This Greek Easter sweet bread with olive oil is light, fluffy and stringy. Ground mahlepi makes it extra fragrant and irresistible.
If you ask me, tsoureki is one of the best inventions of humanity, it is the bread of all breads, and the food I would choose to eat if I had to survive only on one thing. Tsoureki may be the classic Greek Easter sweet bread but it is needless to say that you can (and should!) bake it any time of the year! I love tsoureki so much that I have tweaked the traditional recipe and made a Black Detox Vegan challah bread with olive oil and a goji berry, saffron, and white chocolate babka. The first is extra fluffy, fragrant, healthy and detoxifying while the second is more rich, healthy-ish, stringy, and with a very flavorful filling made with tart goji berries and sweet white chocolate.
My mom didn’t make Easter bread every year because she preferred making kalitsounia (sweet Cretan cheese tarts) and koulourakia (a type of Easter cookies). Nevertheless, there were plenty of times when we’d make them, but as many Greek housewives, she used to make a certain mistake. She used a very large recipe, one that required two or even three kilos of flour, because she wanted to offer one to each of our friends and relatives. Using such a large recipe has the disadvantage that you can’t knead the dough well and long enough in order for the gluten to develop the right structure for the bread to be fluffy, soft and stringy. At the end of this post, I give you a recipe with amounts that most stand-mixers can handle, because you have to knead it for a long time!
The traditional recipe for Greek Easter bread (tsoureki) uses ground mahlepi. Mahlepi, or Mahleb or Mahlab is an aromatic spice with an aroma that will remind you bitter almonds and cherries. It is made from the seeds of a species of cherry, the Mahaleb or St Lucie cherry. If you can find mahlepi where you live (probably in stores with middle eastern foods) make sure you use it! To take advantage of its full aroma, I like to buy whole mahlepi seeds and ground them in a mortar, but since this is too exhausting, it is probably best that you buy some fresh ground stuff. Ground mastic (a resin from the mastic tree) is also used in tsoureki but though I generally like its aroma, I’m not very fond of it in this recipe, so I’ve skipped it.
The tradition requires that you bake the Easter bread with some dyed eggs pressed into the dough. I don’t like boiled and then baked eggs and I also don’t like to waste food, so I prefer shaping my bread into a wreath and decorating it with dyed eggs after it’s baked 8)
And speaking of dyed eggs, did you know you can dye them with food coloring? For each cup of water, I used 1 tablespoon of vinegar and about one-quarter of a teaspoon food coloring. I dyed them by immersing the eggs in tall glasses and in pairs of two, and I used brown eggs for the red ones and white eggs for the rest. The results, as you can see, are not perfect but I still believe they turned out fine.
A good Tsoureki is soft, fluffy, moist and stringy, all at the same time! How is this possible? It all depends on the gluten. That’s why I can’t stress enough how important it is to buy a high-gluten bread flour and to knead the dough for a LONG time. The more you knead the dough, the more the gluten strands will expand and create a network making the bread soft and elastic (you may also notice that it will get lighter in color). Resting the dough in the fridge overnight, after the first rise, also helps for better structure.
- If you don’t have any olive oil you can use butter instead. Afterall, the traditional recipe is made with butter. Just make sure it is at room temperature.
- Hot liquids or direct contact with salt can kill the yeast. Make sure the milk is lukewarm and the salt is thoroughly mixed with the flour.
- Proof your yeast to make sure it is active: In the bowl of your electric mixer mix the milk, the yeast, 1 tablespoon sugar and 2 tablespoons flour. The mixture should start to foam after 5-10 minutes. If it does, then continue with the rest of the recipe.
- When you shape the bread, after the first rise, spray it with water to improve the elasticity of the surface.
- Other flavorings you can use: lemon zest, ground cloves (just 1/4 of a teaspoon), almond extract, ground mastic
Similar recipes you may like:
- 1/2 cup (125 grams) warm milk
- 1 1/2 tablespoons (15 grams) active dry yeast
- 4 cups (560 grams) bread flour or high-gluten flour (you may need 2-3 tablespoons more)
- 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (130 grams) white sugar
- 2 tablespoons (40 grams) honey
- 1/2 teaspoon fine salt
- 1 tablespoon ground mahleb
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon orange zest
- 3 large eggs, 180 grams
- 1/2 cup (100 grams) olive oil
- 1 tablespoon milk
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Some blanched sliced almonds, optional
- Transfer the milk, the yeast, one tablespoon of the sugar and two tablespoons of the flour to the bowl of your electric mixer and stir to combine. Let it rest until foamy.
When the mixture is bubbly and active, add the rest of the flour, the sugar, the honey, the salt, the spices, the olive oil and the two eggs. Break the third egg into a cup, beat it with a fork and add half of it to the bowl with the rest of the ingredients. Reserve the other half for the egg wash.
- Using the dough attachment, knead the dough until very soft and elastic, about 20 minutes. The dough may be a little sticky, but that’s ok. Restrain yourself and don’t add any more flour.
Let the dough rest in a warm place until tripled in volume (a closed oven with only the oven-light on, should do the trick). It may take 2-5 hours depending on the yeast and the rest of the conditions. Only when the dough has tripled in volume, you will oil your hands and knead it once again on your counter. If it is still too sticky, use the extra flour.
- You can give the bread whatever shape you want, or even bake it in a loaf tin. If you want to make a wreath, divide the dough into three equal parts and shape long strings, about 25-inches long (65 cm). Braid the strings and join the edges to create the wreath.
- Transfer the wreath on a baking pan lined with baking paper and let it rest in a warm place until almost doubled in volume (about 1-2 hours)
Preheat your oven to 356°F (180°C).
Beat the reserved half egg with 1 tablespoon milk, 1 teaspoon sugar, and the vanilla and gently brush the surface of the bread. Then, sprinkle it with some sliced almonds. Bake for 30-40 minutes. If you notice the surface getting browned too quickly, cover it with a piece of foil.
Take it out of the oven and let it rest on a rack to cool. Eat!
Tsoureki should be stringy and moist inside (but not underbaked). Having said that, take care not to overbake it because it can dry out easilly.
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