BBA #2: Greek Celebration Bread – Christopsomo

January 15th, 2011 by Chris

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!

(Click on the names to link to posts from other participants Adam, Joann, Coz, Sharlene, Geraint, Nancy, and Paul. As others stream in with their finished products, I’ll add the links here.)

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!

25 Responses to “BBA #2: Greek Celebration Bread – Christopsomo”

  1. Joanne Says:

    Your’s looks really good! I didn’t add any extra flour, but I did tent mine for the last 15 minutes because it was looking dark. I also put the cross on to soon, but all in all it turned out good tasting and light. Had to freeze 3/4 of it or we would have eaten it all in a couple days!


  2. Paul Mihalyov Says:

    I just finished recipe #2 in BBA. It produces a loaf larger than I am used to but turned out heavenly (at least the house smells heavenly). I substituted Mixed Fruit and Peel (left over from Christmas cookies) for the Raisins and Dried Cranberries but otherwise followed the recipe. I’m still having trouble with my loafs spreading out rather than raising up during final proofing so my shaping needs improving. I thought I got this one pretty tight but it still spread quite a bit. Thank the gods of baking for oven spring.

  3. Paul Mihalyov Says:

    I made the mistake of taking it over to a neighbor’s (Greek) for a post New Years party and this is all I was able to salvage for a crumb shot. It toasts up marvelously and I’m going to try it as french toast.

  4. Geraint Says:

    Looks great Paul. Was your Greek neighbour familiar with the bread?

    Did anyone else use a sourdough culture (or ‘barm’ as Reinhart calls it, though that means something different in the UK)?

    I went with figs, sultanas (US:golden raisins?) & walnuts for the fruit, & lemon zest & essence rather than orange, which I’m not keen on.

    As some others of you found, I needed to add extra flour to achieve the desired dough feel, in my case 100g (3.5oz). My eggs were an ounce heavier than the recipe which might account for a little of this, but certainly not all. If I made this again, I would mix the dry ingredients with just the milk & enough of the egg to make a workable dough, then knead until the gluten was developed before incorporating the honey & oil & then any extra flour if required.

    I decided to skip the sesame seeds, but seeing all yours, I think I’ll sprinkle some on.

  5. Chris Says:

    @Geraint – I looked for figs to use, but no use. I went with dried cherries/ raisins/ walnuts. I used a poolish, simply because it was easier and I had a few other things to do.

    I’m curious, why did you say that you would work in the honey and oil after the gluten develops? What does adding it earlier prevent? (I’m a novice)

    @Paul – I love the bright colors in your loaf. I’m curious – why does the crumb seem lighter?

    @Joanne – I saw yours at your blog. Beautiful! Adam thinks you knocked it out of the park.

  6. saltandserenity Says:

    You see the Milenium Falcon, I see an octopus! Your loaf turned out just beautiful. This bread makes great french toast or bread pudding. I love your kid and family test section. That shot is just too cute. Great post!!

  7. Geraint Says:

    Chris: holding back some of the liquid makes the dough easier to handle, so you can develop the gluten without getting into such a mess! Also, fats coat the gluten & inhibit hydration & so some bakers say that you shouldn’t add the fat until the gluten is developed. Honey just makes the dough stickier & messier to handle, so again, adding at the end makes life easier. I’m trying to follow Reinhart’s directions just to see how things work out, when sometimes my instinct & experience is saying ‘NO!’. I think I will learn more by doing so, as it stops me just accepting what I’ve been told by others & confirming them for myself.

  8. Chris Says:

    @Geraint – I think I’ve read a bit about this myself. So basically the idea is to hold off on oils/honeys/butters and other fat ingredients until you’ve stretched the gluten to some degree. I tend to make a lot of pizzas, and the formula I use calls for 1/4 cup of olive oil. However the formula calls for immediate mixing of the oil into the dough. I think I’ll try one normal way and another holding off on the oil until later, and see if there’s a difference between the two doughs.

  9. Joanne Says:

    I really think we all have made some really nice loaves and maybe learned a little bit along the way too. Thanks Adam for the compliment, but I really did have my issues too. I didn’t read carefully enough and ended up cutting the cross pieces into 4 pieces, and then had to re-attach them and make them into one piece when they had gotten cold. I then decided to go ahead and put them on the bread to early, and it ended up constricting it and sorta formed a band around the center. Here’s a better picture of what I am talking about. Not sure if I included this in my original post or not.

  10. NancyB Says:

    I also skipped the sesame seeds (OK, I got distracted and forgot), but found it was a lovely bread even so. I’ll try to remember the sesame seeds next time–and there will be a next time. I like this one.

    My blog post on it is here:

  11. Joanne Says:

    Lol, I never even considered putting seeds on my bread. Seeds just get stuck in my teeth….


