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Easter bread – a Greek tradition

GreekEasterStory&Bread-17

This is the bread traditionally made for Greek Easter, and much like the one our Yaya would bring to the table.

Yaya’s kitchen had a converted wood oven, marbled-linoleum floors, tall ceilings covered in tin tiles, and smelled like nothing you’ve likely ever breathed — but should have! I remember, as a young girl, standing in her kitchen, watching in utter fascination as she – wearing an apron over one of her always-black dresses –  would gently wrestle huge batches of dough, her stocky arms covered in flour, her hair wound in blonde-white braids around her head, her face serene. Four boys in that family, and they ate a lot of bread. And we did too, whenever we visited our Yaya and Papou.

I don’t have my yaya’s recipe for bread. But Yaya didn’t have or use recipes. How to make bread was in her body somewhere. She didn’t think it or measure carefully. She poured from glass bottles, scooped with bare hands, smelled and felt and knew when things were right.

This isn’t Yaya’s recipe, but it’s as close as I could come. It’s a brioche-type loaf – tender-crumbed, buttery, with a hint of anise and orange, absolutely delicious. The red egg is optional of course, but quite pretty nestled in its sesame-strewn, braided nest. If you decide to use one in yours, insert it between the twisted or braided ropes after it’s risen but before the egg-wash and sesame seeds have been added. You can insert the egg either uncooked or hard-boiled, but it’s typically not eaten after its baked with the bread.

In a separate post to follow tomorrow, I’ll be sharing a recipe for a – quick & easy – alternative to this loaf.  It’s a Challah that I’ve made for years using the food processor, but with slight variations for this occasion.) 

Easter Sweet Bread – Tsoureki

the recipe can be doubled for 2 Tsourekia

  • ½ cup warm water
  • the zest from 1/2 large orange
  • 1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ cup warm milk
  • ½ cup unbleached white flour
  • 1 Tablespoon sugar
  •  1 Tablespoon active dry yeast
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cube unsalted butter (1/4 cup) – melted
  • ¼ cup plus 2 Tablespoons sugar
  • 1 extra large egg, well-beaten
  • ½ t. anise extract
  • 2½ to 3 cups unbleached white flour
  •  1 egg white, well beaten
  • sesame seeds for the top
  • 1 red-dyed Easter egg (optional)

Using a microplane zester if you have one, remove only the zest of ½ orange.  Finely chop the zest and add it to the warm water and olive oil in the bowl of your mixer. Add the warm milk and combine well with a whisk. (It’s important that the zest be very fine here so as to fully infuse the bread with delicate flavor, but no chunks of peel. If you don’t have a microplane, I recommend you put the first three ingredients in a blender first, then add them, along with warm milk, to the bowl of your mixer.)

In a separate bowl, combine the ½ cup flour,  1 T. sugar, the yeast and salt. Add slowly to the wet mixture of the previous step, whisking as you go, until all is well-combined. Set in a warm draft-free place to proof for 20 minutes.

Fit the stand mixer with paddle attachment and return the bowl to the mixer. Turn on low speed, and slowly add the flour. (Yaya knew the amount of flour is always variable in a bread recipe. It’s going to depend on how you measure both wet and dry ingredients, the humidity, the size of your eggs, etc. Last time I made this, it took nearly 3 cups, but if you add too much, your bread will be lacking in tenderness, which would be such a shame!  Add the final ½ cup gradually, as needed. You’ll want to add enough flour so that the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl and starts to rise up on your beaters.The final dough should have the feel of a baby’s soft bottom. If that helps??  It’s really not tricky!)

Increase the speed of your mixer slightly and knead for 4 minutes until the dough becomes silky.  (If you don’t have a stand mixer you can do all of this by hand. Because there’s no whole-grain in this recipe, this is not a difficult one to knead – and there are times when kneading just feels so right!)  Take the dough and all its little bits from the bowl, form into a nice ball and return it back to the bowl to rise. Cover  and set in a warm place to double – about 40 minutes. (One nice environment is in your oven – no heat! – just fill another bowl with hot water and put it inside the oven along with your bowl of dough. Or you can rest it on a sunny ledge – if you live in one of those places where the sun shines!)

Turn the dough out onto a very lightly floured board. (Or if you like, you can lightly grease it instead.) Roll into a long rope with your hands. Pick up the two ends of  your ropes and set them down close to you. Now, just draw one end of the rope over the other, then under, then up over again. (All you’re really doing is making two complete twists.) Gently squeeze the ends together.

