Easter in Greece is beautiful. There have been a few times that I was able to go back and celebrate Easter in Greece besides the times when I was growing up. The flowers are blooming, the weather is warm, and the trees have leaves on, unlike here in the the Midwest, in the middle of April. Greek Easter is one of the biggest holidays in Greece besides Christmas. The preparations start early, as soon as Lent begins. Homes are cleaned, they might even get a fresh coat of paint, the winter rugs are removed and replaced with spring/summer area rugs. Homes are decorated beautifully, not with Easter eggs and wreaths as they do here, but with embroidered doilies that depict spring and flowers.
During the beginning of the Greek Holy week the final touches of cleaning are put to the homes, and then the baking begins. We make koulourakia-Koulourkakia Portokaliou-Greek Easter Cookies to have and offer to visitors with coffee. Then there is the traditional Greek Easter bread. That can be made ahead of time as it takes a full day to make it (of course it all depends how many loaves you want to make). Or you can start making it on Holly Thursday so that you will be able to place a hard boiled red dyed egg on the bread before baking it.
Holly Thursday is the day that we color our eggs. The Greek traditional way of coloring eggs is with a dark red dye that it is quite difficult to find here. You will have to either find it at a Greek market that sells it or have someone from Greece to mail it to you. A few times that I went back to Greece I was able to purchase some and bring it back with me. But if you travel to Greece after Easter it will be very difficult to find it since it is sold out for Easter.
Over the years I tried different food dyes to color my eggs. I finally settled for the liquid red food coloring - the ones that are about 1fl oz each - and use about 4 of those bottles along with 5 cups of lukewarm water mixed with 1/2 cup of vinegar. I lay about 20 eggs inside a large dutch oven and pour the colored water over the eggs. I let them boil for about 10 minutes and remove the pot from the heat. Once they are a bit cool I remove them with a spatula and rub them with olive oil for shine.
The Greek Easter bread is sweet and delicious. This recipe is a combination of my mother's recipe with my own touches by adding cardamon, crushed anise seeds, vanilla, orange and lemon zest. This bread makes excellent toast spread with butter or jam, and even makes excellent french toast. But it tastes so good alone that there is not enough left for toast or even french toast. Enjoy! Happy Greek Easter or as we say in Greek Kalo Pascha.
Greek Easter Bread - Tsourekia (Tsoo-re-kia)
Calories C- 1165 for a 12 oz loaf; 95 calories for 1oz slice
Makes 8-12oz loaves
8 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup flour for kneading
½ tsp. salt
1 ½ cups skim milk
3 packages dry yeast
1 2/3 cups butter
2 cups sugar
1 tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. Cardamon
1 tsp. crushed anise seeds
1 heaping tbsp. of orange zest (zest of one large orange)
1 heaping tbsp. of lemon zest (zest of one large lemon, like a Meijer lemon)
1 tsp. vanilla
2 egg yolks
3 tbsp. milk
½ cup sliced raw almonds
Sift the 8 cups flour with the salt and set aside. Grate the lemon and orange zest and set aside. In a mortar and pestle crush the anise seeds and set aside.
Warm the 1.5 cups skim milk in the microwave (do not boil it; just bring it to lukewarm temperature-about a minute in the microwave). In a large bowl, combine the 3 packages of dry yeast with the lukewarm milk, 1/2 cup of the flour/salt mixture and 1 tbsp. of sugar. Mix well. Cover tightly with saran wrap and a thick towel and let it rise for about 1/2 hour in a warm place.
In the meantime, melt the butter in the microwave. In another bowl break the eggs and set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, beat together the butter with the sugar, the orange, lemon zest, the cardamon, the crushed anise seeds and vanilla. Add the eggs one at a time and beat well together. You can use a handheld mixer for this. Add the yeast mixture that has already risen and blend well together. Gradually add the flour as you mix. The mixture will begin to thicken. From the extra 1 cup of flour, flour a clean surface with a little bit of the flour and pour the dough on it. Start kneading adding the extra flour gradually, until the dough no longer sticks to your hands or the surface. Place the well-kneaded dough in a large bowl, cover tightly with saran wrap, and towels and place it in a warm place to rise for about 2-3 hours until double the size. The warmer the place the quicker the dough will rise.
When the dough has risen, cut it in 4 pieces. Take one quarter of the dough while you keep the rest of the dough covered and cut it in half. Take the half dough and cut it in 3 equal pieces. Roll out each piece into a long strip and braid it together. Place it in a well-buttered cookie sheet. Continue with the rest of the dough until all dough is done. Place the braids about 4-5" apart (they will rise) and cover them tightly with saran wrap and towels. Let them rise for a couple of hours until about double the size. (They will also rise in the oven while baking).
When they are ready for the oven, beat the 2 egg yolks with the 3 tbsp. milk. Brush the braids with the egg wash and sprinkle with the sliced raw almonds. If desired place a hard boiled colored (preferably red) on the one end of the braid.
Bake at 350° F. for about 40 min until browned. Remove from the oven and let them cool before cutting. Place them in plastic bags and refrigerate. They can also be frozen. They will last up to 6 months.
Serving Size 1 serving (346.5g)
Amount Per Serving
Calories from Fat 422
Total Fat 46.9g
Saturated Fat 26.1g
Trans Fat 0.0g
Total Carbohydrates 165.0g
Dietary Fiber 5.3g
Sugars 55.0gProtein 23.1g
The braids before they go in the oven
The final product. Enjoy!