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Christopsomo: Greek Christmas Bread

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Christopsomo - Greek Christmas Bread

Christopsomo - Decorated Greek Christmas Bread

Photo © N. Gaifyllia, licensed to About.com, Inc.

In Greek: Χριστόψωμο, pronounced hree-STOHP-soh-moh

Christopsomo, or Christ's Bread, is considered a sacred tradition in many Greek Orthodox homes, and the care with which it is made is said to ensure the well-being of the home in the year to come. Only the purest and most expensive ingredients are used. The bread is often decorated with pieces of dough formed into representations of the family's life (boats, animals, etc.). Ingredients are for simple loaves (see photo), and directions for a decorated loaf as shown at left can be found below.

Prep Time: 4 hours

Cook Time: 45 minutes

Total Time: 4 hours, 45 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 8 cups of all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons of dry yeast
  • 1 cup of warm water (105F, 40C)
  • 1 cup of warm red wine
  • 1/2 cup of olive oil
  • 1/4 cup of orange juice
  • 1/4 cup of brandy
  • grated peel of 2 oranges
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups of raisins
  • 1 1/2 cups of walnuts, coarsely chopped
  • 1/3 cup of pine nuts
  • 1 tablespoon of grated gum mastic or 1 tablespoon of crushed anise seed
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ----------
  • For the Topping
  • milk
  • 2 whole walnuts in shells
  • sesame seeds

Preparation:

  1. Mix the yeast with 1/2 cup of warm water and 2 tablespoons of flour, stir until dissolved and set aside for 10 minutes, until it bubbles.

  2. In a large mixing bowl, sift the salt with 2/3 of the flour. Make a well in the center of the flour and pour in the yeast mixture, the remaining warm water, and the wine. Mix until a soft dough forms, cover with waxed paper and a damp towel, and set aside to rise for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until doubled in bulk.

  3. Punch the dough down and knead for several minutes until any air pockets are gone. Sift in the remaining flour, add the oil, orange juice, brandy, and grated orange peel.

  4. In a small bowl, mix the sugar, raisins, walnuts, pine nuts, gum mastic or anise, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg until blended, and add to the dough.

  5. Knead well until the dough is firm and doesn't stick (about 10 minutes), cover, and allow to rise for 1/2 hour.

  6. On a lightly buttered baking pan, shape the bread into two circular loaves, about 8 inches in diameter. Cover with a dry cloth and a damp cloth over that, and place in a warm place to rise again, until doubled in size.

  7. Using a floured knife, score a cross into the top of the loaves, and place one whole, unshelled walnut at the center. Brush the bread with milk and scatter with sesame seeds.

  8. Place a pan with at least 1 inch of water in the bottom of the oven and preheat to 450F (230C). Place the bread in the preheated oven for 15 minutes, then remove the pan with the water, reduce heat to 390F (200C) and bake for another 25-30 minutes.

  9. Remove from oven, brush lightly with water, and cool on a rack.

Preparation tip: Use a mortar and pestle to crush the anise seed.

Decorate Your Christmas Bread (photo): At step 6, pull a fistful of dough from each loaf. Pat the dough back into shape to rise. When risen, use the small pieces of dough to create designs: roll them out into strips and coil around whole walnuts pressed into the top in the shape of a cross (photo), or make them into the shapes of your choice and place on top of the loaves. Continue with the recipe. Brush with beaten egg instead of milk to get a brighter glaze.

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