The move from week one of the BBA Challenge 2011 (Anadama Bread) to week two (Greek Celebration Bread), was a welcome one for me. Although I liked the Anadama Bread, it was — to be honest — a bit boring and plain. After all, it’s just a regular sandwich loaf, it simply throws in a flavored corn-molasses twist. So I was definitely looking forward to this week, given that the bread is not only made free-standing (without a tin), but it also has an interesting shaping requirement at the end of the process (a cross on the top with the curled up ends). Moreover, Greek Celebration Bread also includes a lot of interesting spices and ingredients for flavoring.
Christopsomo (Χριστόψωμο in Greek) means “Christ’s Bread” – clearly pointing to the religious ritual significance of this particular bread (since I teach in a Philosophy and Religion department, I guess this bread allows me to make some sort of professional connection). As it turns out, the bread is traditionally made to be served on Christmas Eve (okay, so we’re off by a few weeks) and baking and eating it is a ritual meant to assure for the well-being of the home for the upcoming year. Doing a bit of research on this, I found that some even suggested that the bread is typically decorated with pieces of dough carved and shaped in ways that symbolize important aspects of the given family’s life. In my family, that would probably mean little dough icons for laptops, iPhones, Kitchen-Aids, Princess dress up outfits and a Net-Flix streaming service. I’m not that good at shaping dough yet, so I didn’t bother trying!
As Reinhart makes clear in Bread Baker’s Apprentice, the Greek Celebration Bread comes in three variations:
1. Plain ol’ Greek Celebration Bread (this is the bread you would use for versions #2 and #3 too, but these would add extra steps to the process)
2. Christopomos (#1 but with added ingredients and with the extra shaping “cross” added to the top)
3. Lampopomos (#1 but with different added ingredients, and braided)
Clearly #1 is the easy one, since it’s the base core bread that you need to make for the other two, but it has no extra steps. I would likely rate #3 as the hardest, due to the braiding requirement. I chose to go with #2 because I thought the shaping was sort of cool looking, and I wanted to see how it would turn out. Also, I figured that I’d be braiding a loaf soon enough when we got to challah bread. Since I’d do #3 just to try out the braiding, I skipped it and figured I’d wait on until we get to the “C” breads.
So from this point out, I’ll be talking about the Christopomos version of the Greek Celebration bread.
I’m going to rate the Greek Celebration Bread — the Christopamos version — at novice difficulty. That’s good because after a year of weekly baking, I’d rate myself probably in the novice category! I think the core component of the bread itself is not hard to make, but any move up from using a standard American bread loaf tin to a freestanding loaf requires a little extra skill, since you need to actually shape the dough in the right way. With a sandwich loaf, it’s my experience that you can mess up the shaping process and it won’t matter much – the bread will just fill out and shape itself in the tin and hide whatever mistakes you make.
In addition, I think the addition of any extra large ingredients (in this case, adding dried cherries, raisins and walnuts) can throw off a total beginner. The problem is simple: in the beginning of learning to bake bread you need to get the feel for a piece of regular plain dough – to know when it’s mixed right, when it needs more kneading, when it is don’t rising and how to shape properly. Once you get the feel for what’s right, it’s easier to move to adding larger extra ingredients, since these invariably alter the feel of the dough and can make it different in a number of ways from plain dough. For that reason, this bread is not likely a beginner level bread.
Lastly, there’s the shaping issue. When I first looked at this recipe, I though it would be very difficult to shape. Fortunately, I hadn’t read the instructions closely. It’s actually not that hard at all. It’s just a boule with two strands of dough crossed at the top and curled at the ends. Not terribly difficult to do, but still it’s enough of an extra procedure to merit novice status!
Comments on the Process
Since, in fairness to Reinhart, we’re not laying out the specific process he uses in the book, I’ll restrict myself as usual to just general comments on the process. However, that said, if you don’t own his book there are plenty of specific instructions for making this bread around the web, starting with here, here, and here.
There are a lot of spices in this bread! Nutmeg, cinnamon, orange zest, almond extract, ground cloves, honey – hell, you’d think you were baking a cake! This isn’t even all of them:
I didn’t find the dough making to be problematic, with the exception of one thing: the recipe doesn’t seem to (again, as happened with the Anadama Bread) call for enough flour. Again, just to say, I don’t use too much flour – I like dough a bit sticky. But it was short to get it to ball stage in the Kitchen-Aid. I needed 3 oz more (curious, close to what I had to add to the Anadama last week). Not a big problem, though – just pointing it out.
