Tsoureki is the traditional Greek Easter bread that's a deliciously soft, gently sweet yeast bread similar to brioche or challah but with it's own distinctive flavor. It's wonderful enjoyed on it's own when fresh and leftovers make fantastic French toast.
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I go through phases when I never make bread, then others when I make it more regularly. While I've been more on the pizza-making recently (like the green pizza, Catalan coca (Spanish pizza) and caramelized onion and gorgonzola pizza I shared not too long ago), it's much the same process so got me back in the swing of things.
I've kept thinking about making a traditional Easter bread the last couple years and never quite managed, so decided to direct my bread-making energy into this Greek Easter bread, tsoureki.
We all instantly loved this gently sweet, tender and lightly aromatic loaf.
One of the nice things I've found about both pizza and bread is the kids love helping. Whether it's mixing, kneading or helping knock back the dough, there is a lot little ones can (sort of) do.
And they really appreciate the pretty amazing transformation. From only a few ingredients, to a small ball of dough, a bigger one, then the end result. It's easy to forget how magical bread making is.
Lots of countries have a special bread for Easter, and many have some similarities to this in that they are a little sweet and rich, with eggs in the dough. Greek Easter bread has a distinct flavor from two traditional ingredients - Mahleb (or mahlepi) and Mastic (affiliate links, meaning we receive a commission on any purchase).
What are mahleb and mastic?
Mahleb is made from the seeds of a kind of cherry with an almost almond-like flavor, and mastic is a resin which actually goes into chewing gum and is also aromatic. Both can be hard to find, but you can buy them online (see links above).
I know Greeks would probably not agree, but I'd say if you only get one, make it mahleb, but both is ideal.
How to make Greek Easter bread
Tsoureki does take a little bit of work, as any bread does, but it's only a little bit here and there between rises. The dough is on the heavier and drier side so you don't get all sticky as you do with some. It does mean you need to allow a little more time for the bread to rise so just make sure you plan for that.
See how it comes together in the short video!
You'll also see many press dyed hard boiled eggs (typically red) into the knots of the dough. If you do decide to do this, just make sure you press them down a bit more after a short while cooking as they may pop up.
Tsoureki has such a lovely, gently aromatic flavor that makes it that bit different from other, similar breads. But it also has all that comfortingly soft and gently chewy texture you might expect. It's a delicious bread that really deserves to be enjoyed more than once a year. But one thing's for sure, make sure you enjoy it at least that once.
Try these other dishes traditionally eaten for Easter:
- Torta Pascualina (spinach and ricotta pie)
- Cozonac (Romanian sweet bread with a walnut swirl)
- Asparagus frittata
Plus get many more Greek recipes in the archives.
You may also enjoy these other similar bread recipes:
- Japanese milk bread
- Pan de Mallorca (Puerto Rican sweet rolls)
- Florentine orange cake/sweet bread (Schiacciata alla fiorentina - a gently sweet bread/cake traditional for Carnevale/Mardi Gras)
Tsoureki - Greek Easter bread
For the yeast starter
- ¼ cup water lukewarm
- 2 teaspoon active dried yeast (or can use instant, no need to activate in water)
- 2 tablespoon sugar
For rest of loaf
- 3 cups bread flour
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ cup sugar
- ¾ teaspoon ground mahleb
- ½ teaspoon ground mastic traditionally used, but if you miss one of spices this would be the one
- ½ orange zest ie from ½ orange, optional
- 4 tablespoon butter melted and cooled
- 2 eggs
- ¼ cup milk ideally room temp
- 1 egg or just yolk or white, if you have one or other leftover from something else
- 1 tablespoon milk
- 1 ½ tablespoon sliced almonds
- Mix together the warm water, 2tbsp sugar and yeast and leave to bubble up while you mix the rest.
- In a large bowl, add the flour, salt, sugar and mahleb, as well as mastic and/or orange zest if using. Mix them together so well combined.
- Add the melted butter, eggs, milk and the bubbled-up yeast mixture to the bowl and mix well. You will probably need to finish it off by hand to get the last of the dry ingredients incorporated.
- Tip the dough onto a clean surface and knead for around 5 minutes to stretch the dough. It should feel pretty dry - if it's a little sticky add a little more flour.
- Transfer the dough to a bowl that has been lightly brushed with oil and cover. Set aside in a slightly warm place for a good 2 - 3 hours until it has doubled in size.
