Easter is right around the corner, and today in the Orthodox church we remember the crucifixion of Christ. The church always holds services the previous night for the actual day that the events will occur. Today, this morning actually, is the remembering of the last supper. We ascend to Mt. Zion with Christ and the chosen twelve to enter into the upper room for a special gathering. Once there, we witness the example of Christ abolishing the practice of the Old Covenant and establishing the ritual of the New Covenant, prophesied by Jeremiah, through the Mystery of Holy Communion. The faithful who have prepared also partake in communion during tonight’s evening service. This also will include the memorial of the underserved suffering of Jesus Christ, endured for our sake, so that we might be reconciled anew to God the Father. The Gospel readings go through each account of his arrest, his trial, his conviction, and finally his torture, crucifixion and death at the hands of sinful humanity. Tonight ends with a very heavy heart and understanding of the crucified Christ. Below are the icons of the Last Supper and the Crucifixion of Christ. I hope to make a blog dedicated to the explanation of Byzantine icons and what they represent; I have come a long way from being confused and irritated by the veneration of icons to finally understanding their meaning and place in the church. More on that later though.
Thankfully though, we know what is coming on Saturday evening/Sunday morning. . . Christ WILL and HAS ALREADY risen!!! With this is mind, we continue to prepare for the great feast of Easter. We dye eggs, we make tsoureki, and we continue to prepare our spirits and minds for a new awakening and celebration of the truly Risen King.
I made tsoureki before we left the island and will share with you the recipe I used. Although it was my first time and I combined a few different recipes, the bread turned out quite beautiful and tasty, if I do say so myself … and I do!
Before the recipe, let me tell you what I have learned about the history and meaning of this wonderful Easter Bread. Τσουρέκι (pronounced tsou-RE-ki) is also called Λαμπρόψωμο (proniunced lam-BRO-pso-mo) meaning the “Bright or Shining Bread” named after “Bright Easter Sunday” when Christ Rises!!! It is made to symbolize the light given to Christians by Christ’s resurrection and the passing from what we are to what the Risen Lord wants us to be: “partakers of the divine nature”. It is braided with three strands to represent the Holy Trinity: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Typically, it is decorated with brightly dyed eggs and sliced blanched almonds, but sometimes you can even find chocolate covered! The dyed eggs represent the blood that Christ has shed for us and the new life we begin at the resurrection, and well, the almonds and chocolate, they just look and taste great
Tsoureki is a rich, sweet, brioche-like bread that is traditionally flavored with an essence drawn from the seeds of Mediterranean wild cherries, called μαχλέπι (Maxlepi, pronounced mahk-LE-pi). The combination of maxlepi, Chios mastic, cardamom, and either vanilla or orange zest makes for an incomparable sweet bread. Greece also celebrates Christmas with a similar type of bread called, Christopsomos, meaning literally Christ bread. Sometimes the New Year’s coin is also hidden inside of a sweet bread instead of a cake too.
I used a combination of 2-3 different recipes, and the end result was beautiful and tasted good. The only fault I made was not adding enough sugar. I ended up covering it in chocolate and it was PERFECT!!! Lesson learned = add more sugar if you will be serving plain or use less sugar if you plan to cover in chocolate!
Greek Easter “Tsoureki” Bread Recipe: Makes 1 loaf Printable Recipe 1/2 cup more milk (about 100-110°) 1 T. sugar + 1/2 – 3/4 cup if you want sweet bread 1 1/2 T. active dry yeast 1/2 – 1 cup bread flour + 3-4 cups more to make dough 2 eggs + 1 to brush on dough 1/4 cup butter, room temperature 1-2 tsp. maxlepi*, optional 1 tsp. mastic, optional 1-2 tsp. cardamom* 1-2 T. brandy* 1 T. orange zest* dash of salt 1 tsp. vanilla* (or more if not using zest or spices) *The spices I used
Mix 1/2 – 1 cup flour, yeast, 1 T. sugar, and warm milk together until a thick, wet batter is formed, rest 30-60 minutes. Add remaining ingredients and enough flour to form a dough. Knead for 5-8 minutes and cover to rise for 1-2 hours, until doubled or almost tripled in size. Punch down dough and divide into 3 equal parts. Using as little flour as necessary, roll the dough into about 12-14″ long ropes. Gently braid the ropes together forming a loaf and tuck under the ends making sure to seal them well. Preheat your oven to 400°, let braid rise for 20-30 minutes, then brush with your beaten egg: use the egg white for a light colored bread, use the whole egg (I did) for a medium colored bread, or use only the yolk for a deep brown colored bread. Place sliced almonds all over your bread and strategically position your eggs! Bake for 10 minutes and then reduce heat to 350° and bake for another 25-35 minutes or until golden brown and hallow when tapped on the bottom. PS. A trick used to make and keep the bright red eggs shiny is to rub them with olive oil!!!
We are now in Halkidiki with the in-laws and the sun is shining and Meli is barking This is the first time our inside pup will experience the joy of being an outside dog! She has already made the garden chickens her friends, and I use the term friends very loosely…. she observes them more from afar and barks when they come too close!
Kali Anastasi (Good Resurrection) is a common greeting over the next few days!