I also found the shaping process (the formation of the boule) to be a bit problematic. I make boules all the time (favorite shape for rustic Italian bread), so I’m pretty used to making them. But once you start loading up all sort of big solid ingredients like dried fruits and almonds, it gets very hard to get a boule to shape tight. Also, given that the raisins/dried fruit go in in the dough hook stage, that means some extra liquid gets introduced, making the dough wetter than usual, and so hard to tightly ball up. I basically found that I could pull it maybe twice completely before it was sure to rip. In fact, I got one rip on the top (which I sneakily covered later with a dough rope during the last process).
Although I found the roping process (making the strands for the top cross) easy (I’ve made too much homemade gnocchi for this to be too hard), I think I didn’t make them long enough. I made them the length Reinhart says, but clearly longer would have allowed for bigger bottom swirls than the ones I wound up with.
But probably the biggest problem I had was of my own devising. Take a look at this shot and see if you see trouble on the horizon:
Now this is before I noticed the problem. I added the strands on top, curled up the bottoms, had my oven all ready to roll, and was just about to put this pan in the oven when it struck me…
…the dough was on wax paper, not parchment paper.
Okay, that’s bad. Since it wasn’t my aim to poison my family with melted wax scorched into my bread, I couldn’t put it in this way. And it turned out I had no parchment paper. So I had to — ever so gently — move the dough to a pizza stone, and then slide the stone into the oven.
Anyone who has worked with bread doughs knows, though, that you shouldn’t ever move a dough that has just gone through the second rise after shaping. Fortunately, it didn’t do too much damage. One side degassed a bit (as I think can be seen in the main photos) but overall I was suprised at how resilient the dough turned out to be.
Past that greenhorn move, it was smooth sailing.
Comments on the Final Product
When you bite into this bread, the only thing you can think is “man, there’s a lot going on in this slice!” Seriously — this is a complicated and rich bread. This shouldn’t be suprising, given the ton of different ingredients that are in it. Think about: there’s orange zest, orange extract, almond extract, cinnamon, honey, eggs, allspice, nutmet, cloves, sugar, almonds, raisins and dried cherries. Wow. In fact, when you think of the list, it’s really hard to imagine how the darn thing will turn out in the end. I can’t imagine how the creator of this bread came up with the idea. Funny thing is, though, when you finally taste this bread, you’ll be surprised by the fact that you can actually detect each and every one of them in any given bite. Like I said, it’s a complicated bread, but they all work together. It’s really pretty remarkable.
For use of this bread, I can’t imagine using it for sandwiches or even for a “beside the meal” type of bread. It strikes me as more of a desert bread or a morning bread. I’d be curious to hear how others would use it. I already tried some toasted with butter, and it was really quite good!
Here’s another crumb shot:
Kid and Family Test
It’s hard to say at this point how the kid-family test will come out. My wife really liked it (she’s had a few slices already). She too was taken back by the complicated flavors, but in a good way. Her one complaint was that she thought it was a bit dry. I didn’t think it was myself, but I did bake it longer than the recipe called for — 55 minutes total.
Kid #1 (the 2 year old) didn’t like it. She ate the sesame seeds and left the rest. I asked her if she wanted more, and she said “uh, uh” (no).
Kid #2 (the 5 year old) simply refused to eat any. She says that I spend “too much time in the cookbook” and so she’s boycotting my baking/cooking. So who knows on this one. If I can get her to commit to a piece, I’ll update tomorrow.
Other Photography Shots
Here are a few more shots that I took of the loaf, from a variety of different angles.
I call this first one — a close up of the top of the cross — the “pretzel shot” because it, well, looks like a pretzel.
This next one is a shot of the side “swirls” — none of which seemed to come out all that great.
This next one is a top shot. If you ask me, it looks a lot like the Millenium Falcon.
NEXT WEEK (Challenge #3): Bagels!
I’m pretty pumped about this one, since it’s such a big departure in a few ways from typical bread baking. At the same time, given that I’m from NYC and that’s where the best bagels in the bagel making universe are, I’m not too optimistic that the product will be up to snuff. My guess is that bagels require a lot of trial and error. Since I’ve never done it before, that means one trial and likely a lot of error. I guess we’ll find out then — see you next week!