There is no better bread to bake for the holiday season than this delicious Greek Christmas Bread - Christopsomo, a slightly sweet, light, buttery bread, infused with cinnamon, orange and cloves, all the warm flavours of Christmas.
It has a lovely melt in your mouth texture, and is a great bread to make to have for Christmas breakfast or as a snack, whatever your religion. Christopsomos in Greek literally means Christ's bread.
Like all Greek religious holidays, there are special foods that are made just for those occasions. Some of the celebratory foods made at Christmas in Greece are favourites such as Kourabiethes and Melomakarona, although of all foods, bread has the most religious significance in the orthodox church.
In fact there are many different breads made in Greece especially for religious holidays, such as Tsoureki for Easter. Christmas bread is made the day before Christmas, and there is a lot of care and attention put into the baking of it, the best quality, fresh ingredients are bought especially to make it. It is then eaten traditionally, on Christmas Day.
The Christmas bread is usually round in shape, the top is decorated from the dough with a byzantine cross flavoured with aniseed, the ends of the cross swirling around golden walnuts. Other variations with decorating the loaf, can be to use the dough to make a family crest or shapes representing the family's profession.
There are many, many variations to this recipe all over Greece. For example, the Christopsomo Sfakiano - is a particular recipe from Sfaka in Crete. They cover this bread with sesame seeds.
Sfakian Christmas Bread Recipe
• 2 pounds of flour
• 1 piece yeast
• 1 1/2 cup of olive oil
• 3 cups of tea sugar
• 1 teaspoon cinnamon
• 1 1/2 teaspoon cloves crushed
• 1 teaspoon crushed mahlepi *
• 1 teaspoon anise
• 1 teaspoon coriander
• 2 vanilla
• 2 pieces of gum (crushed with a little sugar)
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• 1 cup of orange juice
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 4 nuts
• 1 cup of sesame
In a bowl, dissolve the yeast with two tea cups of lukewarm water, add half the flour and a little oil. Work the mixture to absorb the liquid and become a little thin dough. Cover with warm cotton towel and leave in a warm place.
Boil half a cup of water with coriander and anise, strain and let cool down. When the dough has doubled in volume add the sugar, salt, spices, the remaining olive oil, the juice from the cooked coriander and anise, orange juice and finally the remaining flour, which you mix with the baking powder.
Knead the mixture with quick and powerful movements (if you put it in the mixer, set it to work on medium speed). If the dough is too thin, add a little flour on top. To work easier, dip your hands every so often in warm water.
When you obtain a smooth and homogeneous dough, cover with two cotton towels and leave in a warm place until it doubles in volume. Divide the dough into quarters for 4 pieces of round Christopsoma. Place in the center on top a nut and sprinkle with plenty of sesame.
Bake the loaves onto two oiled sheets for 45 to 55 minutes at 180° C, until gold brown.
* Mahlepi (Mahleb in Arabic) is an unusual Greek spice with a distinctive, fruity taste. The finely ground mahlepi powder is made from the inner kernels of fruit pits of a native Persian cherry tree. For many Greeks, the sweet smell of mahlepi always suggests the aroma of freshly-baked tsoureki, a traditional sweet bread with mahlepi baked for Greek Easter. Mahlepi is also used in holiday cakes and cookies.
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