I've seen this bread identified as both Tsoureki and Lambropsomo. Literally translated Tsoureki means "brainded; while Lambropsomo means "Easter Bread. Regardless of what you call it, this is traditional Greek Easter bread is characterized by hard boiled, scarlet dyed eggs baked right into the braided bread dough. Scarlet is the traditional color, as it represents the blood of Christ. You could modernize this dish and use pastel eggs instead and using lighter colors will make it easier to achieve a good-looking final product as the colors from intensely colored eggs tend to run when baked. If, however, you are set on making traditional, blood red eggs, seek out specialty dyes, available in Greek markets, made for that specific purpose. This should minimize the problem with the color running.
1 C milk
4 1/2 - 5 1/2 C flour, divided
3/4 C sugar
1 1/2 T yeast
1 egg yolk
1 tsp. salt
1/2 C butter, softened
2 T orange juice
2 tsp. orange zest
2 tsp. vanilla
8 dyed hard boiled eggs (see notes above)
Makes 2 Braided Loaves or 1 Braided Ring or 8 Small Loaves
Heat milk to very warm (about 115° F on a candy thermometer), and pour into the bowl of an electric mixer. Whisk in 1 1/2 cups flour, sugar and yeast until well combined. Detach from mixer, cover with plastic wrap and let stand in a warm, draft-free place until bubbly, about 30 minutes.
Fit mixer with a dough hook and add eggs, one at a time, to the yeast mixture. Add another 1 cup of flour, orange zest and salt, then softened butter vanilla and orange juice. Mix well, then gradually add enough of the remaining flour to form a soft, sticky dough, kneading until smooth. Coat a bowl with vegetable oil and turn dough in bowl to lightly coat with oil. Cover with plastic wrap or a clean kitchen towel and let rise in a clean, draft-free place, until doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours.
You now have several choices with what to do with your dough:
1. You can divide the dough into thirds, roll each third into a long rope then braid those ropes, then twist this braid into a ring. Tuck the dyed, hard boiled eggs, wide or heavy side down, between the strands of the braid, at even intervals around the circle.
2. Make two straight braid loaves by first dividing the dough in half, then dividing each half into thirds. Roll each of these thirds into a long rope and make a straight braid, tucking the ends under, and placing 4 eggs, evenly spaced between the strands of the braid. Make a second braided loaf with remaining dough.
3. Divide the dough into eighths, then roll each loaf into a rounded oval loaf. Press a dyed, hard oiled egg wide or heavy side down, into the center of each "roll." You can bake it as is, or make a "Cross" out of dough to encase the egg (see photo). Smaller breads are especially handy for tucking into Easter Baskets.
Whichever option you choose, you should now cover the prepared bread with plastic wrap or a clean kitchen towel and let rise in a warm, draft-free place once again, until doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours.
Mix egg yolk with 1 tablespoon water. Brush loaves with egg mixture and bake for 15 minutes. Lower heat to 350° F and bake for about 20 minutes more or until golden brown and hollow sounding when thumped. Remove from oven and let cool for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.