Tsoureki (Greek Easter Bread)

April 15, 2017

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Happy Easter or since I’m going to go with Greek traditions this year, I should say Kali Anastasi (Happy Resurrection)! This year I’ve got quite a delicious treat to share with you: Tsoureki or Greek Easter Bread. Traditionally served at Easter, its three stranded braid represents the holy trinity and the red egg symbolizes Christ’s blood. This lovely enriched yeast bread is very similar to brioche or challah, but is spiced with Mahlep which is derived from cherry pits. This is what gives it a very distinct cherry/almond flavor. Yup…soft, moist & fluffy with an unforgettable sweet nutty flavor… now that is an Easter brunch winner if ever I’ve heard of one! But truth be told, what really sold the Husband on this recipe was the promise that it would make a superb french toast!

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I’ve done some really tasty Easter recipes over the years. Like this amazing Italian Easter Pie from last year:

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And I don’t want to forget this lovely Slovak Paska from a couple of years ago:

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Keeping up the International Easter theme, remember way back in 2012 I made this Russian Kulich (Easter Bread):

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And then there is that Easter classic Apple & Cinnamon Hot Cross Buns:

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There are just so many delicious Easter recipes to choose from. You just can’t go wrong! And this year’s offering is no exception. Now I will say, you do need to plan a bit ahead to make Tsoureki. You need to get ahold of some Mahleb. I have provided you with an amazon link below and I hear that Penzey’s Spices might also carry it. Luckily there is an amazing Greek Deli that we love, located right around the corner from our place in Richmond Virginia: Nick’s International Foods. They had an abundance of Mahleb available as well as some great greek easter egg dye which enabled me to get the loveliest red eggs out there! Nick’s authentic Mediterranean Market has been proudly serving Richmond since the late 1950’s and from its current location at Broad & Monroe since 1980. Not only do the carry your average small grocery store items but they also boast a huge selection of imported cheeses and specialty European ingredients not easily found elsewhere. And don’t even get me going about their deli! Delicious sandwiches and fantastic soups. Not to mention all the folks who work there are so friendly and helpful. You just feel right at home. So if you are in the area, make sure you check it out!

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But let me get back to this Tsoureki. This bread is pretty easy to make, especially since you break it up over the course of two days. On the first day you mix up the starter, make the dough and then you pop it into your fridge overnight so that it can have a long, slow rise. On the second day all you have to do is shape your dough, let it rise once again and then pop it in the oven to bake. Traditionally this bread is decorated with hard-boiled eggs which have been dyed red, symbolizing the blood of Christ. After the hard boiled eggs bake in the oven along with the bread, they are pretty much inedible, so although some folks decorate their Tsoureki with multiple evenly spaced eggs, I chose to only use one egg at the end of the braid. The way the Husband loves eggs, he would have cried if I had sacrificed any more eggs than necessary!

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Also, if you use a dyed egg when you bake the loaf, a bit of that red color will bleed onto the surrounding bread. If you are worried with the appearance, you can simply use an egg which has not been dyed as a sort of place holder. Then once the bread is out of the oven and cooled, simply swap it out for that vibrant red egg. And don’t skip rubbing the eggs with a bit of oil once they’ve been dyed. It really makes them look amazing!

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Once your dough is ready to be shaped, there are several ways to proceed. You can make one long braid as I did in the recipe shown below. Though I will say this makes a huge loaf of bread. I think the next time I make it I will divide it in half and make a couple smaller loaves. You can also shape the braid into a circle and put it into a 9″ cake tin to bake. Or you could make several smaller personal sized circular braids, which would be fun for a smaller Easter brunch. But definitely give this terrific bread a try. I can tell you right now that it is simply heavenly just slathered with butter. I’m sure the french toast we have tomorrow will be nothing short of divine! Happy Easter!

