Tsoureki...Greek Easter Bread with Cardamom Spice and Orange Peel

Our Hand-Blown and Dyed Easter Eggs

What is there not to like about Easter time of year.  Everything around us is about hope, inspiration, rebirth, beauty, and celebration.  

Countless Easter breads are being showcased all over the food blogging community.  How wonderful to see overlapping breads from Italy to Ireland and from Poland to Russia.  

Nothing is more fitting than breaking a 'fast' than the baking and sharing of delicious varieties of Easter bread all over the world.  

In Greece, they have an Easter bread called "Tsoureki".  An eager collector and lover all stories related to food, I happily devoured this Grecian bread tradition and delighted in this country's colorful tale.

Not too many bread recipes call for baking a boiled egg right into the dough.  Tsoureki bread tucks red dyed eggs, boiled in the shell and pocketed right into the dough.  In Greece, red is symbolic of Christ's blood.   Several of these 'wreaths' are baked at one time and given to friends and family as Easter gifts.

What intrigued me about this Tsoureki recipe was the addition of flavorful spices in the dough.  The most popular flavor in Greece for Tsoureki is 'mahlepi'.  This spice is ground from the seeds of the European 'Cherry Prunus mahaleb'.

The spice is said to be fragrant with a taste like bitter almonds.  It is used to give character to sweet breads.  The other spice that is used as a replacement is Cardamom.  I did have this spice on hand so I used it as the main spice.

In Greek kitchens, the smell of not only the bread of also of the fragrance from either the mahlepi spice or cardamom is considered symbolic and nostalgic of Easter time in households across the country.

Our Hand-Blown and Dyed Easter Eggs

The loaf is plaited into a wreath shape.  This circular shape is beautiful to display but also symbolizes the renewal and continuation of life.   Families also enjoy being able to pull apart the bread into soft flavorful chunks as they 'break' their fast.

This Tsoureki bread was a joy to make.  The spices along with the grated orange peel are full of warm aromas.  Having fun with dyed eggs is always a favorite activity.  Tucking them into the pouches of the soft silky dough creates such a light-hearted and gay appearance.

Spending holidays in foreign countries is always a wonderful and thrilling way to travel and soak up the customs of diverse parts of the world.

We've had the occasion to enjoy Easter in England as well as Italy and we relished such opportunities to share traditions, especially those related to food.

This bread would pair wonderfully after a succulent herb spiced lamb or a wonderfully sweet roasted ham.  Children would enjoy rolling out the 'plaits' of dough, lapping them one over the other, dyeing Easter eggs, nestling them into the soft doughy wreath and then breathing in the sweet spiced bread that pours out of the oven.

Extra dough could be kept on hand to make tiny little wreaths with an egg in the middle for the little ones to take home as an Easter treat.

Perusing all of the Easter breads being showcased across the beautiful web landscape during this spring holiday season are one of those joyful times that bring our blogging community together.  

By baking bread together all over the world, each spiced with  unique flavors, characters, traditions, and celebrations, we should carry away one very significant message.

We are all joined together, we are all holding on to each other in some symbolic way, like this wreath.  We all want to enjoy delicious food, pass on wonderful traditions, share good and worthy values, and celebrate the beauty of life.

Have a wonderful time with your families, whatever beautiful pocket of this planet you call home.  

If you are celebrating the renewal of life, as this Spring season showcases its beauty, with budding flowers, multiplying bunnies, hatching eggs, and sprouting of roots everywhere, have a wonderful and happy celebration!

Oh!  Those Texas Skies!

Tsoureki ~ Greek Easter Bread spiced with Cardamom and Orange Peel
(recipe by Alice Storey)

Cooking Time Prep time 1 hr, cook 35 mins (plus proving, cooling) 

500 gm (2 2/3 cups) plain flour
21 gm (3 packets)dried yeast
125 ml (½ cup) milk
2 eggs lightly beaten, plus extra for brushing
50 gm (1/4 c) caster sugar
Finely grated rind of 2 oranges
2 tsp mahlepi (or cardamom)
75 g (a stick is 110g) softened butter, coarsely chopped, plus extra to serve
3 Red Easter eggs

Combine flour, yeast and a pinch of salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook, form a well in the centre, set aside.

Add milk, eggs, sugar, orange rind, mahlepi and 100ml (1/3 c) lukewarm water and mix until a soft dough forms (5-7 minutes). Gradually add butter, a little at a time, mixing until a smooth soft dough forms (3-5 minutes), place in a lightly greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap and set aside until doubled in size (40 minutes-1 hour).

Meanwhile, for red Easter eggs, follow instructions on packet to cook and dye eggs then set aside to cool completely.

Knock back dough and divide into 3 pieces. Roll each piece into a 45cm-long cylinder, plait pieces together, then bring ends together to form a wreath and squeeze to join. Place on an oven tray lined with baking paper and set aside to prove slightly (20 minutes).

Preheat oven to 180˚C (350˚F). Brush wreath with eggwash, gently push red Easter eggs (unpeeled) into wreath and bake until wreath is golden and cooked through (25-30 minutes). Cool on a wire rack, serve with butter. Greek Easter bread is best eaten the day it’s made.

Note Mahlepi is available from Greek delicatessens. You can substitute a flavouring such as mastic or cardamom. Red egg dye is available (usually around Easter time) from Greek and Italian delicatessens. Instructions and the quantity required vary from brand to brand.

(This recipe is from the April 2011 issue of Australian Gourmet Traveller.)

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