Friday, March 4, 2016

Greek Easter Bread

This isn't really the kind of recipe that you whip together in a matter of hours. But since when has homemade bread ever been? 

I cannot even believe that Easter is around the corner. I always hate it when stores fill their display cases with "seasonal" decor like three decades before the "season" is actually upon us. But I digress. Last week, I was gifted a rare opportunity to pay Target a visit ALONE. You young mama peeps out there know the danger in that statement. I entered the store and was immediately greeted by all the Easter fluff which put the holiday on my radar for the very first time - Easter must be approaching!! Sometime within in the next 3 months at least, if I'm going by the store display as my calendar.

As it turns out, Target was right! Further investigation led me to discover that Easter is a mere three weeks away. How did that happen?! And so, I'm doing the unheard of and giving you a holiday recipe before the actual holiday. You're welcome. 

I'll have you know that I sacrificed the grout on my kitchen floor when I made this recipe for the first time last year. You see, the thing is, when a mugful of red dye spills onto the table and then flows like a rushing river upon to the floor, it is nearly unstoppable. It seeps into the grout, creating little channels of red fluid, like a pathway across your kitchen. Despite your very best efforts, no speed of paper towel grabbage will be quite fast enough to put a halt to it's red permanence. Alas, the table your in-law's loaned you will forever show the signs of The Easter of 2015. As will your floor, of course. The area around your kitchen table may look frightfully similar to a florescent murder scene, but don't be alarmed, Easter egg aftermath is like that sometimes.

BUT, if you, unlike me, can dye eggs successfully without altering the color scheme in your kitchen, I assure you that you are competent enough to make this bread. Making yeast bread does take a little bit of practice but I firmly believe it's a skill every person should learn. My grandma had all of us grandkids with our hands in the cinnamon roll dough as soon as we were out of diapers and I'm forever grateful. 

The two main "tricks" (if you can even call them that) I will impart to you are as follow:

1. Use fresh yeast. If you can't remember when you purchased the yeast resided in the back of your fridge, buy a couple new packets for this recipe, just to be safe. Nothing is more disappointing than putting forth the effort to make homemade bread only to have it not rise properly due to old yeast.

2. Finger test the temperature of your liquid. The beginning of nearly every yeast bread recipe involves dissolving yeast in some sort of warm liquid (usually water or milk). You want the liquid to be warm, NOT hot. For best results, dip your finger in the fluid (or run your finger under the water from the faucet) before you add the yeast. It should feel warmer than the room air around you but it should not feel hot enough to burn. If it is too hot, it will kill the yeast. If it is too cold, it won't activate the yeast as desired.

Other than these two pointers, if you follow the recipe, you should do well here. This bread recipe is a show stopper and really doesn't take any special skills (unless of course braiding isn't already in your subset). The loaves expand significantly so make sure you form a braid that is slightly tighter than you want as it will grow in the rising and baking process. 

The egg wash brushed onto the bread at the end gives it a beautiful sheen and the impressive presentation makes it a great option to bring to a family gathering. And most importantly, it's mighty tasty too, slightly sweet yet savory all in the same bite. Be sure to check the bread about halfway through the baking process to make sure it isn't browning too quickly. Cover it with foil as needed to slow further coloring and then cool and serve.

Happy Easter!

PS - I just renewed my food worker card yesterday and feel obligated to make this PSA: the dyed egg is for looks only. Please abstain from eating it, unless of course your aim is to add a bout of food borne illness to your festivities. ;)

Greek Easter Bread (Tsoureki)
(adapted from

2 packets (4 ½ tsp) active dry yeast
2 cups warm milk
9-10 cups flour
1 ½ cups sugar
½ cup water
8 tbsp. butter, melted and cooled
5 eggs plus 1 lightly beaten
1 tablespoon grated orange zest
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
2 hard-boiled red-dyed eggs
2 tablespoon black cumin seeds

In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in warm milk. Stir in 1 cup of the flour and 1⁄2 cup of the sugar, cover bowl with plastic wrap, and set aside for 1 hour. Stir 1⁄2 cup water into yeast mixture. Add butter and 5 of the eggs and mix thoroughly.

Add 8 cups of the flour, salt, the remaining 1 cup of sugar, orange and lemon zests to the mixture and stir together with a wooden spoon. Turn dough out onto a floured surface. Knead (adding more flour if necessary) until smooth, about 10 minutes, then form into a ball and place in a lightly greased bowl. Cover with a clean dish towel and set aside to rise for 2 hours.

Return dough to floured surface. Divide into 6 parts, rolling into ropes about 15" long. For each loaf, tightly braid 3 ropes, then press 1 dyed egg near the end of each braid. Set the bread aside to rise again for 1 hour on a lightly greased cookie sheet.

Preheat oven to 350˚. Brush bread with beaten egg, sprinkle with cumin seeds, and bake until golden, 40–50 minutes, checking after about 30 minutes for excess browning. If the loaves are darkening too quickly, loosely cover with foil for the remainder of the baking time.

Makes 2 loaves

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posted by kelsie