  12. Chris Says:

    @Nancy – thanks for the link; I have a quick link to your post up top now (top of thread).

    @Joanne and Nancy: I liked the sesame seeds! Mostly for aesthetic reasons, though. I was more bugged by the dang honey wash. Man it makes this bread sticky, even days later. It took me a while to clean the honey-stuck sesame seeds off of my cutting board!


  13. jim Says:

    I must say,regardless of minor problems some encountered i would be honored to taste any one of them! they all look great! holiday breads are about special and exspensive ingredients to be shared with family and friends.They (I beleive) represent the holiday occasion celebtated
    Since i started this challenge a week late i’m just starting to develop my seed starter for the barm. I had thought of using one of my sourdough starters ,but decided to use the recipe in the book.That will take several days,hope to have it done by friday or sataurday.
    The mention of the leuconostic bacteria By Mr Reinhart caused me to try his method with the pineapple juice as a comparison to my water /flour starter.

  14. Coz Says:

    Here is my completed Celebration Bread. I went for the seed culture and barm so it took me 6 days to get this done. I have some fun pictures of daily seed culture progress at my blog. I LOVED how this bread tasted and it seems to be tasting better as the day moves on.

  15. Joanne Says:

    @Coz Your’s looks great. I enjoyed your pictures on the blog. Sounds like you had fun with this one!

    @Chris The honey was horrible and sticky and all over the place!!!! Nice flavor, but would have preferred to mix it with butter and eat it on the bread! I think whoever said they put butter on it had the right idea.

    I took a slice out of the freezer today and the flavor had actually improved a lot. Found that really interesting. Rather wish I had done this one with my sourdough starter, think it would have added a lot of subtle flavors to the mix.


  16. Chris Says:

    @Coz –

    Better late than never!

    I’m going to go check out your blog now – I’m really intrigued by the 6 day method with the seed culture. That’s a whole lot of work for one loaf!

    @Joanne –

    I tend to agree. I wonder whether it would be better to do a butter or egg wash, use that as the base for the seeds, and then use honey afterward as a spread.

    I haven’t really used sourdough starters yet. I’ve stuck almost exclusively at this point to yeast.

  17. jim Says:

    everyone: the breads look great. i also used the seed culture ,but Reinharts process did not develop in time( at 6 days).I had an apf/water starter on hand and used that it worked just fine.
    litening to the honey glaze issues,I went eith an eggwash.Forgot to get sesame seeds.
    One issue was the loaf wanted to rise further during the bake ,but the cross held it. And it split slightly.
    Since i love citrue zest ,i doubled the amount,but used the book propotions for raisins,cranberries,and walnuts.
    Geraint I don’t think a viable seed starter can be made in 6 days,any thoughts on Reinharts method?
    For some reason my pc needs a day to file my uploaded pics? so i’ll post them tomorrow.

  18. jim Says:

    Coz, I looked at the pictures on your site, I did exactly the same procedure for the seed culture,yet mine still has not made it?
    here are some photos

  19. jim Says:

    I posted the photos on FB

  20. Joanne Says:

    @Jim: Your’s turned out very nice! Sounds like it tasted good too….

  21. Chris Says:

    @Jim –

    I’ll check later to see if there’s an image problem (though no one else seems to be having the problem). Are your images too big, perhaps?

  22. Coz Says:

    Hi Jim, I found some info on sourdough starting that was helpful here: Your bread looks nice.

  23. Frieda Says:

    Looks beautiful! I…um…skipped this loaf because it contains fruit. Not sure if it would have been a sacrilege to skip the fruit, so I skipped the bread. However, you will LOVE the bagels! I topped some with shredded asiago cheese, some with sesame seed, others with poppy seed and the rest with an ‘everything’ topping. So, so good! The only note that many other BBA bakers said was that the bagels (4.5oz of dough) were too large. I agree. Perhaps around 3-3.5oz is better.

  24. Chris Says:

    Hi Frieda –

    We already did Bagels, actually, we just finished the Brioche this week. Check them out! (Just hit the “A Ku Indeed” at the top, that will bring you to the blog home page where those threads will become visible).

    4.5 oz didn’t strike me as too large at all. As a matter of fact, they seemed a tad too small. Granted, I’m just comparing to the size I was used to, growing up as a bagel-eater in NYC!

    I also did the same toppings you did, but as you’ll see in my bagel post, I had some problems with the asiago ones.

  25. Judy Says:

    I used the poolish because I didn’t want to take the time to do the barm since I joined the group late and have some catching up to do. The honey wash WAS very sticky and made it hard to hold and cut as others have mentioned. After a few days it wasn’t nearly as sticky. Guess the bread absorbed it! I made both the plain Artos and the Christopsomos as the shaping was a challenge. It was fun to do although more practice on shaping is needed!

Leave a Reply

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.

Optionally add an image (JPEG only)