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Tsoureki (Greek Easter Bread)

  • Servings: 1 large loaf or 2 -3 smaller ones
  • Difficulty: easy - but you need to plan ahead!
  • Print

recipe slightly adapted from: King Arthur Flour

Ingredients:

Starter:

  • 1 1/2 cups (177 grams) Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
  • 1 cup (227 grams) lukewarm (95°F) water
  • 4 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast

Dough:

  • 1/4 cup (57 grams) unsalted butter
  • 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 cups (298 grams – 418 grams) Unbleached all-purpose Flour
  • 1/2 cup (99 grams) sugar
  • 2 tablespoons (18 grams) Baker’s Special Dried Milk
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground mahlep, or the same amount of vanilla extract
  • zest from 1 orange
  • 3 large eggs — 2 for the dough, 1 to brush over the loaf before baking

Optional Decoration:

  • 1 -6 hard-boiled eggs, dyed red
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil, for brushing the hard-boiled eggs
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup halved almond (optional)
  • cinnamon/sugar (for dusting – optional)
  • honey (for glazing – optional)

Directions:

To make the starter: Mix the starter ingredients in a large bowl. Cover the bowl and let rest at room temperature for 1 hour. The mixture will initially be the consistency of thick pancake batter; after an hour it should be very bubbly, airy, and doubled in size.

While the starter rests, ready the dough. Melt the butter over low heat and set it aside to cool. In a small bowl, combine 1 cup of the flour with the sugar, dry milk, salt, mahlep and zest from one orange.

Mix 2 of the eggs into the risen starter. Stir in the cooled melted butter.

If you’re substituting vanilla extract for mahlep, stir it in. Add the flour/sugar mixture and stir until everything is incorporated.

Add the remaining 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 cups flour 1 cup at a time, as needed to make dough that’s stiff enough to form a ball but is also soft and slightly sticky.

Knead the dough — by hand, mixer, or bread machine — until it springs back when pressed gently with a floured finger. If kneading by hand, try to use only the lightest dusting of flour on the counter and on your hands. The more gently you knead, the less sticky the dough will seem. When done, place the dough into a lightly greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 8 to 12 hours, or overnight.

The next morning, remove the dough from the fridge and knead it gently a few times, to deflate it.

Decide whether you want to make one braided loaf, two loaves, or a round braid. If you want to make the round braid, liberally butter a 9″ round cake pan. For the braided loaves, line a baking sheet with parchment.

Divide the dough into three pieces for the 9″ round or the single braided loaf. Divide dough into 6 pieces for the two loaves. Set them aside, covered with lightly greased plastic wrap.

If you’re using the dyed eggs, rub each one with a paper towel dipped in vegetable oil and set them aside. 

Make three 16″ strands with the dough; pinch the ends together at one end. Braid for 4″ to 5″; tuck an egg into the braid. Continue to braid, placing another egg into the braid at 2″ intervals. 

Cover the shaped loaf with lightly greased plastic wrap, and let it rise at room temperature for 2 to 2 1/2 hours; if you’re using the round pan, the top of the loaf should be just barely level with the top rim of the pan. During the last 45 minutes of the rise, preheat your oven to 350°F.

To bake the bread: Lightly beat the remaining egg. Brush it over the loaf. (Alternatively, omit the egg wash if you’d prefer to brush the loaf with honey when it comes out of the oven.) Or brush the loaf with egg wash, sprinkle cinnamon/sugar over the bread and top with halved almond. If you’re baking a round loaf, press the last hard-boiled egg firmly into the center of the risen loaf. 

Bake the bread for 20 minutes. Open the oven door, reach in, and carefully press each egg farther down into the bread.

Continue to bake the bread for an additional 40 to 50 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 190°F. Tent the bread with aluminum foil for the last 30 minutes, to prevent over-browning. 

Remove the bread from the oven, and turn it out of the pan onto a rack. If desired, heat 1/4 cup honey with 1 tablespoon water until warm, and brush over the loaf. Let the bread cool completely before serving.

Enjoy!

