By: Kayla Butts Photos by: Rachel Benavides
Bread is easy to take for granted. Maybe it’s because baking bread has been around since the dawn of civilization, or because lower quality, generic varieties are so widely available.
And yet, those fresh, pillowy loaves formed by hand and proofed on a window sill are something else entirely. There aren’t many simple pleasures in this world as enjoyable as warm, homemade bread. This includes artisan Christmas breads learned from family elders, who learned from their elders, and so on. Recreating these time-honored recipes pays homage to the traditions and generations before us.
Christopsomo is an enriched spiced bread celebrating the best of times in Greece, when people kept their religious practices and family customs sacred. Decorated with nuts, seeds, a cross, or other meaningful family symbols, “Christ’s bread” is made using great care and only the finest ingredients. Christopsomo is offered to the first visitor of the holiday season and broken atop the crown of the head of household.
Considered more of a cake than a bread, Norwegian julekake resembles the fruitcake of western fame. It can be flavored with candied fruits or, alternately, dried raisins, currants, and citron. When the latter is preferred, julekake is similar to Italy’s panettone. The most marked distinction is the use of cardamom in lieu of vanilla. Regardless of the fruit of choice, this sweet bread is moist and rich.
In 1905, Venezuelan baker Gustavo Ramella created pan de jamon, a savory bread stuffed with ham. Pan de jamon soon became a staple in Caracas Christmas celebrations. Soft bread encapsulates savory ham, briny olives or capers, and sweet raisins.
Sweet or savory, studded with fruit or stuffed with ham, these artisan breads make a celebratory meal to remember. Take up the torch and continue the rituals that were passed down from generation to generation. Let your homemade bread take its place as the cornerstone of the holiday table.
Makes 1 large loaf
Prep Time: 2 hours
Cook Time: 50 minutes
- 2 cups lukewarm water
- 1 tbsp dry yeast
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 4 1/3 cup white bread flour
- 1/2 cup honey
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp anise
- 1/2 tsp cloves
- 1 1/2 tsp salt
- 3 oz walnuts, roughly chopped (3 oz.)
- 1/3 cup chopped calimyrna figs
- For decoration:
- 1-3 walnuts, halves or whole
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1 tbsp water
- 1 tbsp sesame seeds
- 1 tsp anise seeds
In the bowl of a standing mixer, add the water, yeast and sugar and whisk to dissolve. Let sit for 10 minutes, until mixture has created a bubbly foam.
Add the flour, honey, olive oil, and seasonings. Using the dough hook, mix at low speed until the ingredients start to combine. Increase to medium speed for about 5-10 minutes, until a smooth dough has formed that no longer sticks to the sides of the bowl. Add the walnuts and figs, mixing for 1 more minute, until combined.
Transfer dough to an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap or a tea towel. Let the dough rise in a warm place for at least 1 hour, until it doubles in size.
Remove a large handful of dough, about 1 cup. This will be used to form the cross adornment. Shape the remaining dough into a round loaf. Cut the remnant in thirds; each should be about 1/3 cup of dough. Flour a clean surface and roll each piece into a breadstick, 18-24 inches long. Braid the dough and cut off the top 1/3 of the braid. Place the braided segments on your round in the form of a cross.
Transfer the dough to a 9-inch round cake pan that has been greased and lined with parchment paper. Brush the top lightly with a mixture of beaten egg and water. Sprinkle the top with sesame and anise seeds and decorate with walnuts. Cover the dough with a towel and allow it to proof in a warm place for 30 more minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Bake the loaf for 50 minutes, until the Christopsomo is a deep golden color and sounds hollow when tapped.
Makes 1 large loaf
Prep time: 2 hours
Cook time: 50 minutes
- 1 1/4 cup milk, plus 3 tbsp for brushing loaf
- 1 package (2 1/4 tsp) rapid-rise yeast
- 1/4 cup butter
- 1 egg
- 4 cups flour
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
- 1 tbsp orange zest
- 1 cup candied fruit
Microwave the milk for 40 seconds. Pour lukewarm milk into the bowl of your standing mixer that has been fitted with the dough hook. Sprinkle yeast on top of the milk and mix until dissolved. Add in the butter, egg, and dry ingredients and knead on medium-low speed for 8 minutes. Pour in orange zest and candied fruit, mixing on low until well distributed.
Transfer the dough to a lightly greased bowl, cover loosely with plastic, and let rise in a warm spot for 1 hour, or until doubled.
Oil a baking sheet with non-stick spray. Shape the dough into a round and score the top. Transfer to the prepared baking sheet. Cover with a tea towel and let rise for 30 more minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Lightly brush a layer of milk onto the top of the dough. Bake the loaf for 40-45 minutes, until golden brown.
Pan de Jamon Recipe:
Makes 1 large loaf
Prep time: 3 hours
Cook time: 45-50 minutes
For the Bread
- 1/4 c water, warmed to 90˚F
- 1/4 c sugar
- 1 tbsp active dry yeast
- 4 cups all-purpose flour, divided
- 1 tsp salt
- 3/4 c milk, lukewarm
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 6 tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled
For the Filling
- 1/4 lb ham, deli-sliced
- 1/4 lb serrano ham, prosciutto, or bacon
- 1/2 cup raisins
- 3/4 cup pimento and/or garlic stuffed green olives, chopped, drained, and patted dry
In your standing mixer fitted with the dough hook, mix the warm water, sugar, and yeast until dissolved. Let sit for 10 minutes, until the mixture has created a bubbly foam.
Add remaining ingredients for the bread dough and mix until a soft dough forms. Continue to knead for 8-10 minutes on medium-low speed, until the dough is soft and smooth, adding flour as necessary to keep the dough from sticking to the sides of the bowl.
Place the dough in a clean, greased bowl. Cover it with a tea towel and let it rest for 1 hour in a warm place until doubled in size.
Filling the Bread:
Dust a clean surface with flour and roll the dough out into a large rectangle, approximately 10” x 15”.
Cover the dough with the ham and bacon slices, leaving about 1/2” uncovered on each side. Distribute the raisins and olives evenly over the pork.
Tightly roll the dough into a swiss roll shape, working from the long edge. Pinch the seam with your thumb and index finger to close it and place the roll seam side down on a greased baking sheet. Let the dough rise in a warm place for 1 hour more. Score the bread using a sharp knife or bread lame.
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Bake the bread for 25-27 minutes, until the loaf starts to turn golden brown. Reduce the temperature to 350°F and continue baking for an additional 20-25 minutes, until the internal temperature reaches 180°F.