My husband and I have had the unique pleasure of celebrating certain holidays twice since we merged households. Yes, that's right...double holidays. And yes, it is as awesome as it sounds.
We recently celebrated Easter twice. This year the Christian Easter fell on April 12th and the Eastern Orthodox Easter was on the 19th. I grew up celebrating the Eastern Orthodox Easter, so to keep my families traditions alive, we celebrate both. I know, we have it really tough...
Easter was always one of my favourite holidays when I was growing up. And this wasn't because of all the chocolate. It was because this was the one time of year my mother would make Tsoureki, or Greek Easter bread.
Tsoureki is a sweet bread that is similar to brioche. It's what my family always eats for breakfast on Easter Sunday. I always helped my mother make tsoureki on Holy Saturday. The dough is left to rise at least twice, so it is an all day event!
This year my mother couldn't visit me for Easter. So I decided I would attempt to make Tsoureki for the first time alone. I'll be honest, I was a little freaked out! I always watched while my mother did 90% of the work. It was always my job to fetch items for her, grease the baking pans, and to apply the egg wash. Plus, as you know from a previous post, I am not a baker.
In order to make the bread I needed my mother's recipe. Unfortunately, it was in Ontario with her and it is written in Greek. I had asked her to translate it and have my brother email it to me. But she kept forgetting to do the translation. On Holy Thursday she offered to translate it over the phone. This seemed like a bad idea to me. I am not a patient person, plus I imagined I would end up with a piece of paper filled with gibberish and I'd be back to square one. So I did the next best thing and went online and tried to find a recipe that "sounded right." I found two, read them to my mother, and she selected the recipe.
On Holy Saturday I dragged myself out of bed at 6 a.m. and began activating the yeast. The yeast takes one hour to proof, so I set an alarm and went back to bed (I was tired!). Last year we had issues with the yeast. So I was relieved when I woke up and found the yeast bubbling away and gassing up the place.
I then began mixing all the ingredients to make the dough. The dough has to be kneaded until it is smooth and no longer sticks to your hands, or about 10 minutes.
The dough is then placed in a large bowl, covered with a towel, and left to rise for about two hours. After it is risen, the dough is punched down, removed from the bowl and separated into 6 balls. Each ball is cut into thirds. Each strip is rolled until it is about 12 - 15 inches long (imagine playdough snakes) and then braided. The braided dough can then be placed into a loaf pan, or curled into a circle and placed in a round pan. At this point you can choose to push a dyed egg(s) between the braids. My family never did this, so I skipped this step. The bread is then covered and left to rise for another two hours, or until doubled in size.
The risen bread is then brushed with an egg wash. At this point you can sprinkle the bread with seasame seeds or almonds (I passed on this step). The bread is then baked at 360*F for about 30 - 40 mins, or until the bread is golden brown. And this is where I made my rookie mistake(s)...
First of all, for some reason, I thought it would be okay to bake all 6 loaves at the same time. Unfortunately, the loaves on the top rack began to brown rather quickly. So after about 15 minutes, I had to rearrange the loaves. After another 10 minutes the bread was was VERY brown. Had I left the bread in 5 more minutes it would have burned! And man, would I have been pissed off.
The good news is the bread tasted awesome. It didn't taste exactly like my mother's, but it was close enough. We enjoyed it on Easter Sunday with a hard boiled egg. It was delicious.