Monday, December 24, 2012

CHRISTMAS BREAD



Christmas breads from Mani
  • Greek Christmas breads, known as Christopsoma (Christ's breads) appear to have their origin in the ancient Greek festive breads and  bloodless sacrifices that were given to the gods to earn their favor. They are made the day before Christmas and there is a lot of care put into their baking. Either plain or sweet spiced, they are always made with the best quality of ingredients. 
  • Christmas breads are decorated with a cross, a small Jesus figurine, daisies, half moons, snakes* and many  fertility and prosperity symbols made of dough; they have walnuts in the shell embedded in them. The walnuts are said to be symbolic of fertility or of the virginity of the Virgin. In some sections of Greece white eggs are used in the middle of the cross, eggs being the symbol of fertility as well. 
  • Among the farming communitities of the north of Greece, designs of house and farm implements sculpted in dough on top of the bread are very common. Other areas use the church seal as decoration. Depending on each family's life, represantations of shepherd, dogs, hens, sheeps, oxen, wheat branch etc. can be also found on Christmas loaves. 
  •  Some of the most impressive Christopsoma are made by Sarakatsanoi.  Having always been shepherds, Sarakatsanoi consider Christmas to be a pastoral festival so they decorate the bread with scenes from pastoral life. 
  • Small anthropomorphic or zoomorphic breads and breads in the shape of 8 or of the hand and leg of baby Jesus are given to the children. 
  • In many parts of Greece special breads are made for the animals. They are made from the same dough as that used for the family's Christopsomo and  represent each animal that is owned.
  • Slices of Christopsomo are offered to the first beggar or stranger who comes to the house.
  • Women go the cemetery to pray for their departed and distribute Christmas breads to the poor and to children.
  • In some parts of Greece, christopsomo is broken on the head of the "head" of the household.

Christmas bread from Arta
1 kg  bread flour (about) 
1 pkg dry yeast
½ tsp tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1 tbsp anise
1/2 tsp roasted and pounded mahlepi
2 tsp  honey
1/3 cup olive oil + some for pan
2 cups warm water or more

For the decoration
blanched almonds
sesame seeds
cloves


Add the dry ingredients to the top of flour pile  and sift.
Dissolve the honey in 1/2 cup warm water. Dissolve the yeast in 1 cup warm water and pour the water into 2 tbs  flour. When yeast is bubbly, mix in olive oil, honey-water and 2 cups flour. Gradually add remaining flour to form a dough, and knead for 10 to 12 minutes. Place dough in a bowl, cover, and allow to rise 2-2 1/2 hour in a warm location.
Remove a piece of dough and set aside.
Punch down dough and shape it  into a ball. Put it in an oiled pan. Place a walnut in the centre of the bread. Take the dough you've set aside and shape into ribbons and with a knife or  scissors make small leaves, flowers, animals and human figurines.  Form a cross using the almonds and the cloves. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and let dough rise again.
Bake  for 40' to 45' or until golden (preheated oven~ 200 C).
Remove and cool on a rack.


*Till the 2nd WW a snake found near the home or in the house was considered to bring good luck, protection and fertility. This belief has its origin in ancient Greek oikouros ophis, which literally means the guard or watcher snake of the house.

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