Irene is a wife and mother of three beautiful girls. She was born in Cyprus and emigrated to Canada in 1976. Irene started her career in the business world and then decided to take time away from her career and raise her children. While raising her children she embraced her passion for food and obtained a personal chef certificate. Subsequent to obtaining this certificate, she began to cater corporate events, part-time, while raising her three beautiful girls full-time. Her passion is bringing family and friends together around the table to share her love of international cuisines.
I asked Irene to share a little bit about her Easter traditions with us!
Greek Easter preparations begin on Holy Thursday when the traditional Easter bread, Tsoureki is baked and eggs are dyed red.
One of the most symbolic Greek customs is the use of “red eggs” for the Easter celebration, Greeks mainly color eggs red to signify the blood of Christ. The tradition is to tap your egg against your friends’ egg and the owner of the last uncracked egg is considered lucky.
Tsoureki is the traditional bread of Greek Easter. What makes this bread unique is it is prepared with an essence drawn from the seeds of the Mediterranean wild cherries, called makhlepi. The bread is also flavoured with mastic, the resin obtained from the Mastic Tree (Pistacia lentiscus). You can find makhlepi & mastic in any ethnic grocery store.
Below you will find my recipe that has been passed down to me from my grandmother. This delicious sweet bread can be toasted and topped with your favourite preserve or wonderful to use for French Toast !
Kalo Pasxa! Happy Easter!
Tsoureki (Greek Easter Sweet Bread) Recipe
(Yields 2 Loaves)
2 (1/4 ounce) envelopes active dry yeast
4 cups milk at room temperature
5-6+ cups of all purpose flour
1 3/4 cups sugar
1 tsp salt
Juice & Zest of 1 Orange
¼ tsp Anise Extract
1 tsp mahlepi
1 tsp ground masticha
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
5 eggs, very well beaten
1 egg yolk
1/2 cup slivered almonds
Warm two cups of milk and place in a large bowl. Add the yeast, one cup of the flour, and 1/4 cup of the sugar. Cover and proof for one hour.
In a large bowl, combine five cups of flour, salt, remaining sugar, orange rind, mahlepi and masticha. Make a well in the center. Add the yeast mixture, melted butter, orange juice, anise extract and eggs. Work from the center outwards, bringing flour into the well, stirring the mixture until a dough begins to form.
Dust a work surface with a little of the remaining flour and knead the dough, adding more flour if necessary, until the dough is smooth and doesn’t stick to your hands, about 12 minutes.
Place in an oiled bowl, cover with a cloth, and set aside in a warm area to rise until doubled in size, about two hours then punch down dough.
Divide into six small balls and roll each into strips about 12-15 inches long, and about 2 inches in diameter. Lay three strips side by side, pinching together at one end, and braid. Pinch together at the other end to hold the loaf intact. Repeat to make the second loaf.
Place the breads on a parchment-lined baking sheet, covered, and let rise for two hours, or until doubled in size. While the braids are rising, preheat oven to 350F, place rack on lower shelf of oven.
9 Beat together the egg yolk and brush over tsoureki loaves. Sprinkle with slivered almonds.
Bake for about 30-55 minutes, or until golden brown. Try not open oven door during baking as you do not want to flatten those lovely loaves. Remove and cool on racks and ENJOY!
Thanks Irene! We loved hearing about your Easter traditions and we can’t wait to try this recipe for our Easter celebrations!