Tsoureki – Greek Braided Easter Bread with Aniseed and Orange Blossom Water
by eat in my kitchen
Patience is a tricky thing, I feel it growing with every year I gain, but it still manages to drive me crazy at times. After about 1 year of working on my cookbook, developing the recipes, cooking, baking and shooting them all by myself, then going through a long process of filling the pages with my little stories connected to each and every dish, I feel a rising impatience to bring this project to an end. Month after month of working closely with my fantastic team in New York, Munich, Berlin, and London, having a daily exchange and constant flow of ideas between me and my editors, photo retoucher, and book designer; all this leaves me hungry. I want to hold the fruit of our work in my hands so badly. Our friends constantly make little jokes about me as they only see me with my laptop, glued to my chair at our long wooden dining table, which I turned into my office, or busy in the kitchen. To them, it seems like me, the chair, and the table have become one in the past year.
In German, there is a beautiful word called Vorfreude, which you could translate to the happy excitement you feel connected to a positive event lying in the future. This Vorfreude keeps me going. Sometimes I just feel my heart jump, when I think of the dedication I wrote on one of the first pages of my book for someone who means a lot to me, when I virtually thumb through the pages of my book which is still a file on my computer, or when I first saw the cover design, which I’ll share with you soon! And I’m willing to wait for these moments, I’m willing to wait to make this book better and better with every correction, addition, and change we make, and then one day, it will be printed and I’ll look at it and remember all the excitement, happiness, and frustration that’s woven into every single page of it.
Baking can be a good teacher for life and a master when it comes to patience, especially baking with yeast. It will be Easter Sunday in a week and a sweet braided yeast bread is one of the most delicious and fragrant treats that one can have on the breakfast or coffee table on this special day. But this bread takes its time, you can’t really rush – although I still try and succeed by letting the dough rise in the warm oven. It’s a little quicker but you still have to be patient. This year I go for a traditional Greek Easter bread called Tsoureki. It’s soft and fluffy, enriched with butter and eggs, and flavoured, often refined with mahlep, a ground spice made of wild cherry seeds, and mastic, sun-dried resin. More modern variations feature vanilla and cardamom but I was after a different flavour combination: aniseed and orange blossom. Years ago, I spent a couple weeks on the Greek island of Naxos and I enjoyed one of the fluffiest yeast buns with aniseed and orange in the shade of an old chapel high up on a hill. This picture in mind, I knew what my Tsoureki would taste like. It smells so beautiful and aromatic like the air in the Mediterranean, anise and orange merged in a scrumptious breakfast bread sprinkled with nutty sesame. I only left it in the oven for a little too long, just a couple minutes, but I have an excuse. Two of my cousins stopped by for an unexpected quick visit, a family chat at the table and the bread was forgotten. At one point I thought “Wow, it smells so good!”, so I ran to the oven and pulled out this nicely risen beauty (with a dark bottom).
Here’s another sweet braided bread I made 2 years ago.
Tsoureki – Greek Easter Bread with Aniseed and Orange Blossom Water
Makes 1 large loaf.
plain flour 520g / 4 cups
granulated sugar 100g / 1/2 cup
fast-acting yeast 1 sachet (7g / 1/4 ounce)
fine sea salt 1/2 teaspoon
aniseed, lightly crushed in a mortar, 2 teaspoons
zest of 1 small orange
milk, lukewarm, 150ml / 2/3 cup
butter, melted, 100g / 1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons
organic eggs 2
orange blossom water 2 tablespoons
sesame seeds, for the topping, 1-2 tablespoons
For the glaze
organic egg yolk 1
water 1 tablespoon
In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, yeast, salt, aniseed, and orange zest. Whisk together the milk, butter, eggs, and orange blossom water – the mixture should be lukewarm – and add to the flour mixture. Using the dough hooks of an electric mixer, knead for about 5 minutes until well combined and smooth. Continue kneading and punching with your hands for about 7 minutes until you have a soft and silky ball of dough. Place the dough back in the bowl, cover with a tea towel, and let rise in a warm place, or preferably in a 100°F (35°C) warm oven, for 100 minutes or until well risen (it won’t double in size). Rising at room temperature prolongs the process.
Punch the dough down, take it out of the bowl, and knead for about 30 seconds, then divide into 3 parts and roll them into long sausage shapes. Lay the ends of the rolls on top and braid them tightly. Bend both ends of the bread under the loaf and transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Cover with a tea towel and let it rise in a warm place for 50 minutes or until fluffy.
Preheat the oven to 180°C / 350°F (conventional setting).
Whisk the egg yolk and water for the glaze and brush the top of the loaf, sprinkle with sesame. Bake in the oven for 40-50 minutes, cover the loaf with aluminium foil after 15 minutes to prevent it from getting too dark. When the bread is done, it should be golden brown, knock on its bottom, it should sound hollow. Let it cool for a few minutes before cutting it into thick slices, and enjoy with butter.