If you haven’t tried Greek tsoureki before, then you are certainly missing out! Soft, fluffy, with a beautiful brown semi-soft crust and an amazing stringy texture. Its distinct, rich flavour and intense aromas come from the two aromatic spices used: mastic and mahlab, which give a really characteristic flavour and smell. Freshly ground mastic (masticha), is an aromatic spice from Chios island, and aromatic mahlab or mahleb (mahlepi), is a spice made from ground seeds of cherry.

Ingredients

40g fresh yeast
60ml water
75g special flour for tsoureki (a flour mix, high in protein)
45g butter 82% fat
135g sugar
100g eggs
85ml milk
10g mahlepi (a spice made from cherry stones)
20ml orange juice
Zest from an orange
3g grounded mastic (resin obtained the mastic trees in Chios island, PDO product)
1g salt
A portion of vanilla (powder)
425g special flour for tsoureki
40g melted butter 82% fat, in medium temperature
1 egg, beaten for egg wash
40g thinly sliced almonds
Red eggs (if desired)

Method

Sprinkle yeast over lukewarm water and let it stand for 10 mins. Afterwards, add 75g of flour, stir to combine and leave it to rise in a warm place for approximately 45 mins.

In a pot combine 45g butter, sugar, eggs, milk, mahlepi, juice and orange zest, mastic, salt and vanilla and warm up the mixture until it’s lukewarm. Stir to combine with a whisk. Add the mix to the electric mixer fitted with a dough hook and start adding flour gradually, stirring between additions. Combine the initial mix (with the yeast) as well and mix until the dough is elastic. Finally, add melted butter and keep mixing until the dough doesn’t stick to the mixer bowl anymore. Transfer the dough into a buttered bowl, cover the dough with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place for approximately 45 mins, until doubled in size.

Transfer the dough onto a floured surface and cut the dough in 350g balls. Line a baking tray with baking parchment. Divide the dough into three and roll into three stands. Plait the strips together, place on the baking tray and leave to rise in a warm place for approximately an hour, until doubled in size. Brush the top of the bread with egg wash, sprinkle some almonds and push the red eggs (if desired) into the bread. Finally, bake tsoureki at 170° for 40 mins. Remove from the oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Καλό Πάσχα – Happy Easter!


Remember a few weeks ago we were discussing where our inspiration for recipes comes from?
Often, Marianna is the one who provides this inspiration. This week she came to me with our aromatic sample of mastiha oil and a glass of water. She gently tilted the tiny bottle and a drop fell in the glass. Drink this, she said. What can we make? Maybe rice pudding? I like rice pudding, she said as she walked away, the smell of mastiha all around me.

I, too, love rice pudding. Especially variations of it. Yes, there is the classic one which we prepared last year.
But this week, things get more exciting.

As you may remember from our mastiha cookies, mastiha is an aromatic sap, coming only from the island of Chios in Greece (read more here!). For this recipe, we didn’t use mastiha oil, but instead, we combined mastiha and mastiha liqueur.

Traditionally, in order to use mastiha in baking you have to grind it. But not all of us have a pestle and mortal at home. And in this blog we believe that when we cook we need to make the best with what we’ve got. So you don’t have a pestle and mortal at home. You’ll use the mastiha as is. This recipe asks for slow cooking, so your mastiha will slowly melt and dissolve in the velvety milk. Just make sure you stir every so often. You know, you can always give more love.

Don’t be tempted to use more mastiha, your rice pudding will become bitter. We know so because let’s say that our first batch of rice pudding was not on the sweet side. Learn from our over-excitement.

Serves 2

50g Carolina rice (you need rice with high amylopectin -starch- content such as Arborio or other risotto rice)
50g white powdered sugar
600ml whole milk
one very small rock of mastiha
2 tablespoons of mastiha liqueur
raw pistachios (to serve)

Put all your ingredients in a medium sized pot. Stir and place over medium high heat. Once the milk reaches a near boiling point immediately turn down the heat (be careful not to let it overflow). Let it simmer, stirring every so often, so that mastiha dissolves and evenly offer its aroma to your rice pudding. Once the rice is soft and the mixture feels like porridge remove from the heat. Add the mastiha liqueur and stir. Serve with raw pistachios. Mastiha likes that.