Tsoureki brought to you by: Runcible Eats (www.leaandjay.com)

Links for Helpful Kitchen Tools & Ingredients for Tsoureki:

OXO Good Grips Stainless Steel Food Scale

Kitchen Aid Artisan Stand Mixer

6 Quart Dough Rising Bucket

SAF Instant Yeast

Mahlab Spice

Hand Held Zester

Greek Red Easter Egg Dye

Whole Milk Powder or here from King Arthur


Pink Grapefruit Gin & Tonic Cupcakes

February 14, 2017

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February 14th….yup, you guessed it…It is Valentine’s Day. Does everyone know what amazing dish they’re making for their sweeties to celebrate the day? I tell you, I think I’ve got a real winner here with these Pink Grapefruit Gin & Tonic Cupcakes. The husband loves a good G&T. The two places which he ranks as making the best G&T’s out there are the Slippbarinn in the Marina Hotel in Reykjavik Iceland (kind of difficult to get there for us…) and Saison in good old Richmond Virginia (Dangerously close to us if you know what I mean!). Although each version of this classic cocktail has very different flavor profiles, they both share the use of grapefruit juice and garnish in their mix rather than the traditional lime. So that is what I did here. Bring on the grapefruit I say. Wow! These boozy little cupcakes are just perfect.

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So refreshing with bold citrus flavors and floral gin notes. And I should also mention that I frosted them with a pink grapefruit/gin swiss meringue buttercream frosting. Yeah, swiss meringue frosting rules. So fluffy, so light. It is everything you could ever want in a frosting.

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It is actually strange for me to say that recently I am really into grapefruit. I absolutely hated it as a kid and was at a loss as to why anyone would eat one. Can’t get enough of it now. I’m even sipping on a grapefruit flavored fizzy water as I write this. And G&T’s are also something I never cared for in the past. To me drinking any kind of gin was like licking a Christmas tree. But my opinion has definitely changed since I took a taste of the husband’s G&T at Saison. I couldn’t wait to order my own! Saison is our favorite restaurant in Richmond, which says a lot because Richmond is just chock full of fantastic eateries. A real foodie destination I tell you, but it is actually pretty difficult to tempt us away from Saison when we are in town. Not only has every morsel of food we have ever gotten there been delicious, but their cocktails are also simply superb – especially their G & T’s. One of the things that makes Saison’s G&T so remarkable is that it is a hopped G&T. They actually make their own hopped tonic. Now they used to sell little bottles of this magical tonic, but their G&T is such a popular cocktail for them, that they had trouble making enough tonic for both the bar and take out market. Here is where we totally lucked out. We happened to be there last week and the bartender had just made up a brand new batch of tonic. Not only were we able to enjoy it in a Hopped Gin and Tonic or two…we were also actually able to buy a little bit of the hopped tonic to take home with us. I used it in these Pink Grapefruit Gin & Tonic Cupcakes. That’s right…the ones we are scarfing down here are actually Pink Grapefruit Hopped Gin & Tonic cupcakes! OMG! So delicious! The hopped tonic is slightly bitter but also citrusy which pairs so well with the sweet grapefruit notes. Now I know not everyone can get ahold of that amazing elixir. Like I said, we really lucked out. But you can use regular tonic water and the results will still be stellar!

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So I don’t know if your Valentine is anything like mine….he is not so much into chocolate, but loves fruit desserts. And he loves G&T’s, so these Pink Grapefruit Gin & Tonic Cupcakes are a Valentine’s Day dessert match made in heaven for him. I’d wager you’d love them too. And don’t forget, if you are ever in Richmond, you must grab a bite to eat as well as a Hopped G&T at Saison! Happy Valentine’s Day!

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Pink Grapefruit Gin & Tonic Cupcakes

  • Servings: 15 -18 cupcakes
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

recipe inspired by: Globe Scoffers

Ingredients:

For the Cupcakes:

  • 180 grams unsalted butter
  • 180 grams caster (superfine) sugar
  • Zest of 1/2 large pink grapefruit
  • 180 grams self-raising flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
  • 4 Tablespoons tonic water
  • 2 Tablespoons Gin (plus more for brushing over cupcakes)

For the Frosting:

  • 5 large (150 grams) egg whites
  • 1 1/4 cups (250 grams) granulated sugar
  • 3 sticks (340 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine salt
  • 3 Tablespoons freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
  • 2 – 4 Tablespoons Gin
  • grapefruit zest for garnish

Directions:

For the cupcakes:

Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Line muffin tins with cupcakes papers.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together the butter, sugar and grapefruit zest until light and fluffy.

Sift the flour and baking powder together and set aside.

