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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Christopsomo (Christmas Bread)

Greece is a country where customs and traditions are a part of everyday life. My mother would tell us about how her family would celebrate Christmas in Greece and the kinds of foods that would be served. Presents are given on St. Basil's day which is on New Year's Eve and holidays breads and cakes with a lucky gold coin inside. Caroling was a tradition too, this is a Greek Christmas Carol - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nbc_Zq8fXus

While my own family always celebrated Christmas in the western ways, I would always have something Greek as part of our holidays. Christopsomo is a braided sweet buttery egg bread with golden raisins and almonds, some people might mistake it for Challah.


1 package yeast
1/2 cup warm water
1 tbsp. sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup milk - scalded then cooled
1/2 cup melted butter
1 tsp vanilla or mastic (ouzo can be used)
1/2 cup blanched almonds
1/3 cup golden raisins
1 tbsp grated lemon zest
4 to 5 cups white bread flour


In a medium bowl combine warm water and 1 tbsp. sugar, sprinkle yeast over it and allow to bloom in a warm place - 10 minutes. It will foam and bubble.

In a large bowl beat eggs, then add sugar, salt, butter, vanilla and cooled milk (it should be slightly warm).

Stir in 1 cup flour, almonds, raisins, and lemon zest and mix thoroughly. Start adding flour a half cup at a time until still and elastic.
Place in a well greased bowl and coat the ball of dough some butter. Loosely cover bowl and place in a warm place to double in size. I have a proofing feature on my oven but you can warm your oven to 100 degrees and set the bowl inside. It works very well that way!

When doubled in size, take the dough and punch down. Knead on a slightly floured surface. Separate into three balls. Proceed to roll each ball into a long rope. Press the three together at one end and then proceed to bring the end rope over the middle, alternating sides. (I should have photographed this step - I will do that at a later time!). It should look something like the above. Place on a slightly greased cookie sheet, I used nonstick foil which works beautifully. Let rise in the warm oven for about 40 minutes. Take out and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Beat an egg and brush over the top of the loaf, bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown.

I personally like one big braid but my mom and I tried making two smaller loaves which were nice and you can make delicious biscotti too. Just slice and bake at 400 for about 5 to 10 minutes.

Happy Holidays!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Kourabiedes (Holiday cookies)

Every country has their traditional foods for the holidays and Greece is no exception. My mother would bake these crescent shaped cookies every December and put a single stick of clove in each one. These are a traditional Christmas cookie in Greece. You can flavor them with ouzo, metaxa (brandy), mastic, or rose water and add nuts. Below I have two variations that are quite delicious. I love it when my house smells like cloves and cinnamon in December. Over the next two weeks I will post at least three different recipes for this holiday season.


1 cup walnuts or almonds
2 cups cake flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup powered sugar
1 large egg yolk
1 tbsp. brandy, ouzo, or orange liquor
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 cup powdered sugar
Whole cloves


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Fahrenheit

Toast the walnuts or almonds until lightly browned and fragrant. I do it over the flame in a stainless steel pan. Let cool. In a food processor finely grind 1/2 cup of the nuts. And then chop the rest into medium small pieces.

Sift flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl, add the nuts. Set aside.

In a mixing bowl, beat the butter, sugar, egg yolk, brandy or orange liquor for walnuts OR ouzo with almonds, and vanilla extract on medium speed. Mix until the mixture is light and fluffy, approximately 10 minutes.

At low speed at the dry ingredients. I add about 1/3 of the dry mix into the mixing bowl at a time, mix, add more, mix until you have a crumbly mixture. Cover the bowl and set aside at room temperature. About an hour.

Line a couple of baking sheets with either parchment paper, non-stick foil or coat with nonstick spray.

Take a tablespoon at a time. Walnut version - roll into balls between the palms of your hands.

Almond version - form into a crescent shape and stick a clove in the middle.

Bake cookies until lightly browned and set, about 18 to 20 minutes.

Remove cookies from oven, while hot dust all sides with powdered sugar and set in a pan to cool. Once cooled give them another dusting of sugar to give them that lovely white snowy look.


Friday, November 18, 2011


The holidays are a great time for family and friends gathering and I take a special pleasure in baking sweet delights like baklava for festive occasions. I like walnuts and orange zest in mine, some have mixed nuts like almonds, walnuts and pistachios, most have cinnamon and clove. One of my friends recently asked if I had ever had chocolate baklava, so I decided to bake a pan to bring to work and added some dark semi and bittersweet chocolate. Thank you James, what a decadent dessert!