The halfway mark where you first folded the rope is where the egg will eventually nestle. But not yet. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Cover and set in a warm place to double in size, another 40 minutes to an hour approximately.

Preheat the oven to 325°F.

Gently poke the egg down inside its spot, not too deeply though because the bread will continue to rise in the oven. About half way or a bit less will be good.

Brush the top of your loaf lightly and evenly all over with the egg wash and then sprinkle with sesame seeds. Put in the middle of the oven and bake until golden brown and cooked through, about 45 minutes. Take it from the oven and carefully remove it from the pan so it doesn’t break. Place it on a rack to cool.

If this bread lasts long enough to go stale (unlikely!) it will make absolutely wonderful French toast!

~ ~ ~

For a printable copy of this recipe, click here

~ ~ ~

I’ve adapted the recipe that appears in George and Chrisoula Papas delightful book,

 Papas’ Traditional Greek Cooking! My thanks to them.

41 Comments Post a comment
  1. Lovely fresh photography. I remember doing a feature on Greek Easter breads for “Elle” magazine many years ago, when God was a boy:)

    April 2, 2012
    • Ahh, way back when! I suppose I couldn’t even see a copy of that article since that’s probably even before Al Gore invented the Internet! ;)

      April 2, 2012
  2. I like the inclusion of orange and anise in a sweet egg bread — I make a sweet rye that uses orange and anise, but haven’t tried it in a challah-type bread. It won’t be long now though.

    April 2, 2012
    • Enjoy, Sharyn! This bread comes together very nicely!

      April 2, 2012
  3. I am loving these Greek recipes! And your Yaya sounds like she was a wonderful woman. When I lived in London we had a Greek Deli nearby and they made and sold a loaf (not like challah though) which was covered in sesame seeds and was amazing…

    April 2, 2012
    • Yaya was a “peasant” woman from the old country. And she was one of the brightest, sunniest, most exuberantly affectionate women I’ve ever in my life met! We could use more Yayas in this world! Oh, Ahh, a Greek Deli nearby!? The aromas that must have wafted your way Tanya! don’t they just have a “way” with bread?!

      April 2, 2012
  4. I am definately making this recipe for my guests this weekend.

    April 2, 2012
  5. Don #

    Reading this, it’s like a little piece of our childhood is revived. Though at our station in life, it’s beginning to seem like “Heroic Measures” are involved in that. Not to fret though, if you are a kid at heart it will still bring a smile just to think of it. The clatter of hard Easter shoes on hardwood floors, softened by the barest of carpets and only in strategic spots as we bombed around the big dark house. The altar, the worn newell post, the snow ball flowers. But that smell in the kitchen! True some of it leaked into the dining room, but oh my God, the kitchen! I will never forget it. If you could bottle that you’d be a rich woman! And in a way, that’s what you accomplished here, today. Thanks for that, Sis

    April 2, 2012
    • Clattering hard Easter shoes on hardwood floors! Bare carpets strategically placed! Her altar, incense rising; worn newell posts, patinaed by all those hands! And the smell of Yaya’s kitchen! You remember it as heaven too! Thank you so much for remembering along with me, Don!! Xo sistah spree

      April 2, 2012
  6. This bread was such magic to me as a child. I always wanted to cut through that egg with the beautiful loaf and see the gorgeous red shells splinter apart. I love how you convey Yaya’s warm heart and warm kitchen. Pure gift.

    April 2, 2012
  7. That’s it! I knew I’d seen the red eggs in use before but, for the life of me, couldn’t remember how or where. As soon as I saw this bread loaf, I knew. Friends of our family would give us a loaf of this bread when I was a boy. Your recipe makes such a beautiful loaf of bread, Spree! The addition of orange and anise flavorings sets it apart from most other breads. Well done and thanks for the blast from the past. :)

    April 2, 2012
    • Happy to have nudged the happy memory back! :) That’s a sweet one!

      April 2, 2012
  8. How beautiful this is! It reminds me of my mother’s challah bread…eggy and gorgeous – and the egg! Delightful! Just gorgeous!

    April 2, 2012
    • mmmm, Challah! So wonderful isn’t it! And do you make your mother’s challah now?