 

 


It sounds quite philosophic, doesn’t it? It’s mostly because we love freshly baked bread and the moment it comes out of the oven, hot and crusty you can’t help but feeling pure bliss. And it is also that feeling -that you accomplished a simple but glorious task- that boosts your confidence.

How can you not love bread? Of course we Greeks have a special affair with it –you can’t really have a meal without it. That’s why we were thrilled when Michael Pollan devoted a whole episode in his brilliant series Cooked, about it. He argues that bread is the product of civilisation and the enabler of the civilisation, as well. But related to the title of the post, he explains that air is mostly what you’re eating when you eat bread.

Have you ever considered that air is one of the reasons we love bread? And as far as this very recipe is concerned, what a fine air that is, with grape molasses, mastiha, orange and cinnamon?

Petimezodakos
Ingredients
1 cup of grape molasses
3 pieces of mastiha
1 cup of freshly squeezed orange juice
1 cup of olive oil
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1 kg all-purpose flour (sieved)
30 g of fresh yeast
Olive oil for glazing
1 egg for glazing

Method
Dilute yeast in lukewarm water. As soon as it’s done, add the mix to a small portion of flour in order to create very soft dough. Cover it and let it sit in a warm place in order to double its size.

Freshly ground mastiha using mortar and pestle. When the initial dough is increased add grape molasses, orange juice, olive oil, mastiha, cinnamon and salt. Mix it well until the initial form changes and add flour gradually until a homogenous fluffy dough is created. Cover it once more and let it sit for 40-50 minutes until it’s double the size.

Knead the dough and form loaves cut in 4-5 cm pieces. You can also knead individual loaves –this amount of dough makes about 12 small loaves. Place them in baking pans, let them rise and they’re double the size. Drizzle some olive oil (or an egg and water mixture, alternatively) and let them bake in a preheated oven for approximately an hour about 180°C. Remove from the oven, let them cool and cut the pieces you have already carved –or your individual loaves.

Petimezi makes the dough quite moist, so keep checking your oven so they won’t get dry. If you still have some left from the day before, taste them and see the difference – we felt they tasted less sweet the day before. Liked our thoughts on Michael Pollan’s Cooked? We’ll get back to it, soon as we were quite inspired by this series! Have you watched it? Would love to know your thoughts on that.


Many say that Mastiha is an acquired taste. As an ingredient, these little rocks look like blurry diamonds. It is quite bitter in taste and very, very aromatic. So one needs to use it with care. A little goes a long way. You can make cakes with mastiha, cookies, use it in cooking as well (it actually goes very well with chicken).

When discussing recipes for this blog post, we decided to go for cookies. But not any cookies. These ones are made with olive oil instead of butter, grape molasses instead of sugar. And orange juice! I call them cookies because they have a very soft and chewy interior. I think the secret is the combination of olive oil, grape molasses and water. Oh and yes, these cookies are vegan too!

They are quite something. You can play around with the dough and make smaller cookies, or, experiment a bit. Shape the dough like a bagel by taking a large round ball and making a hole. Just make sure to bake the larger cookies a few minutes longer. You can eat them as is, or try them with our soft, creamy galomizithra cheese  and some orange blossom honey. And before you start gathering your ingredients, have a read at the story of mastiha. Somehow, images of mastihohoria, the villages on the island of Chios that produce mastiha from centuries ago give this resinous sap a whole different aroma.

For 45 cookies you will need:

1 cup olive oil 
1 cup grape molasses 
1 cup water
1 orange (both zest and juice)
½ tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp mastic tear drops (ground)
700g of all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda

You can buy mastic tear drops from our shop at Borough Market. These can be ground using a mortar and pestle by adding a few pinches of sugar, so that they don’t stick together. Alternatively you can add 1/4 teaspoon (3-4 drops) of our pure mastic oil. Taste and add more if you want a more intense flavour.

In a bowl, whisk together your olive oil, grape molasses, water, orange juice and zest, until you have a smooth mixture. In a separate bowl sieve the flour, baking soda, cinnamon and mastiha. Mix until well combined until just smooth. Be careful not to over mix the dough.

Slowly incorporate your dry ingredients onto your wet ingredients, stirring with a wooden spoon. You should have a slightly sticky dough that you can easily shape. Using a bit of flour, make small round balls, or larger bagel-shaped cookies.

Place some greaseproof paper onto your baking tray and place the cookies on top, leaving a few centimetres between them.

