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… an updated & foolproof version with a logical approach for making an even better traditional Greek sweet bread for the Orthodox Easter festivities. 

The idea behind this recipe and instructions, after meticulously analyzing my own family’s traditional recipes and comparing it to other existing and successful recipes was to create a version that seemed logical (mathematically speaking) and easy to remember, providing the best results possible, even after just a first try, that you could decide to slightly alter later, according to your own personal tastes and/or memories.

TSOUREKI is a Greek lightly sweetened bread or dense brioche, always made at Orthodox Easter time, which this year is on May 2nd, 2021, but it is also often prepared during other holiday seasons and throughout the year too, by most Greek bakeries, in all shapes and sizes, due to its popularity.

Tsoureki can be compared to Southern France’s Brioche des Rois and Fouace, Italy’s Pannetone and Pane di Pasqua, Spain’s and Algeria’s Mouna, but the Finnish Pulla Bread and the Jewish Challah are most similar to Tsoureki but mostly because of their stringy textures and of course many similar versions with slight taste variations exist in the neighboring Balkan countries, Turkey and until far-off Armenia, called Chorek, which is the closest cousin to what we Greeks define as Tsoureki.

Each family has at least 1 or 2 recipes, modified over the years to present-day availabilities of ingredients and methods. It is always prepared in large quantities, usually requiring at least 1 kg of flour to make enough for the family, to offer some as gifts and of course to inevitably compare all the tsoureki that you’ve made and received from others and eaten to judge which is the best version that year, because every year is different and there’s always someone who made a better version and one will always be congratulated and asked what they did differently to make it so exceptionally good this year. Tsoureki is traditional but not static and does evolve.

The main flavors or aromatics can vary but most often will include mostly ground mahleb stones (tiny pits from a small black cherry) with its almond and cherry aromas, then half as much mastic resin which gives the sweet bread a bittersweet and fresh resinous scent, a hint of cloves (usually added whole to the dough, then removed after the first kneading because it darkens the dough a bit but I prefer to finely grind the whole cloves and to include them all, even though it does darken the dough) and orange zest and orange juice, some vanilla, sometimes with just a hint of fennel or anis seeds too, but those are mostly regional variations.

Here are some substitute aromatic ingredients you can use if you can’t get mastic resin crystals which are expensive, try replacing them with 2-3 crushed juniper berries and 1 cardamom pod, well ground with some sugar. In order to replace the mahleb stones, try using ¼ tsp of almond extract mixed with 1/8 tsp of cherry extract. Finally, if you don’t have ouzo or other anise-flavored drink (like pastis), try replacing it with a floral gin and a few ground seeds of a star anise pod.

There are two typical shapes; the braided version with represents the wheat stalk but is actually the crown of thorns, sprinkled with sesame seeds or flaked almonds on top to represent the thorns themselves (so they say) and the single spiral or snail shape and sometimes a double spiral, representing resurrection and life, which is my optimistically preferred shape and which I prefer without any extra adornments or garnishes, simply smooth and unmarred. Today, people also make smaller tsoureki muffins.

Adding a pre-boiled and red-dyed Easter egg in the middle of the dough braids or spiral is traditional, but only at Easter time.

My humble attempt and version is to recreate a version that combines the aromas I prefer and seem to remember and the moist and dense yet stringy texture of many sweet breads I’ve enjoyed. 

This version respects traditional methods and the flavors and is easy to remember and as delicious and moist and as stringy as possible. I make a medium-sized batch using only 500 grams of flour, which is easy to work with and perfect for a first attempt that you could easily double for the next time.

It could have been called TSOUREKI NUMBER 6 because I tried several variations by modifying the ratios of the main ingredients and tested it several times before deciding to share the winning recipe with all of you.

The main ingredient is the flour and there exists specific flour especially used for tsoureki, but it will be hard to find. It’s finely ground like cake & pastry flour but with a very high gluten/protein content which is between 14% and 15%. Pizza flour or tipo 00 flour or Brioche flour are excellent and easy options but more expensive, but I simply used organic unbleached all-purpose flour which only has a 12% protein/gluten content to which I added wheat gluten powder to increase it to almost 15% protein/gluten, just like a hearty whole meal bread flour, but ground much finer. Simply remember that if you add gluten, you’ll remove an equal amount of flour first. Another great addition is malt extract powder, made from fermented barley, which adds depth and flavor and feeds the yeast because it’s slightly sweet as well as further developing the crust, but that’s up to you. For special baking purposes, bakers usually add 1 tsp of malt extract powder per cup of flour used by substituting it for 1 tsp of regular flour, that they will remove. I sometimes use only 1 tbsp for this recipe, if I have some handy. All of this is further explained in a note in the instructions, if you want to use gluten and/or malt extract powder.

