Celebrate 2022: Holiday breads brighten season around the world (with a video)

CELEBRATE 2022 – Every culture has special traditions when it comes to bread. This holiday season, bakers around the globe will be mixing, kneading, rolling and baking or frying this elemental staple.

These breads come in an array of styles and flavors. Many are sweet, such as the Italian panettone, a tall, dome-shaped bread stuffed with fruit or chocolate that originated in Milan; or the Norwegian julekake, filled with candied fruits and spiced with cardamom. Russia’s pretzel-shaped krendel is stuffed with fruits such as prunes, apples and apricots, and either iced or dusted with powdered sugar. The Dutch make kerststol with almond paste and dried fruit, and Czechs bake vánocka, a braided bread filled with fruit and designed to resemble a swaddled baby Jesus.

Christopsomo, or “Christ’s bread,” is a sweet Greek bread with raisins and walnuts that is baked in the shape of a cross.

For many, enjoying bread inspired by their cultural and religious traditions is a way of passing down their rich family heritage.

Christmas is a busy season for Niskayuna resident Sonya Moroukian, co-chair of the women’s guild at St. Peters Armenian Church in Watervliet. She goes to the church to bake dozens of loaves of cheoreg, a traditional Armenian sweet bread.

“It’s very symbolic,” Moroukian said. “Bread in Armenian represents the word of God. It gives life to all those who taste it. It’s something that is very traditional, especially around these holidays, the holiest holidays.”

At home, Moroukian and her family will prepare the dough the night before Christmas Eve. After she smooths out the dough, she makes the sign of the cross in it.

“I indent it because it is such a holy thing,” she said, noting that some people will say the Lord’s Prayer at this point. The bread then rises overnight. In the morning the family shapes the dough into braids and lets it rise one more time before baking it.

“Then we’ll have it for breakfast with some string cheese, and we will also have it for Christmas Eve dinner,” she said.

Moroukian was born in Syria and grew up making cheoreg with her mother.

“That was a big tradition in our family and now my daughters help me with mine when they’re around,” she said.

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Kurt Vincent of Nassau, who volunteers as chef at the German-American Club of Albany, has revived a family tradition by baking stollen, a German variation of the fruitcake.

“My mom’s family is the German side,” Vincent said. “Her grandparents came over very early. Growing up through the Second World War years, her family was very sensitive to being German in America, so they sort of lost a lot of their traditions. I’ve sort of picked up where she left off.”

He prefers baking stollen fresh to purchasing it.

“Pretty much in this country, you buy stuff that has been baked and shipped in a container,” Vincent said. “While they’re good, to me, they always tasted dry and stale, and who doesn’t like the smell of yeast bread?”

Vincent has experimented with recipes from cookbooks and magazines, and he now uses a recipe he found online at kingarthurbaking.com. He notes that Germans will sometimes top the fruit and nuts with a thin strip of marzipan before baking so that every slice has that almond flavoring in it.

“It really has a marvelous aroma and it stores well,” Vincent said.

For those not up to baking, Aldi carries a couple of varieties of stollen, and Rolf’s Pork Store in Albany offers four different flavors during the holidays.

“We always had babka for breakfast on Christmas,” said Phyllis Kulmatiski of Scotia. Her husband, of Ukrainian and Polish descent, also remembers having babka, a sweet braided bread, as well as mokovník, a poppy-seed and nut roll.

“The poppy seeds can be so thick that they make your tongue numb,” Kulmatiski said.

Her husband’s aunt lived in the Ukrainian neighborhood of the East Village in Manhattan, where there was a bakery that sold makovník. When the couple’s son would go to the city, he would be sure to stop by to stock up so that his family could have some at their holiday table.

Locally, Euro Deli and Market in Latham sells cheese babka and babka with raisins, as well as popular European holiday confections.

When Valentyna Pichkurov of Troy was a girl growing up in the Ukrainian city of Kryvyi Rih, she used to travel to her grandmother’s in Mykolaiv. There she helped her grandmother bake a poppy-seed roll called “makivnyk” and kolach, a braided Christmas bread.

Her grandmother baked the bread in a wood-fired stove.

“When my grandmother did it, it was not too easy because it was the USSR, and it was not easy to have poppy seeds or vanilla, or some stuff because there was a deficit,” Pichkurov said. “It was hard, not like now for me, but it was interesting. It was always the smell … [of] vanilla [and of] baking in your house. It was like your spirit was up because everywhere it was feeling the Christmas spirit. Now, I do this thing with my grandkids who were born here.”

Her grandchildren enjoy baking with her. For the poppy-seed roll, she makes dough from flour, yeast, eggs, sugar, salt, butter, milk and vanilla. They knead the dough, let it rise, form the poppy-seed rolls and add fillings, which might be poppy seeds, jelly, raisins or farmer’s cheese. After a second rise, they bake the rolls.

