For most people -religious or not- Easter means the celebration of Spring and life and with my mind I think that this should mean a celebration without sacrifices and violence but with colors, flowers and joy for human and non-human animals. So today I am very excited to share with you my vegan recipe for my favorite traditional Greek tsoureki, made only with plant-based ingredients! Easter tsoureki – a traditional brioche-like bread loaded with butter and eggs- is exactly what I was looking forward to eat during Easter as a child and I imagine I was not the only one. In my family, as in most Greek homes, we usually prepared several loaves a couple of days before Easter. After letting them cool overnight, we would wrap them with a transparent film and we waited anxiously to enjoy thick slices of our favorite sweet bread during the Easter day.
After I became a vegan, I was very much involved in making different types of homemade breads and bread-rolls and among other things, I experimented several times, using different recipes and ingredients, in order to get a vegan tsoureki just the way I wanted it – fluffy, fragrant, chewy, with a nice texture and a freshness that could be retained for several days after baking. Finally I came to the recipe I wanted to and so in the last few years, the days before Easter our house is filled with the smell of the baked sweet bread, with the aromas of mastiha and cardamon and for several days we enjoy this delicious bread every morning. My joy is indescribable every time I take a slice of tsoureki and I pull it apart just to see how it separates into strands, every time I push its surface a little bit just to feel the fluffiness, in every bite when it melts in my mouth and its amazing taste takes me back to my childhood. Actually making the perfect vegan tsoureki is not that difficult but there are some secrets that I’m going to share with you. First of all we have to choose the right flour. In Greece you can find packaged flour special for tsoureki and I guess that in other countries there must be a flour special for brioche (but even if you cannot find it I have the solution, just keep on reading!). Second we have to knead the dough like a lot, in order to make gluten develop and get that nice strands – one main characteristic of this sweet bread , third it’s extremely important to use the right amount of yeast and last but not least, we have to add the coconut oil or the vegan butter in the right time and with the right way (see the instructions).
Sometimes I like to add stuffing inside my tsoureki. Usually we prefer chestnut jam or sliced fresh apples and cinnamon (apple-pie stuffing), as I did in one of the two loaves I made this time. You can also stuff with chocolate or a vegan nutella – all these things are going to add to the recipe and it’s not too complicated to try!
One more thing I really appreciate about vegan tsoureki as with vegan brioche and especially in this particular recipe is the absence of animal-derived ingredients that allows the aromas of spices to emanate and combine perfectly with the distinctive essence of coconut. Moreover the yeast and gluten work much better to give volume to the baked product and most importantly all the natural flavors explode beautifully in your palate!
- 3/4 cups (180 ml) lukewarm full-fat coconut milk, homemade or from tin
- 3/4 cups (180 ml) lukewarm water (or additional plant-based milk)
- 1 cup (150-160 g) raw cane brown sugar
- 1 level tsp dry yeast
- 8 drops of natural mastic oil
- 1 tsp ground mahlepi
- 1/2 tsp ground cardamon
- 1/2 tsp salt
- zest from 1 lemon
- ¼ cup (60 ml) melted coconut oil + 1 tablespoon extra coconut oil or sunflower oil for greasing the bowl (we can also use vegan margarine)
- 4 1/4 cups (625 g) flour for tsoureki or brioche *
for brushing & sprinkling
- 2-3 tbsp coconut milk or soy milk
- almond flakes or coconut flakes
1. In a cup stir the yeast with the lukewarm water (or plant-based milk) and one tablespoon of flour and allow for about fifteen minutes in a warm place. If the yeast is active, you will see tiny, dense bubbles appearing on the surface of the cup. Because we put a small amount of yeast we do not expect too many to form, but these few are the indication that the yeast works!
2. In a bowl or (preferably) in a strong mixer add the lukewarm coconut milk, the yeast mixture, the salt and the sugar and stir until sugar dissolves. Add the spices, the mastic oil and the flour in 4-5 doses by kneading very well each time to activate gluten. This way you’ll get an elastic, soft dough that does not stick to hands, without adding more flour than what is really needed.
3. Form a ball with the dough, grease a bowl with a little coconut oil and put it in. Press the dough with your hands to expand, melt the coconut oil (it should not be too hot) and pour spoonfuls of oil over the dough, pulling and folding each time until all the oil is absorbed. At this point, do not knead but only pull and fold in order to create «layers» of oil and dough that will give an amazing consistency to your final baked good. Alternatively, put the dough on an oiled surface, dip our hands in the melted coconut oil and press over the dough to spread it. Fold the four sides like an envelope, re-dip the hands into the oil and press the dough again. Repeat the process until all of the coconut oil is used. Cover it with a humid towel or clear film and let it rise and double in volume for 2-3 hours in a warm place (eg in the oven at 40 ° C together with a bowl of water that will provide the essential moisture).
4. When the dough is ready, press it to deflate and form a ball. Divide it into two equal parts (or four depending on how many cords you want in your breads). Roll the pieces of dough gently into cords. I made two large cords, folded each one in the middle and made two “plaits” with two cords each. Place the breads carefully on a tray lined with non-stick baking paper. You can put each tsoureki on its own non-stick paper so it’s easier to move it if necessary. Brush them with plenty of milk.
5. Put the breads in a lightly warm oven at 40 ° C along with a bowl of water and allow them to double in volume. It will take about 45 minutes. If you want you can carefully and softly brush them with milk one more time to get a more shiny result (I forgot to do it this time!).
6. Bake at 200 oC degrees for about 40-45 minutes or until they get a nice golden brown color.
7. Let cool on a wire rack and enjoy!
Follow the whole procedure but when you make your cords use a rolling pin to roll each cord out vertically until about 10 cm wide and spread uniformly on the one side of the strip the filling of your choice, leaving 2 cm from each end to seal it. Then fold in a roll, seal the edges well and form your tsoureki. For my stuffing I used one peeled red apple cut into slices mixed with 1 tbsp of brown sugar and a pinch of ground cinnamon.
* Note: If you cannot find a special flour for brioche or tsoureki, you can use all-purpose flour but you will substitute half a cup of it with an equal amount of gluten flour (the same flour that we use to make seitan).