We added the celebration of Saturnalia to our winter kitchen in 2005, and pretty much never looked back.

It’s an old, ancient, Roman celebration to Saturn, the deity of agriculture. ‘Saturnalia’ was a festival of light leading to the winter solstice. From roughly December 17-24, the Roman Empire became a giant festival of sorts. During the shortest days and longest nights of the year, they would party and honor Saturn in hopes he would bring the light back, the sun! Dancing, large fires, candles, torches, special foods, for a whole week!

It was later known as  ‘Dies Natalis of Sol Invictus’, the birthday of the unconquerable sun, on December 25.

Saturnalia continued into the 3rd and 4th centuries AD, and as the Roman Empire came under Christian rule, some of its customs may have influenced the seasonal celebrations surrounding Christmas and the New Year.

I have been baking bread since forever and my best advice is, follow the directions until you have an intuitive feeling about your bread, and then over time, please use this recipe as a guideline and make it your own. Bread is something that should be a bit different for everyone, a bit more of this and a little less of that. I thank Edward Espe Brown for this lesson and pass it on to you.


You can make this recipe with your favorite sourdough bread recipe. You would make your base sourdough and then add the additional ingredients, omitting the yeast and baking soda of course. Handle the dough as you would a sourdough with folding instead of kneading, and consider using a cloche or dutch oven for that traditional sourdough crust. – here is a LINK to our KIT if that is new to you.


2 packages dry yeast or 4 1/2 tsp yeast if out of a jar
1 1/2  C warm water
2 1/2 C Flour
1/3 cup honey

combine these ingredients in a glass bowl with a wooden spoon. You should have a sponge like batter. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand for 30-45 minutes.

Than add these additional ingredients

2 eggs
1 tsp salt
1 pinch baking soda
1/2 cup soft butter
2-3 C white flour (add slowly and only as needed)
1 cup golden raisins
1 – 2 tablespoon anise seed
2 -3 tablespoons pine nuts

Turn dough onto lightly floured board; knead until smooth and elastic (about 5 minutes). Place in a lightly buttered bowl; turn once so all sides of dough are lightly buttered. Cover with plastic wrap; let rise in warm place until double. (note – because Montana is cold in the winter, our house is never truly ‘warm’. I will set my dough in a ceramic bowl, covered with plastic wrap, over a pot with warm water. This helps with rising).

Punch down dough; divide in half. Shape each half into round, slightly flat. We use ‘bread baskets’ for our specialty breads during the second rise, before we turn them out onto our ceramic baking tile.


You can also put each round on a baking sheet, or ceramic tile. Cut a cross in the middle. Let rise until double again.

Heat oven to 325.

Bake 35-45 minutes.


Amazing with our pot roast, and a french rose wine for Christmas dinner.


Sliced, toasted, and buttered for breakfast… with hot black coffee! This has to be my favorite Christmas day treat ever!

Happy Holidays to you and yours! Nancy

9 Comments Add yours

    1. Nancy Tanner says:

      Hi, Merry Christmas & Happy Saturnalia…!

  1. mtwaggin says:

    That looks amazingly delicious and I may have to try my hand at it although right now I have a hankering for Gma’s kuchen. Looking for serious comfort food for this week. Love ya Nancy and you go dance around all the bonfires you want!

    1. Nancy Tanner says:

      oh comfort food… always welcome here! This coming week has always been like my energizing week for the coming new year. I totally get that. A bonfire is so in my future… but it would be fun to do it for a week straight, no interruptions, snow and cold… I love you!

  2. Love the Saturnalia education, thank you!! And the bread looks delicious. But I have a question about your bread basket. You put the bread into that basket to rise, and then you turn it out onto a baking tile to bake it? Doesn’t the bread fall when you do that? Do you turn it out carefully to preserve the markings on the top, and then let it rise again before you bake it? Love to try it. Gonna have to get one of those lovely baskets! Thanks so much for sharing. I’m all for dancing around a bonfire!

    1. Nancy Tanner says:

      Hi Bobbi , yes turn it out onto a tile, it may deflate a bit, but not much. Bread doesn’t truly fall unless you punch it down. I think out at your place we could make a big huge bonfire! Cheers, Happy Holidays!

  3. Such very nice bread. They came out very beautiful and must have tasted wonderfully. Interesting idea for Christmas. Don’t know this, but they actually remind me a bit about our christmas-bread; white, soft with raisins. Very nice since we eat brown for the rest of the year.. Happy New Year, Nancy & dogs & famiy!

  4. Beautiful breads and I know they were delicious. We too have a special christmas bread that we’ve made for probably the last 30+ years. It’s nice to have something to enjoy on that special day!

    1. Nancy Tanner says:

      what is your traditional bread. To be honest I had no idea how many people made traditional breads until this year… I love this!

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