Tsoureki - Greek Hot Cross Buns

The sweet smell of tsoureki baking in the oven is characteristic of Greek Easter. A traditional recipe with mastic is easy to make and easier to enjoy.

Tsoureki is the Greek version of the hot cross bun. Although synonymous with Easter, it is also popular year round and the shiny plaited loaves adorn every neighbourhood bakery window. A slice or two is ideal with boiled eggs for brunch or to accompany a cup of bitter Greek coffee.

Tsoureki are usually plaited but can also be made as round loaves, rings or even individual buns if you like. There are many different versions of the sweet bread and you can substitute grated orange or lemon peel if you can't get hold of the mastic and mahlepi in this recipe. If you choose to do so, a teaspoon of mixed spice is also nice.

The secret to this recipe is to get the temperature of the milk just right. If it's too cold, the yeast won't be activated; if it's too hot, the yeast will burn and the dough won't rise. The milk needs to be tepid or lukewarm - about 20-30 degrees celcius. For the same reason, the butter should be tepid and the eggs at room temperature.

Tsoureki Recipe - Greek Easter Bread with Mastic

Ingredients for 2 Loaves of Easter Bread:
  • 1 kilo (8 cups) strong white flour
  • 2 sachets dried yeast (8 grams each) or 4 tsp
  • 200 g (3/4 cup) sugar
  • 150 g (11/3 sticks) melted margarine or butter, cooled
  • 120 g (4 fl oz) warm milk
  • 6 eggs, room temperature, beaten (plus 1 egg yolk to brush over breads before baking)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp powdered mahlepi
  • 1-2 tsp of ground mastic. ( If you can only find the crystals and need to ground them yourself, add a little sugar to the mortar so the powder isn't sticky)

Making the Sweet Bread:
  1. First of all, dissolve the yeast in the lukewarm milk, add a tablespoon of sugar and set aside for 5 or 10 minutes until it rises and bubbles form. This means the yeast is active.
  2. Then, put the flour in a large mixing bowl and make a well in the middle. Add the dissolved yeast, the melted, cooled butter, the sugar, the salt, the beaten eggs and the spices.
  3. Mix and knead the dough until it becomes smooth. Put the dough into a greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap and towels - the aim is to keep the mix warm so if it's a cool day, wrap the bowl in a towel or two. Set aside for an hour or until the dough has doubled in size.
  4. Preheat oven to 180 degrees C or 350 degrees F.
  5. Knead the dough again and divide into two pieces and then, if plaiting, each piece into three. Plait the breads and leave to rise again for half an hour. Brush with mixture of beaten egg yolk and milk and bake in a medium oven for about 30 to 40 minutes. You will know they are cooked if you tap the base and they sound hollow.

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