Anyone who’s been around a Greek family at Easter knows that there are many traditions that continue down through generations. The dying of bright red Easter eggs (the egg is the symbol of rebirth and the red color signifying the blood of Christ) is one of them. Embedding some of the bright red Easter eggs into a tasty bread braid, ring or wreath creating Greek Easter bread is another one.
We want to share with you a traditional but slightly updated recipe for the beautiful Tsoureki, Greek Easter bread that we’ve made into a wreath and adorned with a bright red Easter egg. It’s something we’ll have on our Easter table and if you want to make it yourself, you can too!
Greek Easter Bread (Tsoureki) Recipe
1 cup butter
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar + 1 teaspoon (for yeast)
5 packets (.25 oz each) yeast
1 cup milk (can use 2%) + 1/4 cup for egg wash
12 cups (approximate) of flour + about 1/2 cup for yeast starter
1 cup lukewarm water
1 teaspoon salt
6 large eggs + 1 egg for egg wash
1 Tablespoon vanilla, anise, orange, lemon or almond flavor extract, as you choose (traditionally, mahlepi, a flavoring made from cherry pit was used, and you may still use it if you like, but some people don’t like the taste)
Sesame seeds (or almond slices if using almond flavoring) to sprinkle on top
1 red dyed hardboiled egg per bread, or more depending on your decorating preference
1. Dissolve yeast in 1 cup of lukewarm water, warm to the touch but not too hot or the yeast will die.
2. Stir the yeast around to integrate into the water and add 1 teaspoon of sugar.
3. Add about 1/2 cup of flour to the mixture, enough to make a thin batter, and stir together ( you can use a whisk if it’s too clumpy).
4. Set the yeast mixture aside. While you’re working on the next few steps, the yeast will get bubbly.
5. In a stand mixer, cream the butter sugar and salt.
6. When creamy, add the eggs, flavor extract and milk. Mix on medium speed until well blended.
7. Into the mixer, start with about 2 cups of flour to avoid making too much of a mess.
8. Next, add the yeast mixture and mix thoroughly.
9. Change your paddle to a dough hook for easier work now, and begin adding flour about a cup at a time until the mixture becomes thick and dough-like. When it pulls away from the sides of the mixing bowl (rather than sticking to it), the dough has been kneaded sufficiently for your bread.
10. Form a large ball with the dough (roll around and pat with your hands) and place the dough into a lightly oiled, very large bowl, cover with a clean kitchen towel and put in a warm place to allow the dough to rise for 2-4 hours. It will rise faster in a warmer place.
11. When the dough has at least doubled in size, remove it from the bowl and cut into pieces, depending on the size bread you would like to make.
If you want large bread, cut it in half; for medium, cut into quarters. For smaller bread, you can cut into 6 pieces. (We’ve done quarters here).
12. Then cut each piece into thirds and roll the thirds into long logs of dough of relatively equal size.
13. Pinch the ends of the three pieces together and braid, alternating the three pieces, right over the one you just moved to the center, then left over the next new center and repeat until you have braided the entire length.
14. If you want to make straight braids of bread, just pinch the last ends together. If you want to make wreaths, bring the ends together into a circle and pinch the top ends with the bottom ends to connect both ends and close the circle.
15. Now you can put either some flour or even better some parchment paper onto large baking pans and put the bread on them. Leave enough room between each bread so that it will able to expand without crowding the other breads.
16. Cover the bread with a clean kitchen towel and keep in a warm place for 1 to 2 hours until they have risen again to about 1.5 times their current size.
17. Mix 1 egg with 1/4 cup milk and blend. The milk will help your crust turn brown.
18. When your bread has risen, remove the kitchen towel and brush each bread’s top and sides with the egg wash.
19. Sprinkle with sesame seeds or sliced almonds, as desired. You can also leave the bread without garnish, if you prefer. Add the egg decorations. You can place one red egg in the center of a wreath, or snip parts of a wreath with scissors and push 3-6 eggs into the cradles you have made. Be sure that you don’t crack the egg, but you must push it into the bread or it will roll off during baking. For straight braids, you can add one or more eggs by snipping through the center of the braid and likewise making one or more cradles. The bread will expand slightly during baking to hold the egg when it has been properly placed.
20. Bake the bread in the oven at 350 degrees F for about 45 minutes, until the bread has expanded slightly and the top is golden brown.
21. Remove from the oven let cool. Once cool, you can wrap the bread in plastic wrap and save for use on your table or give to friends as gifts!
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THE QUICK BITE: We want to share with you a traditional but slightly updated recipe for the beautiful Tsoureki, Greek Easter bread that we’ve made into a wreath and adorned with a bright red Easter egg. It’s something we’ll have on our Easter table and if you want to make it yourself, you can too!