Add the eggs one at a time, waiting until each one is fully incorporated before adding the next.

Add the flour/baking powder and mix until it is just incorporated. Take care not to over mix.

Stir in the tonic water and gin, 1 tablespoon at a time.

Divide the mixture between the cupcake wells. I use an ice cream scoop.

Bake for 15 – 20 minutes or until the cakes are golden and a toothpick comes out clean.

Cool cupcakes on a metal rack. While they are still warm, poke several holes in each cake with a skewer. Brush liberally with gin and let cool completely before frosting.

For the Frosting:

Wipe the bowl of an electric mixer with paper towel and lemon juice or vinegar to remove any trace of grease. Make a double boiler by placing the mixer bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, making sure the bowl doesn’t touch the water.

Add the egg whites and sugar to the bowl, whisking constantly but gently, until temperature reaches 140°F, or until the sugar has completely dissolved and the egg whites are hot.

Attach the bowl to the mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and begin to whip until the meringue is thick, glossy, and the bottom of the bowl no longer feels warm, about 7 to 10 minutes.

Switch over to paddle attachment and, with mixer on low speed, add the butter cubes, one at a time, until incorporated. Continue beating until it has reached a silky smooth texture. If the buttercream curdles simply keep mixing and it will come back to smooth. If the buttercream is too thin and runny, refrigerate for about 15 minutes before continuing mixing with paddle attachment until it comes together. Add the vanilla and salt, continuing to beat on low speed until well combined.

Add the grapefruit juice and gin slowly, 1 Tablespoon at a time, and mix until well combined.

If you would like to make this frosting ahead of time, keep in airtight container in refrigerator for up to one week or in the freezer for up to 2 months. Let come to room temperature and rewhip in the mixer with the paddle attachment before using.

When you are ready to frost the cupcakes, place frosting in pastry bag fitted with whatever tip you desire and pipe frosting onto cupcakes. Garnish with grapefruit zest and wedges as you prefer.

Enjoy!

Pink Grapefruit Gin & Tonic Cupcakes brought to you by: Runcible Eats (www.leaandjay.com)

Useful links for Kitchen Tools and Ingredients for Pink Grapefruit Gin & Tonic Cupcakes:

OXO Good Grips Stainless Steel Food Scale

Kitchen Aid Artisan Stand Mixer

Oxo Good Grips Ice Cream Scoop

King Arthur Self Rising Flour – You can also find this on Amazon, but have to purchase several bags of it.

India Tree Superfine Caster Baking Sugar

Nielsen Massey Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Bean Paste

Jack Rudy Cocktail Co. Tonic Trio – I have never actually tried these, but if you are into the idea of artisan tonics these might be fun to experiment with. Just add soda water to these syrups for a unique flavor profile.

 

 

 


Pasture’s Pimento Cheese

February 1, 2017

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Here it is…February already. And tomorrow, my favourite varmint, Punxsutawney Phil, will be stepping out of his burrow at Gobbler’s Knob and letting everyone know if there will be 6 more weeks of winter or if perhaps Spring is on the way. Groundhog Day is nigh! I gotta admit, I don’t feel like we’ve really had any winter yet. There has only been a few wee dustings of snow in the morning and the temperatures have only ventured into the real wintery territories a handful of times. So yeah, I hope that Punxsutawney critter sees his shadow tomorrow.

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One extraordinary rodent!

Phil & all the folks up in Punxsutawney aren’t the only ones celebrating now. February 1st, which falls half way between Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox, also marks the festivals of Imbolc, St. Brigid’s Day and Candlemas, all of which are associated with fertility, fire, purification and weather divination. Quite an auspicious time of year! I’m very happy to be marking an event today as well. February 1st just happens to be the 6th year anniversary of  the my cooking blog! Yup… Six years ago today I posted my first recipe. It was for Cream Tea Scones with Currants.

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Last year I shared one of my favorite recipes: Model Bakery’s English Muffins:

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I’ve posted some other tasty “Anniversary Edition” recipes since then as well like Banana Rum Muffins:

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And who can forget when a genuine Crack Pie made an appearance:

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And this year I have really got a winner of a recipe for you. A definite favorite around here – Pimento Cheese!

