Christmas is usually celebrated with some sort of dinner, but the Greeks do it up big with a feast.
Lamb or pork is served, there is the tradition of making Christopsomo, also known as Greek Christmas bread, and guests look forward to sweet desserts of honey-dipped cookies, almond cookies and baklava. Gifts are exchanged on New Year’s Day and the holiday season ends on January sixth with the Epiphany.
Our favorite thing is definitely the bread! This deliciously sweet egg bread is customarily made with great care and offered to Christ in hopes that the family will receive many blessings in the coming year. Whether you’re religious or not, good blessings are always a plus and this bread is AMAZING!
Don’t be intimidated by the thought of making bread with yeast. It’s not difficult to mix the ingredients and knead them together either by hand or using a stand mixer, and it takes only about 15 minutes. Most of your time is spent allowing the dough to rise, but that gives you lots of time to multitask while you wait.
Traditionally, Greek Christmas bread is made in round loaves and decorated with a braided cross and nuts on top. Years ago, each family decorated its loaf to reflect that family’s profession. No matter what’s on top, it’s baked to a golden color that looks beautiful on any table. In fact, it freezes well so you may want to make an extra loaf at the same time!
Sweet Greek Christmas bread
- 2 3/4 - 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 pkg active dry yeast
- 2/3 cup milk
- 4 Tbsp unsalted butter
- 3 Tbsp sugar
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 1 egg, additional for brushing
- 1 tsp sesame seeds
- In a large bowl or the bowl of your stand mixer, stir together 1½ c flour and the packet of yeast. Melt the butter in the microwave. Add milk then heat in the microwave until just barely warm.
- Crack both eggs into the milk and butter mixture then whisk until combined. Add the egg mixture into the flour and yeast, mixing until all of the flour is incorporated. Begin adding the remaining flour in increments until soft dough forms.
- If you are mixing by hand, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 3−5 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic. This will take about 2 minutes in the stand mixer. Place the dough in a greased bowl, turning once to coat both sides. Cover and let rise in a warm place until it has doubled in size, approximately 1½ hours.
- After the dough has had a chance to double in volume, punch it down to deflate. Remove ⅓ of the dough and divide it into 8 equal pieces. Roll each piece of dough into eight 12" ropes. Form 4 twisted ropes by taking 2 ropes and twisting them together. Use several of the braided ropes to line the inside edge of a greased 9" round cake pan.
- Shape the remaining ⅔ of dough into a round ball just large enough to fit inside the twisted ropes. Use the remaining twists to make any design you would like on top of the loaf. (We placed the remaining twists in a spiral in the center of the loaf to form a rosette.) Cover the dough and allow it to rise in a warm spot one final time for about 30−45 minutes.
- As you leave the dough to rise for the final time, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- When the loaf has doubled in size, brush the top with beaten egg and sprinkle with sesame seeds.
- Bake the bread for 30−35 minutes, but cover the bread with aluminum foil during the last 15 minutes to prevent over-browning.
- Remove from the oven and allow it to cool for 5 minutes before removing the bread from the pan. Enjoy!
You’ll have plenty of time to multitask while the dough rises, so don’t think this is an all-day project!