Easter is one of my favorite holidays of the year and I am always looking forward to it, not just because of the delicious traditional food on the table, the spring mood, and the colorful decorations but also because of the time we may spend with our most beloved people in this world – our families. However, I also feel a little bit of sadness, since I am away from them living on the other side of the world – here in Canada, I can’t be with them and enjoy this wonderfully decorated by my mom Easter table and eat the soft and fluffy, sweet breads with homemade chocolate that my grandmother makes for the entire family.
On the other hand, that is also the reason why I do my best and pull out my Easter mood, although away from my family, to prepare all the deliciousness and set the Bulgarian Easter vibe here in Canada as well.
How did I do that this year?
First, I prepared the “other must-have” for Easter – the Easter Sweet Bread (or I also call it Sweat Bread since it takes a lot of effort) that Bulgarians know as Kozunak.
It takes a while to make and there is never a 100% guarantee that it will turn out perfect but it is worth trying, especially if you don’t like how the sweet breads sold in store taste. Also, if you make it at home, you will be 100 aware of what’s in it, it is completely customizable depending on your taste, and it is also a fun way to spend time at home without watching TV, sitting in front of the computer or wasting your time with something else.
The recipe I will write here is for a traditional bulgarian Kozunak that is sweet but not too sweet, has nuts in it and dark chocolate.
Ingredients for the Easter Sweet Bread:
- 4 tea cups of white wheat flour
- 1 teaspoon of salt
- 50 grams of yeast ( If dry/instant yeast – you will need 4 tablespoons of it.)
- 250 grams of brown sugar (equivalent of 1 tea cup of brown sugar)
- 125 grams of unsalted butter (but you may also want to try with olive oil)
- 5 eggs
- 250 ml of warm milk (equivalent of 1 tea cup)
- 2 tablespoon of dark rum
- the shredded peel of 1 lemon.
- sesame seeds and poppy seeds (optional)
My ingredients for the filling: – What are yours?
- blanched almonds soaked in rum
- crushed/chopped walnuts
- 80% dark chocolate chopped into small pieces.
If you decide to do the homemade chocolate filling, the ingredients are:
- 100 grams of cacao
- 100 walnuts or pecans if you prefer
- milk – just enough to make the consistency of a jelly filling
- and 2 spoons of brown sugar
- 1 tablespoons of dark rum
that you will just have to mix together.
Just to excite you, I will tell you that if you have a bread maker at home, you may make the dough for the sweet bread in there. Otherwise, you will have to knead it yourself or use a knead machine.
Preparation of the sweet bread dough:
First, I take out all the eggs from the fridge, warm up the milk, and melt the butter (if I use a butter instead of other type of oil). Then I would recommend sifting the flour because air gets in during the process and the flour particles separate from each other which makes it easy for the yeast to mix well. However, if you don’t have a sifter, you may pass that step. Then I pour the flour into the breadmaker and add the yeast and the salt. If you would like to add sesame seeds and poppy seeds, here is the moment to do so. Then in a separate dish beat the eggs with the warm milk and the sugar ( I pour sugar little by little) until all is mixed well. I also take a moment to add the vanilla, the rum, and the grated lemon peel. Then I add the mixture also into the breadmaker and I add the melted butter/oil.
I set the machine on the “Dough” program which lasts 1 hour and 30 minutes and kneads and rises the dough. Once you set the program you let the machine do whatever is supposed to. After 1 hour and 30 minutes, I restart the program on “Dough” again and let it knead again and rise again one more time ( a total of 3 hours). After the second cycle, you take the dough out of the machine. The dough is supposed to be soft, a little bit stretchy, and easy to manage. Here is the secret to a good Kozunak – after you take the dough out of the breadmaker, you have to throw it 100 times on the table (yes throw it!). If you can do more than 100 times, that is even better. I personally did 200 times- I like looking at it as a workout. Once you have done that you should let it rise one more time by putting it on a greased pan or in the still warm breadmaker. One hour later, I take it out, I grease my hands with olive oil and separate the dough in three equally big balls which I stretch out in the shape of a rectangular using my wooden kitchen roller. The shape of the dough does not have to be perfect.
Once I stretch the first sheet, I sprinkle on top of it the chopped walnuts, almonds, and dark chocolate and I roll it up; then, I bend the ends of it to close it up. You may follow the same steps if you have decided to pursue the chocolate filling that you have mixed well in advance (just make sure that you spread out about 1.5 tablespoons of it because if you put too much filling, the dough will not bake well on the inside).
You repeat the same technology for the other two dough sheets.
Now, you have the three cable like doughs and braid them like you braid hair. Once you are finished with this, you place them on a baking pan that is greased in advance. Let it rise one more time for one to two hours. If you would like to top it up with something, you may want to sprinkle some more blanched almonds, walnuts or sugar or the three all together.
In 1 to 2 hours, preheat the oven to 350 degrees and place the sweet bread into the oven for about 30 minutes or until golden brown.
Half way the baking time, you may want to use a beaten egg yolk to spread on top of it and sprinkle some sesame seeds, or sugar but this is also optional.
Once it is ready, you can take it out of the oven and let it cool before you cut it.
Now, you can take a bow and smile because you just made a sweet bread from scratch and you should be proud of yourself as I am.
Now, take a look at my Easter Eggs and subscribe to my blog to read more about the Bulgarian Tradition of Celebrating Easter with Eggs.