Tsoureki: The Symbolic Greek Easter Bread
Bread has significant symbolism in the Christian faith. Bread is often used in Christian worship services as a symbol of the body of Christ. In the New Testament, Jesus is referred to as the "bread of life," and his followers are instructed to "take and eat" the bread that represents his body.
During Easter, in many Christian cultures around the world, special Easter breads are made. They are rich and dessert-like and incorporate foods not allowed during Lent such as eggs, butter, and sugar. The bread is often decorated with religious symbols such as a cross or with red-dyed Easter eggs, which symbolize the blood of Jesus Christ. Tsoureki or Greek Easter Bread is a delicious example of an Easter sweet bread. It is a brioche-like sweet bread, soft and fluffy and flavored with citrus, and decorated with red-dyed eggs.
Tsoureki is a visually dramatic bread laden with symbolism. The bread represents Jesus as the Bread of Life. It has a three-strand braid to represent the Holy Trinity. The hard-boiled eggs represent the resurrection of Jesus and the red dye symbolizes the Blood of Christ. Finally, an egg wash gives it a shiny coating that symbolizes the Light of Christ.
The bread is so fun to make, especially braiding the strands and adding the boiled eggs before baking! It has such a light and spongy texture and the citrus makes it absolutely incredible! I liked it all by itself but my kids slathered it with butter or made a simple powdered sugar and milk glaze to our over it.
Greek Easter Bread (Tsoureki)
5 cups flour, divided
2 1/4 teaspoons instant dry yeast or 1 packet
3/4 cup sugar, divided
1 cup warm milk
4 Tablespoons butter melted and cooled
3 eggs at room temperature and well beaten
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon grated orange zest
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
1 egg, beaten
3 hard-boiled red-dyed eggs (I used naturally dyed red eggs. You can find the instructions here.)
Warm the milk to 100-110 degrees. Add yeast and 2 teaspoons of sugar. Stir to combine. Set aside until the yeast blooms.
Add 1 cup of the flour, the bloomed yeast mixture, and 1/4 cup of the sugar to a bowl. Mix (by hand or with a mixer) until all the lumps are gone (you will have a very thin mixture). Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it stand for 30 to 45 minutes. This will develop the sponge.
Add the melted butter and eggs and mix well. Pour 2 1/2 cups of flour, the salt, the remaining sugar, orange, and lemon zest into the dough and mix thoroughly to blend all the ingredients.
Add the remaining flour to the dough and knead for about 10 minutes. If you are not using a stand mixer, grease your hands and the surface with olive oil, and then turn the dough out onto the surface and knead by hand. The dough will be very soft and sticky but will get easier to work with after kneading it for a while. You can use a bread scraper to keep scraping the dough up if it sticks to the surface. The dough will also become firmer after it proves. If you are tempted to add more flour, wait until after it proves.
After you are done kneading the dough, form it into a ball and place it in a lightly greased bowl. Cover with a clean dishtowel and set aside to rise for 1 ½ to 2 hours.
Place the dough on a floured work surface. Divide it into 3 equal sections, rolling each section into ropes about 15" long. Start in the middle and braid until you reach the end of the ropes. Tuck each end under. Press the red eggs into each braid. Cover the bread with plastic wrap and set aside to rise again for 1 hour on a greased baking sheet.
Preheat oven to 350˚. Brush the bread (not the eggs!) with beaten egg and bake until golden, 40–50 minutes. If you notice the bread has reached a golden brown before the 40-minute timer goes off, drape a sheet of aluminum foil over the top of the bread and keep baking.
How to Dye Easter Eggs Red Using Natural Dye