Tsoureki, a traditional sweet bread, to be featured at Greek Festival

Braided bread

Greeks traditionally serve tsoureki, a braided sweet bread, at Easter, but those attending the Baton Rouge Greek Festival Saturday won’t have to wait until next year to try it.

Tsourekia (that’s the plural spelling), along with other pastries, will be among the Greek delicacies for sale at the third annual event being held from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday in the Belle of Baton Rouge Hotel atrium, 102 France St.

If the women helping prepare pastries for the local fest are any indication, no two Greek bakers make the bread exactly alike.

Maria Pentas, who is originally from the little village of Paphos, Cyprus, explained, “Every village has its own recipe.”

Some people like it plain, but Pentas, who has no written recipe, fills her tsoureki with a mixture of about 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/2 cup of walnuts and 1 teaspoon of cinnamon.

Vasso Dimitriades’ recipe makes a bread with a finer texture than Pentas’ Cyprus-influenced version.

Dimitriades, who is from Thessaloniki, Greece, has lived in the United States since 1968 and has been a Baton Rouge resident since 1973. “My husband worked for Esso (now Exxon) as a chemical engineer and he was transferred here from New Jersey,” she said.

Her Easter bread recipe is from her father-in-law, who operated a bakery in Greece. “He came to the United States to visit and taught me how to make it,” she said.

“Make sure to put some oil on your hands when kneading the dough” to keep the flour from sticking, Pentas advised.

And, when braiding the bread, she suggests beginning the braid from the middle. “It makes the braid tighter. Tuck the ends under.”

However, Dimitriades said she likes to start her braid from one end and work down to the other.

Dimitriades decorates her Easter bread with sesame seeds, but Elpida Polyzopoulos noted that “some people put nuts on top of their bread.”

Although the bread is sweet tasting, similar to a coffee cake, some people in her village in Cyprus serve it with cheese, eggs, meat and a thick mustard, Pentas said.

For Easter, the bread is traditionally decorated with hard-cooked eggs which are dyed deep red to symbolize Christ’s blood and new life, they said. If the bread is formed into a round loaf, it is decorated with five eggs. Only one egg is used on a long loaf.

On Easter Sunday, Greeks use the bread’s eggs to play a traditional game similar to the Cajuns’ paque-paque or egg-knocking game. “We hit the red eggs and when one cracks, we say, ‘Christ is risen,’ ” Pentas said.

The eggs often are eaten with olive oil, lemon, salt and pepper as a salad, she added.

Many of the Baton Rouge-area residents of Greek ancestry will be helping with the upcoming festival, they said. Some women will be making Greek pastries, including the wedding cookies called koulourakia.

“Everybody is doing things,” Pota Karides said.

Besides being able to dine on authentic foods cooked by members of the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church of Baton Rouge, the Baton Rouge Greek Festival will celebrate Greek culture.

Admission is free with a canned good or nonperishable food item or festival-goers are asked to donate $1 at the door. Net proceeds benefit the St. Vincent de Paul kitchen, the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank, the Louisiana Assistive Technology Access Network and Holy Trinity’s building fund.

For more information, visit the organization’s website, brgreekfest.com, or its Facebook page, “Baton Rouge Greek Festival.”