Vegan Tsoureki is a 100% plant-based, dairy-free version of the traditional Greek Easter Bread. It’s sweet, fragrant, and great for breakfast or snacking. Your kitchen will smell wonderful when it comes out of the oven!
Last weekend, I made my favorite carrot cake for Easter Sunday. Today is Orthodox Easter, which is the Easter I grew up with. I always celebrate this holiday with a sweet, freshly baked loaf of Tsoureki (τσουρέκι).
Tsoureki bread varies from home to home, so it’s impossible to call any version a “definitive” recipe! What follows is the vegan tsoureki that is most like the one I remember from childhood. It’s light and tender, sweet but not dessert-like, and incredibly fragrant.
Tsoureki is a sweet, enriched bread that’s often associated with Greek Easter. It doesn’t have to be an Easter bread, though. When I was growing up, we got it twice yearly: once on the first day of each New Year, and once on Greek Easter.
The New Year’s tsoureki had a coin inside, wrapped in wax paper. My mom and I would cut a slice for each member of our nuclear and extended family. If the coin landed in your slice, it was thought to bring a year of filled with especially good luck. At Easter, we got tsoureki with red-dyed hard boiled eggs baked right into the bread.
Tsoureki is an enriched dough, made with butter and milk. In that sense, it reminds me of challah. It’s a little airier than challah, but the fundamentals are similar. This vegan tsoureki is braided, as challah is. Tsoureki can be flavored in a few different ways. Some recipes call for orange or lemon zest, some for raisins or almonds, some for sesame seeds on top. Tsoureki almost always includes one or both of mahleb and mastic, specialty spices.
For my vegan tsoureki recipe, the mahleb and mastic are optional. If you’re aiming for a very authentic tsoureki, and you have access to a specialty grocer or online store that sells the mahleb and mastic, they’re worth a try! I like the mahleb but usually add only a pinch of mastic, as it’s a very strong flavor.
The vegan tsoureki is made as any enriched bread recipe would be made. You mix the ingredients, knead, and then give the dough a bulk rise. After that, you’ll punch the dough down and shape it into strands for braiding.
Braiding bread can be a little tricky at first! If you need some help, there are plenty of tutorials online. This one, for a simple three-strand plait, is good.
After the bread is shaped, you’ll need to allow it to proof. You can tell whether or not the vegan tsoureki has proofed enough by giving it the “poke test.” When you poke it gently with your finger, it should spring back, but slowly, leaving a slight indentation. If it springs back immediately and leaves no dent, it’s under-proofed. If it doesn’t spring back at all, and your finger dent is deep, it’s probably (unfortunately) underproofed.
Vegan butter is essential for giving this vegan tsoureki bread its characteristic rich flavor. You can use melted coconut oil in its place, but I really recommend vegan butter if possible! You can use any vegan butter brand that you like. I usually bake with Earth Balance sticks.
I’ve used oat, soy, almond, and cashew milk in this recipe. Most vegan milks are fine. I’d steer clear of full fat coconut milk, which may be too heavy for the dough, and hemp milk, which is usually a little bitter.
Aquafaba is the ingredient that replaces eggs in vegan tsoureki. If you’ve never used it before, aquafaba is the canning liquid that comes in a can of chickpeas. It can do many of the things that egg whites do: you can beat it into stiff peaks, use it in meringues, and use it to replace eggs in vegan baking.
I always whisk my aquafaba lightly before adding it to batter or dough. Also, it’s important to use aquafaba that comes from a can of unsalted or lightly salted chickpeas. Otherwise, it’ll be too salty to work neutrally in the recipe.
My instant yeast of choice is from SAF, and I buy it in 1-lb pouches. If you only have regular yeast at home, that’s OK! You can still use it in this recipe. But you will need to activate it first. You can use the instructions in the recipe card notes to do that.
Cane sugar provides light sweetness to this gently sweet, fragrant vegan tsoureki.
I use my go-to baking flour, King Arthur unbleached, all-purpose, in the vegan tsoureki. You can use another unbleached, all-purpose flour, but I don’t recommend a whole grain flour for the recipe.
At some point I’d love to make a successful vegan + gluten-free version, but I haven’t had a chance to test that yet. Stay tuned!
I use Diamond Crystal Kosher salt, which is my go-to cooking salt, in the bread. It’s OK to use a fine sea salt instead, but if you do that, you can reduce the amount of salt that you use by half.
Mahleb (or mahlepi) is made from the ground seeds of a particular cherry species. It’s a tough flavor to describe—faintly sweet and aromatic—but once you smell it, you’ll connect it right away to the characteristic smell of tsoureki bread. It can be purchased online or through specialty Greek markets.
You can substitute the mahleb with 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract.
Mastic is also known as “tears of Chios,” and it’s actually a resin produced by the mastic tree. I use a small pinch in my tsoureki, as it’s a traditional ingredient, but I don’t use more than that. Mastic definitely has a bitter flavor! If you don’t have mastic at home (and most of us don’t), it’s fine to omit.
You should count on the process of making vegan tsoureki to take about three and a half hours, give or take. You’ll need about 15 minutes to make the dough, 1-2 hours for the bulk rise, 45-75 minutes to proof, and about 40 minutes of baking time.
You can store tsoureki at room temperature for up to three days. I always wrap mine in saran wrap or keep it in an airtight container; I think it retains a nice, moist texture this way.
If you like, you can freeze the cooked vegan tsoureki for up to 4 weeks.
Baking this bread always brings me back to childhood. It evokes memories of cracking hard boiled, red-dyed eggs with my Yaya. I can almost hear her jubilant cries of “Christos Anesti!” and “Alithos Anesti!”
I hope it will bring up a similarly happy, hopeful, and celebratory memory for you.
Happy Greek Easter to all who celebrate. Χριστός Ανέστη! And I’ll see you later this week.