Tsoureki - Greek Easter Bread
- 1 C. milk
- 4 1/2 - 5 1/2 C. flour, divided
- 3/4 C. sugar
- 1 1/2 Tbsp. yeast
- 3 eggs
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1/2 C. butter, softened
- 2 Tbsp. orange juice
- 2 tsp. orange zest
- 2 tsp. vanilla
- 8 dyed hard boiled eggs
Heat milk to very warm (about 1150 F on a candy thermometer), and pour into the bowl of an electric mixer. Whisk in 1 1/2 C. flour, sugar and yeast until well combined. Detach from mixer, cover with plastic wrap and let stand in a warm, draft-free place until bubbly, about 30 minutes. Fit mixer with a dough hook and add eggs, one at a time, to the yeast mixture. Add another 1 C. of flour, orange zest and salt, then softened butter vanilla and orange juice. Mix well, then gradually add enough of the remaining flour to form a soft, sticky dough, kneading until smooth. Coat a bowl with vegetable oil and turn dough in bowl to lightly coat with oil. Cover with plastic wrap or a clean kitchen towel and let rise in a clean, draft-free place, until doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours. Pre-heat oven to 4000 F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. You now have several choices with what to do with your dough:
1. You can divide the dough into thirds, roll each third into a long rope then braid those ropes, then twist this braid into a ring. Tuck the dyed, hard boiled eggs, wide or heavy side down, between the strands of the braid, at even intervals around the circle.
2. Make two straight braid loaves by first dividing the dough in half, then dividing each half into thirds. Roll each of these thirds into a long rope and make a straight braid, tucking the ends under, and placing 4 eggs, evenly spaced between the strands of the braid. Make a second braided loaf with remaining dough.
3. Divide the dough into eighths, then roll each loaf into a rounded oval loaf. Press a dyed, hard boiled egg wide or heavy side down, into the center of each "roll." You can bake it as is, or make a "Cross" out of dough to encase the egg. Smaller breads are especially handy for tucking into Easter Baskets.
Whichever option you choose, you should now cover the prepared bread with plastic wrap or a clean kitchen towel and let rise in a warm, draft-free place once again, until doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours. Mix egg yolk with 1 Tbs. water. Brush loaves with egg mixture and bake for 15 minutes. Lower heat to 3500 F and bake for about 20 minutes more or until golden brown and hollow sounding when thumped. Remove from oven and let cool for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.