Paskalya Coregi – Istanbul’s Easter bread

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One of the staple breads baked during Easter time in Istanbul. The original recipes always consist of ​mastic gum​ – which is a unique product from the mastic trees grown on Chios Island in Greece. And ​mahlep​ is also a key ingredient to have an irresistible smell while baking. I do not have any of them in my larder, but I have used cardamom instead. This bread is a very good example of a common baking practice in neighbouring regions and cultures under different names. It is called Paskalya Coregi in Turkish, Tsoureki in Greek, Challah in Jews culture… Happy Easter!

Makes 2  x braided Easter bread

Ingredients

●  7g quick dry active yeast (1 pack or a flat teaspoon)

●  100ml lukewarm water

●  100ml warm whole milk

●  170g caster sugar

●  500g-550g plain flour + handful for kneading and shaping – sifted

●  110g unsalted butter – melted & cooled

●  2 medium free range eggs

●  1tsp and 1⁄2 tsp cardamom seeds – coarsely ground

●  A pinch of sea salt

For topping

●  1 egg yolk and a few drops of water

●  Hazelnuts – or – poppy seeds, almond flakes whatever you have in your cupboard

Preparation

Place a small bowl, add melted butter along with the 2 whole eggs. Mix them until combined. Make sure the butter is cooled enough before you add the eggs.

In a large bowl add half of the flour, cardamom, sugar, dried yeast and mix until combined. Make a little whole in the middle of the dry mix and slowly pour warm milk and water, stir slowly with a fork. Then add butter and egg mixture, give another round of stir. Start combining all the mixture by your hand and knead.

Continue to add the remaining flour and knead until the dough is smooth, elastic and not sticky.

You can adjust the amount of flour until you achieve this texture.

Remove the dough from the bowl, add a drizzle of olive oil in your bowl and grease it with your hand. Put the dough back in the bowl, cover it with a kitchen towel and place the dough somewhere warm and dark for an hour to rise and double its size – can be the middle rack of your oven.

Take the bowl out after an hour, it must be doubled its size, and punch it down a few times to remove the air.

Turn your oven on to preheat.

Flour a clean surface, knead your dough few times and add flour it feels sticky. Ready to braid! Make 6 equal balls from the dough. Three balls you use for each bread. Check the video to see how to braid a dough​ here​. (note that the dough in this video is a different bread dough, I am adding this just to show you the technique )

After you braid two equal breads, place them on a baking parchment paper laid tray. Make sure there is 5-6cm space between the breads. Cover the tray with a clean damp kitchen towel and leave it for a final rise about 20 minutes in a warm place.

In a small bowl add your egg yolk, splash of water.

Brush the braided bread with egg yolk and sprinkle your choice of nut on top. Place the tray in preheated 175C oven and bake for 35 minutes. Check if it needs further 5 minutes. At this stage it should smell great. Served either warm or cooled, sliced and toasted.