For a moment, I thought I had run out of Cypriot Christmas dishes to make. A Cyprus Christmas – for me – involves almond shortbread “kourabiedes“, honey spice cookies “melomakarona“, and apricot-jam & brandy cookies “pasta flora“. And also a type of Cyprus stuffing, which involves liver and rice, but this never seems to go down well in my family except with my mom and me, so it has been on the decline in our house. And, of course, there is a new year’s cake “vasilopita”. I thought I had run out of recipes, until my mom started talking about the Christmas bread – called “Christopsomo” her mom used to make in her small mountain village.
I am trying to imagine my family in the village making this bread. For one thing, fifty years ago there would have been no heating – and probably no electricity. In fact, until I was ten, when we would call my grandma, we would actually be calling the pay-phone in the village square and someone would literally have to go and find my grandma in the village for us to speak with her. So, I can imagine that making this Christmas bread around Christmas fifty years ago would have been quite an effort. This is not like the Greek version of Christmas Bread which includes many spices and is on the sweet side. Instead, the Cypriot bread is quite savoury. It has a lot of anise seed, cumin. I also added a little nutmeg. The bread goes very well with some of the traditional Greek cheeses such as kefalotyri, feta and Cypriot halloumi cheese. I made it with fresh yeast – not dry yeast – because I prefer the taste. It is a tasty and flavourful bread. It is perfect for making during the Christmas season and it’s sure to serve as a reminder of family Christmas’ past, present and future.
1 kilo (8 cups loosely packed) bread flour
1 tbs salt
3/4 tsp ground anise
1/2 tsp ground cumin seeds
a pinch of nutmeg
2 & 1/2 cups of warm water
For the yeast:
25 grams fresh yeast (buy from a local bakery)
1/2 cup warm water
1/2 cup flour
For the seed topping:
5 tbs sesame seeds
1 tsp anise seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp black cumin seeds (slightly spicier than regular cumin seeds)
1. Prepare the yeast. In a small bowl, add the fresh yeast to 1/2 cup of warm water. Then add 1/2 cup flour and stir together the ingredients together. Cover the bowl with kitchen towels to keep it warm, and let it rest for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, the yeast will have risen and will have begun to foam.
2. Stir together the flour, anise, cumin seeds, and nutmeg. Once the yeast is ready, add it add to the flour. Begin to add 2 cups of water and start gathering the dough. You may need 2 & 1/2 cups of water, but you need to see how your dough feels and looks. Keep adding water until a pliable dough has formed – it shouldn’t stick to your hands, but it also shouldn’t be too dry. It should look like the bottom left hand picture, in the collage just below, just before you start kneading the dough.
3. Then knead your dough by hand for twenty minutes. Or, use a dough hook on a mixer for about ten minutes to knead the dough. Knead the dough until it is nice, stretchy and has a shine. Form a ball with the dough.4. Place a little olive oil (1/2 tsp) in the bottom of a large bowl and place the ball of dough inside and roll it around so that it is coated in the olive oil. Loosely cover the dough with plastic wrap on top and let rise (in a warm place) for 2 hours.
5. Punch the dough down and form four round loaves of bread. If you wish, roll them in a mixture of 5 tbs sesame seeds, 1 tsp anise seeds, 1 tsp regular cumin seeds and 1 tsp black cumin seeds before you place them on a baking paper on a baking tray. You can also leave the round loaves plain, and simply cut a shallow cross with a knife on the top and sprinkle some flour over top. This will produce a loaf like the one in the picture at the very top on the right. Cover well with kitchen towels and let rise (in a warm place) for another 45 minutes.
6. Preheat the oven to 204C. Bake the bread at 204C for 20 minutes, then turn down the heat to 175C for another 10-15 minutes, until the bread is golden brown.