Using the same dough, Pichkurov makes kolach. For this bread she twists a length of the dough and then forms it into a ring.

She said the baking process takes about seven hours, including the time it takes the bread to rise.

“It is not hard but it’s a lot of time you have to spend,” she said. “It doesn’t mean you work all of these seven hours, but you are not free for seven hours because you always need to watch.”

More: Celebrate 2022 – Traditions, Food, Gifts, Memories

While it is not bread, during the festival of Hanukkah Jews enjoy a sweet, doughnut-like pastry called sufganiyot.

Sufganiyot are fried balls of dough filled with jelly or another desired filling and dusted with powdered sugar. Frying the sufganiyot in oil has symbolic significance, as Hanukkah celebrates the miracle of one night’s worth of oil lasting for eight nights during the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem.

Anne Rappaport-Berliner of Cohoes bakes sufganiyot with her family using a basic doughnut recipe.

“At least when my family does it, it’s pretty labor intensive,” she said. “We’ll get together on a weekend and do it in one night,” she said.

Every Friday night growing up, Rappaport-Berliner’s family had challah, a braided Jewish Sabbath bread made with eggs. One of the nights of Hanukkah is a Friday, and they will have challah in observance of Shabbat.

“If there was challah left over we would make French toast with it,” she said.

Indians enjoy a variety of different types of breads year-round, including during Diwali. Rita Ajmera of Clifton Park makes a bread called chipati (also called “roti”) regularly. She mixes a whole-wheat dough, rolls it out like a tortilla and cooks it on the stove. She points out that with India’s 16 main languages, the same bread might have a different name in a different region.

Another bread, puri, is made from a whole-wheat dough that is rolled out and then deep fried to make it puff up.

“Another puri could be with certain spices — celery seeds and cumin seeds — and they will have turmeric in that and hot pepper, oil and milk or water,” Ajmera said.

Using the same dough, some people make a bread stuffed with potato and cooked in a skillet with ghee.

“The oil is different in different parts of India,” Ajmera said. It might be coconut, mustard, sesame or corn oil.

The level of spice will vary, too, from one part of the country to another. For example, cooks in southern India use lots of cayenne pepper.

Recipe from Sonya Moroukian
1 package yeast (2.25 tablespoons in a package)
1/2 cup warm water
1 tablespoon sugar
3 cups warm milk
6 eggs
3 cups sugar
1 lb. butter, melted, unsalted
5 lbs flour
2 eggs
Sesame seeds to sprinkle on top (optional)

More: Celebrate 2022 – Traditions, Food, Gifts, Memories

Dissolve yeast in warm water and add one tablespoon of sugar. Let rise for about 10-15 minutes.
In another large bowl add milk, eggs, sugar and butter. Once the yeast has risen add that to that mixture as well. Mix in flour and knead it for a good 5 minutes.
After you make the sign of the cross on the dough, cover it with some plastic wrap or a towel and set it in a warm area of your kitchen without a draft and let it rise overnight.
In the morning, take 1/2-cup portions of dough and form it into a round circle, or you can make three strips and braid them. At the church, we just kind of coil it into a circle.
After you form it, put it on parchment paper. Beat two eggs and brush them over the loaves, and sprinkle with sesame seeds.
Let rise another hour where it’s not drafty.
Place it in a 350-degree oven for about 25 to 30 minutes until it’s brown on top.
Makes 60 loaves, each about 4 inches in diameter.

Makivnyk (poppy-seed roll)
Recipe from “Our Daily Bread: Favorite Recipes from St. Vladimir’s Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral, Parma, Ohio”
1 pkg. dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup water, lukewarm
1/2 c. milk, scalded and cooled to lukewarm
1/2 cup flour, sifted
1/4 cup butter
1/3 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon lemon rind
3 cups flour, sifted
1 egg white, beaten
1 egg yolk, beaten

For filling
1/2 lb. poppy seeds, ground
1 tablespoon lemon rind
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon orange juice
1/2 cup sugar or honey
1 egg white, beaten

Dissolve yeast and sugar in lukewarm water. Let stand 10 minutes. Add milk and 1/2 cup sifted flour.
Blend butter, sugar, eggs and salt and add to yeast mixture. Stir in vanilla, lemon rind and 3 cups sifted flour. Knead 10 minutes. Dough will be soft.
Place in greased bowl. Cover with cloth and place in warm spot until double in bulk. Punch down and let rise again. Roll out to 1/4-inch thickness. Brush with beaten egg white. Spread filling. Roll up and place on greased baking sheet.
Let rise. Bake 10 minutes at 350 degrees. Reduce to 300 for 50 minutes. For a sheen, brush the top with beaten egg yolk just before makivnyk is done.
*Optional filling is to replace the poppy seeds with ground nuts.

More: Celebrate 2022 – Traditions, Food, Gifts, Memories

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