Tsoureki – Greek Easter Bread

I know that it’s still way over a week until easter, but if you want to make something special, you need some time to prepare and gather ingredients.

Have you ever cooked or baked with mastic? It’s a resin obtained from the mastic tree (Pistacia lentiscus). It is also known as Tears of Chios, being traditionally produced on the island of Chios in Greece where it’s harvested in tear shaped droplets.

It has a special flavor, slightly bitter at first, and then very refreshing and slightly pungent, like pine needles with a hint of frankincense. In Greece, it’s used to flavor chewing gum or toothpaste, and traditional bakers use it in all kinds of baked goods and desserts. One of them is Tsoureki, the traditional Greek Easter Bread.

Tsoureki is usually braided, but I decided to made six small loaves in my burger rings to share the special taste with others. I used the rings to fit them all into the oven at once.

I got the source recipe from mygreekdish.com, but since I don’t use commercial yeast, I turned it into a sourdough recipe and used my lievito madre instead. The tsoureki is a very rich dough, so make sure to use your lievito at absolute peak. For maximum performance, feed two times in a row.

For two braided breads (or six half pound breads) you need:

  • 320g lievito madre
  • 150g milk
  • 135g butter
  • 230g sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 550g all purpose flour
  • 10g mahlap (aka mahleb)
  • 3g mastic (tears or powder)
  • a bit of dried lemon peel (half a teaspoon or so)

Use pestle and mortar to grind the mastic with a spoonful of the sugar. That way it will grind into a fine powder without getting sticky.

Mix and knead everything until you get a smooth and stretchy dough. It’s a very rich dough and can easily take about 20 minutes until your dough passes the windowpane test.

Let the dough rise for an hour at room temperature, then 2 hours in the fridge. That way the butter firms up again and the dough handles better.

Divide the dough into 6 portions.

Then shape the portions into balls and place them in burger rings for mini loaves. Or shape the balls into ropes to make two braids with 3 strands each. As you know, I made six tiny loaves.

I placed them in the burger rings to keep them from spreading out.

Cover the breads to keep them from drying out and let them rise at room temperature overnight. If you braided your bread, you need to wait for full proof or the bread will rip.

I baked mine a little bit before they reached full proof, and they ripped. But as I made the small, round loaves, it didn’t matter that much.

To bake, pre-heat the oven including baking steel / pizza stone to 200°C / 390F. Brush your loaves with a bit of milk or cream and sprinkle with shaved almonds.

Then bake at 175°C /350F for about 20 minutes for the mini loaves or 40 minutes for the big braids. Internal temperature should ideally be 90°C / 195F.

Let your breads cool on a rack and enjoy them sliced up with a bit of butter or drizzled with sugar syrup.

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