For the most frantic days of Greek Easter preparation I’m up to my eyeballs in pastry and sweet aromas which drive me crazy. I’m not baking or eating but behind the counter and selling at T.I.M.Products in Sydney’s inner-west suburb of Marrickville which has been feeding Australian-Greeks their favourite sweet treats for 45 years. I help out during the busiest times which is Christmas and now. The family business of Chris and Mary Theodoridis started in a small shop in 1967 on Broadway in the city centre and in 1979 it moved to Marrickville to much bigger premises. Chris and Mary work 15 hours a day at this time of year, filling thousands of orders.
Traditional Greek Easter sweets contain a lot of sugar – thank God it’s only a once-a-year mega sugar rush. That’s galaktobureko in the picture above, which is layers of filo with a semolina custard filling. It’s to die for. Greek Easter is actually 40 days of preparation, as religious people stop eating meat and other animal products for the entire 40 days of Lent, and omitting oil for the last few days.
For the rest of us it’s just the last week we get our act together, and that means no testing or tasting all the sweets being prepared in the kitchen just behind my back. My favourites include tsoureki, the sweet, lemony, fragrant yeasty bread decorated with a red-dyed hardboiled egg and sprinkled with sesame seeds. Amaze. It’s traditionally made braided which is joined up to make a round shape (pictured below). It’s cooked in one oven, then browned in another. And it’s sticky hands off until Easter Sunday after the midnight service.
The company bakes 5,000 tsourekia every Easter, and I can’t even begin to count the trays of baklava (filo pastry with cinnamon, walnuts and syrup, pictured below) and galaktobureko, and thousands of koulouria (plain and sesame cookies). The syrup is added after the pastries are cooked and out of the oven.
Sometimes Greek Easter coincides with Catholic and Protestant Easter, but often it’s several weeks apart. Here’s an easy recipe for tsoureki, that my mother made years ago. These days she buys from the Greek bakery, as they only cost $12, but homemade always tastes really good. Enjoy, and Happy Greek Easter!
1 tsp salt
1 1/2kg plain flour
t tsp grated lemon rind
Blanched almond slivers
- Heat milk til almost boiling point. Remove from heat. Add butter, sugar, salt and still til dissolved. Dissolve yeast in a little warm water and add to milk mix.
- Add half flour to milk and yeast mix and beat to form smooth batter
- Beat 4 eggs, reserving one for glazing.
- Add beaten eggs and lemon rind to batter.
- Add enough of the remainder of the flour to form a soft dough.
- Knead for 10 minutes. Good exercise.
- Place dough in warm bowl, cover with damp cloth and leave to rise for 2 hours or until it doubles in volume.
- Knead again.
- Divide dough into 3 portions and shape into a plait, and form it into a circle.
- Place on greased or lined baking sheet. Allow to rise for one hour.
- Beat reserved egg with a little milk and brush the bread with this.
- Top with almonds and bake in a moderate oven (180C) for about 30 minutes.