Kozunak or Cozonac yeasted bread filled with raisins and almonds and often has a hint of rum or cognac. This is an enriched bread that is almost like a cake. It is traditionally made for special occasions like Christmas or Easter, and yes it is an eggy bread – not quite a brioche but right next to it.
Easter is the time for eggs – chicken eggs, Cadbury eggs, plastic eggs, and even craft eggs. How can eggy loaves of bread be far behind? You guessed it – I am on an Easter baking spree. Today’s recipe is inspired by the traditional Easter bread of Bulgaria – Kozunak or Cozonac. As it happens Kozunak is an enriched bread with eggs, butter, and milk. Easter or not, this is one delicious bread that I would love to make.
Easter Breads in Eastern Europe
Eastern European traditional celebrations feature wonderful loaves of bread, especially for Easter and Christmas. These are enriched and some almost cake-like, Russian Kulich is an example and Kozunak is another. Though the version I have here is less cake-like than Kulich.
There are recipes similar to this throughout the region, some with specific add-ins. The Romanian Cozonac sounds similar. The bread part in both are similar but the Romanian version usually includes a marbled nutty filling. Another recipe to try, maybe?
Ingredients for Kozonak
Though it is called bread, it is more of a yeasted cake. A slice of this is perfect as is – or you could make a beautiful skillet French toast or a peanut butter and banana sandwich with it. Versions of this bread range from plain to filled to the brim with fruits and nuts. So there are the standard bread ingredients and the enriching ingredients and flavorings. Here is a quick look at the ingredients.
Flour: A good all-purpose flour or bread flour will work in this recipe. As always get a good quality, unbleached, unbromated version.
Yeast: Traditional versions start with creating a sponge (as in Kulich), with either a little yeast or sourdough starter. Here I am using active dry yeast. You could skip the activation step by using instant yeast or use my 100% hydration sourdough starter. If using a sourdough starter reduce the flour and milk accordingly.
Salt: Salt is important in bread making. In the right amounts, it strengthens the gluten, but if adding too much it kills the yeast. Use salt equal to 1.5% to 2.5% of the weight of the flour.
Sugar: This is a lightly sweetened enriched bread. You could double the sugar, but too much sugar in the dough will reduce the yeast activity. So if increasing sugar be prepared for longer rising times.
Milk: Milk makes the bread more tender. Use any milk you have whether it is whole or fat-free, though my preference is to use whole milk.
Butter: Butter adds flavors and helps the bread rise more in the oven. It also increases the shelf life of the bread.
Eggs: Eggs are what make this bread more cake-like. Don’t skimp on it, in fact for an added treat increase the eggs in the recipe by 1 or 2 and reduce milk by ¼ C for each additional egg.
Making the Bread
The recipe for Bulgarian Kozonak given below is enough to make two 9 inch loaves. I usually make 2 loaves keeping one plain and adding raisins and almonds to the other.
Making the Dough
What you see above is the Kozunak dough. It is a little wetter than usual. Many Kozunak recipes start with a sponge but this one takes the shortcut by using packaged yeast. If you like to try the sponge check the recipe for Kulich for details.
Activate the in 1/2 C warm milk mixed with 1 a little sugar. Many of the old recipes call for scalding the milk. It is not needed with pasteurized milk. If you are using raw milk make sure that you heat it till bubbles begin to appear and cool before using it in recipes with yeast. The milk should be at the yeast happy temperature, just warm to touch (around 110°F) when you add the yeast to it.
Set aside the mix for 5 to 10 minutes for the yeast to bloom. Reserve 1 to 2 cups of flour. Take the remaining flour and salt in a large mixing bowl and make a well in the center. Add the yeast mix and the eggs. Beat well and slowly start mixing in the flour to the wet mix, adding more milk as necessary. Add the sugar and softened butter when there are no dry bit of flour left. The dough will be very wet at this point. Slowly add the reserved flour as you knead, just enough to prevent the dough from sticking. Knead for about 15 minutes. At this time the dough will still be wet and soft, but not sticky.
In Stand Mixer
Add most of the flour and salt to the mixer bowl, along with the eggs and activated yeast. Set the machine at stir and mix for 30 seconds to a minute until the eggs are beaten and mixed in. Set to speed 1, or the knead setting and knead for about 2 minutes, stopping and adding more of the flour (if needed more milk as well) in between. You may have to scrape the bowl once or twice.
At the end of 2 minutes add the sugar and softened butter and knead for another 2 minutes. By this time the dough should have come together. If needed turn the dough out to a floured surface and finish kneading by hand.
If planning to use the bread machine halve the recipe, as the standard home bread machines are built to make 1 loaf of bread. Follow the instructions in your machine for sweet dough, and use half the milk in the beginning. Check on the dough a few minutes into the kneading and add the remaining milk as necessary.
Form the dough into a ball and place in a greased bowl large enough to hold at least 3 times the volume. Cover and let it rest in a warm place for 1 to 1.5 hours. This dough rises really well, almost tripling in 1.5 hours. Do not let it rise anymore though. Over rising will weaken or break the gluten strands.
