Bread – it’s the stuff of life!
Whilst the UK was last week celebrating Easter, Cypriots were still dealing with the hunger pains of Lent and getting ready for this weekend when they celebrate Easter according to the Greek Orthodox calendar. With that thought in mind it seems appropriate to discuss an Easter bread. We will leave Flaounes the glorious Cypriot recipe, used to create a celebratory cheese- and egg-stuffed pastry, for another day.
Today we will major on Tsoureki, a plaited Easter bread easily recognised by the red coloured eggs set on top of the loaf by bakers in Greece and Cyprus. The bread is flavoured by Masticha, small and very hard little pieces of resin known as tears of masticha. It adds a distinctive flavour akin to vanilla that’s unlike anything you’ve tried before. The resin is gathered from the masticha tree and ground in a mortar and pestle with a little sugar to overcome the difficulty of effectively grinding them into powder.
The plaited Easter bread has a texture similar to brioche. It is delicious and goes well with a coffee or tea.
If you feel like having a go at making your own Tsoureki, here are the ingredients and the method:
(Makes 4 loaves of Tsoureki )
- 8 cups of strong flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/2 cups lukewarm milk
- 3 small packets of dry yeast
- 1 1/2 cup butter
- 1 1/2 cup sugar
- zest of an orange and lemon
- 4 large eggs
- 1 egg beaten for brushing over the bread
- 4-5 tears of Masticha
- Flaked Almonds and 8 red dyed hard boiled eggs for decoration
- Dissolve the active dried yeast in lukewarm milk with the sugar and 1 cup of the flour. Cover and leave for about 30mins until bubbly.
- Melt butter in a saucepan over a low heat, add the orange and lemon zest and Masticha.
- Take off heat and beat in eggs and leave to cool.
- Mix the yeast mixture with above mixture and gradually add flour (with salt) and cover and leave for about 2 hours (until doubled in size).
- Knock back dough on a floured board and cut into 4 pieces. Leave to stand for a few minutes and shape each piece into 3 sausage like shapes (about 10 – 12 inches long).
- Secure them together at one end and then braid and secure at the other end.
- Place the 4 Easter breads on a baking tray, cover and leave to rise for about 30 minutes.
- Mix the remaining egg and lightly brush over the 4 pieces of bread. Sprinkle with flaked almonds and gently push two red eggs into each loaf.
- Bake in a preheated oven for about 1 hour or until lightly golden and then sprinkle with sugar and leave to cool.
If it feels like too much work to create your own Easter bread, pay a visit to a Cypriot neighbour who will doubtless have some and will be thrilled to share with you. Whatever you do, don’t miss the chance to join in what is the major celebration of the year on Cyprus. Yes, Easter is bigger here than Christmas!
Photo credit: Cyprus Tourist Guide