And once again, if you add either gluten or malt powder or both, do not forget to remove an equal amount of flour too because they are and act like flours, but are used sparingly. You’ll add some salt of course and you could include just a little bit of baking powder which is a little trick and simply serves as an insurance policy to guarantee that the tsoureki gets that little extra push during the baking process to become as fluffy as possible.

The other 4 secondary ingredients, all in equal proportions are the ½ cup of eggs, the ½ cup of sugar, the ½ cup of milk and the ½ cup of fats which is an equal combination of half butter (¼ cup) and half vegetable oil (¼ cup).

I admit that this recipe includes non-traditional ingredients too, like orange blossom water and ouzo, but once all combined together, their chemistry recreates the subtle flavors that I seem to remember as being my favorite.

The hand-kneading and the balance of the ingredients provides me with the texture I prefer, both moist and dense yet stringy like a more compact brioche or baguette can be.

You will need an almost equal weight of flour (500 grams) to the totality of the rest of the ingredients (518 grams) or 4 cups of flour to 2 cups of all the secondary ingredients (milk, sugar, eggs, combined butter and oil), with an extra ¼ cup of ingredients that includes the fresh yeast, the citrus zests, the crushed dry aromatics (mastic resin, mahlab, cloves) and the liquid aromatics (orange blossom water, ouzo and vanilla) and salt.

Hand-kneading (3 times) strengthens the dough and provides better results and is easy to do when you do it with oiled hands and no extra flour will be needed nor should be used. And if you have no gluten to add, then I suggest you knead the dough a lot, which will build up the dough’s strength and elasticity, like gluten does. If you have a machine that does the job just as well, go right ahead but I think that tsoureki dough prefers the warmth of caring hands.

Fresh yeast provides better results because it’s so lively but you could use half as much dry yeast if it’s particularly active, but I find it takes longer to rise, even if you use more than half, so if you must, use 15 grams or 1 ½ tbsp of dry yeast, but at least try to get a cube of fresh yeast for the best results.

The honey syrup glaze, instead of the more traditional topping of flaked almonds or sesame seed make the tsoureki seem simpler and more contemporary in its aspect and gives it a beautiful shiny gloss but also traps in the moisture so it stays moist for 1 week without being sealed in a plastic bag, just a metal tin or plastic container will do, to store it perfectly. And of course, the honey syrup glaze sweetens the crust so if decide not to glaze your tsoureki, remember to add 2 more tbsp of sugar to the basic dough.

The optional fillings of the chopped candied or caramelized almonds and diced candied citrus peel add a little surprise as you eat it and compensate for the lack of toppings but it’s just as good without them and a lot easier to prepare without that extra step that takes some time. On the other hand, I’ve noticed that when the fillings are added along the middle and inside the logs before spiraling them, the tsoureki puffs up and retains its rounded shapes because the fillings act like a spine or central reinforcing element. 

There are baking options too. After testing it, I discovered that preserving the dough’s humidity is important at the beginning or during the first half of the total baking time. Covering the sweet bread, for the first half of the baking time, in its baking pan with an aluminum foil tent or a lid or an inverted plate, or if it’s on a baking sheet, by placing a large inverted salad bowl or an inverted deep baking dish on top allows the dough to puff up before the crust sets and solidifies and sometimes cracks. A pan or dish of hot water, on the floor of the oven, that evaporates and creates steam as the tsoureki bakes is also very helpful and you could do that also or instead. Then uncover the sweet breads for the second half of the baking time so it gets darker and golden and fully baked.

I’m very proud of this recipe because I can remember it easily, even though it’s better to weigh the ingredients, which are perhaps too precisely noted here but there’s no problem if you stray a bit and round off the numbers or just use cups and tablespoons and teaspoons to measure everything without weighing anything. It should be fine.

*This recipe is exactly how I like my tsoureki to taste but feel free to increase the liquid and/or dry aromatics and the zests and the sugar by up to 25% after your first trial. It won’t affect the rest of the ingredients and will be more intense in flavor, if that’s what you prefer, because let’s be honest, the truly best tsoureki will always be the one that you prefer, no matter what anybody else likes and/or says.

Happy baking & happy tasting & Happy Orthodox Easter … :)

traditional «tsoureki» for the 21st century


1 kg


basic dough (approximately 1000 grams) :

  • 500 grams (4 cups) all-purpose flour (with high protein content of 13%-14,5% protein content) *further explanations are available in the instructions if using gluten and/or malt extract powder to improve your flour
  • 110 grams (½ cup or 8 tbsp) butter & neutral vegetable oil (use 58 grams or ¼ cup butter + 52 grams or ½ cup oil)
  • 116 grams (½ cup) eggs (use 2 large or 3 medium eggs and reserve the extra egg yolk for the egg wash)
  • 100 grams (½ cup) sugar, white or golden cane sugar
  • 122 grams (½ cup) milk, partly skimmed
  • 25 grams (2-3 tbsp) fresh cake yeast (mixed into the milk with 1 tsp of the measured sugar & 2 tsp of the measured then sifted flour)
  • 2,5 grams (½ tsp) fine sea salt
  • optional : 4 grams (1 tsp) double-action baking powder (increase to 8 grams or 2 tsp for single-action baking powder)

liquid aromatics (30 ml) :   

