One day and only one is dedicated to this lagana bread which plays an essential role in Greek cuisine. This day is the day of Kathari Dheftera also known as Koulouma, or “Pure Monday”.
Lagana (Greek: λαγάνα) is a flat bread traditionally prepared on Pure Monday, which is the first day of the Great Lent in the Byzantine rite Eastern Orthodox Church and the Eastern Catholic Churches, and 48 days before Easter.
Originally, lagana bread was prepared without yeast. And although some purists today still prepare it without yeast, the most common version includes yeast. This bread is flat, oval, with a surface decorated with holes on which are sprinkled sesame seeds.
The history of lagana has gone through the entire nutritional tradition of antiquity to the present day.
Aristophanes, a Greek poet of the 5th century BC, in his work L’ecclesiaste, already spoke of lagana, writing “laganas stéte”, meaning “laganas are made”. As for Horatius, a legendary Roman hero, he mentioned the lagana in his writings as “the sweetness of the poor” in 507 BC.
One theory is that this bread is referred in the Old Testament as the unleavened bread that the Hebrews ate the night before the Exodus of Egypt, under the guidance of Moses.
It is also said that the unleavened lagana bread, originally prepared only with flour and water had to be flat as Christians should not “rise” with insolence and arrogance so that they are ready to engage in religious activities, such as prayer.
Lagana also symbolized the purity of the soul, since people considered fermentation as a process of modifying the initial state of the bread ingredients, and therefore destroy its purity. For this reason, the use of the enzyme bread was not allowed during Lent.
Pure Monday or Kathari Dheftera is a very important holiday in Greece , and apart from its religious significance, Kathari Dheftera also marks the end of the carnival.
Carnival is celebrated in all countries of Christian tradition in the period before Lent. In Greece, the carnival is called Apokries, a word that literally means “abstinence from meat”.
Traditionally, Greek families go into the countryside or parks, and eat outside. There are a lot of traditional foods at the Pure Monday table, but no table will be laid without lagana, as well as taramosalata, dolmas and halva.
The absolute symbol of this day, and its joyful spring mood is the kite. Indeed, it is a tradition to see children and adults fly a kite. But there is also another child’s game that symbolizes the hope and expectation of this festival: Κυρά Σαρακοστή, which means “Lady Lent”, a 7-foot doll made of paper, representing the 7 weeks of Lent. Each week, a leg is cut to indicate how many weeks are remaining until Easter.
One important thing you should not forget: when you cut your lagana bread, cut it by hand and not with a knife! Why ? In popular tradition, metal refers to the forces of evil!
I chose to prepare this bread with yeast but you can also prepare it without. I really enjoyed this lagana and I will not probably not stick to baking it once a year!
- 8 cups flour
- 2 tablespoons active dry yeast
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 tablespoons caster sugar
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 2 cups warm water (or more)
- 5 oz. sesame seeds
Preheat oven to 375F/190C.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, blend the flour, sugar, and yeast. Dig a well in the center of this mixture and pour in the olive oil.
- Begin to knead by incorporating the water gradually until obtaining a homogeneous dough. Stir in the salt and knead the dough for 5 minutes.
- Cover the dough and let it rise in a warm place, away from drafts, for 45 minutes. It must at least double in volume.
- Place the dough on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Cover and let rise again, for about 20 minutes.
- Roll the dough and divide into 6 equal pieces. Then, roll each piece to a thickness of ½ inch, giving it an oval shape. Make holes on the entire surface of each bread using your finger.
- Brush each bread roll with warm water and sprinkle generously with sesame seeds.
- Bake for 10 to 15 minutes.