How can you tell that it is spring where you are? In Cyprus, this is how I can tell it is most definitely spring:
I walked by the Mediterranean Sea and noticed the sea had changed from dark winter blue to bright aqua blue.
There are orange blossom flowers sprinkled all over the roads. The air is palpably sweet at the moment. It’s wonderful. If you would like to make your own homemade orange blossom water, you can try with this recipe here.
I have been eating outside during the day with friends on a more regular basis. In particular, I am visiting this wonderful cafe which serves some killer eggs benedict called The Cookhouse. I went there with Cypriot & Proud the other week, so look out for their upcoming review.
And Easter is approaching.
I made Greek Easter Bread called “tsoureki” as part of the build up to Easter. I take great comfort in making Greek Orthodox Easter recipes. Easter over here feels like a larger celebration than Christmas. It’s tangible. You go to the supermarkets and you can see everyone buying flour, raisins and cheeses for Easter baking. The church bells ring much more often. The days get longer. It’s such a wonderful time of the year over here. And it’s the only time of year that I make “flaounes” (last year I wrote a recipe for the Cyprus Weekly which you can find here), dyed eggs and this year – “tsoureki” – a Greek Easter Bread flavoured with orange zest and Greek spices: mehlep and mastic powders. I actually think this bread is very similar to Challah in texture.
The flavour of the bread I made was just as I intended it to taste: a little bit sweet with the subtle scent of orange and a touch of mastic and mehlep spices. I however was in a rush when I was making these as I was at my aunt’s house to borrow her mixer and was eager to get home before it was too late in the afternoon. As a result, I didn’t let them proof enough (only about 1/3 of the time that I should have let them rise), which meant they rose quickly in the oven and tore, so don’t appear “smooth” — but I assure you that if you let these rise for the right amount of time, these “tsouerki” will be wonderful both in taste and smooth in appearance. Anyway, “tsoureki” is easy to make and because it is such a wonderful bread, I actually wondered why I don’t make it more often than I do. I think it is a bread that can be made year around. I have published a recipe below, and have also published the recipe of a local and fantastic baker (Kalopesas) awhile ago on Cypriot & Proud’s website here. Happy Easter to everyone celebrating. I have been dreaming about making many recipes while I have been resting this past month and am eager to start testing and sharing these with you after Easter. So take care and speak soon. xxx
500 grams Mitsides All Purpose Flour
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 tbs mehlep powder
1/4 tbs mastic powder
1/8 tsp vanilla powder
pinch of salt
1/2 cup of milk
1 tbs dry yeast
1/8 cup fresh orange juice
zest of one large orange
egg wash for brushing
almond flakes and sugar for sprinkling
1. Heat half of the milk to luke warm temperature. In a small bowl, add the yeast together with the warm milk and 1 teaspoon of the sugar and stir until the yeast and sugar have dissolved. Cover the top of the bowl with plastic wrap and let rise for about 1 hour, until it has become foamy.
2. Put the flour, and all the dry ingredients (including the vanilla, mastic, mehlep, salt) in a large bowl. Mix together these ingredients.
3. Beat the eggs and sugar and 1 teaspoon of the orange rind in a mixer on high speed for about 7 minutes until the mixture appears creamy.
4. Melt the butter on the stove or microwave. Also warm the rest of the milk to luke warm temperature.
5. In the bowl with the dry ingredients, push the dry ingredients to one side of the bowl. Add the liquid ingredients (yeast, orange juice, orange rind, creamed eggs and sugar, and the rest of the warm milk) to the other side of the bowl.
6. Begin to bring some of the flour to the liquid side of the bowl and with your hands begin to mix the flour into the liquid mixture massaging the flour lightly between your fingers and the liquid. The mixture will be very sticky at first, but as you gradually mix more of the flour into the liquid side it will become a very soft dough.
7. Once all the mixture has become a soft dough, let it rest in a clean bowl covered with plastic wrap and blankets over top until it has doubled in size – at least 2 hours.
8. Form the “tsoureki”. Divide the dough in half. Then divide each half into as many braid strands as you wish and make a braid with the dough. Place on parchment paper on a baking tray. Cover with a towel and let rise for another 1 hour.
9. Preheat your oven to 160C.
10. Brush each “tsoureki” with egg wash and sprinkle sugar and almond flakes on top. Bake for 40 minutes in a preheated oven. Your “tsoureki” will be properly cooked when the top and bottom of the “tsoureki” have gone a nice deep golden brown. The top should be smooth and shiny and the bottom of the “tsoureki” slightly darker than the top.