Tsoureki is a sweet, Greek, Easter bread that, traditionally, was baked to end the Lenten fast. It is often eaten for breakfast, accompanied by cheese. The traditional way of preparing is by plaiting and inserting red-dyed eggs at either end before baking, though it can also be shaped into an Easter crown.
Tsoureki (Sweet Greek Easter Bread)
500ml (2 cups) milk
2 x 7.5g (1/4 oz) sachets of active, dried, yeast
950 to 1050g (8 to 9 cups) white bread flour
350g (1 3/4 cups) sugar
125g (1 cup) ground almonds
1 tsp salt
finely-grated zest of 1 orange
1 tbsp ground mahlepi (mahlab cherry pits)
1 tsp ground mastic (optional)
50g (1/4 cup) butter, melted
5 eggs, well beaten
fresh eggs, dyed red with food colouring (optional)
1 egg yolk
2 tbsp milk
65g slivered almonds
Warm the milk to blood heat then pour into a bowl and stir in the yeast along with 100g (1 cup, scant) of the flour and 50g (1/4 cup) of the sugar. Cover with clingfilm (plastic wrap) or a damp cloth and set aside to prove for 60 minutes.
Sift 850g (7 cups) of the remaining flour into a bowl and mix in the ground almonds, salt, remaining sugar, orange zest, mahlepi and mastic. Form a well in the centre and pour in the yeast mixture, along with the melted butter and eggs. Working from the outside inwards, bring the flour into the wet ingredients, stirring the mixture with your fingertips until a dough begins to form.
Turn the dough onto a floured work surface and begin kneading and adding more flour, as needed, until the dough is smooth and elastic and no longer sticks to your hands (about 12 minutes). Shape the resultant dough into a ball, place in an olied bowl (turn to coat) then cover with clingfilm (plastic wrap) or a damp cloth and set aside in a warm, draft-free, spot to rise until doubled in volume (about 80 minutes).
After this time knock back (punch down) the dough then divide into six equal-sized pieces. Take three of the pieces and roll into ropes about 5cm (2 in) in diameter and 30cm (12 in) long. Lay the three elongated pieces next to each other and pinch together at one end. Braid the strips at the other end then pinch the ends together to seal. Transfer to a parchmntn paper lined baking tray and, of desired, nestle a red-dyed egg at either end of the braid. Repeat with the remaining dough pieces to make a second loaf.
Cover loosely, then set aside to raise in a warm place for about 80 minutes, or until doubled in volume.
Beat the egg yolk with 2 tbsp milk and use this mixture to glaze the tops of the loaves. Scatter over the slivered almonds, then transfer to an oven pre-heated to 180ºC (360ºF), setting the loaves on a low shelf.
Bake for about 40 minutes, until golden brown (but check after about 20 minutes to ensure the loaves are not colouring too quickly — if they are drape kitchen foil over the top and continue baking) and the loaves hound hollow when tapped on the base.
Transfer to a wire rack and allow to cool before slicing and serving.