Literally ‘Christ’s Bread’, this bread forms a significant part of the Greek Orthodox Christmas. Baking it is considered a sacred tradition—the cook crosses himself before beginning, and only the most expensive and pure ingredients are used. Recipes vary, but Christopsomos may contain pine nuts, red wine, tangerines, anise and myriad dried fruits and nuts. The bread is usually decorated with strips of dough forming a cross, the ends of which coil around cherries or walnuts. Families often further decorate the dough with references to family life—birthdates or names pricked into the crust, or dough animals and people adorning the top of the loaf.
Cranberry raisin bread
A non-yeasted ‘quick bread’ or fruit loaf, served with tea and coffee in America. Cranberries are traditionally associated with Christmas and Thanksgiving.
A Finnish bread flavoured with anise, fennel, orange, molasses and rye. The breads are formed into rounds and pricked all over with a fork, then basted with molasess during baking.
A Danish enriched, sweet white bread made with large pieces of candied fruit. Julekage is loaf-shaped, and can either be iced with a sweet white icing or toasted and buttered. Cardamom is a traditional flavouring, but the bread can also be spiced with cinnamon or nutmeg.
Variations of this bread exist in the Ukraine, Bulgaria and Russia. The name comes from the word kolo, meaning ‘circle’, and the bread is shaped either as a plain round, a ring or a complicated two-tiered braided ring. Kolach is often topped with poppy seeds.
One legend claims that Marie Antoinette brought the recipe for Kugelhopf from Austria to France; however, Germany, Hungary and Poland also claim the creation of this fruit-studded Christmas bread. Kugelhopf is made with a brioche-like dough, baked in a specialty Kugelhopf or ‘Turk’s head’ tin, shaped like a fluted bundt. The baked kugelhopf is then drenched in a buttery rum glaze. Savoury variations of kugelhopf also exist, and are flavoured with ham or bacon.
La Pompe des Rois
This bread hails from France, and is particularly associated with Provence. The dough is flavoured with orange blossom water and studded with candied and glace fruits. It is then formed into a ring and decorated with pearl sugar, more candied fruit and V-shaped slits.
‘Leaf breads’ or ‘Snowflake breads’ are an Icelandic treat, and are among the most distinctive and unusual Christmas breads. Unlike the many fruited-loaf variations, laufabrauð are flat, hard, cracker-like cakes. A very dense dough made with wheat and sometimes rye is rolled out thinly enough that a newspaper might be read through the dough, before being folded and snipped to create a snowflake pattern (similarly to making a paper snowflake). The breads are then fried in lard. In Iceland, pre-rolled laufabrauð dough is sold ready to be snipped and fried, as a holiday activity for children.
Milanese bread, possibly dating back to the ancient Roman times. Legends about the bread abound, often featuring a poor baker named Toni, hence ‘Toni’s bread’ (‘pannetone’ actually means ‘large loaf’). Pannetone is baked in a tall round tin and served cut in vertical slices. The bread is rich and fruity.
This German Christmas bread originated in Dresden sometime before 1474. Its shape, a wide oval folded into unequal halves, represents the infant Christ in his swaddling clothes. A roll of marzipan is hidden inside some Stollens, which are flavoured with cardamom, citrus and dried fruit, and heavily dredged in icing sugar. Since 1994 the Dresden ‘Stollenfest’ is one of the highlights of the Christmas season. The festival features a giant 3 to 4-ton Stollen, which is ceremonially sliced and sold for charity.