Christmas comes with many different traditions around the world and many of those involve food. This year we were invited into the village bakery Γλυκές Αναμνήσεις (Sweet Memories) to find out all about the Greek traditions of Christmas.
Special occasion food for us all tends to be sugar based and Greece is no different. For days leading up to Christmas the village baker Stefanos and his team have been busy making all the local favourites.
Where the British have a fruit cake at Christmas the traditional one in the village here is a sponge cake with buttercream filling, according to Stavros the assistant baker the most popular one last year was chocolate. This year he has made a decorated 16 Christmas cakes.
Watching the cakes being made was fascinating, and I learnt lots of tips along the way. The cakes were put together over 3 days to leave lots of time to chill and firm up before each process. The sponges are baked, then left overnight to cool. The next day we saw them being cut up and the buttercream and jam filling put in. It was interesting to see how he got the most out of the slices of cake, shaping them by cutting them with large rings that they were then formed into. Once put together they were then frozen ready to be decorated.
To remove the cakes from their metal rings the next day Stavros got out the blowtorch. Then decorated them with either chocolate or mirror glaze. With wonderful attention to detail the finished cakes looked almost too good to cut into.
If you’re putting a Christmas tree on your cake, for a little extra detail, dust it with a little icing sugar before you place it on the cake to keep your glaze clean and clear.
Tsoureki – Sweet Christmas bread
A traditional bake at Christmas is the τσουρέκι (tsoureki) a sweet egg enriched bread a little like. Stefanos was making some when we first went in the and smell of them baking was wonderful. We had one to try with our coffee it was warm soft, moist and fluffy.
They were all an order for a family in a nearby village, small braided buns and longer braids all glossy and topped with sesame seeds. The egg wash was put on once they’d risen and then they baked for around 20 minutes.
In Greece Tsoureki are also made for Easter and New Year, though they can be found in many different countries. They are sometimes baked for special events like birthdays.
Κουραμπιεδες – Kourabiedes (pronounced kou-rah-be-EH-thez) are a Greek Christmas cookie, made with butter, flour and sugar they are often found in half moon or star shapes, in the village bakery they made them circular with a slight dip in the middle.
The bakery will make trays of them in the days surrounding Christmas, the tray today was made by the baker’s mother and wife. They formed them into circles and then pressed down slightly in the middle before putting them in the oven. Once baked they are rolled while still warm in icing sugar which creates a layer of icing on the outside of each cookie. When cooled they are tossed in more icing sugar which looks like snow.
They can be found flavoured with orange, rose, vanilla. Occasionally you’ll find them with Metaxa, Ouzo or Mastika added. These village bakery ones had almonds added. You’ll also see them served up on special occasions like weddings and birthdays in Greece.
The key to a great kourabies is in the quality of the butter as that’s where all the flavour come from so get the best quality you can find.
Μελομακάρονα – Melomakarona
Another traditional Christmas cookie, this one is soft and flavoured with cinnamon, orange and walnuts. Egg shaped with a criss cross pattern on the top and soaked in a honey syrup they taste wonderful.
These were made by the bakers’ wife and mother with close supervision from the grandmother. The criss cross pattern on the top was created by pressing them lightly onto a sieve before baking. While they were still warm Stefanos dipped them in the honey syrup and finished them off by tossing the melomakarona in walnuts. Eaten while still warm they are very special.
Several times children popped into the bakery including the bakers children. They were all wearing Christmas hats, carrying a triangle and singing carols. It’s traditional for the children to go around the village carol singing on Christmas Eve in return they are given a euro. As we have a large dog they don’t make it past our gate so it was great to see them in the bakery.
The bakery also has a coffee shop that’s a busy central meeting place for the village as well as making good coffee there’s the bonus of cakes and pastries.
If you can’t see any savoury pastries in the counter, ask and the baker will make fresh ones for you, we tried the spanakopita (one of my favourites) and freshly made cheese pies which were wonderful.
The daily bread was still being made and bought as the baker and his family were busy getting everything ready for Christmas. The bakery will be open on Christmas day, as it was explained to me that Greeks aren’t good at planning so they will all be rushing out at the last minute on Christmas day to shop for their Christmas cake and cookies.
The whole place has really warm and welcoming atmosphere. Complete at this time of year with a bakery themed white Christmas tree which looked fabulous against the warm red wall.
It was wonderful to go behind the scenes and find out a little more about the village, the people and traditions where we live. I asked the Stefanos and Stavros what their favourite bake was. They both answered the same, baclava. A tip for making your own is to get the best quality honey you can. The bakery is lucky that Stavros’ family just happens to produce great local pine honey.
Their next busy bake will be the New Year cakes with a coin inside for a lucky members of the family to find.
To order from the bakery call 2244033189 or pop into Pylona village for a coffee and order in person.
What kinds of baking are in your world at Christmas? Have you tried any of the Greek Christmas bakes, which one is your favourite? If you enjoyed this article and found if useful please comment and share. Thank you