Citizens, Christmas is still an upcoming event for those who follow the Eastern Orthodox tradition – specifically, it’s January 7 this year. To celebrate, allow me to share a recipe of not only tremendous flavor, but great symbolic meaning to Greek Orthodoxy! 🙂
Christopsomo (which translates as “Christ’s Bread”) is an old Greek tradition, this bread is baked on Christmas Eve and eaten on Christmas Day. Baking this bread bestows a great blessing upon the family. The plentiful use of grains and nuts as symbols of fertility and good harvest is almost certainly a holdover of the ancient Kronia festivals (similar to Roman Saturnalia) held in Attica in honor of Cronus, the god of the harvest.
Today, making it is still considered by many to be a sacred task, and great care is taken in its preparation.
As noted on http://myocn.net/christopsomo-christ-bread/:
The dough is divided into two pieces. The first portion, the largest, forms the main base. Using the second portion, the dough is made into a large cross with inward curled-split ends and several other personal symbols.
This style of cross is one of the earliest designs created by the ancient Christians. The cross has four arms of equal length representing Christ’s perfection and balancing force in the Universe.
There are eight split ends which curl inwards representing Christ’s infinite power and authority – the Alpha and Omega – which never ends, existing before time itself. The number of split ends is symbolic of the eighth day of the Resurrection.
The four branches represent not only the four ends of the Cross, but the four compass points of the world in which the four Gospels were preached.
Using small pieces of dough, the loaf is decorated with images representing aspects of the family’s life and profession. For example, if the family are fishmongers, images of fish would be baked on the crust.
In more agriculture-based times, the surface of the bread would be covered with flowers, leaves, or fruits, indicating the family’s expectations of good harvests and animal fertility. This could be done with dough or actual flowers.
In the middle of the cross, a walnut is placed, symbolising life and fertility. The walnut shell can be interpreted as representing the cave in which the Christ Child was born – the Lord, who existed before the world, is born within the world to renew it. The shell can also symbolise the womb of Panagia.
On Christmas day, the head of the household makes the sign of the Cross over the bread and cuts a piece for each person present at the table. The walnut and a piece of Christopsomo are placed in the family’s icon corner for a year of blessings, replacing last year’s.
The Christ-bread is served with honey and figs. Honey represents the sweetness of Christ’s birth and the hopes for a year of happiness. The figs are an ancient symbol of prosperity.
In this example, the family has baked images (clockwise, from top left) including:
- Grapes: for good harvest of a small vine they planted and a year of blessings and prosperity.
- Wedding rings: a member of the family recently married –hope for a blessed and joyful marriage.
- House: the father is a builder – for his work to be blessed and his business continue to prosper.
- Boat: this family’s favourite pastime is fishing – hope for a plentiful season and safety on the waters.
Whatever symbolism is chosen, interpretation is entirely based on the family’s situation and interests. For example, the image of a house could mean the family has moved into a new home, or they are involved in construction.
My version of the recipe is extremely traditional, but I have substituted Grand Marnier for the original brandy to increase the orange flavor; use tangerine juice instead of orange juice for a bit more flavor; use both mastic and anise instead of one or the other; customized the spice blend to my personal taste and added additional citrus zests such as lemon and lime in addition to orange.
Battle on – The GeneralissimoPrint
The Hirshon Greek Spiced Christmas Bread – Χριστόψωμο
- 2 kilos all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons dry yeast (18 grams)
- 1 cup lukewarm warm water (105F, 40C)
- 1 cup of warm red wine
- 1/2 cup of olive oil
- 1/4 cup of freshly-squeezed tangerine juice (preferred) or orange juice
- 1/4 cup of Grand Marnier (original used brandy)
- grated peel of 1 large navel orange, well washed
- grated peel of 1/2 lime, well washed
- grated peel of 1/2 lemon, well washed
- 1 cup of sugar
- 1 1/2 cups of golden raisins
- 1 1/2 cups of walnuts, coarsely chopped
- 1/3 cup of pine nuts
- 1/2 tablespoon of grated gum mastic
- 1/2 tablespoon of freshly-ground star anise
- 2 teaspoons freshly-ground cardamom
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly-ground Ceylon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly-ground cloves
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly-ground nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds, ground
- For the Glaze & Garnish
- 2 Tablespoons Honey
- 1 Tablespoon Lime Juice
- Sesame seeds
- 1 walnut in the shell
- Mix the yeast with ½ cup of warm water and ¼ οf flour, stir until dissolved.
- Cover with plastic membrane and clean napkins or even a small blanket and leave it to rest all evening.
- Next day, in a large mixing bowl, sift the salt with 2/3 of the remaining flour.
- Make a well in the center of the flour and pour in the yeast mixture, the warm water and wine.
- Mix until a soft dough forms, cover with plastic membrane and a damp towel, and set aside to rise for 1 ½ to 2 hours, until doubled in bulk.
- Punch the dough down and knead for several minutes until any air pockets are gone. Sift in the remaining flour, add the oil, tangerine juice, Grand Marnier, and grated citrus peels.
- In a small bowl, mix the sugar, raisins, walnuts, pine nuts, gum mastic, anise, cinnamon, cardamom, coriander, cloves, and nutmeg until blended, and add to the dough.
- Knead well until the dough is firm and doesn’t stick (about 10-12 minutes), cover, and allow to rise for ½ hour.
- On a greased baking pan, shape the bread into two circular loaves, about 8 inches in diameter. Cover, and place in a warm place to rise again, until doubled in size.
- Pull out 2 big fistfuls of dough and divide into halves. Roll 2 long strips with each one of them and make a large cross with inward curled-split ends. Press the walnut in the shell into the center of the cross.
- Place a pan with at least 1 inch of water in the bottom of the oven and preheat to 375F. Place the bread in the preheated oven for 15 minutes, then remove the pan with the water, reduce heat to 325F and bake for another 25-30 minutes.
- Remove from oven, and cool on a rack for about 10 minutes.
- Whisk the honey and lime juice, & brush on the loaves for the glaze. Sprinkle the sesame seeds.
- Wrap it up when completely cool. This bread will store for a couple of weeks and it tastes better as it matures.
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Χριστοψωμο….Jesus Christ Bread. …