Bite My Kitchen by Gordana

Božićna Česnica /Serbian Christmas Bread

15 minutes (1.5 hr to rest)

medium

4-6 people

A simple and easy recipe for Božićna Česnica /Serbian Christmas Bread. If you follow the old Julian Calendar, or know somebody who does, and celebrate Christmas on the 7th of January, then this recipe is an absolute must for the day. Traditionally made on the morning of Christmas Day, this recipe is made from simple ingredients and does not take too much effort to prepare. Perfect if you are making this Christmas bread for the first time. The fun part of this tradition is that a coin is hidden inside the dough prior to baking and when the family breaks bread, the person who finds the coin is believed to have good luck for the coming year.

Serbian Christmas / Božić

If you are Orthodox, living in a foreign country, I am sure you have had to explain to others why your Christmas falls on the 7th of January and not the 25th of December. I have lost count as to how many times I have had to explain this concept over the past 20 years. Some people find this either unheard of or confusing. Some people want to hear more, they want to know why or how we celebrate. I usually explain that we follow the old Julian calendar, which means that Christmas, for us, falls on the 7th of January. But there are those odd moments that the conversation quickly ends. And that is just the truth of my experience, it can feel alienating at times but that is just the reality of living in a different country. 

But, if you are curious, after the calendar was reformed in the 16 century, the Serbian Orthodox Church, as well as other Orthodox Churches continued to calculate time according to the Julian calendar. Some other countries that continued to celebrate are Jerusalem, Russia, Macedonia, Georgia, and Ukraine. Not all countries kept the old calendar. Our neighboring countries like Croatia celebrate Christmas on the 25th of December.

Christmas Traditions

Traditionally, preparation for the Orthodox Christmas begins prior to 7th of January, as some people will begin fasting 40 days prior. While not all people do this (I don’t, and most of my family members don’t) you will find that the Church and religious folks participate in this fast. This means abstaining from meat, dairy or eggs for 40 days leading up to Christmas.  

Christmas Eve is the day that most Serbs will fast, and this fast can be broken once night falls or the day after. There is also a Church event on Christmas Eve, which is all about the Oak tree. Traditionally, on the morning of Christmas Eve, all Serbs go searching for a badnjak, an oak tree branch with golden leaves. However, nowadays you can find badnjak at the Church and families take it home. Christmas Eve is also when the badnjak is burned. I visited the burning of the badnjak at the St. Sava church in Belgrade a few years ago (photo at the end). We have a Serbian Orthodox Church in New Zealand that follows this tradition as well.  

Christmas day is a family day, filled with delicious food and a morning Church event. The Božićna Česnica /Serbian Christmas Bread is baked on the morning of Christmas day. Before the main meal starts, the family breaks the bread into pieces and each person searches for a coin in their slice. Whoever finds the coin is believed to have good luck for the coming year. The fast is broken and the tables are usually filled with roasted meat, smoked ham, cheese, pastries, sometimes sarma and lots of different cakes.  

So, quiet the experience, right? It is different to the Christmas traditions in New Zealand and other parts of the world. 

The Christmas Bread

I have kept the recipe for this Božićna Česnica /Serbian Christmas Bread super simple. The shaping and decorating of this bread is easy. Perfect for someone who is making this for the very first time. Maybe you have a Serbian loved one or want to prepare this for someone you know who follows this tradition. There are more elaborate decorations for this bread but let’s start simple first! 

There is nothing fancy about the ingredients. Think of a sweet brioche type of bread. Božićna Česnica is made with yeast, milk, flour, salt, some sugar, eggs, Greek yogurt, and butter. Make the dough in a stand mixer or in a big mixing bowl, shape into a ball and let it rise for one hour or until double in size. Once the dough has risen, divide it into three parts and these parts will create the festive bread.

The bread must rise again before baking and before going into the oven. Glaze the bread with an egg wash for the shine. Really nothing complicated here. I wanted to make this recipe easy because when I first made it, I felt a little intimidated. Wondering if I was doing it right at all. But with some years of practice, this recipe has become my go-to. As for the elaborate decorations? I am still working on that. 

