Tsoureki is a type of braided bread which is traditionally served in Greece to celebrate Easter. Several neighboring nations also make a traditional Easter bread which is physically identical to tsoureki, such as choreg in Armenia and chorek in Turkey. This bread is traditionally served at the breaking of the Lenten fast, and loaves of tsoureki may also be exchanged on Easter Sunday as gifts of friendship and goodwill among Greeks. Godparents in particular tend to give tsoureki to their god-children.
The dough used in tsoureki is rich with eggs, making it similar to Jewish challah and other eggy traditional breads made around the world. Like challah, the dough for tsoureki is mildly yeasted, and when well kneaded and prepared, the bread is light, fluffy, and very rich. Traditionally, a dyed red egg is tucked into a hollow in the bread's braid after it is baked. Red eggs are an important part of the Eastern Orthodox Easter tradition, symbolizing the blood of Christ, rebirth, and renewal.
Numerous regional variations on tsoureki use an assortment of flavorings. Orange or vanilla essence can be mixed into the dough, for example, and some Greeks add mastic or mahlab to the dough for a distinctive flavor. Dried fruit and nuts can also be mixed into the bread or sprinkled on top. The use of sesame or poppy seeds to top the bread is not uncommon either.
Traditionally, Greeks make tsoureki on Good Friday or Holy Thursday to ensure that it is ready for consumption on Easter Day. In many communities, Greeks attend midnight services to celebrate the resurrection of Christ and the resulting enlightenment for Christians. After these services, Greeks break the Lent fast with a meal which traditionally includes both red eggs and tsoureki, which is also sometimes called Epiphany Bread, in a reference to Christ.
To make tsoureki, you can use any sort of egg bread recipe, such as challah dough. After the dough has gone through its first rising, divide it into coils and braid it as desired. Tsoureki has no specific shape, although many people like to form it into wreaths or coils. Allow the bread to rise before brushing it with egg and sprinkling on nuts or seeds, if desired. Bake the bread at the recommended temperature until it turns golden brown, and serve warm or wait for the bread to cool completely before wrapping it. Tsoureki pairs well with morning coffee and tea, and it also makes superb French toast.