Tsoureki: Greek Easter Bread

Greek Easter bread with eggs
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  • 4 hrs 30 mins
  • Prep: 3 hrs 30 mins,
  • Cook: 60 mins
  • Yield: 4 Loaves (48 Servings)
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In Greek: τσουρέκι, pronounced tsoo-REH-kee 

Tsoureki is the traditional bread of Greek Easter. It is a rich yeast braided bread flavored with orange and a delightful spice called mahlab (also called mahlepi), which is ground from the pits of wild cherries. You can find mahlab online or at ethnic grocery stores specializing in Greek or Middle Eastern products.

Every family has their own version of this special recipe and this version has been enjoyed by my family for many, many years. It is a tradition to place a red-colored egg in the center of the top of the bread after it has risen before baking. This bread is delicious toasted or made into French toast.

What You'll Need

  • 8 cups all-purpose flour (plus more for kneading)
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 3 envelopes dry  yeast
  • 1 1/2 cups milk (warmed, not hot)
  • 1 tbsp. plus 1 2/3 cups sugar
  • 1 2/3 cups unsalted butter (3 sticks plus 3 tbsp.)
  • 2 tablespoons orange zest (zest of one orange)
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest (zest of one lemon)
  • 1 tbsp. mahlab (mahlepi)
  • 5 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 egg, beaten with a splash of water
  • 1/4 cup whole sesame seeds (for sprinkling)

How to Make It

  1. Preheat the oven to 280 F.
  2. Sift the flour with the salt in a large bowl and set aside.
  3. Dissolve the yeast in the warm milk. (Be sure it is lukewarm, not hot). Add 1/2 cup of the sifted flour and 1 tbsp. sugar to the mixture. Cover tightly and set aside until it becomes bubbly and foamy, 5 to 7 minutes.
  4. In a large saucepan, melt the butter over very low heat. Stir in the 1 2/3 cups sugar, orange zest, lemon zest, and mahlab. Remove from heat and stir in the beaten eggs. Cool slightly.
  1. Pour the yeast mixture into a large mixing bowl. Add the butter/sugar/egg mixture. Slowly incorporate the flour until the mixture forms a smooth, wet dough.
  2. Cover the bowl and let rise until it is about double in size – about 2 hours in a warm place.
  3. Turn the dough out onto a well-floured counter and punch down. You will need to keep sprinkling the dough with flour to keep it from sticking. It will remain a loose, wet dough.
  4. Separate the dough into 4 equal parts. Shape into rounds and allow to rest for 10 minutes. Once rested, divide each round into 3 pieces. Roll the pieces out into long cords about a foot long. Braid the 3 ropes together to form a braided loaf. Place the braids on baking sheets to rise again for about 1 hour.
  5. Once the dough has risen to about double, carefully brush the surface with the egg wash and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Gently press a single red egg in the upper section of one of the braids.
  6. Bake for about 1 hour until the crust is nicely browned all over.