To get right into this recipe, head down below. Otherwise, I will leave you with a photo of the burning of the badnjak/oak tree. I took this photo a few years ago at St.Sava Church in Belgrade.

Looking for more?

If you want to get more into the Christmas spirit, try one of the recipes below:

Serbian Cheese Pita / Pie

Traditional Serbian Baklava

Russian Salad / Ruska Salata

I hope that you enjoy this delicious and festive Božićna Česnica /Serbian Christmas Bread. Even if you do not celebrate on the 7th, this makes a delicious loaf for any special occasion. Leave a comment and let me know how this recipe turns out for you. If you get a moment, please leave this recipe a rating. If you have any questions, you can also reach me over on Instagram.

Reviews

Ingredients:

Adjust Servings
10g active dry yeast (1 sachet)
1tsp sugar
250ml warm milk
750g all purpose flour (+ extra for rolling the dough)
5g salt
30g sugar
2 whole eggs
200g unsalted butter (melted)
50g Greek yogurt
1 whole egg, for the egg wash
a cleaned coin wrapped in baking paper

Directions

1.
The Dough
To a small bowl add warmed milk, yeast, and sugar. Stir to incorporate all the yeast and set aside in a warm place to prove.
To a large mixing bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer, add the flour, salt and sugar. Give this a mix. Make a well in the middle and add the eggs, Greek yogurt, and the melted butter. Once the yeast has proofed add it in as well. Stir the dough with a wooden spoon or spatula until incorporated and then using your hands knead the dough until it becomes compact. If you are using a stand mixer, mix the dough using a dough hook until it forms a ball. Then, transfer the dough onto a floured surface, shape into a ball and place in a large bowl that has been greased with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in a warm place to rise until it doubles in size. This can take between 40 minutes up to 1 hour.
Mark as complete
2.
Shaping the bread
Prepare a round baking tin (28 cm) by generously greasing the bottom and sides of the tin with butter. This will make sure that the bread does not stick. When the dough has doubled in size, transfer it to a lightly floured work surface. Knead it gently and then split the dough into 3 equal parts. Start with the largest looking piece, shape it into a smooth ball and place it into the middle of your baking tin. This will be the centerpiece.
Bring the remaining two pieces together by kneading them into one ball. If you are going to make decorative pieces, remove a small part of this dough (100 g) and set aside for later. Use the remaining large part of the dough to create one large plait. Cut the dough into 3 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a long rope, using even pressure so the ropes are the same width from end-to-end. Once all 3 pieces are rolled into ropes, braid them into a plait and wrap it around the centerpiece of dough that is already in the baking tin. This is the time to insert the coin wrapped in baking paper into a random spot in the bread. Cover the baking tin with a clean kitchen towel and allow it to rise for about 30 minutes. In the meantime, pre-heat the oven to 180°C.
Mark as complete
3.
The Decorations (optional)
Use the small remaining part of the dough to make any decorations. You can do this by stretching out the dough on a floured surface and then using a knife, cut out a cross shape or any leaf/branch shapes. If you have any stamps, you can use these too. If you are making this bread for the first time, you can make one large cross that will be placed on the centerpiece of the dough.
Once the dough has risen slightly, it is time to place the decorations gently on top.
Mark as complete
4.
Bake
Brush the entire bread and decorations with the egg wash and bake for 25-30 minutes or until the bread has become golden brown. The baking time can depend on your oven (mine took 30 minutes). Once baked, allow to cool completely, and serve at room temperature.
This Christmas Bread is best eaten on the day, or the day after at the latest. If you have leftovers store in an airtight container or completely covered in clean kitchen towels.
Mark as complete
Notes
This bread should be eaten on the day, or the day after at the latest.
Store leftovers in an airtight container or covered in a large kitchen towel.
Prepare your coin by washing it well with soap and water and wrap it in baking paper.
If you have little children, make sure you find the coin before the bread is consumed.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *