some to have on hand later on.





Note: Information about mahlepi is found here.   Information about mastic flavoring is found here:

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