Greece: Tsoureki

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Greece!

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Yet another country on my list of places to go! I had a friend visit Greece once and looking at her beautiful pictures, the entire place looks like it came off a post card. Reminds me of Italy. Where everywhere looked like pictures and films and it was unreal. Greece seems similar. I mean just google it. Dang.  So prettyyyy

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So for this lovely country, I decided to make an Easter bread, called Tsoureki! And I made this the day after Easter, so you can tell how behind I am on these posts aaaahhhh! (as it is currently mid June). Anyway…

This is a braided bread, often with a red hard boiled egg nestled in it, symbolizing the blood of Christ, and the three strands of the braid represent the trinity (Father, son, holy spirit). Very Eastery, indeed. This bread also traditionally uses two kinds of middle eastern spices, that are not commonly found in America, called Mastic and Mahlepi. Luckily for me, there is a middle eastern grocery store about five blocks down the street from my house (I love Chicago), but unluckily for me, they only had Mahlepi in stock that day. I’m pretty sure I saw a spot for Mastic, but it was empty. 😦 But I’m happy I even found any of them!

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If you’re not familiar with those, Mahlepi is (according to my recipe source) “the seed kernel found within the stone of the St. Lucie cherry. It is ground into a powder and used as a spice,” but I only found it in whole kernel form, so I put a small amount into my food processor and ground it until I had enough powder to use. It had an interesting kind of woody smell and flavor. Supposedly similar in flavor to bitter almonds and tonka beans?? I don’t know what tonka beans are though, so I can’t speak to that! Mastic is ” the sap of the mastic tree,…dried into a resin or gum, then ground and used as a spice.” Since I couldn’t find Mastic, I just omitted it from the recipe.

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Malhepi, also known as Mahleb or Mahlab, unground looks like the brown seeds in this jar. the smaller lighter pieces are the remains of what I ground down. 

The flavors in the bread were really nice though! The Mahlepi was a new flavor for me, and it went wonderfully in bread. It was pretty subtle, but you could still tell it was there, even though my American palette couldn’t quite identify it! There is also a bit of citrus in the dough, so that was a nice touch as well. Its more on the side of a soft, sweet bread, which is something I like, so all in all, I thought this was a lovely loaf of carbs!

The egg was a fun touch. Since it was close to Easter time when I made this, I happened to already have an extra hardboiled egg on hand, from my prior egg dying adventures. But since I had already used up my egg dye kit, I used red food coloring in a mixture of water and vinegar to dye my egg red. As it turned out, the shell had a few small cracks in it, which left an uneven dye job, but it was kind of a fun effect anyway!

Also, if you’ve been following this blog at all, you’ll know that I always rejoice in a successful execution of a yeast dough, since yeast can be quite finicky. But it worked, it arose, Hallelujah, it arose! Just like Jesus from the grave! (sorry, couldn’t resist!) 😉 It turned out beautifully, and aside from the missing Mastic spice, I think it went quite well! Here are some pictures of my process!

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And now for you fill of Greek facts and current events as of mid-June, 2017!
-On Monday, June 12, a 6.3 magnitude earthquake occurred just south of the Greek island of Lesbos, and Greece has declared a state of emergency. Many buildings collapsed, and about 800 people have been displaced, there have been at least 15 injured, and one casualty. The tremors were also felt along Turkey’s coast, but no injuries have been reported there so far. Source 1, Source 2
-If you read my last post about Macedonia, you’ll have read about the bit of turmoil between Greece and Macedonia over Macedonia’s name. Just to recap a bit for those who don’t know, Macedonia wants to join Nato and the EU, but Greece has a bit of an issue with the name of the country, which is currently “Republic of Macedonia.” Greece doesn’t like it, because they feel it implies that they rule a northern portion of Greece that shares the same name. And in order for Macedonia to be admitted, it has been suggested that they change their name to something like “Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”. Doing this will probably help resolve the conflict with Greece….and I’m going to guess there is maybe a little more to this than I’m understanding, because it seems a little bit silly to make such a big fuss over a name?? But then again, a lot of the world’s problems seem silly to me. 😉 If you’d like to read more on this situation, check out THIS article.
-Since Greece has been in a state of economic crisis for about 8 years now, many young people are now turning to agriculture to both make a living and try help get the economy going again. The unemployment rate is very high these days, which means many people have been laid off, and many young college graduates and people with degrees, can’t easily find jobs. So some people are moving out to the country side to start up farms and make a living off the land. Of course, with any endeavor, there prove to be obstacles, in this case, it has very difficult to get bank loans in this hard economic time, and those can be needed to buy land, equipment, and for getting a business started. But people are not giving up. And I find that kind of inspiring. 🙂 If you’d like to read more about this, you can do so HERE.

Alright! Recipe time!
I didn’t make any changes to the recipe other than the omission of Mastic.
Recipe source: HERE

Tsoureki

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon whole milk
  • 1 (1/4-ounce) packet active dry yeast (2 1/2 teaspoons)
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon fine salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground mahlepi (optional)
  • 1/4 teaspoon pounded mastic crystals (optional)
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated orange zest (from about 1 orange)
  • 1 red-dyed hard-boiled egg (optional; see Game Plan note)
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1/3 cup sliced almonds, toasted
  1. In a small saucepan, heat 3/4 cup of the milk until warm to the touch but not hot (about 105°F to 115°F on an instant-read thermometer). Transfer the warm milk to a large bowl and sprinkle the yeast on top. Set aside for about 15 minutes to activate the yeast.
  2. Sift the flour, sugar, salt, mahlepi (if using), and mastic (if using) together into a large bowl; set aside.
  3. In a small saucepan, melt 7 tablespoons of the butter. Let the butter cool, then transfer to a medium bowl. Add the eggs and orange zest and beat together. Stir the egg mixture into the yeast mixture until combined.
  4. Using a spoon, stir the flour mixture into the yeast-egg mixture until combined. Turn the dough onto a floured work surface and knead until smooth, flouring your hands and the surface as needed, about 10 minutes.
  5. Coat a baking sheet and a 16-inch piece of plastic wrap with the remaining 1 tablespoon butter. Set the dough on the baking sheet and cover it with the plastic wrap, butter side down. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 2 hours.
  6. Remove the plastic wrap and set it aside. Divide the dough into 3 equal pieces (about 12 ounces each). Roll the pieces into 1-1/4-by-16-1/2-inch ropes. Pinch all 3 pieces together on one end to secure, then braid the ropes, entwining the red hard-boiled egg (if using) into the bread. Pinch the other end of the ropes together to secure the braid. Set the braided dough on the prepared baking sheet, cover with the buttered plastic wrap (butter side down), and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour. Meanwhile, heat the oven to 350°F and arrange a rack in the middle.
  7. In a small bowl, beat together the egg yolk and remaining 1 tablespoon milk. With a pastry brush, evenly brush the egg mixture over the risen dough, then sprinkle the almonds over top, pressing the nuts gently into the dough. Bake until the bread is browned and the internal temperature reaches 190°F on an instant-read thermometer, about 30 minutes. Let cool before serving.

 

 

 

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