Tsoureki is the traditional Greek Easter bread. It’s soft and sweet — and not dissimilar to brioche or challah — but with its own distinctive flavour. This version, by MasterChef 2019 champion Irini Tzortzoglou includes chocolate. Irini says: “This tsoureki has all the ingredients that differentiate the tsoureki from all other breads of this type, and as the amounts make two tsourekia, one of them is also filled with a chocolate spread. I use slices from it to make a chocolate tsoureki bread and butter pudding, or in a trifle, but it is also delicious on its own with a cup of coffee. Masticha and mahleb are the two ingredients that make Greek tsoureki unique. You can buy masticha tears (the drops of the dried masticha resin) fairly easily and you grind these together with 1 tbsp of sugar in a pestle and mortar or a spice grinder. This tsoureki is not as sweet as we tend to eat it in Greece so if you have a sweet tooth add more sugar.”
- 150g condensed milk
- 150g caster sugar
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 75ml sunflower oil
- 100g butter, melted
- 50g fresh yeast
- 775-800g strong bread flour
- 1 tbsp vanilla extract
- 1⁄2 tsp ground cardamom
- 1⁄2 tsp masticha powder
- 1⁄2 tsp mahleb
- 1 orange, zest only
- 1 egg white for brushing
- 2-3 tbsp almond flakes
FOR THE CHOCOLATE SPREAD
- 125g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids)
- 50g butter
- 1 tbsp honey
- 7 finger biscuits, approx. 60g crushed with a rolling pin
1 In a medium sized pan, melt the sugar and condensed milk over a low heat, stirring continuously. Add the beaten eggs, sunflower oil, orange zest and vanilla extract and whisk to incorporate everything together. Leave to go tepid before using.
2 Put 200ml of tepid water into the bowl of your standing mixer and melt in the fresh yeast by whisking it thoroughly. Add the contents of the saucepan to the yeast and all the remaining ingredients apart from the flour, holding back a quarter of the butter to add at the end. Whisk to mix well.
3 Start adding the flour gradually, mixing continuously. You should aim for a dough that is soft and pliable, perhaps even a little sticky. When the dough has been mixing for 10 minutes, add most of the reserved butter and hold a little back to grease your hands in order to handle the dough. Give the dough a couple of minutes more churning and using greased hands, take it out of the mixer bowl and place it in a clean, greased bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and a towel and leave somewhere warm to double in size. This stage, depending on the warmth of your environment, could take anything up to 2 hours.
4 When the dough is risen, transfer it onto a clean surface and punch the air out of it. Roll the dough into a long sausage shape and cut into two. Roll each piece out again and cut into four. Roll each quarter piece into a rope of approximately 30cm long. Use a rolling pin to flatten each rope out to about 8cm wide.
5 To make the chocolate spread, melt the chocolate in a bain marie. Add the butter and let it melt. Stir the honey into the chocolate and leave it to cool. Lastly, add the crushed finger biscuits and mix well.
6 Spoon the chocolate spread all along the middle of the eight flat pieces of dough. Fold one side of the dough to overlap the other so that the chocolate spread is totally wrapped by dough. Use the ropes to make 2 plaits, each with four ropes. Place each plait onto a lined baking dish, brush with a little water and leave to rise again. The ambient temperature should not be higher than 40 ̊C as this would lead to the tsoureki spreading.
7 Preheat the oven to 170 ̊C/Gas Mark 3.
8 When the two tsourekia have risen, beat the egg white and use it to brush them with. Sprinkle with almond flakes and bake for 40-50 minutes. The cooked tsourekia should feel light.
9 Leave the tsourekia to cool completely and wrap in plastic wrap and clean dry tea towels to keep soft and fluffy.
10 COOK’S TIP: Place a shallow tin with some boiling water on the bottom of the oven for even fluffier tsourekia.
Recipe by Irini Tzortzoglou