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It is the perfect appetizer to bring along with you no matter what the festivity! This magical “caviar of the South” is so delicious and quite versatile. You can serve it with crackers (Ritz preferably) and veggies, it is delicious scooped up with a Frito, you can mix it into the yolks of deviled eggs, you can spread it on burgers, it makes one heck of a decadent grilled cheese or if you’re short on time it is pretty wonderful simply spread between two slices of bread! The husband and I have been spending a lot of time in Richmond Virginia and let me tell you…they love some pimento cheese in that town. This particular recipe I’m sharing today comes from Chef Jason Alley and is served in one of his restaurants, Pasture. If you are ever visiting Richmond, do yourself a favor and stop by for lunch or dinner. Pasture specializes in Southern Cooking, but with a modern twist. Instead of those huge plates of food you would get a grandma’s house, Pasture serves up small plates which are meant to be shared. Their seasonal menu is full of dishes made with fresh locally sourced ingredients. You will definitely find this Pimento Cheese on the menu (year round) along with many many more amazing offerings.

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Pimento Cheese is pretty easy to make, but I would like to give you a bit of advice that will make your Pimento Cheese completely over the top delicious. First of all, grate the cheese yourself, don’t buy bags of pre-shredded cheese. Why? Because the pre-shredded cheese is coated with a cellulose product to keep it from sticking together. This makes it a bit less creamy, so just take a few seconds and grate the cheese yourself. The second thing is the mayonnaise. You’ve gotta use Duke’s! Seriously. Not Hellman’s. Dukes. Dukes is actually the 3rd largest brand of mayonnaise sold in the United States. However, its popularity is largely limited to the South. But there it has a cult following. Using any other brand is out of the question. And truth be told, Duke’s tastes different. It has more egg yolks and has no added sugar giving it a much brighter, tangy flavor and a creamier texture. And lets face it, mayonnaise is a pretty important ingredient in Pimento Cheese, so if you can, go with the authentic Southern brand, Dukes. As far as the roasted red peppers. I actually roasted the peppers myself. It is pretty easy. You just put the peppers on a parchment lined baking tray and pop them into an oven which has been preheated to 400° F. You roast them for 20 minutes and then turn them over and roast them for 20 more minutes. Remove them from the oven and place them on a cutting board. Cover them with a bowl and allow them to steam for 15 minutes. Steaming them will make the skins very easy to remove. Then you peel them, seed them and there you have it. Easy peasy. Though perhaps an easier thing would be buying a jar in the grocery store. I’ll let you decide. That’s pretty much it. I will admit though that I have gilded this lily of a recipe once or twice by adding a bit of chopped bacon and some diced jalapeño peppers to up the heat. What can I say? Everything is better with bacon and we love our spice. But I’ll wager you’ll be very pleased with Pasture’s unadorned version. So what in the world are you waiting for?!! Might I remind you that the Super Bowl is happening this Sunday!

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Pimento Cheese

  • Servings: 4- 6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

recipe from: Chef Jason Alley – Pasture Restaurant

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 lb. sharp cheddar cheese, grated
  • 2 medium red bell peppers, roasted , peeled, seeded and finely diced*
  • 1 small shallot, minced
  • 2 sprigs tarragon, leaves removed, minced
  • 1 1/4 cup mayonnaise, Duke’s preferably
  • 2 dashes Worcestershire Sauce
  • 1 dash hot pepper sauce
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • chives for garnish (optional)

Directions:

Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl until well-blended.

Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to one day.

Serve with crackers (preferably Ritz), pickles and crudités.

Enjoy!

*You can buy roasted red peppers in the the grocery store. If you are interested in roasting your own: Place the peppers on a parchment lined baking tray and pop them into an oven which has been preheated to 400° F. Roast them for 20 minutes and then turn them over and roast them for 20 more minutes. Remove them from the oven and place them on a cutting board. Cover them with a bowl and allow them to steam for 15 minutes. Peel the skins and remove the seeds.

Pasture’s Pimento Cheese brought to you by: Runcible Eats (www.leaandjay.com)

Useful links for Kitchen Tools & Ingredients for Pasture’s Pimento Cheese:

Duke’s Mayonnaise

 


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