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Greek Easter bread (Tsoureki)

Yes, it's laden with tradition and symbolism, but tsoureki is also a really tasty treat, writes Bianca Tzatzagos.

You'll need

500 gm (2 2/3 cups) plain flour 21 gm (3 packets) dried yeast 125 ml (½ cup) milk 2 eggs, lightly beaten, plus extra for brushing 50 gm caster sugar Finely grated rind of 2 oranges 2 tsp mahlepi (see note) 75 gm softened butter, coarsely chopped, plus extra to serve   Red Easter eggs 3 eggs Greek red egg dye (see note)


  • 01
  • Combine flour, yeast and a pinch of salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook, form a well in the centre, set aside. Add milk, eggs, sugar, orange rind, mahlepi and 100ml lukewarm water and mix until a soft dough forms (5-7 minutes). Gradually add butter, a little at a time, mixing until a smooth soft dough forms (3-5 minutes), place in a lightly greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap and set aside until doubled in size (40 minutes-1 hour).
  • 02
  • Meanwhile, for red Easter eggs, follow instructions on packet to cook and dye eggs then set aside to cool completely.
  • 03
  • Knock back dough and divide into 3 pieces. Roll each piece into a 45cm-long cylinder, plait pieces together, then bring ends together to form a wreath and squeeze to join. Place on an oven tray lined with baking paper and set aside to prove slightly (20 minutes).
  • 04
  • Preheat oven to 180C. Brush wreath with eggwash, gently push red Easter eggs (unpeeled) into wreath and bake until wreath is golden and cooked through (25-30 minutes). Cool on a wire rack, serve with butter. Greek Easter bread is best eaten the day it’s made.

Note Mahlepi is available from Greek delicatessens. You can substitute a flavouring such as mastic or cardamom. Red egg dye is available (usually around Easter time) from Greek and Italian delicatessens. Instructions and the quantity required vary from brand to brand.

Few other recipes require you to place a whole hard-boiled egg, dyed red and with the shell intact, into a soft dough and bake it. None, in fact. What could be the point?

Blame tradition. Greeks are sticklers for it, especially in the diasporas, where we tend to hang on to customs more vigorously than they do in the motherland. Red eggs (the red symbolising Christ's blood) spell Easter to every Greek person. So adorning a tsoureki (or Greek brioche) with them is like putting ornaments on a Christmas tree: without them, it's just a plain old tree. And indeed, this fragrant bread is baked - sans red eggs - at Christmas and New Year and other celebrations, but it's at Easter that it really comes into its own. (Easter is by far the most important and most enthusiastically celebrated religious festival on the Greek Orthodox calendar.) It's most often baked several at a time and given as a gift to family and friends, a blessing for the festive season. Among the countless variations on the recipe are the addition of chocolate as an icing or filling, a scattering of flaked almonds or sesame seeds over the top, or the addition of spice to flavour the dough.

While cardamom and mastic are sometimes used, the most popular flavouring is mahlepi, an aromatic spice ground from the seeds of the European cherry Prunus mahaleb. A small amount goes a long way, not just in the slightly floral flavour of the bread, but in filling Greek kitchens with the warm, nostalgic smell of Easter.

A plaited loaf or wreath is the most common shape; the plait helps to segment the golden crust so the tsoureki can readily be pulled apart into morsels. The ring shape, like the red eggs that adorn it, relates to Easter's theme of renewal, making the bread ideal for breaking the long Lenten fast. It's light yet luxurious, perfect to eat after the midnight Church service on Easter Saturday, and it eases Orthodox Greeks into Easter Sunday's lamb-on-the-spit after many meat-free weeks. But custom alone doesn't explain why the tsoureki has endured across generations and continents - it's all in the taste.

At A Glance

  • Serves 10 people
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At A Glance

  • Serves 10 people

Featured in

Apr 2011

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