      April 2, 2012
      • Oh gosh – that would be a real challenge now wouldn’t it..!! Truth be told, I am a terrible baker (really, it’s just my heart is in other things!) – that’s not to say I shouldn’t try to change that – I know my family would be happy about it!
        Perhaps I should give it a go, it is a very special memory for me, that along with the boiled bagels (she had some good jewish mother recipes)!
        Thanks for the inspiration, I really love your stories that you are sharing along with all these special foods.
        Love it! Hope you are doing well without the hubby so far! ;) xo

        April 2, 2012
        • Yes, I understand the “heart in other things” thing! :) But….with challah, and boiled bagels (and other Jewish mama treats) being such happy memories for you, maybe “somebody’s” kids would like them too? :) Oh, do give it a go, Shira (nudge, nudge!)
          Thank you for the comment about loving the stories! That really pleases my heart! Doing ok without hubby so far but this is going to be a really long separation. First him gone, then me. (sigh) But we’ll survive it and the reunion is sure to be sweet! :)

          April 2, 2012
  9. Delicious, what an AWESOME recipe. I love this post, particularly since I’m really getting into Captain Corelli’s Mandolin at the moment which has sort of immersed me in Cephalonian culture.

    April 2, 2012
    • Aw now that’s a yummy, sunny bit of synchronicity!

      April 2, 2012
  10. Wonderful recipe! here in Spain we use to cook something very similar to Easter sweet bread, it is called “Roscon de Reyes”.

    April 2, 2012
    • Well you must know that you’ve peaked my curiosity and I have to go in search of Roscon de Reyes!! Thank you!

      April 2, 2012
  11. I love a recipe that comes with sweet memories
    My mother and both my grandmothers cook by feeling. I was just telling mum this morning that I would love her recipe for orange anaise cookies and she smiled saying “but you know I don’t use recipes. I will try and estimate it for you”

    April 2, 2012
    • I love that “old” confident way of cooking that our grandmothers (and maybe our mothers) had in the kitchen. We’ve lost a bit of that for sure – but I think (at least in part) we’ve exchanged it for a sense of curiosity and adventuresomeness where our eating’s concerned. We’re eating and preparing foods from all over the planet now, not just the ones passed down from one generation to another within the same cultural traditions. But I love what your mother told you this morning, that she’d do her best to approximate her “recipe”. :) I hope we’ll be seeing that from you one day soon! Thanks Sawsan!

      April 2, 2012
      • I have never thought of it this way, exchanging that confidence for curiosity and adventure :) Thank you Ani

        April 2, 2012
  12. you’ve painted a wonderful picture of your Yaya and her kitchen. One of the areas I lived in London was Greek and Greek cypriot, and the bakers, just heavenly! and then the Turkish Cypriots moved in, followed by the Turks and then the Kurds, and their bakeries were also dleicious, but different. Freshly baked warm Greek bread takes me back :)

    April 2, 2012
    • Claire thanks so much! I appreciate you sharing memories of the Greek and cypriot bakers and their breads. And then the…and then the…Things are ever-evolving aren’t they, and most every culture has their version of wonderful bread! (aren’t we lucky, over and over, that they do!) :)

      April 2, 2012
  13. MakeupByKimB #

    wow! looks so delicious!

    April 2, 2012
  14. Beautiful bread!

    April 2, 2012
  15. And look you put one of those great eggs to use! Looks wonderful.

    April 2, 2012
  16. As someone with Greek heritage, I love love love this bread. It is so perfect for Easter. Forget the ham! I want the bread!

    April 2, 2012
    • I forgot the ham years and years ago! ;) But the bread, I’m with you, never!

      April 3, 2012
  17. I would so love to be able to cook and bake like that.. but, alas, I will always be a measurer. Your Yaya sounds so serene and lovely, exactly how I would imagine her to be.. Your stories are so interesting.. I love how this bread follows the story of the red egg and incorporates it. I think it’s the perfect touch to this loaf:) xoxo Smidge

    April 2, 2012
    • Well I have a sneaking’ suspicion that there are many things you prepare by the seat of your pants, a dollop here, a sprinkle of this, Just a Smidgen of that! :) You always say the nicest things!, Smidge! Thank you so much for such kind words! xoxo

      April 3, 2012
      • I guess I do when cooking, but not baking.. I’m too uncertain or google everything. It’s so easy to be kind to you, spree sweetie:)

        April 3, 2012
  18. Is gorgeous!

    April 3, 2012
  19. Love the use of the egg. So beautiful-looking as always! And I love how it was inspired by your Yaya’s recipe! So sweet.

    April 8, 2012
  20. naturalhealt #

    Reblogged this on naturalhealt and commented:
    This is the bread traditionally made for Greek Easter, and much like the one our Yaya would bring to the table. This is my favorite bread .

    April 8, 2012

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Soft White Bread Rolls « Kerrys Recipes
  2. Easter bread « kerrycooks
  3. The Weekly Dish 04/08/2012 | Pippi's in the Kitchen Again

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