Cozonac: The Slavic Stollen

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When it comes to festivities we, Slavs, have a plethora of ways to spice up any bread-based dessert recipe and transform it into a work of art – from the seemingly plain kulich bundt cakes to the ostensibly easy cozonac breads. The latter one in particular is the closest type of bread to the globally popular German Stollen you’ll ever find in any Slavic country. Most commonly prepared in Bulgaria, Romania and some parts of Moldova, this traditional sweet bread is eaten during Easter celebrations, unlike the Christmas Stollen. Nevertheless, it doesn’t fall behind in terms of delicious taste, palatable texture and the unsurmountable fussiness during its preparation.

So, what is cozonac exactly?

Although usually described with the universal term “fruit bread”, some variations of this dish actually don’t include fruits at all – or any of the powdered sugar in which the Stollen is covered. The best way to sum up the cozonac is with the term “sweet  bread”.

Made out of yeast, butter, eggs, flour, milk and sugar, the base of this festive goodness can include an abundance of various ingredients which help boost its flavor. Some recipes call for dried fruits (raisins and dates being the most popular ones), others include nuts like almonds, walnuts and hazelnuts. What’s more, those of you who have a sweet tooth will be happy to learn that cozonac may also come with fillings such as chocolate, jam and Turkish delight. On top of that, vanilla, citrus zest (usually lemon or orange) and rum may also be added to the formula.

In terms of shape the traditional cozonac can actually vary, just like its ingredients. Some people prefer shaping the dough into breaded loafs. Others opt for the easy way and just leave the yeast dough in its naturally risen lumpy shape, similar to the one of the Stollen bread. And then there are those cooks who don’t mind spending hours kneading, rolling and setting up the dough in marvelous shapes that you won’t find in any store or bakery.

Where does cozonac come from?

According to most people the cozonac originated either in Bulgaria or in Romania, despite it being found in some other Slavic countries as well. But funnily enough, it has nothing to do with the Balkans – or the Slavs for that matter.

History holds records for cozonac breads being included in British cookbooks dating back to the early 1700s. Nevertheless, this bread did not originate in the UK. Variations of this festive bread with poppy seeds (which are still an essential ingredient in some cozonac recipes even nowadays) and honey were prepared by the Ancient Egyptians centuries ago. Eventually, Slavs adapted their own recipes and flavor boosting formulas and included the cozonac in their celebratory Easter meals.

Today cozonac breads can be found in bakeries and food stores mostly in spring, although some confectioners sell them all year round instead of waiting for the Easter holidays. And it should come to no surprise that in recent years numerous recipes for a vegan variation of the cozonac have also emerged on the web.

All in all, there are more than a few ways to prepare cozonac at home if you’re feeling up to the task. The best part is you can truly fill it with anything your heart desires – whether you’re looking for a chocolaty treat, a boozy rum-infused dessert or just something sweet and nutty to snack on, you’re in luck because the Internet is full of cozonac recipes. And if you’re not too keen on experimenting, you can always consult with your babushka or some other ancestor. Chances are, they’ll help you recreate the deliciousness of the Slavic cozonac and make you forget about the Stollen altogether.

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