Wednesday, 18 April 2018

TSOUREKI - GREEK EASTER BREAD, POLITIKO TSOUREKI, SWEET AND FRAGRANT


Topped with cinnamon sugar and sliced almonds


All Greek Easter bread is sweet and
fragrant, and there are lots of tsoureki recipes out there. I use two recipes, one of which makes a brioche style of tsoureki which requires a pretty decent amount of butter. 

The recipe in this post a politiko tsoureki, meaning a tsoureki made in the style of Constantinople; it's more breadlike but very, very flavourful and it comes together with great results!!!


Once tsoureki is taken out of the oven and has cooled down it can be stored in plastic bags and frozen for up to two months. No worries. I always make mine ahead of time for the holiday. No reason to rush around at the last minute. So many other things to do right before Easter!

If you cannot find mahlepi and/or mastic, leave them out and for the mastic substitute with two teaspoons of vanilla extract. You will still get a very fragrant bread. To tell you the truth I am not a big fan of mastic, therefore I use it sparingly. Mahlepi is the seed found in the wild cherry fruit. It has an exceptionally aromatic flavour. I love it! However, if you can't mahlepi, think about using a little almond extract. Just a little, because almond extract is potent in flavour. Nothing is written in stone, and there's no reason to miss out on making tsoureki just because certain spices are not available. So ... get set, go! Good luck!!!




Ingredients:

2 cups milk, lukewarm
3 envelopes active dry yeast: 7grams (1/4 ounces) per envelope 
7 cups bread flour
1 cup bread flour for the starter
1 cup bread flour to use during kneading 
*Total bread flour needed is nine cups
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon salt
Grated rind of two oranges
Grated rind of two lemons
140 grams (5 ounces or 10 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and cool to the touch
5 eggs well beaten
3 mastic tears (no more than three), finely ground
1 tablespoon finely ground mahlepi

For the egg wash:

1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons milk  

Mix together the beaten egg and the 2 tablespoons of milk.

Toppings: sesame seeds or almonds, or a little cinnamon sugar


This is the sugar mixed with the orange and lemon rinds, the mastic and the mahlepi: mixing them with the sugar gives fantastically tasty results!
Directions for making the tsoureki:
  • The best way to prepare mastic for baking is to pulverise it with a mortar and pestle. Place a tablespoon of sugar in a mortar and add the three tears of mastic. Use the pestle to smash up the mastic, mixing it with the sugar. Mastic flavour is strong. For this recipe, I wouldn't use more than three tears. Even if you like the mastic aroma,  too much of it will produce bitterness rather than give fragrance to your baked goods. 
  • In a large bowl mix together seven cups of bread flour and 1 teaspoon of salt. Set it aside. 
  • Prepare an extra cup of flour to have at the ready. Set it aside. You should now have eight cups of flour set aside. 
  • Heat the milk to lukewarm. It mustn't be hot at all because it is to be mixed with the yeast, and if it's too hot it will kill the yeast.  
  • Make the starter: 
  • In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment stir together the milk and yeast until the yeast is dissolved.  
  • Slowly add one cup of flour. This will be the ninth cup. 
  • Add 1/2 cup of the sugar. 
  • On low speed, fold until well incorporated, then turn off the mixer, remove the attachment, cover and let rest in a warm place for one hour. 
  • When the hour is up you will have your starter! Fit the dough hook attachment to the mixer. 
  • To the yeast mixture add the orange rind, lemon rind, mahlepi, and mastic. 
  • Add the rest of the sugar, the eggs, and the butter.
  • Stir on low speed and start adding the reserved flour about one cup at a time. 
  • When all seven cups are incorporated beat for about 15 minutes until the mixture has turned into a nice dough which slides away from the sides of the bowl. The dough should be a little sticky. Turn off the mixer.
    The dough right after being taken out of the mixer.
  • Use flour form the cup which was set aside. You may need to use all of it or you may not: sprinkle flour on a clean surface and move the dough on top of it. 
  • Begin to knead gently until the dough gets nice and silky. It should not require too much more kneading. The dough will absorb as much of the extra flour as it needs.
  • Place the dough into a large bowl along with any excess flour left on the kneading surface. The excess flour will keep the dough from sticking to the bowl.
  • Cover well and let rise in a place free of drafts until it is doubled in volume. It should take three hours at most.
  • Punch down the dough, take it out of the bowl and using a knife divide it into pieces. With the amount of dough in this recipe, you can make two really large tsoureki, or three smaller ones. The decision is up to the baker!
  • Keep in mind that in order to form tsoureki you'll have to plait the dough as though you are plaiting a braid: three pieces of dough to one braid!
  • Let's say you want to make three Easter breads. Cut up your dough into three equal size pieces.
  • Take one of the pieces and cut it into three equal pieces. Roll each piece into a rod shape. When you have three rods, go ahead and braid them. Now one of your Easter breads is ready! Repeat the process until you are done. You'll have three Easter breads! 
  • Place each braid of tsoureki on a parchment covered baking sheet. If you have a large baking sheet, you may be able to fit two braids on it.
  • In a draft-free environment, let the braids rise until they have doubled in size. While they are rising, keep a light kitchen towel over them.
  • Once doubled, gently, so that the dough doesn't deflate, brush the braids with the egg wash and sprinkle with sesame seeds or almonds. The almonds can be sliced, slivered, or you can use whole blanched almonds.
  • Bake in a 350F/180C preheated oven for about 40 minutes or until golden. The baking time really depends on the amount of dough used per Easter bread.  
  • Let cool before eating. Keep in mind that while the tsoureki is fresh out of the oven it's fragile and can break. Give it about half an hour to an hour of cooling time before you handle it.
I would call these the "money shots!" Not too sexy looking photographically speaking, but what is shown are the fibres created in the dough. The presence of a good fibre means a good tsoureki. This is the type of airy and fibrous appearance a good Easter bread should have!