Greece, like many other countries, has bread traditions that mark significant life events (such as births, Christenings, weddings and deaths) or holidays set down by the religious calendar. These special “breads” are sometimes referred to as cakes (or pitas – which translates as bread, cake or pie). I have blogged about Lagana for Lent, Prosforo or a stamped offering bread at church services, and Vasilopita for New Year.
A special bread from Crete is the γαμοκούλουρο (gamokoulouro singular, gamokouloura in the plural), a wedding (gamos) bread shaped in the form of a large ring (koulouri), like the stefana wreaths worn by the bride and bridegroom. The gamokoulouro shown here is from the Historical Museum on Crete in Heraklion.
Traditionally, gamokouloura are made with a prozimi (a sourdough starter) and kneaded and leavened seven times (often taking two days). Their main distinguishing feature is their adornments (called ξόμπλια or ksomplia) – flowers, leaves, birds, lizards, chaplets (circular head wreaths), grapes, etc. as well as traditional symbols of life like pomegranates. A number of these decorations can be seen in the close-up of the gamokoulouro below. Because of the elaborate decorations, they are often called “embroidered breads”.
These adornments are made out of dough and shaped in a variety of ways – rolled, pinched, flattened and shaped. Tools such as pointed sticks, scissors, combs and bobbins are used to create the figures and textures.
Other similar decorated breads – usually not in a wreath form – are made for other life events such as Christenings. Below is an example of designs from a Christening bread – notice the island of Crete shape with the lettering ΚΡΗΤΗ (CRETE) picked out in incised dots.
After baking, the bread can be eaten, but is often dried to preserve it. I have seen these breads – lacquered with egg whites – for sale at the market in Heraklion, aimed at curious tourist shoppers. With care and a dry climate, they can last for decades.
Although these examples come from Crete, other areas of Greece have similar “embroidered” bread traditions.