Saturday, April 22, 2006

Mail order tsoureki: kaló páscha

I celebrated Easter last weekend with paskha, the typical festive dessert back home in Estonia. This weekend I helped a Greek friend in need to celebrate Orthodox Easter. On this occasion the Greeks eat a special sweet bread - tsoureki. I baked a rather nice one in Edinburgh last year, devoured in minutes by a bunch of Greek students, and consequently got a mail order request to make one again for this Easter. The large and beautifully aromatic tsoureki was flown to an undisclosed destination in mainland Europe. Thank you, C.D,. for acting as a courier on such a short notice!

The recipe is based on two Paul Hollywood's recipes - one from his book 100 Great Breads and another from UKTV Food. I keep having problems with Hollywood's recipes and I'm not sure they have been double-checked properly by the pastry chef himself. His recipe for mint & halloumi bread seemed also a bit awkward, though the bread I ended up baking was delicious. His two tsoureki recipes are even more confusing. The only constant seems to be the amount of flour (500 grams) - the amount and list of other ingredients vary rather wildly. Hollywood cannot really decide whether he wants 2 eggs in his tsoureki or none, whether to use 30 grams of dried yeast (!!!) or 15 grams of fresh (it should be other way around, surely!?). And adding 15 grams of salt to 500 grams of flour seems also a wee bit too generous. I want my guests to come back for more, so I've tweaked the recipes accordingly.

For example, I've omitted the raisins altogether, as according to my Greek sources there should be none in a tsoureki (raisins may be a Cypriot twist). I've reduced the amount of salt and butter. I didn't use the red eggs that are traditionally used to decorate tsoureki - although this is strictly necessary only if you eat the tsoureki on the Easter Sunday. This time I also managed to get hold of mastic and mechlebe - two new spices in my kitchen. Although I don't know how to describe them, they did give a very pleasant and unusual flavour to the end product. You should be able to find them from health food shops or shops specialising in Greek and Middle Eastern produce.

But definitely one beautiful sweet bread.

Greek Easter bread TSOUREKI
(Kreeka lihavõttesai "tsoureki")
Makes one large plaited loaf

500 grams strong white flour
75 grams golden caster sugar
50 grams softened butter
1 large orange, zested
0.5 tsp salt
a pinch of mechlebe (sour cherry pits - about 10), pounded finely
a pinch of gum mastic (ca 2 pieces), pounded finely
a generous pinch of ground cinnamon
1 egg
25 grams fresh yeast
150 ml lukewarm water
150 ml lukewarm milk

For brushing:
1 egg, beaten

Mix the flour, sugar, salt, orange zest, cinnamon, gum mastic and mechlepi and soft butter in a large bowl. Crumble the butter into the dry ingredients.
Mix the fresh yeast with a small amount of lukewarm water until combined, add to the dough.
Add the egg, lukewarm milk and water and mix everything together with your hands.
Dip the dough onto a floured surface and knead for 5 minutes, until the dough doesn't stick to your hands anymore (you may have to add some more flour).
Put the kneaded dough back into the bowl, sprinkle with some flour and cover with a clean kitchen towel.
Leave to rise for one hour in a warm place, until the dough has doubled in size.
[Or, if you insist, leave to rise at room temperature, go for a cocktail with friends at Dragonfly @ Grassmarket and then for a meal at Hanam's, a new Kurdish & Middle Eastern restaurant @ Tollcross. Return 4 hours later and continue].
Knock the dough down and dip onto a slightly floured surface again and divide into three. Roll each dough piece into a long strip and plait the strips together. Lift onto a large baking sheet and leave to rise for an hour, until doubled in size again.
Brush with beaten egg and bake in the middle of 200˚C oven for 25-30 minutes, until tsoureki is nice and golden brown.


Alanna said...

Aren't food blogs the greatest? Just yesterday for the first time ever I saw a reference to mahlab / mahleb (at Welcome to My Pantry) but found few/mostly no other references. NOW, today, here's yours, Pille! Amazing!

amyjames said...

You mean that you didn't get to eat any of it?

It looks beautiful - that's a lovely colour of glaze - is that partly the sugar in the dough caramelising I wonder?

How was Hanams? We're planning a trip some time this next week . . .

Betul said...

Hi, Pille. Looks really authentic. I adore this bun, you can see them in every patisserie in Istanbul. I used to eat them a lot in my uni years as my lunch. We call them "paskalya coregi(buns)" But they includes only mahlep as flavouring, no zest and mastic.Here I use my bread-maker for the dough, amounts are perfect for it.But I add more sugar and almond flakes after egg wash..

Andrew said...

interesting spices (not that I have hear ed of them before) What do they taste like?

And if I was ever to buy them would they languish in the back of the cupboard or are there other uses?

Ulla said...

that looks soooo good!

valentina said...

I have to give this bread a go. I have read a lot about it over the last three weeks. Thank you.

Zoubida said...

It looks yummy! Beautiful loaf.

The lucky one:) said...

Thanks so much musi! It was amazing!:)

Happy easter to everyone,

kalo pasxa (in greeklish)!

Pille said...

Ak - I hadn't heard about these spices until about a year ago either, but then traced some down in London last summer. And re: spelling - Hollywood uses no less than three different spellings - meclebe, mechlebe, methlepi - in one book:)

Amy - I made 4 small buns - two for myself and two for the courier, and thoroughly enjoyed the taste.
Hanam's was a very nice place for a casual weeknight meal. We all had the set mushakal meal, and decided that bayengaan (starter), bamya & chicken Biryani (mains) were especially nice. BYOB, as they're not licensed.
Re: the lovely golden hue of the bread is due to the eggwash, as well as the orange zest in the dough. I used one very humongous orange, so there was lots of zest!

Betul, thanks! I was too young and ignorant to look for paskalya coregi in Istanbul back in 1993. Will definitely try the Turkish version next time. It's interesting to learn about the subtle differences in the Turkish, Greek and Cypriot versions of tsoureki..

Andrew - their flavour & aroma are distinct but very difficult to describe - it's something you have to sniff yourself:) I'm sure you'd use them up little by little, so they wouldn't languish in your cupboard for too long. Keiko has recently written about ice cream using gum mastic, Betul posted about gum mastic preserve etc. I have bookmarked quite a few Middle Eastern & Greek recipes for puddings and baked goods, so I'll be surely exploring these spices on my blog soon again. So come back soon!

Ulla - thank you for your kind words. It tasted rather good, too, at least the small bun I baked for myself..

Valentina - please report back if you do decide to make it!

Zoubida - thank you, it was yummy indeed. Too bad I didn't get to eat more of it:)

The lucky one - you deserved it, and I'm glad you liked it:) I do find it difficult to believe though that you finished it in 15 minutes - it was huge!!!

amyjames said...

Thanks for the Hanams review.

I'll let you know what we think after we make our visit.

I'm glad you got to consume some of your creation . . .

Chloe said...

this looks like the real thing exactly!
and you are right about raisins. in Thesaloniki they use them sometimes (eg in the tsoureki i had this pasxa) but i don't particularly like them in my tsoureki because they spoil the chewy texture. xxx well done!

Pille said...

Amyjames - my pleasure!

Chloe - thank you!! Well, from now on, my tsoureki will never have raisins in them again:) My Greek 'samplers' were from Kavala and Volos and Thesaloniki, and they insisted on no raisins!