Sunday, 8 April 2012

Τσουρέκι time

I made my first τσουρέκι (tsoureki) a year ago. My correspondent in Athens had sent me a marvellous parcel of goodies which included packets of μαχλέπι (mahlepi) and μαστίχα (mastic) and a copy of a recipe for tsoureki. Mahlep is a spice made from the ground kernels of cherry stones and is like nothing else I've ever used. Mastic is a piney resin with a very distinctive taste. Both are used as flavourings in Greek cuisine and both are traditionally used in making tsoureki. It took me a little while to get around to making my tsoureki as I had to translate the recipe first and it had been a while since I'd tackled any Greek - in addition, most mysteriously, the already-tiny text in my pocket Greek dictionary had shrunk to almost unreadable proportions. Tsoureki is a plaited brioche-like bread that is traditionally made at Easter, and we liked it very much indeed.

As it's Easter again, it must be τσουρέκι time, so I pulled out the mahlepi and rolled my sleeves up. This time I chose to follow Vefa Alexiadou's recipe in my enormous cookery book, and this included chocolate, orange peel and almonds inside along with the almonds on top that I'd gone with last time.

I made up the dough with mahlep and orange peel, then after its bulk fermentation, rolled it out and cut it into three strips. These I filled with plain chocolate drops and slivered almonds, then rolled them up ready for their hairdo. I made two three-strand plaits and left them to prove in a warm place. When they were ready, I eggwashed them and sprinkled with more slivered almonds. After cooking, the loaves were very dark, darker than I'd normally like, but many of the images and illustrations of this bread shows a very dark finish.

They were delicious, the orange peel coming through nicely with the mahlepi, and the fillings adding pockets of extra yumminess. Overall, I found the bread on the dry side, which was a nice excuse for spreading it with butter. Next time I think I'd add a spot more butter into the dough.

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