  • 15 ml (1 tbsp) orange blossom water (or orange juice)
  • 10 ml (2 tsp) ouzo (or anise-flavored alcohol)
  • 5 ml (1 tsp) vanilla extract

dry aromatics (5 grams without the sugar for grinding & 12 grams after grinding with the sugar) :

  • 3 grams (1 tsp) whole mahleb stones, finely ground with 1 tsp sugar (or 1 tsp mahleb powder without sugar)
  • 1,5 grams (½ tsp) whole mastic crystals, finely ground with ½ tsp sugar (or ½ tsp mastic resin powder without sugar)
  • 0,5 grams (¼ tsp) whole cloves (8 small or 4 large), finely ground with ¼ tsp sugar (or ¼ tsp clove powder without sugar)

zests (5 grams) :

  • 3 grams (1 ½ tsp) orange zest (from 1 medium orange of 200 grams)
  • 2 grams (1 tsp) lemon zest (from 1 large lemon of 100 grams)
  • 1 gram (½ tsp) lime zest (from 1 small lime of 50 grams)

optional fillings (75 grams) : 

  • 35 grams (¼ cup) sugared or caramelized almonds, coarsely chopped 
  • 40 grams (¼ cup) candied citrus peels (orange, lemon, lime), diced

toppings options for a more traditional tsoureki (instead of the fillings) :

  • 20 grams (¼ cup) flaked almonds
  • 20 grams (2 tbsp) rock sugar
  • 18 grams (2 tbsp) toasted sesame seeds

egg wash (20 grams) :

  • 15 grams (1 tbsp) egg yolk
  • 5 ml (1 tsp) milk 

honey syrup glaze (50 grams) :

