Here is a recipe for a brioche coming straight from Bulgaria. Kozunak is very well known by all in Bulgaria since it is the iconic Easter brioche.
With or without raisins, sometimes with dried fruits, walnuts or almonds, this huge braided brioche has been enjoyed by families for generations.
What is kozunak?
It is a very soft braided brioche usually made with eggs, sugar, flour, butter and milk.
In Bulgaria, lemon zest is added to it, which gives it a much stronger flavor, reminiscent of that of the Italian panettone.
The butter and milk give the brioche its softness. Kozunak is a sweet bread, and there is a widely spread Bulgarian version of the recipe that consists in sprinkling the big bun with flaked almonds before putting it in the oven.
Where does kozunak come from?
Some historians claim that the origin of kozunak can be traced to ancient Egypt. But the ancestor of kozunak was very different from the one we know today. Indeed, the recipe of this ancient kozunak involved honey and herbs.
This recipe originating from ancient Egypt was later revived by the Greek, who also appropriated the use of yeast in their cuisine. The Greek counterpart to kozunak is called plakoús and still exists as of today. Like kozunak, it is a long and massive braided bun.
But the modern kozunak was truly introduced in Europe by the Romans. They’re the ones who started including yeast in the first sourdough bread recipes. Although the Romans have inherited yeast from ancient Egypt and Greece, they’re the ones who managed to harness its full potential for the first time. Indeed, they were pioneers in the baking field and in the discovery of more advanced bakery techniques. The Romans were also the ones to spread the use of yeast throughout Europe.
During the Middle Ages, European bakers introduced fruits to the kozunak recipe, as they allowed for a longer preservation.
Kozunak and its brioche variants throughout the world
In Romania, the brioche similar to kozunak is called cozonac. The traditional recipe of cozonac does not mention lemon zests in the dough. Cozonac is also served several times throughout the year. Cozonac is enjoyed during Christmas holidays, New Year celebrations, Easter and Pentecost. The custom used to be that cozonac was brought to church as an offering for the priest to bless.
We can also find cozonac in Moldova. However, if the recipe is identical to that of cozonac, it differs in shape. Those brioche buns usually contain raisins. The braid is wrapped around itself and looks like a high up, round braided bun.
Just like kozunak, this brioche is quite massive and is supposed to represent child Jesus is his wraps. Unlike kozunak, vánočka is served at the end of the year, specifically at Christmas.
In Eastern Europe, Ashkenazi Jews prepare a bread for Shabbat without any dairy products in the recipe. Milk is replaced by water and butter by neutral oil or margarine. This traditional Jewish brioche bread is called challah. Its braided shape is identical to that of kozunak.
In Greece, the kozunak equivalent is called tsoureki (from the Greek : τσουρέκι). There are many versions of it, including one with a round shape, made specifically for Christmas, called christopsomo (Χριστόψωμο), which means “bread of Christ” in Greek.
In Italy, the panettone recipe is very close to that of kozunak. However, the Italians add orange peels and candied fruits to it. Another significant difference is that panettone is made with leaven and requires a few days to rise, unlike kozunak.
In Belgium, kramiek is a brioche strangely akin to kozunak. No need to wait for Easter to enjoy it, since it is a centerpiece of breakfast and afternoon snack during the whole year with butter, jam, or spread. At the end of the year, during the holidays, it is eaten with foie gras.
In France, the Metz brioche has a similar shape to kozunak, but doesn’t have raisins in it. It is served during banquets and celebrations, and is made by braiding three braids of brioche dough. It is usually sprinkled with pearl sugar.
We recommend trying this brioche, which, even if it impresses by its size, won’t last long on your tables. It is so soft that you will gladly go for seconds!
- 8 cups flour
- 5 teaspoons active dry yeast
- ½ cup caster sugar (+ 3 tablespoons)
- 6 eggs
- 1¾ cup milk , boiled and cooled to 95 F
- 4 oz. raisins
- 5 tablespoons rum
- 1 lemon (zest and juice)
- 5 tablespoons butter , melted and cooled
- 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon vinegar
In a bowl, mix the yeast, 3 tablespoons sugar, 1 egg, and ¾ cup (200 ml) milk.
- Let rise covered in a warm place for 40 minutes.
- In the meantime, mix the raisins, rum, zest and lemon juice in a large bowl and set aside.
- Mix the remaining milk and sugar in a bowl and set aside.
- Mix the butter and oil in a bowl and set aside.
- Separate 2 eggs.
- Reserve the yolk to brush the buns.
- Beat the two egg whites and the remaining whole eggs with the vanilla extract in a large bowl.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, add the flour and dig a well in the center.
- In the center of the well, pour the milk and sugar mixture, followed by the butter and oil mixture, then the egg and vanilla mixture, as well as the drained raisins.
- Finally add the yeast.
- Using the dough hook, knead on medium speed for 10 minutes until obtaining a smooth but slightly sticky texture.
- Three minutes before the end of the kneading, stir in the salt.
- Transfer the dough to a large oiled bowl and cover with a cloth.
Leave the dough to rise for 1 hour and 30 minutes in a warm place, away from drafts.
Roll the dough on a lightly floured work surface for 3 minutes then put back in the bowl and let it rise again, covered, for 1 hour and 30 minutes.
- Divide the dough into two equal pieces and roll each one for 3 minutes.
- Divide each piece of dough into 3 strands and braid them.
- Place the 2 braided brioches in a large cake mold lined with parchment paper.
- Cover with a cloth and let rise for 20 minutes in a warm, draft-free place.
Preheat the oven to 375 F (190 C).
- Beat the two egg yolk and the vinegar
- Brush generously all the surface of the buns with this mixture.
- Bake for about 30 minutes or until the buns are golden brown.
- Remove from the oven and unmold.
- Let cool completely on a rack before tasting.