Work-Life Balance… it is one of the trickiest and most elusive equilibrium for me to strike. I tend to get so engrossed in my work, tasks, responsibilities, presentations, scenario building, etc… that many other things in my life seem to fall by the way side (gym going being the first victim).
After particularly strenuous weeks, I find myself dedicating the better part of an entire weekend, to the kitchen. I find anything that has been in my “to cook someday – too complicated to tackle now” list, and dive in. As I try to understand and execute a new recipe, my thoughts and worries of work slowly melt away, and I surrender to all the smells, textures and challenges before me – hoping something tasty comes out of my efforts. This is why I spend so much time cooking, it is how I find my zen. And so, it is not difficult to then see why I find myself spending many Friday nights locked away in the kitchen, sometimes my entire Saturday or Sunday – J does wonder how I can dedicate so much time thinking about food, but he doesn’t complain, knowing he is the primary beneficiary!
Yesterday night I was feeling particularly homesick – of Greece – and decided to brave another trial at making tsoureki, now that I had succeeded in making the English white bloomer. We usually eat this bread during holidays, particularly Easter and Christmas, but it is delicious and appropriate for any time of year! I had particularly heavy thoughts to work through, and it seemed bread may just do the trick. So I kneaded and kneaded and kneaded the dough. I watched it transform from an impossible to handle sticky, gummy mess, and the more I kneaded it transformed into a beautifully bouncy and satin texture, and I came out delightfully cheerful. After all the kneading, the suspense of the leavening process was quite tough to endure, but once it went into the oven, our house was filled with a delicious waft of sweet mastik and mahlep blend into the rich egg bread! Best of all, I managed to achieve a beautiful dark, glossy finish to the entire loaf!
Makes 1 large loaf
I used regular dry yeast, which requires proofing, because I have a suspicion that my previous breads all failed mainly due to low quality supermarket brand instant yeast. However, you can use instant yeast, skipping step 1. Also, sweetened condensed milk is not mandatory, but it helps to add an extra sweet note to the crust of the bread.
- 60ml water (1 part boiling, 2 parts cold)
- 1 1/2 tbsp yeast
- 1 tsp sugar
- 500g strong bread flour, plus extra for dusting
- 125ml (1/2 cup) milk
- 125g sugar
- 2 eggs (1 for dough, 1 for wash)
- 1/8 tsp mahlep
- 1/8tsp mastik gum
- 25g soft butter
- olive oil for kneading
- 2 tbsp sweetened condensed milk (optional)
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the water, yeast and sugar until dissolved. Let the mixture proof in a warm place for 15-20 minutes, until 2cm of foam forms at the top.
- In a large bowl, roughly mix flour, milk, sugar, 1 egg, mahlep, mastik, yeast. Then add in the softened butter, give another rough mix until dough is just coming together and is very sticky.
- On a clean counter, pour 1-2 tbsp olive oil and spread around (for the dough not to stick to the counter). Place the dough in the middle of your olive oil base, and start kneading. Knead the dough in any way you want, until all the ingredients are evenly incorporated.
- Then start stretching the dough, stretching it away from you and folding it on top of itself repeatedly. This helps stretch all the gluten strands, giving your dough a springy and satin finish. You may need to sprinkle in up to 1/2 cup of flour, if the dough is too sticky(only if it is relentlessly sticking to the counter), but try to resist adding too much because you want a soft dough. Form into a smooth ball and place in a greased large bowl, cover and let rise for 2 hours, until double in size.
- Punch the dough down and quickly knead, folding it on top of itself a couple of times. Divide into three even balls, roll out into strands, braid tightly, tucking the ends in under the loaf. Beat the remaining egg, with condensed milk and 1 1/2 tbsp water. Brush the braided loaf generously, cover very loosely and let rise for 1 hour.
- Preheat oven to 190˚C (375˚F), brush loaf again with egg wash. Bake for 30-40 minutes, until deep golden. Cool on a wire rack.
Extra toppings: You can add raisins, chocolate, cinnamon, slivered almonds and many other delicious toppings into your dough to make it even more scrumptious.
Other uses: If you have had enough of it, it turns into amazing french toast bread or even the foundation of glorious bread pudding.