Shape and Second Rise
Punch down the dough. This is the time to add any dried fruits or nuts. Divide the dough into 2, one for each loaf. Divide each into 3 equal sections. Form into long ropes and make a 3 strand braid. Place the braids in the loaf pans and cover. Check the video to get a better idea of shaping. Let rise in a warm place until the loaves are almost doubled. In this recipe using a 9″ pan, the dough will just peek over the top of the pan.
Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Break an egg and into a bowl and beat well along with 1 to 2 tsp water. Brush the tops of the loaves with egg wash and sprinkle with sugar (optional). Bake for 30 to 40 minutes or till done. When done the tops would have browned nicely and the bread will sound hollow when upon tapping the bottom. Another way to test is to insert a skewer into the middle of the loaf and it should come out clean (like a cake).
Check the loaves around 20 minutes into baking. If the tops are browning too fast cover with foil. Cool in pan for 10 minutes before turning out onto a cooling rack. Cool completely before slicing.
The bread tastes best when fresh. It will stay fresh at room temperature for 2 to 3 days and freezes well as well. If planning to freeze slice it and wrap it in a sheet of parchment/wax paper and store it in freezer-safe bags.
Did someone say they wanted a slice?
- 7 – 8 C All-Purpose or Bread Flour 850 – 950g
- 4 Tsp Yeast about 2 pkts 14g
- 21/2 Tsp Fine Sea Salt 13g
- 1/2 C Sugar 100g
- 1 C Milk (More if needed)
- 1/2 C Butter (1 Stick), 110g
- 1/2 Tsp Vanilla extract
- 4 Eggs (Large)
- Lemon Zest – 1 Lemon
- 1 Egg
- 2 Tsp Water
- 1/2 C Raisins
- 2 – 3 Tbsp Rum/Cognac
- 1/4 C Slivered Almonds / Chopped nuts
- 2 -3 Tbsp Coarse Sugar / Nib Sugar / Pearl Sugar
- If using the raisins, place them in a bowl and pour the cognac/rum on top. Let these soak till ready to use. Squeeze out the excess alcohol out just before adding to the dough.
- Take out the eggs and butter from the fridge and leave it out to come to room temperature.
Activate the yeast
- Heat the milk till it is warm to the touch (110°F). Take half cup milk and mix in 1 Tbsp of sugar. Sprinkle the yeast on top and set aside for 5 to 10 minutes. The yeast should become active and bubbly.
Make the dough
- Knead by HandReserve about 2 C of flour (200g) and place the rest in a large mixing bowl. Add the salt and stir well. Make a well in the center of the flour and add the yeast mixture followed by the eggs. Mix the eggs, vanilla, and yeast with a spoon and slowly start to mix in the flour. Add the remaining milk a little at a time and keep stirring with the spoon until all the flour is wet.Add the softened butter, lemon zest, and sugar and start kneading. The dough will be very sticky. As you knead add the reserved flour a little at a time until the dough is no longer sticky. Keep kneading for about 15 minutes. The dough should be soft and pliable.
- Kneading in the Stand MixerAdd the salt, most of the flour, yeast mix, and eggs to the mixer bowl. Set the machine on stir and mix for 30 seconds or till all the eggs are broken and mixed in the flour. Set to 1 or knead setting and knead for 2 minutes. Scrape the sides if needed. Add the reserved flour if the mix is very sticky, or add the milk if it feels too dry.Scrape the sides and add the softened butter, lemon zest, sugar, and vanilla. Knead for 2 more minutes until the dough has come together and looks smooth and a little shiny.
- Knead in the rum-soaked raisins and any other fruits and nuts by hand.
- Form into a ball and place in a large greased bowl. Cover and let it rise for 1 to 1 1/2 hours till it doubles.
Shape and Second Rise
- Punch down the dough and divide it into 2. Form each section into 3 ropes of similar size and make a 3 strand braid. Place each braid in a 9-inch loaf pan and let rise for 30 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F(175°C). Break the egg for the egg wash into a bowl and add 2 tsp water. Beat well. Brush the egg wash on top of the risen loaves. Sprinkle the coarse/nib sugar on top, if desired. Place the loaves in the preheated oven and bake for 30 to 40 minutes or till done (see notes).
- Cool in pan for 10 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack and cool completely.
- Use any unbleached, un-bromated high protein flour (AP Flour/ Bread Flour).
- The rough weight equivalents are – 750g Flour, 14g Yeast, 8g Salt, 100g Sugar, 230g Milk, 110g Butter.
Important: Values are only estimates. Actuals vary depending on ingredients and serving size.
- This is a recipe that you go by the feel. The amount of milk used depends greatly on the size of the eggs.
- You could make a giant loaf or mini loaves/buns as well. Adjust the baking time accordingly.
- The tops tend to brown faster, especially if your oven is small or if it has hot spots. Check on the loaves at around 20 minutes into baking to prevent the tops from burning.
- The sugar topping gives extra sweetness to the recipe. Adding more sugar directly to the dough might interfere with the yeast activity.