  • 45 grams (2 tbsp) honey
  • 15 ml (1 tbsp) water


  • measure out the eggs, the sugar, the milk, the butter and the vegetable oil and set everything aside separately at room temperature
  • melt the butter, then add the vegetable oil, mix together and let cool down until semi-solid again (transfer to a refrigerator for 15 minutes before using)
  • measure out the flour (but add the wheat gluten if necessary and malt extract powder if you like, by removing an equal amount of flour and see note below), then sift it all into a large bowl, keep the salt (and the baking powder if using) separate from the flour and set aside 
  • note : if unable to get finely ground flour with 13-14,5% protein content and if using all-purpose flour with only 12% protein content, then remove 20 grams (2 ½ tbsp) of flour and add 20 grams (2 ½ tbsp gluten) or if using all-purpose flour with 13% protein content, then remove 8 grams (1 tbsp) of flour and add 8 grams (1 tbsp) wheat gluten; if you have malt extract powder for baking (active with enzymes called diastatic malt), then remove 10 grams (almost 1 tbsp) flour and add 10 grams (1 tbsp) malt extract powder … in the end, you should always have 500 grams (4 cups) of flour mixture …
  • add 1 tsp of sugar (from the ½ cup of sugar) and 2 tsp of flour (from the 4 cups of sifted flour) into the room temperature milk and whisk, then add all the crumbled yeast and set aside for 10-15 minutes until slightly frothy (but if the milk is still cold, then place the whole cup in a bowl of warm water to speed it up)
  • chill then crush the mastic resin crystals with ½ tsp of sugar (from the ½ cup of sugar) and set aside, then crush and grind the mahleb stones with 1 tsp of the sugar (from the ½ cup of sugar) and set aside and finally crush and grind the cloves with ¼ tsp of sugar (from the ½ cup of sugar) and set aside, then mix all 3 powders together and reserve
  • measure out the liquid aromatics (orange blossom water, ouzo and vanilla extract) and mix all three together and set aside
  • zest the lime, lemon and orange and add all the zests to the liquid aromatics and set aside
  • beat the remaining sugar (¾ cup + 3 tbsp) with the eggs for a few minutes until smoother frothy, then add the liquid aromatics and the milk and yeast mixture and mix again for a few seconds
  • add the salt (and baking powder if using) to the sifted flour mixture, add all of the crushed dry aromatics, mix well, then add all of the liquid mixture and stir until shaggy and shape into a ball and let rest for 5 minutes
  • separate the butter and olive oil mixture into 2/3 (approximately 5 tbsp or 70 grams) that you will use now and 1/3 (approximately 3 tbsp or 40 grams) that you will use later on, in a few hours, for 2 additional steps of quick kneading and final shaping
  • cover your hands with 1 tbsp at a time of the melted butter and oil mixture and knead the dough well, adding more of the butter and oil mixture on your hands progressively and repeatedly for 10-15 minutes of kneading (always only using the 5 tbsp or 70 grams of olive oil and butter mixture) until almost all is used up and a smooth and elastic ball is formed and let it rest for 2-3 minutes before testing its readiness
  • test your dough after all the kneading by stretching the smooth and elastic ball of dough (around 15 cm in diameter when round) with both hands until it has stretched out to a long oval to almost triple its original length (45 cm) and if it doesn’t tear easily, then it’s ready and if not, then knead for 5 more minutes
  • coat a large bowl and the ball of dough with the last remains of the 70 grams of melted butter and olive oil, place the dough inside the bowl and cover it with plastic wrap and place the bowl in a turned off oven with a drip pan filled with hot tap water underneath on the floor of the oven (not touching the bowl and replacing the hot tap water every hour) and let it rise until at least doubled or almost tripled in size (about 2 ½ - 3 hours at 25°C in the oven)
  • remove the dough from the bowl, deflate it, separate in half for 2 medium loaves or separate the other half in 4-6 smaller pieces for smaller spiral or large muffin-sized loaves or separate all of the dough in 3-4 balls to make 1 very large braided loaf or make whatever shapes you like
  • use about 1 tbsp of second amount of melted butter and olive oil (the 40 grams or 3 tbsp that you reserved) on your hands and knead the dough balls again for 3-5 minutes until smooth and elastic and let all the balls of dough all rise again in as many bowls as you need (as before, covered with plastic film, in the turned-off oven with hot tap water in a drip-pan on the floor of the oven) for 1-1 ½ hours maximum
  • prepare the optional filling of slightly crushed candied almonds and the diced candied citrus peels and set aside (or prepare more traditional toppings of flaked almonds or rock sugar and/or sesame seeds and set aside)
  • prepare your flat baking sheets or preferably baking pans (like springform pans) by lining them with baking paper on the bottom and lightly brushing the bottom and sides with some of the oil and butter mixture
  • use the remaining melted butter and olive oil mixture on your hands to deflate and re-knead the dough for 1 minute and roll out into long tapered logs
  • if filling them, then flatten them out and create a long dent along the middle, add a thin row of the crushed sugared almond and diced candied citrus peels fillings along the middle, pinch the dough shut again, let rest for 1 minute and roll into a very smooth tapered log that is thicker in the middle and thinner and pointed at the 2 ends
  • wind into a tight spiral and place on your baking sheet or inside your baking pans, loosely cover with a kitchen towel or preferably under an inverted large bowl or baking dish and let rise again in a turned off oven with a pan of hot water for at least 45 minutes or up to 1 hour maximum until larger by 33% minimum or 50% maximum (otherwise it might deflate before baking) and do a finger poke test (with some flour at the end of your finger) to see if the dough springs back quickly or slowly, ideally it should still spring back slightly before pre-heating your oven and baking
  • preheat the oven to 180°C for 15 minutes minimum with the rack towards the bottom (or middle if your oven is very large or high) and a small baking dish filled with hot water on the floor of the oven to create steam
  • gently brush the risen dough with some of the beaten egg yolk mixed with milk and bake for 25-30 minutes for one medium loaf of 500 grams baked alone or for 4 smaller versions of 125 grams each, baked together
  • *note : ideally, bake the dough spirals inside a large enough baking dish that you can cover with a lid or an inverted baking pan or tented with aluminum foil to preserve the dough’s humidity for the first half of the baking time (12-15 minutes) and then uncover and bake for an additional 12-15 minutes uncovered; otherwise, simply place a flat baking pan with hot water on the floor of the oven as it preheats and during the baking time to create a lot of steam as it bakes for 25-30 minutes …
  • *note: I used one large springform of 22 cm x 6 cm (but it was too big for the 500 grams of dough, 20 cm would be better) and 4 smaller springform pans of 10 cm x 5 cm each for the 4 smaller versions of 125 grams each, but it would have been better to make the dough spirals even smaller and have 5 or 6 instead of 4 because they fill up the smaller baking pans and almost touch the sides when baked …
  • prepare the honey syrup glaze by bringing the thick honey and water to a gentle boil for 1 minute, until slightly reduced and set aside
  • after 25-30 minutes of baking, when the dough seems baked, darker and golden, remove from the oven, gently remove from the baking pans (it’s easier to un-snap springform pans to remove the hot breads more easily) and slide the baked spirals off the baking paper and place on a rack and quickly and gently brush the top and sides with the honey syrup glaze and place back inside the hot oven for 3-5 minutes, then remove and let cool completely on a rack for several hours
  • when completely cooled, transfer to a container (air-tight or not) and store for up to 7 days.