Greek biscotti, or paximadia, made with tsoureki bread and dipped in chocolate and sprinkles
Παξιμάδια τσουρεκιού. The common adage “if life gives you lemons, make lemonade” (or avgolemono soup) is pretty good advice. The sentiment can be extended to so many things, including tsoureki. If you have read the post that accompanies our tsoureki recipe you’ll know that although our recipe is now fail-proof and delicious, it wasn’t always so. We have survived many disappointing tsourekia, with some being too dense, undercooked, or simply blah. Having been raised in a household where “waste nothing” was a very important mantra, we could never just dump our tsourekia in the trash (except for the one we called “The Tsourocki”….read more about that disaster in the tsoureki post).
In any case, tsourekia which were still edible and didn’t risk breaking your teeth got recycled into something different. These failed tsourekia resulted in creations like our tsoureki bread pudding and these biscotti (or paximadia in Greek) made from tsoureki that didn’t rise enough or weren’t as fluffy as we knew they could be.
For those of you who are not familiar with tsoureki, these are the sweet breads which are traditionally made for Orthodox Easter. Although recipes vary, they are commonly flavored with the unique ingredients of mastiha (or mastic) and mahlepi. These are commonly found in Greek markets around Easter time, and they can also be purchased online.
Typically on Easter Sunday Greek Orthodox households find themselves with a lot of tsoureki. These are either loaves which were made and not gifted because they weren’t good enough, or they are the tsourekia received in Easter gift baskets from godparents, aunts, cousins and Greek neighbours. Regardless of why they are in the kitchen, it’s fun to find different ways to enjoy these traditional Greek sweet breads.
Making paximadia out of tsourekia is a great idea, especially for tsourekia that are perhaps less than perfect. But, truth be told, these lovely crispy paximadia, which keep for a pretty long time in an airtight container, are so good that you should even use some of your prime tsourekis to make them!
What is mahlepi?
Mahlepi (also called mahleb) is the aromatic spice found in the seeds of the St. Lucie cherry. The cherry stone is broken open to reveal a small seed inside. This seed is then ground up and used in baked goods, like tsoureki. We always try to purchase the mahlepi seeds whole and to grind them up ourselves in a spice grinder or using a mortar and pestle. This ensures a fresher taste, and that the product is pure (has not been mixed with any “filler”).
What is mastiha?
Mastiha (or mastic), is the other key ingredient in tsoureki, is also available in whole pieces which you can then grind up using the same spice grinder or mortar and pestle. A word of caution, anything that you use to grind up your mastiha needs to be entirely dry – if you get the mastiha wet you could end up with a sticky mess in your grinder.
The pieces themselves are slightly translucent, resembling bits of broken glass but when crushed, the powder is a snowy white. Mastiha is the resin of the Mastic tree and although these trees can be found in many Mediterranean countries, only the trees which grow on the island of Chios in Greece are capable of producing the mastiha. Because of this, mastiha has a Protected Designation of Origin in the European Union. It forms the base to chewing gum and in fact, if you pop one of the mastiha pieces into your mouth and chew, you make gum!
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Tsoureki paximadia or tsoureki biscotti
- Double boiler (*see Recipe Note) - optional
- Baking tray
- Parchment paper
- Cooling rack
- 1 loaf of tsoureki
- 1 cup chocolate or white chocolate
- 1 tsp coconut oil or vegetable oil
- sprinkles for decorating
- Preheat your oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Using a serrated bread knife slice your tsoureki 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick.
- Line a baking tray with parchment paper and place the slices of tsoureki on the paper, being sure not to overcrowd the baking tray.
- Bake in the middle rack of your oven for 10 minutes. Remove from oven, flip the tsoureki slices over, and return the pan to the oven. It is a good idea to rotate your pan at this point. Bake for an additional 10 minutes.
- Turn off the oven. With your paximadia still in the oven use an oven mitt or a kitchen towel to keep the door open about 1 - 2 inches. Leave your paximadia in the oven for at least 20 minutes until they are hard and have dried out.
For decorating, optional
- Once you have removed your paximadia from the oven and they are cooled, melt your chocolate, combined with the coconut oil or vegetable oil, in the top of a double boiler (see recipe note).
- Once your chocolate has melted, dip one end of your paximadia into the chocolate and then add the sprinkles if desired.
- Rest the paximadia on a cooling rack until the chocolate has set.
- For best results, store the paximadia that have been dipped in chocolate in the refrigerator.