Tsoureki (pronounced: tsou-REH-key) is a sweet braided bread that is made every year for the celebration & remembrance of Passover & the Resurrection of Christ, also known as Pascha in Greek. Flavored with mastiha (mastic tree resin from the Greek island of Chios) and mahlepi (a.k.a mahlab), a highly aromatic spice made from the seeds of wild cherry trees, tsoureki is one of the things we look most forward to each year. Because tsoureki is such a special bread, I wanted to be able to create a gluten free version so that even those who cannot eat wheat would have the opportunity to experience this bread that means so much to us and the Greek culture. After working on this recipe for several years, I am happy to present to you all, a beautiful gluten free tsoureki!
If you have ever tried baking gluten free bread, then you understand the challenges that come with baking without gluten. In general, in order for gluten free bread to be soft and airy, you have to use a much wetter dough, that is more of a batter than a dough. A batter-like consistency does not work for making a bread that you can braid, so you have to use some special techniques to create a braid-able gluten free loaf of bread. Thanks to Nicole Hunn of Gluten Free on a Shoestring and her genius method for creating gluten free bread that can be shaped, I was able to adapt her gluten free challah recipe into Greek tsoureki and the result was incredible!
In an effort to make this gluten free tsoureki recipe as accessible as possible, I have worked out a combination of gluten-free flours that are pretty basic and easily acquirable. The only two ingredients that may be more difficult to find are the mastiha and mahlepi, but once you taste the unique flavor they infuse into the tsoureki, you will understand how they are what makes this bread truly special (you should be able to find mastiha & mahlepi at Middle Eastern or Mediterranean markets, or you can always order them online here & here).
One of the keys to having a gluten free bread that can be handled and shaped is a refrigerator rise. The time the dough spends in the refrigerator allows the flours time to absorb the moisture and, therefore, develop a much better texture. Not to mention, handling cold dough, when it comes time to shaping, is imperative for a successfully shaped loaf of gluten free bread. After lots of recipe developing, we could not be happier with the result of this gluten free tsoureki. Thinly sliced, toasted and slathered with whipped butter, we have found there is no better way to eat a loaf of tsoureki.
And speaking of eating the tsoureki, you will always find it paired with kokkina avga (red eggs). We dye our eggs with yellow onion skins, for an all natural look that is absolutely beautiful to behold. In the Greek culture, these red eggs are associated with the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Eggs symbolize the empty rock tomb from which Jesus arose after his crucifixion and the color red symbolizes his blood which represents life and victory.
Tsoureki is also known as lambropsomo: lambri, which means bright light, and psomi which means bread; referring to the light given to us through Christ’s resurrection. Not only does this bread withhold so many precious family memories, but most of all, I love that its significance is intertwined with the most important event in the history of our faith.
- 25g gluten free flour*
- 4 oz (1/2 cup) water
- 3 cups (420 g) gluten free flour*, plus more for sprinkling
- ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
- 1/4 cup (48 g) sugar
- 2 tsp (7 g) instant yeast
- 1 tsp (6 g) kosher salt
- 2 large eggs plus 1 large egg yolk, at room temperature, cut into tbsp pieces
- 5 tbsp (70 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- ½ cup milk, at room temperature
- 1/2 tsp ground mahlepi
- 4 drops mastiha, crushed with 1/2 tsp sugar
- 1/4 cup honey
- zest of 1 small orange, about 1 tsp orange zest
- water roux (see above)
- egg wash (1 large egg, at room temperature, beaten with 1 tbsp water)
- 1 tbsp sesame seeds
- 340g superfine white rice flour
- 120g potato starch
- 60g tapioca starch
- 20g non fat dry milk powder
- 16 grams xanthan gum
- Whisk together the flour & water in a small saucepan - cook over medium high heat, whisking constantly, until thickened (it is ready when the whisk leaves a visible trail as it moves through the roux)
- Remove from the heat & allow to cool until no longer hot to the touch
- Place the flour, cream of tartar, sugar, instant yeast & salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and use a handheld whisk to combine
- Heat the milk with the mahlepi and ground mastiha & sugar mixture until milk is hot but not boiling.
- Allow the milk to cool and then add the eggs, honey, orange zest & roux to the saucepan, whisking well to combine
- Add liquid to the flour in the bowl of the stand mixer and mix on low speed with the dough hook until the dry ingredients are incorporated into the wet.
- Slowly add in the butter, one piece at a time, letting each piece mix into the dough before adding the next piece
- Raise the mixer speed to high and mix for another 5 minutes. The dough will be quite sticky but relatively smooth & stretchy.
- Spray a silicone spatula lightly with cooking oil spray and scrape down the sides of the bowl.
- Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl or proofing bucket large enough for the dough to rise to double its size, and cover with an oiled piece of plastic wrap (or the oiled top to your proofing bucket) Place the dough in the refrigerator for at least 12 hours and up to 5 days
- On baking day, line a rimmed baking sheet with unbleached parchment paper & set it aside.
- Remove the dough from the refrigerator and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface - knead the dough until it is smooth
- To make braided bread, divide the dough into three equally sized pieces (I use a scale to get them identical). Shape each piece into an 18" long rope & braid the three pieces together (see gif above for reference)
- Once the loaf is braided, carefully transfer the braided dough, already on parchment paper, to a rimmed baking sheet.
- Brush the top of the dough carefully but liberally with the egg wash.
- Cover the braided bread with oiled plastic wrap and allow to rise in a warm, draft-free location for 40 minutes
- Brush the loaf again with egg wash, sprinkle with sesame seeds and allow to continue to rise uncovered until nearly doubled in size (about another 20 minutes).
- Place the bread in the center of a cold oven and turn the heat to 350° F. Bake for 20 minutes, then turn down the oven temperature to 325° F and bake until the internal temperature of the bread is 185° F on an instant-read thermometer, about another 15 minutes.
- Allow the bread to cool completely before slicing, toasting & serving with butter (slice the bread about 3/8" thick for best results)
*adapted from Nicole Hunn's Gluten Free Challah