The Easter Feast is one of the most important celebrations in Greece. The celebration starts in the night from Holy Saturday to Easter Sunday by bringing the Holy Light home from church as a symbol of the Holy Spirit.
There are also a lot of traditional foods on Easter like lamb, grilled slowly from early in the Sunday morning on large BBQ grills, stuffed wine leaves, red eggs as a symbol of the new beginning and a lots more. After 40 days of fasting, people enjoy to to eat, drink and party again.
One tradition is to bake Tsoureki, a sweet bread served for breakfast and coffee, but you can eat it also all year long. One of the most typical spices in this bread is Masticha (Μαστíχα) from the island of Chios. This Greek island became very famous for it. Masticha or Mastix is a resin gained from a specific kind of pine tree. In ancient Greece people used to chew it as a chewing gum, not just for fun but as a kind of oral hygiene. A few years ago scientists found out that Mastix has a positive effect on stomach problems and the healing of skin wounds. The inhabitants of Chios also call Mastix the “Tears of Chios” for the dripping of the trees’ resin.
If you cannot find any Mastix in your local shops you can replace it by grounded anise. But if you ever tried Mastix in this bread you will realize that it has a complete different taste and smell. If you try one drop of Mastix you will realize that it develops in the mouth like a chewing gum. Surprisingly it does not really has any intense taste. Though adding it to your Tsoureki it develops the typical smell.
Food fact: normally you should not swallow down chewing gums. If you use Mastix it is no problem at all as it is a natural product!
What you need:
370 ml milk
100 gr butter
230 gr sugar
1 egg yolk
1 tsp Mastix (or grounded anise)
3 bags dry yeast
850 gr white flour
1 egg yolk
1 Tbsp milk
4 Tbsp almond flakes
2 half cooked, colored eggs (optional)
How to prepare:
Melt the butter with the milk and sugar over low heat in a pot and stir well. Set aside when the butter has dissolved.
Crush the Mastix drops in a pestel and add to the liquids.
Beat the eggs and the egg yolk with your electric beater. Add the yeast and the lukewarm butter-milk-mixture to the eggs (test the temperature with your finger).
Slowly add the flour and knead with the electric mixture until the dough has become solid enough to be worked by hand. Place the dough on your work-space and fold in the remaining flour by hand. The dough should be soft but not sticking. Depending on the type of flour you use add or leave some flour of the amount above.
For a ball, place the dough into a floured bowl, sprinkle some flour and let rest the dough in a warm place. You can leave the dough in your oven with 50ºC until it doubled its size. This will take about 1 hour.
Sprinkle some flour over a work-space of your counter or table and knead the dough again briefly. Divide the dough into 6 equal pieces to form 2 long braids.
Place the braids on a baking tin laid with baking paper. If you want you can place a half cooked, colored egg on each braid. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and let rest in the oven until it doubled in size.
Heat the oven to 170ºC. Mix the egg and the milk and spread over the braids with a brush. Sprinkle with almond flakes.
Bake the braids on low level for 25-30 minutes on air.
Let cool and enjoy!