Bake for 10-15min at 180C until they are lightly brown – the centres will be soft. Once your cookies have cooled down a bit, transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. You can have them straight away (please do!), or keep them in an airtight container.

 


It is always exciting when we bring new products into the store. We all gather around as Marianna explains what each ingredient is, where it’s coming from, the story of the producer. This week we are introducing mastiha or mastic! Come by our shop at Borough Market, we’ve got mastiha in crystals, mastiha gum and a pure essential oil that you will find fascinating.

It is often that these foods carry beautiful histories. This week I’ve researched mastiha for you. So join me, as we travel back in time and get to know what mastiha is. So, let’s start from the basics: Chios Mastiha is the name of a resinous sap produced from the mastic tree.

Its history goes back to the depths of time… Legends, traditions, religions, places, voyages, people and cultures compose the myth of Chios mastiha. Ever since the Roman Empire up to the Byzantium, the Venitians and the Ottomans, and from the first Lokum (or Turkish Delight ) produced with sugar syrup, pistachios and mastiha in the 18th c. in Istanbul to the traditional saliq (a type of rice porridge in Saudi Arabia), mastiha enchants people with its unique aroma and taste.

The word mastic derives from the Greek verb μαστιχείν “to gnash the teeth”, which is the source of the English word masticate.

It is a natural, aromatic resin in teardrop shape, falling on the ground in drops from superficial scratches induced by cultivators on the tree’s trunk and main branches with sharp tools. As it drips, this sap appears as a sticky and translucent liquid which falls into the ground. Mastiha starts solidifying into irregular shapes within 15-20 days from the first carving. That solid product is then harvested and washed by mastic growers, giving us finally the natural Chios mastiha. Its colour is initially ivory-like but as due to oxidation a year and a half later changes into yellowish. It is worth mentioning that the mastiha production process has remained practically unchanged over time.

Since 1997, Chios mastiha has been characterized as a Product of Protected Designation of Origin (PDO).This means that the quality or the characteristics of the above are mainly or exclusively due to the geographical environment, including the natural and human factors and the production, alteration and process which take place in the delimited geographical area.

It is only produced in the southern part of Chios, one of the biggest islands in the Aegean Sea, in the so-called Mastihohoria or mastiha villages, which are monuments of cultural heritage.  Soil and weather conditions favour the mastic tree’s cultivation only in Chios and only in this specific part of the isle.

During the Genoese occupation from the 14th century until the 16th century the cultivation of mastiha was properly organised and 22, in all, mastiha villages were actually founded in Southern Chios so as to better exploit the monopolistic product of mastiha.

In the 15th and 16th c. Mastiha was exported to Istanbul, Asia Minor, and the Crimea, to Armenia, Rhodes, Syria, and Egypt, and to Europe and northwest Africa.

During the Ottoman possession, the Sultan kept for himself 70% of the 38 tons of mastiha produced annually. In exchange, he exempted the mastihohoria from most taxes and granted them several other privileges, such as to allow self-government. Each village was managed by elected elders, who decided on the quantity of mastiha that each inhabitant was required to contribute to fulfil the sultan’s revenue. To prevent smuggling of any kind, access to the villages was prohibited to all strangers.

In 1848, the mastiha producers had for the first time the right to sell their products on the free market and pay their taxes in cash, rather than mastiha.

Chios was incorporated into the Greek state in the winter of 1912.

Today, mastiha production is a family affair and the Chios Mastiha Growers Association, a co-operative founded in 1938, assembles the total production, processes the product, packages it and manages the international trade of all mastiha products.

Chios mastiha has a variety of uses and has integrated in the culture of different people and civilizations, especially in the East Mediterranean. It is the basis for the production of a great variety of products such as food and beverages such as liquors and a delicious ice-cream known as kaimaki, which has an unusual chewy and stringy texture thanks to the addition of Chios mastiha as a thickening agent.

It is also used in the pharmaceutical, cosmetics and perfume industry. Chios mastiha, exported from Chios to all over the world. In Lebanon and Syria they make a mastiha-flavoured cheese while for Arabs, mastiha is considered as a great luxury for flavouring food, sweets or milk and is usually added to the local drink Arak. In contemporary Greece, mastiha is used predominantly in baking and in making sweets. Soon, I’ll share with you delicious recipes with this fascinating ingredient. Stay tuned!

by Nafsika Papacharalampous

Buy Chios Mastic Tears or Mastic Oil