Steph Petrov is a junior in Political Science at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and current president of the local chapter of Amnesty International, a student program of the University YMCA.
Like many other undergraduate students on campus, Steph is home for the holidays until the end of January. With both of her parents likely working from home during this period given the recent surge in COVID cases, Steph hopes this will create opportunities to do more things together as a family, such as revisiting familiar traditions like decorating.
“My favorite part is definitely decorating. I absolutely love decorating for Christmas—just putting up the lights. It’s always been something I would do with my family,” Steph explains. She also hopes to adopt new traditions like taking in the sparkling wonderment of drive-thru holiday light displays around her hometown.
Keeping holiday festivities small and celebrating remotely with extended family is nothing new for Steph, whose parents immigrated to the US from Bulgaria in the 1990s. Despite the distance, each year, she finds time together with her parents and younger brother to celebrate with grandparents, cousins, and other loved ones overseas by phone.
Steph also embraces Bulgarian holiday traditions in the kitchen. “I have baked a Bulgarian Christmas bread every Christmas Eve since I was in high school. It’s a Bulgarian tradition to wrap a coin in aluminum foil and bake it in the bread. The coin symbolizes a prosperous new year for whomever receives it in their piece of bread.”
Want to try this Bulgarian tradition? Steph shares the recipe so you can try at home.
Christmas Eve Honey Bread
Recipe shared from Seasons and Suppers
- 3/4 cup warm water
- 2 tsp. instant or dry active yeast
- 4 cups all-purpose flour
- 4 Tbsp. vegetable, canola or any neutral tasting oil
- 2 Tbsp. honey
- 1/2 tsp. salt
Add yeast to warm water, stir and allow to sit for a few minutes. In a large bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, add the flour. Add the yeast/water mixture, the honey, oil and salt. Mix the dough until it comes together, adding a bit more water or flour, as necessary, then knead by hand or with your dough hook, into a soft, smooth dough.
Place the dough into a greased bowl, cover with plastic warp and let it rise in a warm place until it has doubled in size, about 30-60 minutes.
When the dough has doubled, place on a lightly floured surface and knead for a minute or so. Cut out and set aside a fist-sized piece of dough (to be used to make the top decorations). Knead the fortune coin (I used a whole pecan in place of a real coin) into the remaining dough and then roll into a flat round shape. Place onto a parchment lined baking sheet.
Using the reserved piece of dough, cut small pieces and shape into the various elements to decorate the top of the bread. Decorate the bread with ears of wheat, apples, grapes or flowers. To make the top of the wheat, use some clean kitchen scissors to snip v-shaped snips into the dough. Once all your shapes are placed on the bread round, press down lightly over the top of them to flatten slightly and ensure they stick. In a small bowl, combine the honey and oil and brush liberally over the entire top of the bread.
Bake in a preheated oven at 400° until golden and cooked through, about 20 – 25 minutes. Check the bread regularly after 10 minutes and cover the top with a piece of aluminum foil if the top is browning too much.