- Once it has doubled, knock back the dough (gently deflate it with your fingers), then divide into three pieces. Stretch out and roll each piece to give you three long 'sausages'. Put the pieces on a baking sheet or piece of parchment to make it easier to transfer. Join the three pieces together at one end then braid them together. Join the other end. Make sure you don't braid too tightly as it still has to rise again.
- Set aside for around another hour to rise again - roughly double or a little less. When near the end, preheat oven to 350F/180C.
- Mix together the egg and milk, beating lightly, then use this to glaze the loaf. Take care not to deflate it as you brush it. Sprinkle over the sliced almonds and then bake for approx 45 minutes, covering with a foil 'tent' after around 20 minutes to stop it browning too much. The loaf should be a golden brown. Transfer to a cooling rack and let it cool to gently warm before slicing.
Adapted from a few sources, in particular the recipes from My Greek Dish and My Little Expat Kitchen.
See some of my favorite cooking tools and ingredients in the Caroline's Cooking Amazon store.
Try these other Easter ideas:
- Broccoli and Blue Cheese Gratin by A Day in the Life on the Farm
- Bunny Cinnamon Rolls by Family Around the Table
- Bunny Mary by Culinary Adventures with Camilla
- Carrot Roll Cake by Cookaholic Wife
- Chocolate Dipped Robin's Egg Cookies by Amy’s Cooking Adventures
- Crunchy Easter Bird Nest Granola Bites by Faith, Hope, Love, & Luck Survive Despite a Whiskered Accomplice
- Deviled eggs with creme Fraiche and herbs by Simple and Savory
- Easter M&M Blondies by Hezzi-D's Books and Cooks
- Easter Mini Chocolate Rum Cupcakes by Daily Dish Recipes
- Egg Benedict Quiche by A Kitchen Hoor's Adventures
- Orange Ricotta Pancakes by Jolene's Recipe Journal
- Puff Pastry Eggs with Ham and Cheese by All that's Jas
- Sausage and Spinach Pie by Karen's Kitchen Stories
- Whipped Ricotta Salad by Sew You Think You Can Cook
For years I was so intimated by this wonderful bread, till I found your easy to follow recipe. I Easter bread came out lovely. Thank you so such!!
This makes me so happy to hear, glad it worked out well for you!
So great!! How long does it last after making?
So glad you enjoyed! It will keep for a couple of days, possibly longer, kept at a cool room temperature in bread basket or wrapped.
This bread looks beautiful! I am hesitant to make something so pretty, but I love your video! Maybe there’s hope for me. 🙂
It's easier than you might think, and this dough is pretty easy to handle. Hope you'll give it a try!
This bread looks fantastic. I love challah and brioche, so I know I'd love the texture, and the flavor sounds so lovely. I've never heard of mahleb and mastic, so I'm intrigued and well get some to try them out. Thanks for the introduction.
Thanks, the flavor is indeed so tasty - definitely worth a try!
Amy's Cooking Adventures
Stunning! This is a must try!
Thank you, it's so tasty.
Colleen - Faith, Hope, Love, & Luck
If only yeast and I were friends...then, I would totally make this and it would come out actually looking like this!!!
Oh dear, I know it can be a bit tricky at times. I have taken to using my oven for rises (turned on low for a minute then off before putting in to be gently warm) which seems to be working not too badly. Hope you might give it a try!
Looks like a delicious bread. We have a large Greek community nearby and I've seen it in bakeries but never tried it. I need to make this.
Thanks Ellen, it is wonderfully soft and has a nicely aromatic flavor. We loved it.
This is a beautiful loaf Caroline. I'm glad you jumped back into baking bread!
Thanks Karen, me too - now to think about the next loaf!
That is a gorgeous loaf of bread. I love the specks of orange zest visible in the unbaked loaf. I can almost smell that loaf baking. YUM
Thanks Wendy, I love those specks too, shame you don't see them in the finished bread but I do love the color of the cooked loaf as well.
It's so pretty!! Almost too pretty to eat. I said ALMOST!
Thanks Christie - it's one to admire while it cools, then dig in 😉
Interesting read! I have never used mastic in cooking. It looks very much like frankincense and myrrh resins, however, which I have used as a raw burnt incense on coals before during the holidays. I never realized any of those could be used in cooking. It does make sense for the Easter bread though, since those type resins have been used "religiously" for centuries, especially in regards to Christianity. I'll have to grab some if I see it around and give this a try.
I do wonder who decided to try cooking with it! But it does add a nice distinct flavor. As I say if you can't find both, or don't won't to fork out for two new spices, then mahleb is the one I'd go for. Hope you give this a try!