Easter Tsoureki (Τσουρέκι)

I`d like to say it`s my favourite, but there are so many treats at easter here………!

Ingredients

1 1/2 kilos good quality all purpose flour

100 g fresh yeast

250 g butter

1 cup of milk

7 small to medium eggs + 1 for glazing

400 g sugar

1 tsp crushed mastic

1/2 tsp mahlepi (an oriental crushed spice) *

1 scant tsp salt

Grated rind of a lemon

Flaked almonds

Procedure

Dissolve the yeast in half of the milk, slightly warmed.  Add 4 heaped soupspoons from the flour into the dissolved yeast and milk mix, stir well and leave somewhere warm to activate the yeast.

When it is ready, it will have increased in size and will have bubbles on the surface.

Tsoureki (4) (Small)

In a saucepan, gently heat the butter, sugar, remaining milk, the mahlepi, half of the mastic, salt, lemon rind to melt, add the beaten eggs, stirring constantly, keep the heat low, the intention is not to cook the mixture, just to melt the butter and mix the ingredients into a thick liquid.

Tsoureki (2) (Small)

Melt a good dollop of butter in a small pan and have it by your side, to coat your hands with as you`re kneading the dough.

Put the remaining flour into a large bowl, make a well in the centre and pour in the activated yeast mixture. Give a quick stir and then add half of the other liquid mixture, stirring well.

Pour the remaining liquid mixture into the flour, dipping your hands in the melted butter, begin mixing.  Here you may think things have gone wrong, as the mixture can be quite sticky.

Tsoureki (1) (Small)

Persevere, coating your hands with the melted butter and kneading till you have a good consistency.  If the dough does not “come together” and remains sticky, then sprinkle a tiny amount of flour over the surface of the dough till it becomes workable.  Once well kneaded, place back into the bowl, cover and leave to rise.

Tsoureki (Small)

It should double in size.  It will be easier to work with now.  Divide the dough into four portions to make four loaves.  You can either plait each loaf, or roll into a snail type shape.  Brush with beaten egg, sprinkle over the remaining crushed mastic and press flaked almonds onto the surface.

Tsoureki (5) (Small)

You can add a dyed egg into the plait if you want.

If you have a keen oven, lay the loaf on greaseproof paper and bake at 170 degrees for approx. 30/35 minutes.

Tsoureki (3) (Small)

These loaves freeze perfectly, just wrap extremely well with cling film (when cooled obviously), and pop into a freezer bag.

Notes

*Mahlepi is the spice which gives this bread its characteristic smell and fills the house with a delightful aroma as it is baking.It is available in all supermarkets here in Crete.

Flour varies greatly in quality, so you may find the dough will require less or more than the amount stated.

Also the size of the eggs plays an important role.  If you use eggs the size of ostrich eggs, then the mixture will be runny, so adjust the number accordingly if you do not have small to medium sized.

I have tried the recipe with dried yeast, but I felt the results were not as good.  I used 45/50 g dried yeast instead of fresh.