Greeks like bread. No… we LOVE bread. There is literally a bread made specifically for every main holiday, and this doesn’t even cover the bread used daily and in religious ceremonies!
Many people are familiar with tsoureki, the sweet brioche-like bread made for Pascha (aka Easter). Some may also know about vasilopita, the bread made for New Year’s that traditionally has money hidden inside it. Not as many are familiar with Christopsomo (hree-STOH-psoh-moh), which literally means “Christ’s bread”. Yet, to me this is the best one.
Like many traditional dishes, there will be variations depending on where you are and whom you talk to. Many versions of Christopsomo will simply be a citrus flavored version of the bread made at Pascha, but my favorite is the one studded with dried fruit and walnuts. It’s a sweet way to enjoy the flavors of summer during the darkest days of winter. In many ways you could also think of this as Greek fruitcake. You could maybe even say the Greeks invented fruitcake!😉
Christopsomo is sometimes decorated with whole, unshelled walnuts or candied cherries. However, it is always decorated with an “X”. This is really the Greek letter Chi (properly pronounced “hee”). It also happens to be the first letter in the word “Χριστος” (hree-STOHS) which is Greek for Christ. When you see “Xmas” instead of the full word “Christmas”, you’re really seeing the Greek abbreviation!
Christopsomo (Greek Christmas Bread) Recipe
- 1 cup warm water (about 110 F)
- 2 packages dry yeast (4 1/2 tsp.)
- 1 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1 cup salted butter (this is also two sticks or 1/2 pound)
- 1 cup milk
- 5 eggs
- zest from one orange
- 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 3 cups chopped dried fruit (a mix of raisins, plums, figs, and apricots are traditional)
- 1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
- 8 to 10 cups or more bread flour (measured by fluffing the flour with a whisk and scooped into a measuring cup)
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1 Tbsp. milk
In a small bowl, combine the water and 1/4 cup of the sugar. Add the yeast and stir in. Don’t worry if the yeast doesn’t completely dissolve right away. Set the bowl aside to let the yeast activate until the mixture is foamy.
Melt the butter and add the milk (do not let this get too hot, just warm enough to melt the butter). In a large bowl beat the eggs until foamy and beat in the milk and butter mixture. Add the rest of the sugar, the zest, cinnamon, and salt and mix until the sugar is dissolved. Mix in the yeast mixture, add in the fruit and walnuts and stir in.
If you are using a stand mixer, switch to the hook attachment. Start adding in the flour one cup at a time. Use enough flour that the dough begins to pull away from the bowl. It will still be soft, but should be able to be handled without sticking to clean hands.
Scoop the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead by hand for a few minutes. If the dough is still sticking to the surface or your hands, add in a little more flour. The dough should be soft.
Put the dough into an oiled bowl, turning it to coat the dough with oil, cover with a clean towel, and place in a warm, draft free place to rise until doubled. This may take 2 to 3 hours. An oven with the light on is often a good place, just make sure the oven isn’t on!
After the dough has risen, lightly knead it and divide it into two equal portions. From each half, take out two balls of dough about a couple of inches in diameter. Shape the large portions into two round loaves and place them on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. You could also use cake pans, but be sure to line the bottom with parchment paper or the bread will stick. (Having done both methods, I would choose not to use the pans in the future.) With each of the small pieces of dough, roll them into a long rope. Roll the ends of the rope as shown in the pictures, and lay two across each loaf in the shape of an “X”. Do not press them into the bread. Allow the loaves to rise again until doubled, about an hour.
Once the loaves have risen, preheat the oven to 350 F. Mix the last egg and 1 Tbsp. milk together and brush a little of the mixture over each loaf. Bake the loaves for 30 to 35 minutes or until the top is dark brown and baked through. If you use cake pans, the baking time will be much longer, about 50 minutes. If the tops are getting too dark, lay a piece of foil lightly over the top of each loaf to deflect the heat from there. Remove from the oven and transfer to a cooling rack, if using the cake pans wait for 5 minutes for the bread to firm up before removing them to the rack. You may need to run a thin spatula or knife along the edge to help loosen it. Allow to cool completely before cutting to prevent the moisture from escaping. This bread tastes great by itself, but even better with a little cream cheese! Enjoy and Merry Christmas!