Alaskan Tsoureki – Greek Easter Bread (Τσουρέκι)

Alaskan Tsoureki

Alaskan Tsoureki (Τσουρέκι)

Makes 2 loaves
Like classic Tsoureki, Alaskan Tsoureki is rich with butter and light with eggs. Maxlepi and mastixa, however, the flavors of classic Tsoureki, aren’t available in Alaska. Instead, I’ve created a special spice mix to give wonderful flavor to our Tsoureki. When Alaskan Tsoureki is in the oven, the entire house fills with the wonderful aroma of sweet spices. In Greece, Tsoureki is traditionally baked on Holy Thursday. It’s not eaten until Easter because of the butter and eggs, which are prohibited during the pre-Easter fast.

Sponge:
1/2 cup warm water
2 packets dry yeast
1 Tbsp. sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour

Dough:
6 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup milk, warmed
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground allspice
2 tsp. freshly ground coriander seeds
1 Tbsp. ground cinnamon
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
2 Tbsp. finely grated orange or lemon peel
6 1/2 – 7 cups all purpose flour

Garnish:
2 Tbsp. milk
2 Tbsp. sesame seeds
Red eggs (optional)

Make Sponge: Mix water, yeast, sugar, and flour. Let sit for 15 minutes, or until sponge begins to bubble.

Mix Dough: Mix sponge with eggs, butter, milk, salt, allspice, coriander, cinnamon, vanilla, and citrus peel just until sponge is incorporated into liquid. Don’t try to smoothly mix in all the butter; there should be floating butter chunks when you’re done mixing in the sponge. Stir in 6 cups of flour. Add remaining flour as necessary to form soft, slightly sticky dough. Put dough on floured surface and knead for 10 minutes, adding flour as necessary to prevent dough from sticking to your hands.

Place kneaded dough in lightly buttered bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and then cover with dishtowel and let rise in a warm place for 1 1/2 hours or until doubled in size. Fold dough over on itself several times, cover, and again let rise for 1 1/2 hours or until doubled in size.

Shape and Bake Loaves: Preheat oven to 350°F.

Divide dough into 2 equal halves. Divide each half into thirds. To make long loaves: roll each third out into 18 inch ropes, braid the ropes, and tuck the ends under. To make ring-shaped loaves: roll each third out into 30 inch ropes, braid the ropes together, shape into a ring, and join the two ends together. Repeat with the remaining three ropes. Let loaves rise for 45 minutes, or until almost doubled in size.

Brush loaves with milk and sprinkle with sesame seeds. If using red eggs to decorate loaves, press eggs firmly into dough.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until loaves are nicely browned and sound hollow when thumped on the bottom.

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