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Tsoureki (Greek Easter Bread) Made with All-Purpose Flour

Two Tsoureki Loaves on Cooling Rack

Tsoureki is a beautifully braided sweet loaf similar to brioche and challah but with a distinctive flavor thanks to two unique spices – mastiha and mahlab. Traditionally served on Orthodox Easter and steeped with religious symbolism, this wonderful bread is delicious all year round as an appetizer, side or standalone dessert. 

Ingredients

Scale
  • 1/2 tsp mastiha*
  • 1 1/2 tsp mahlab*
  • 1/2 cup + 1 tbsp lukewarm water, divided
  • 2 1/2 tbsp dry yeast
  • 1 1/4 cup sugar
  • 9 1/2 tbsp butter
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 5 large eggs, divided
  • zest of 1 orange
  • 4 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

*See notes below

Instructions

  1. Using a mortar and pestle grind the mastiha and mahlab together into a fine powder. Set aside.
  2. Mix together 1/2 cup lukewarm water, yeast, and 1 pinch of sugar in a small bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside to let yeast rise. (DO NOT use hot water, this will kill the yeast.)
  3. In a small saucepan over medium low heat combine the sugar, butter, and milk. Stir occasionally until the sugar and butter have completely dissolved. Remove from heat and transfer mixture to a large mixing bowl; let cool. (If the mixture is hot for step 4 it will spoil the eggs and yeast.) TIP – place the bowl in the fridge to cool if you’re in a rush.
  4. Once the butter mixture has cooled enough so you can comfortably hold the bottom of the bowl, add 4 eggs, yeast mixture, orange zest, mastiha, and mahlab; whisk to combine.
  5. By hand or with a stand mixer, knead in flour 1 cup at a time. The dough should be slightly sticky to the touch and not shaggy. If the dough seems too wet and sticks to the sides of the bowl, add extra flour 1 tbsp at a time; if the dough seems too dry and falls apart, add extra lukewarm water 1 tbsp at a time. Once all the flour is added continue to knead the dough for another 5 minutes. 
  6. Shape the dough into a large ball, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside somewhere warm until the dough doubles in size (about 4-5 hours). TIP – if your home is cold preheat the oven to 350 degrees for about 2 minutes, turn off the oven and place the covered bowl inside; be careful not to make it too hot and melt the plastic wrap!
  7. Layer 2 large baking trays with parchment paper.
  8. (For steps 8 – 12 refer to the pictures below for extra guidance.) Gently deflate the tsoureki dough with your hands and place it on a lightly floured work surface. Cut the dough in half and set one half aside.
  9. Working with the remaining half of dough, cut off 1/3 of the dough. You should now have two pieces, a 1/3 and a 2/3 size piece.
  10. Holding the ends of the 2/3 size piece, gently shake the dough to stretch it into about a 2 foot long rope. Shaking the dough instead of rolling it helps tsoureki develop its famous stringy texture. Lay the dough rope in a horseshoe shape on one of the prepared baking sheets.
  11. Shake the remaining 1/3 of dough into about a 1 foot long rope. Place one end of the dough rope on the curve of the horseshoe you made in step 10 and lay the rope down the middle.
  12. Braid the three strands of dough rope together and gently tuck the three ends back under the bread loaf. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and set aside somewhere warm until the dough doubles in size (about 1 hour). TIP – feel free to repeat the oven trick.
  13. Repeat steps 8 – 12 using the other half of tsoureki dough.
  14. Preheat the oven to 310 degrees F.
  15. Whisk together the remaining egg and 1 tablespoon lukewarm water in a small bowl. Using a pastry brush, brush the egg mixture all over the tops of both tsoureki loaves being careful not to deflate the dough.
  16. Bake for 30 – 35 minutes until golden brown.
  17. Remove from oven and let loaves cool completely on a wire cooling rack before serving. Store for up to 6 days at room temperature tightly covered.

Notes

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  • Where to buy mastiha – Mastiha, sometimes known as mastika, is resin from the mastic evergreen, a shrub native to the Greek island of Chios. It may be purchased at Greek or Middle Eastern markets or here on Amazon.
  • Where to buy mahlab – Mahlab is the fine ground pit of a cherry and it goes by MANY names such as mahleb, mahalepi, and mayleb depending on where in the world you are. It may be purchased at Greek or Middle Eastern markets or here on Amazon.
  • No mortar and pestle? – Try using a coffee grinder to grind the mastiha and mahlab together, just  make sure to clean your grinder before and after.
  • How to knead dough – Kneading tsoureki dough is just like kneading any other bread dough. Gently punch the dough into a flattened oval shape, fold the dough crosswise, and repeat.