Christopsomo means ‘Christ’s Bread’. Made a few days before Christmas, the sacred tradition dates back hundreds of years. Legend says that preparing this bread as a Christmas treat is linked to the health and well-being of the members of the household over the coming year.
The bread has a cross on the top, representing the cross of Christ, and is decorated with pieces of dough to represent a family’s life so as to include possessions, animals or other images that are important to the bread’s creators.
The loaves can be simple or elaborately adorned so that the bread looks like a work of art, however only the purest ingredients are used to make this high-quality bread whose creation is similar to making an offering to Christ.
The bread has a Christmasy taste thanks to the inclusion of anise, mastic, nutmeg, wine, brandy and other ingredients. Optional extras can include cardamon, cloves, raisins and walnuts. Different ingredients can symbolise different things, eg pomegranate seeds for life; nuts for fertility, etc. In fact, there are probably as many versions of Christopsomo bread as there are families that make it.
Honey and sugar can be used to make the bread sweeter.
Once the dough is ready, the main part is used for the bread, however smaller parts of the dough are cut off for the vaftistiria (godchildren).
Baking time: 1 hour 15 minutes
2 kilos all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons active dry yeast
1 cup lukewarm warm water (40C)
Vegetable oil for coating bottom of baking pan
½ cup olive oil
1 ½ cups sugar
1 cup raisins
1 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
1 cup almonds, coarsely chopped or pine nuts
1 tablespoon pounded mastic resin or 1 tablespoon crushed anise seeds
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
OPTIONAL: crushed coriander seeds, cardamom seeds, crushed
READ MORE: A Greek Christmas
For the Topping:
2 whole walnuts
a cup of sesame seeds
egg and milk
cognac and honey
For the dough
In a mixer’s bowl, add a part of the water (1/2 cup), the yeast and sugar and mix with a hand whisk until the yeast dissolves.
Add the olive oil, flour, cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon. Beat with the hook attachment on medium speed for about 5-8 minutes, until all of the ingredients are completely combined start coming together to form a dough.
Add the salt, anise and walnuts, almonds and pine nuts. Beat for 1 minute, just to combine. They are not added from the start so that they don’t get crushed inside the dough.
If the dough is too thick, you can add the remaining water if needed.
In a separate bowl, add 1 tablespoon of olive oil and the dough.
Cover with a kitchen towel and set aside for 1 – 1 ½ hours, until it doubles in size.
Add all of the ingredients in the mixer’s bowl: water, olive oil, flour and salt.Beat for 2-3 minutes, until smooth. Remove dough from bowl and wrap in plastic wrap. Set it aside to rest.
For the Christmas bread
Punch down the dough lightly with your fingers and shape into a round loaf.
Line a 30 cm baking pan with parchment paper and vegetable oil. Let the dough spread out on its own. Remove the plastic wrap and cut the dough into six equal-sized pieces. Shape each piece into a long rope and then braid each of the three ropes into a braid. You should have two braids as long as the circumference of the pan.
Brush the dough in the pan with some beaten egg and milk so that the different types of dough don’t stick and then place the two braids over it in the shape of a cross.
Position whole walnuts in the centre.
Cover with a towel and leave the dough to rise for an hour.
Preheat oven to 180* C fan and bake for an hour.
Glaze with honey and cognac when the bread is almost ready. Brush the glaze over the Christmas bread again when it comes out of the oven.
Tips: An important thing to consider when making Christopsomo is ensuring that the temperature is right. The water needs to be lukewarm before adding the yeast, but not hot enough to kill the yeast or cold so that it cannot rise. Salt should also be added at the end to ensure that it doesn’t ‘kill’ the yeast. The walnuts and anise should also be added at the end so that they don’t get crushed inside the dough. And time is required to ensure that the bread retains its fluffiness.