Tsoureki (τσουρέκι in Greek) is the traditional sweet bread Greeks make every year on Holy Thursday and eat it on Easter Sunday.
Early in the morning on Holy Thursday, throughout Greece, women start elaborately kneading the tsoureki. Some decorate it with nuts and sugar. Depending on the shape and the area of Greece, tsoureki takes different names like “kofinia,” “kalathakia,” “doksaria,” “avgoulas,” “koutsouna,” “kouzounakia” and so on. The most common shape is the braid.
The braids and knots though have their origin in the pagan times, when certain shapes of the bread were meant to chase evil spirits away.
Tradition has it that the tsoureki symbolizes the Resurrection of Christ and rebirth in general as the flour is molded into shape and takes life as it transforms into bread. Then, the red-painted egg that is usually placed on top symbolizes the blood of Jesus.
Breads similar to the tsoureki were made in the Byzantine times. They were called “kollyrides” and they were the special breads of Easter. They also had different shapes and had a red egg in the middle.
The name tsoureki comes from the Turkish word “corek” which refers to any bread made with yeast dough. There are many kinds of corek, both savory and sweet, that appear in various shapes and sizes depending on the region. It was adopted by Greeks during the Turkish occupation, and since they began making their own version of a sweet bread made with milk, butter and eggs.
Armenians and people in Azerbaijan make a corek which is a round flat bread sprinkled with sesame seeds.
Today, tsoureki has become an all-year-round pastry as it comes in various versions such as filled or covered with chocolate and nuts, filled with custard, dipped in syrup and so on.