This recipe makes a delicious and festive tsoureki that’s great for a Holiday Brunch or as a dessert for your Holiday table.
Tsoureki is a sweet bread that is like the Greek version of brioche. It is buttery, rich, and delicious. This sweet bread is usually braided but, I thought that it would make the perfect brunch as a festive Christmas Tree. Serve this with some hot tea or coffee and soft butter for a special treat!
I added candied citrus along with candied cherries and pineapple but, you can add your favorite dried fruit instead. Cranberries, apricots, and raisins are delicious in this bread.
Aromatic Mahlepi is the characteristic flavor of tsoureki. There’s nothing like it. Mahlepi, also known as Mahlab comes from the kernel of cherries. It is finely ground into a meal and used to flavor pastries throughout the Mediterranean and parts of Arabia. It has notes of almond and cherry and floral tones as well. Mahlepi is sold in Mediterranean/Middle Eastern food markets and online. If you cannot find it, you can add other complementary flavors such as almond extract, ground cardamom, or some extra vanilla extract.
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For the starter:
- • 1/2 cup milk, lukewarm
- • 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
- • 1 teaspoon sugar
- • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- • 4 cups (720 grams) bread flour
- • 1 cup granulated sugar
- • 3/4 cup lukewarm milk
- • 2 large eggs, beaten
- • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- • 1 tablespoon ground mahlepi
- • 1/2 teaspoon salt
- • 2 ounces unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
- • ½ cup candied citrus peel
- • ½ cup candied cherries and pineapple, chopped
For the icing:
- • 2 ounces cream cheese, softened at room temperature
- • 1-ounce unsalted butter, soft
- • 1 cup confectioner’s sugar
- • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- • 2-4 tablespoons whole milk
The egg wash:
- 2 egg yolks
- 2-4 tablespoons milk
- Note: This dough can be prepared in a tabletop mixer or kneaded by hand in a large bowl or on the countertop. Using a mixer will require less kneading time. About 10 minutes. If making the dough by hand, knead it at least 15 minutes so that the gluten forms well to achieve the desired consistency and texture.
- Combine the starter ingredients together in the bowl of a tabletop mixer. Whisk and set aside for 10 minutes to activate the yeast. It is ready when a puffy cloud forms above the mixture.
- In another bowl, combine the flour, sugar, orange zest, salt, and mahlepi, together. Mix well to combine.
- Once the yeast is activated, add all of the remaining ingredients (except for the candied fruit) to the mixer's bowl along with the butter. Turn the mixer on low and knead for 8-10 minutes.
- Add the candied citrus and fruit to the mixer and knead for 1 minute until incorporated.
- Place some oil in the bottom of a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl. Toss around to coat and form a ball. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm place until doubled in volume. About 1 and 1/2 to 2 hours.
- Quick Rise Tip: My favorite place to keep the dough so that it rises quickly is in the dryer. Here is what I do:
- 1) I put 3-4 clean bath towels in the dryer and turn it on (high heat setting) for about 5-6 minutes.
- 2) I place the bowl with the dough into the dryer (on top of the warm towels) and close the door.
- 3) Make sure the dryer is OFF!!
- 4) Remove from the dryer when it has doubled in volume.
- This trick usually cuts 30 minutes from the rise time.
- Transfer the dough to a clean work surface that has been lightly dusted with all-purpose flour and cut the dough into 4 equal pieces. Remove a small ball (about 65 grams) and set aside.
- Cut each portion into 6 pieces (about 65 grams each) and roll into balls.
- Place the balls on a baking tray lined with parchment paper to form a tree
- • Place the first ball of dough at the top center and create 6 rows adding one extra ball to each row. For example, the first row has 1 ball, the second has two, the third has three, etc…
- • Place the last 4 balls on the bottom center for the trunk (2 rows each consisting of two balls of dough).
- Cover loosely with plastic wrap and set aside to rise for 45 minutes-1 hour.
- Preheat the oven to 350 °F, 180 °C.
- Brush the tree with egg wash and bake in the center of the oven for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to rest for 15 minutes.
- Make the cream cheese icing by combining all of the icing ingredients in a mixing bowl and whisking together until smooth.
- Drizzle the icing over the tree or pipe string decorations on it.
- Serve with hot tea or coffee. Enjoy!