It is Good Friday in Greece and, traditionally, yesterday was the day everyone made their tsourekia. Naturally I couldn’t resist, EVEN given the fact that the calorie count in tsourekia is off the charts. Quite frankly, they are worth each and every one of them. I never even count.
If I had to describe tsoureki (tsourekia in plural), with a gun to my head, I’d have to say that it’s a brioche-like bread, that’s had its flavor, not only enriched, but blown off the roof with the use of middle-eastern spices, like mahlab and cardamom, and mastic. It is breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert, it can be eaten at any time, with your coffee, after lunch, FOR lunch, dinner, whenever you feel like it… Traditionally, you just keep eating until there’s no more to be eaten.
You can even fill it with chocolate, chestnut cream, white chocolate, marmalade, and when I was very little, I used to slice it, put mayo on it and a slice of ham and make myself a sweet-savory snack. Your imagination is the limit!
I made a version last year, but this is version 2, it is slightly different, and it tastes a little different too. I suggest you try them both, but I think I’ll go with this version next year, unless, of course, I discover a new one, which I will post immediately.
In Greece, tsoureki is the gift you give to your koumparous (the parents of your godchildren, that is, yup) or your in-laws, or, generally, your family, so I made several batches of these.
Here are a few things you should know:
- Heat is your friend. Keep your utensils warm, especially if you’re using metal ones (plastic utensils don’t really get cold, do they?), you don’t want to “scare” your dough. Also, keep your house warm, so that they’ll rise faster. Mine rose in less than an hour and a half, the first batch just spilled over the pan. Of course they will rise no matter what, but why wait 3-4 hours? Just keep your place warm and it’ll happen.
- DO NOT burn your yeast. You want the water you use for it to be warm, but not very hot, and the same goes for your flour mixture. If you burn your yeast, the dough will not rise.
- DO NOT cook your eggs! You’ll add them in the butter-sugar mixture when it is not scorching hot, remember, you’re not making an omelet, you’re making tsoureki! Same with your milk, keep it warm, but not hot!
- After you’ve added everything to your flour mixture, forget that flour exists. You will not add anymore, ever again. Not even for kneading. If you need something to work your dough with, that will be butter. Or oil, but please, opt for butter. If you put more flour in it, it will be yucky…
- OF COURSE you can do all the kneading with the dough hook of your electric mixer. That’s how I made batch #2. Just start on low and gradually go higher, and beat for about 10 minutes. It’s cleaner, less messy and, frankly, less tiring. My mom did it by hand just to show you how it’s done, in case you have no electric mixer, OR wanted to know how it is traditionally done in Greece.
- Oh yes, my mom is my guest star, every time I make tsourekia. Yup.
- A word about cooling and storing them: Once they are out of the oven, leave them for a couple of hours, to cool. Once they are completely cool, turn them over, because you don’t want the moisture they leave on the parchment paper to soften the bottoms. Don’t do this too soon, because they will flatten, they forgive nothing! Yes, I’ve had it happen to me, yup. Once you see that the tops are nice and firm, flip them over and leave them for a while. Also, change the parchment paper, or remove it completely. You don’t want all that moisture around them, what good can it do? This whole time, cover them with a clean tea towel, no plates, now fancy covers above them, only a tea towel. Now, once they’re all nice and done and you’ve started eating (we started eating them long before they were nice and done, don’t feel guilty if you do it too), wrap them in plastic wrap. You’ll thank me. They will never get hard and stale if you do that. Well, “never”… you know…
If you haven’t eaten them in a couple of days, know that you can keep them in the fridge, for about 10 days, or in the freezer for… uh… a month? Even longer? I don’t know why you’d keep them for so long, but you know…
I’ll say this here, and pretend I’ve never said it: I wouldn’t put them in the fridge. They never last longer than three or four days, anyway, but if they did, I would just give them around, or soak them in milk and have them for breakfast, I would do anything but put them in the fridge. It’s a shame.
OK, let’s do this!
What you’ll need
For the yeast:
100 gr. fresh yeast
2 1/2 Tb sugar
80 ml warm water
For the dough:
1.1 kg hard flour
250 gr. butter
300 gr. sugar
350 ml warm milk
5 eggs (3 whole eggs and 2 yolks)
3 drops mastic
1 tsp ground cardamom
2 tsp ground mahlab
Zest of one orange
What you’ll need to do
First make your yeast: Crumble the yeast, add the sugar and the water, mix it around a little, cover it and leave it in a safe, warm place for about 10 minutes.
For the dough: First grind the mastic droplets with a little sugar (I did that in the food processor). Add the rest of the spices and cover. We don’t want that smell to escape!
Now, melt the butter with the sugar and let it cool a little. Beat the eggs and add the milk. Once the butter had cooled down a bit, add the egg mixture. Zest one orange in the flour and put the flour and the spices in a warm (not hot!!) pan or a huge – huge bowl, add the egg mixture, make sure it’s all not very hot and then add the yeast mixture. Start kneading. Knead, knead, knead and knead some more. You can always use an electric mixer, of course, in which case let the mixer do all the work and you can clean up your kitchen! ;)
Once you are satisfied with your dough, cover it up and leave it for a few hours, or until it has risen, about three times its initial mass.
Now butter your workstation, empty the dough and start to form your tsourekia. Remember to stretch and swirl, that’s how you’ll get the beautiful threads inside your tsoureki. Cut the dough in three equal pieces (or four, depending on how many you want to make) and cut each piece in three equal pieces. Weave them, always moving downwards. Secure the edges and place them on a baking sheet that you’ve covered with parchment paper. Preheat the oven at 160 degrees Celsius (about 315 Fahrenheit) and leave the tsourekia rise a bit more.
Now, beat an egg with a pinch of sugar and brush your tsourekia with the mixture. You won’t believe it, but you need to let them rest a bit more after that. Give them, say, five more minutes. Sprinkle some almond slices or some sesame over them if you want (I strongly suggest it, but some people don’t do it) and put them in the oven.
How long you’ll bake them depends on how big they’ve become. An average tsoureki takes about 40 minutes. Mine were really really big, so they took 50-55 minutes in total. You’ll see them: they have to be deep brown and a knife has to come out clean when you stick it in the middle of the tsoureki.
Once they are ready, take them out and cool them as I’ve mentioned above.
Try your tsoureki with anything, really anything. Most people have tsoureki with their coffee – strike that, everyone has tsoureki with their coffee, it’s the best. If you want to add more sweetness, just add nutella or marmalade, anything works really!
I do hope you enjoy them. My best wishes for a very happy Easter to everyone who’s celebrating with the Greeks, and a very happy everything for everyone else! May we all be healthy and do this again next year!