2 lbs walnuts (4 cups)
1 lb fillo dough
1/2 lb butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 bread crumbs
1/4 extra light olive oil
1 tbsp. cinnamon
1 tsp ground clove
zest of one orange (optional ingredient - chocolate)
1/4 salt

1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 cup honey
1 slice of orange - the juice of half orange
2 cinnamon sticks
4 whole cloves


Make your syrup first. Put all the ingredients in a small pot and bring to a boil, turn heat to low and let simmer for about 15 minutes. Remove from heat.

Pastry: Preheat oven to 325.
Melt butter in a small pan and set aside for when you layer the fillo and nuts.

Next step is to prepare the nut mixture. If the walnuts are whole or big chunks, whirl them around in a food processor until small bits. Don't overdo it or you'll have walnut butter. Sometimes, I mix the sugar, bread crumbs, orange zest, cinnamon, clove and salt in the processor with the nuts so they are well incorporated. Lastly add the olive oil and coat everything. It should like the picture above. Now you are ready to put it together.

In a 9 by 13 inch pan, coat with a bit of extra light olive oil and layer fillo on all sides, like so. Coat the layers with butter, or if you want to be a little more health conscience, olive oil. Just make sure you use extra light, otherwise it will overwhelm the flavor of the pastry. The bottom is about 10 layers thick.

Add one third of the walnut mixture and spread evenly. If you want to add some chocolate (use semi or bittersweet or it will be cloyingly sweet!). I would suggest using 1/3 cup per nut layer.

Layer another 7 to 10 sheets of fillo and coat every other sheet with butter. Another third of the walnut mixture.Layer and coat 10 more sheets of fillo and then the rest of the nuts. Fold over the sides of the fillo and add a dozen or so to the top. Always finish to top with butter so it will brown properly.
Then score the top of the baklava before putting into the oven. I do it lengthwise but traditionally they cut diamond shapes. Bake for 1 hour or until the top is slightly browned and flaky looking. Take out of the oven and pour the honey syrup over the hot baklava. I fish out the orange, cinnamon sticks, whole cloves and use a sieve to make sure they are no bits of things in the syrup.

Leave uncovered to cool. Cool completely before slicing into squares or diamonds.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Souvlaki and Yia yia's rice pilaf

In Greece it is very common to spend an afternoon at the local taverna having some flat bread and skewered meats, or fish caught that day from the sea, a glass of wine and salads.

You will see old men sitting at tables clacking their komboloi (worry beads), they almost look like rosaries. They can help limit smoking and stress by keeping your hands busy. This is what I found in wikipedia - "Greek komboloi generally have an odd number of beads (usually one more than a multiple of four, e.g. (4x4)+1, (5x4)+1, and so on) and usually have a head composed of a fixed bead (παπάς "priest"), a shield (θυρεός) to separate the two threads and help the beads to flow freely, and a tassel." And what is even more interesting with the Greek komboloi is that they are generally strung with a prime numbers of beads - 17, 19, or 23. My mother always had a few in our house, mostly decorative. Greeks like odd numbers of things for superstitious reasons!

Souvlaki is found very often on the menu of a taverna, tasty skewers of meat cooked over a grill served with flat bread and rice pilaf. Below is my version of the marinated kabobs.


2 lbs. lamb or beef. Try to buy a cut of meat without too much sinew.
1 to 2 cups red wine (I use leftover bottles of wine I have.)
1 large red onion
1/4 cup olive oil
5 to 6 cloves of garlic
1 tbsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried parsley
2 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper


Cut meat into approximately 1 1/2 inch cubes, put into a large bowl.

Then slice onion into large pieces and add to bowl.

Pour red wine over the meat and onions to cover, drizzle the olive oil. Add the minced garlic, oregano, parsley, salt and pepper.

Mix well and seal the bowl. Let marinate in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours.

After they have marinated, put onto skewers. I actually prefer the wooden skewers but you must soak those first in water or they will burn over the fire. The best way to cook these is over a barbeque but you can you a stove top grill or even the broiler. Turn once and cook until done. I like grill marks on my meat and a little pink on the inside. You want the meat to be tender and succulent.

What follows is my mom's tried and true recipe for rice pilaf.

Rice Pilaf

1 1/2 cups Uncle Ben's converted Rice
1 package dry chicken noodle soup mix (with read chicken broth)
3 cups water
1 tbsp each butter and olive oil

Melt butter and olive oil in pan, then add your rice and soup mix. Mix well to coat all the rice.

Pour water over the rice, you should hear a little sizzle when you add the water. Bring to a boil and then turn the heat down to low. It will be ready in less than 30 minutes. Fluffy Rice Pilaf, a perfect bed for your souvlaki.