This year, I decided to make the traditional Bulgarian Easter Bread known as "Козунак"/ kozunak. It is yeast bread which is a must on every Bulgarian table during this holiday. It is not very sweet but if made well, it is a real treat. And here lies one of the biggest challenges for almost every Bulgarian housewife: a successful homemade kozunak! :) Most of us remember our grandmothers and then mothers waking up in the wee hours of the mornings to start their huge batches of kozunak and knead, and knead, and wait for it to rise, and knead some more, and wait some more- a true labor of love! While the recipe I used this year does not involve any kneading by hand (yeah for my shoulders!), it still requires a good dose of patience, as a good kozunak needs plenty of time to rise not once, but twice. In fact, my mother seems to think that her mother let her kozunak rise not twice but three times. Unfortunately, she is not with us any more and we have no written recipe for kozunak from her, so we cannot know for sure how she made it exactly. Luckily for me, I found a wonderful website by a fellow Bulgarian, now residing in the U.S. like me, who converted a recipe for kozunak to U.S. standards in more ways than one. The best part of the experience- using a bread maker for the kneading and first rising! I was beyond thrilled with this discovery! Many, many thanks to Tanita from http://tanitaang.blogspot.it! I will be forever grateful!
So, without further ado, here is the promised recipe for "Козунак", which I translated into English for all my English speaking friends who may want to try their luck with this delicious Easter bread!
- 2 eggs and 1 egg white (save the egg yolk for glazing the bread), at room temperature
- about 1 cup milk, at room temperature (because the size of eggs varies, it is best to crack the eggs in a 2 cup measuring cup and then add enough milk to get a 1 1/2 cups liquid altogether; 1 cup= 240ml)
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup melted unsalted butter (1/2 stick), cooled a little
- 1 tbsp rum (optional)
- the zest of 1 lemon
- the zest of 1 orange
- 4 1/4 cup bread flour, plus more for dusting later
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 tbsp dry yeast
- about 1/2 cup vegetable oil for adding during kneading, as well as more for oiling hands
- raisins (optional)
- slivered or whole blanched almonds (optional)
Note: For the success of this bread, it is very important that all ingredients are at room temperature!
Set your bread maker on "dough" cycle (mine takes 1h30min: the first 30 minutes for kneading, the next 1 hour for rising). In a little bowl, whisk together the 2 eggs and 1 egg white with the milk and the sugar until the sugar has dissolved. Pour the egg/milk/sugar mixture in the bread maker, then add the melted butter, the zests, and the flour on top. In the middle of the flour, make a little "well" and put the yeast. To one side in the flour, make another little well and put the salt. Start the kneading process on the bread maker. (I am so happy I don't have to do this by hand as my grandmother and mother used to do for years and years!!!)
During the kneading, after the dough starts forming into a ball and pulls away from the walls of the bread maker, add 2 tbsp of vegetable oil and dust with a little bit of flour right after that; repeat this 1 or 2 more times. Let the whole "dough" cycle finish. (Of course, if you do not have a bread maker you may do the kneading by hand, or with a stand mixer and then let the dough rise in a warm place; if you use your oven for that, make sure the temperature is no higher than 120F). Sweet dough rises more slowly, so if the dough hasn't doubled in size within the end of the cycle, let it sit longer. It should be at least doubled! The key to success with this bread is PATIENCE. :)
Once your dough has doubled in size, using your well-oiled hands, separate the dough into 2 or 3 parts. With this recipe, I was able to make three loaves: one round bread which I baked in a bundt pan, another one in a 9" round casserole dish and a third one in a standard bread loaf pan.
Every one of these parts, gets additionally divided into 3 or 4 pieces which you form into "ropes", oil really well and braid together into a loaf just like in the two photos below. Before forming the loaves, you can add raisins to your braids too (which you may want to soak in a little bit of rum first).
Place every braided loaf in a well greased and floured pan, cover and let rise in a warm place one more time. Again, if you are using your oven for that, make sure it is no more than 120 dgreees F. The dough should double or triple its size again (this may take a couple of hours, depending on the temperature in your house). Once ready to bake, set the oven to 365F. While waiting for the oven to warm up, glaze the loaves of bread with the egg yolk which you saved in the beginning and whisked with 1 tsp of milk. I used a kitchen brush for this. Sprinkle granulated sugar on top and then almonds, if using. Bake for 20-25 minutes, depending on the size of your loaves- if you made 3 loaves out of this dough, you should not need more than 20 minutes. If you only made it into 2 loaves, you may need 25 or even 30 minutes. Making smaller loaves is a better idea, though, as larger ones tend to brown too much on top before they can bake well on the inside.
Once out of the oven, cool in the pan for a few minutes and then move to a wire rack. If you can resist it, wait for the bread to cool. Nobody in my family has that will power, so the loaf below was torn into just minutes after it was taken out of the oven... :) What you are looking for in a successful "Козунак" is an interior that separates like "thread", sort of like in the pictures below...
Yes, it was one yummy "Козунак"! This is all that was left of it within 15 minutes. :)))