Tsoureki (Greek Easter Bread) is a sweet, rich yeast bread with hints of citrus and a unique Mediterranean spice. The symbolism that it represents makes this bread perfect for Easter but you can make it any day of the year. The dough is sticky and can by challenging to work with but it creates a wonderfully soft and fluffy texture. See our tips in the notes for working with the dough.
Makes 2 Loaves – 9 to 10 cups bread flour, divided (1080 to 1200 grams) – 4 teaspoons instant dry yeast – 1 -1/2 cups sugar, divided (300 grams) – 2 cups warm milk (472 grams) – 2 teaspoons ground Mahlab (optional) – 8 tbsp. butter, melted and cooled – 5 eggs (room temperature) well beaten – 2 teaspoons salt – 2 tablespoons grated orange zest – 1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
1. Add 2 cups of the flour, all of the yeast and 1/2 cup of the sugar to a bowl. Next, add the warm milk and mix until all the lumps are gone. Cover the bowl and let it stand for 30 to 45 minutes. This will develop the sponge and give the yeast a jump start.
1. Add the melted butter and eggs and mix well. Pour 5 cups (600 grams) of flour, the salt, remaining 1 cup of sugar, ground Mahlab, orange and lemon zest to the dough and mix thoroughly to blend all the ingredients.
1. Slowly add the remaining 2 to 3 cups of flour to the dough and knead for about 10 minutes. The dough will be very soft and sticky but will get easier to work with after a long knead. It will also become firmer after it proofs. If you are tempted to add more flour, wait until after it proofs.
Form into a ball and place in a lightly greased bowl. Cover with a clean dishtowel and set aside to rise for 1 ½ to 2 hours.
1. Place the dough on a floured work surface. Divide into 6 equal sections, rolling each section into ropes about 15" long. For each loaf, braid 3 ropes, then press the eggs into each braid. Set bread aside to rise again for 1 hour on a greased baking sheet.
The bread itself is laden with symbolism. It has a three-strand braid to represent the Holy Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The hard-boiled eggs get dyed red to symbolize the Blood of Christ. The egg is also a symbol of renewal and rebirth.