Greek Easter traditions for the sweet tooth: Tsourekia and Smyrneika. The first being a brioche-like sweet bread that needs approximately 6 hours of preparation as the yeast containing dough has to be kneaded three times and rise three times before the loafs would land in the oven. My mom was a Master in Tsourekia dough kneading with a result much better than the ready-made ones: Our Tsourekia were always fluffy and chewy and the baked dough had these nice strings, a proof that she had been kneading for hours to get this effect. She did all the kneading with the hands because the mixer machine would not get this stringy effect. Logical, no?
Some of our Tsourekia had a red egg on the top and I never understood why she didn’t put eggs to all of them. Nevertheless, Good Thursday was always devoted to the preparation of I don’t know, I roughly reckon, 12 loafs of 30-35 cm each and by the end of the day, before she would leave for the Church and the 12 Gospels, our home was filled with the fragrance of mastic, mahleb, butter and sugar, exactly as the home of a family descended from Asia Minor had to be. She used to wake up at 4 in the morning to “catch the yeast” and get the last tray from the oven at 7 in the afternoon. And between the waiting time during which the Tsoureki dough was rising , my mom used to dye eggs… as every other Greek housewife.
this picture is from internet.
I tried to make Tsourekia twice. My first attempt ended in fluffy small sweet breads that turned stone-hard the next day. I cut them into slices and baked them once again creating a kind of tsoureki-cookies. My second attempt ended in the same result. I probably never shared my mom’s patience to keep kneading and kneading and kneading…
The alternative is easy and relative quick: Easter Cookies known in Greece as “Smyrneika“. Another tradition by Greeks from Asia Minor and the name hints that they descent from Smyrna, today Izmir in Turkey.
I suppose, there is some kind of tradition of “unwritten laws” of the Holy Week dictating when housewives have to do which one of the Easter preparations and on which specific day. So Good Tuesday is baking Smyrneika day. And that’s what I did yesterday taking advantage of the journalists’ strike that unfortunately for my baking plans ended before schedule in the afternoon.
I used half of my mom’s recipe who used to turn 3 kg of flour into 150 Easter cookies!
The recipe is written in the usual Greek style where they used as measures “water glass”, “water-glass not full”, “wine glass”, a “paper-cachet” cinnamon, vanilla, bakin [for Baking Poweder], and “flour as much as it takes”. I translated in gr and ml and tea spoons
The recipe is egg-free except for the egg-yolks for the brushing. You can omit it as well, only that they will not be shiny.
Smyrneika Recipe for 70-75 pieces (easy)
Preparation time: hm… it depends on whether you have a good mixer or not. I don’t, just a hand mixer. Maybe 30 min for mixing + 20-30 min for dough resting + 30-40 min to roll them out & form them. This is the easy part. + Baking time:25-30 min each tray or 2 trays in the Hot Air.
1250 gr all purpose flour (not self-rising) sifted
500 gr sugar
500 gr unsalted butter
1 Baking powder (20 gr)
1/2 water glass fresh orange juice (110 ml)
1/2 water glass Soda water (110ml)
1/2 wine glass cognac (60ml)
2 vanillas (2 tea spoons)
+++ 2 egg yolks mixed with 3 soup spoons water for brushing.
- all ingredients must be in room temperature
- we add ingredients one by one and slowly slowly while continuing mixing
Beat butter until fluffy.
Add sugar and beat together for good 5 minutes.
Add orange juice, soda water, vanilla and cognac, mix well.
Mix Baking Powder with the flour and start add it to the mixture under continuously beating. Once you have added 1000gr flour check if the dough is elastic but not sticky to the hands. If it is, add more 100gr flour and check again. According to the recipe, I was supposed to use 1.5 kg of flour but the dough “took in” only 1,250 gr. 🙂 I have no idea why the dough may take in more or less flour…
Now it’s time to use the hands and softly knead the dough into a nice round ball. Cover the bowl with a clean kitchen towel and let it rest 20-30 minutes.
While the dough rests, you can use the time to clean up all the kitchen mess so you have enough space to lay the baking tray next to the dough bowl and a clean space to role out the Smyrneika “boats”. In these 30-minutes resting time, I washed all the utensils I had used -not many- and wrote a post about the riots in Moria refugee camp on Lesvos.
Lay baking paper on the tray. Get a small piece of dough and role it out with your fingers into logs 20 cm long. Then Fold it as in the following 4 pictures – take into consideration that I am left-handed and I fold them the other way around (lol).
Brush with the egg-water and up in the oven.
The cookies do not go up very much therefore you don’t need to place them with big distance apart from each other. I bake 18-21 cookies on each tray.
Pre-heated oven at 185 Celsious, baking time 25-30 minutes. You can bake also 2 trays in the hot air but watch out to change trays after 20 min as the upper get color and the down on do not so much.
Cookies are ready when golden brown, upper and down side and still a bit soft. They get crunchy when they are cold.
They are balanced sweet, super crunchy and delicious.
And the best Greek “dive” in coffee or tea.
BTW we used bake them in Christmas too, next to Melomakarona.
PS posting a recipe is a pleasant break to this grimy Greek situation, I consider to revive my blog’s Food section again 🙂