Braving the vegan Kozunak

Bulgaria celebrated Orthodox Easter last weekend, with painted eggs and „kozunak“, a sweet yeast-raised bread somewhat reminiscent of challah or panettone. When done right, kozunak has a light fluffy texture thanks to at least six eggs per kilogram of flour. A formidable challenge to veganize, I nonetheless boldly ventured forth with a first attempt last Saturday. I substituted the eggs by six tablespoons of soy flour (mostly for the yellow colour) and 180g of soy yoghurt for moisture and lift. Swapping out the dairy butter with my trusty Provamel soy butter was more straightforward.

Next, the kneading — ample time for zenning out or contemplation (some recipes I came across recommend at least 45 minutes!). I got to thinking about my grandmother, family master of the kozunak. Every Easter, she’d prepare several big kozunaks, the kids would sneak bites out of the dough as it was rising, and the end result was always perfect and beautiful. I’d enjoy huge chunks, washed down with hot chocolate. Some big shoes to fill on the kozunak-making front, that’s for sure.

After about twenty minutes, I floated out of my day dream and left the dough to rise. When it was double in size, I awkwardly braided three loaves and let them rise, again until about double in size. Finally, it was time to throw them in the oven for 30-40 minutes and out came some pretty decent looking kozunaks. One of them got whisked to a dinner party straight from the oven, and we have been enjoying the other two for breakfast or a snack over the past week. The taste, in particular, is almost spot on; surprisingly don’t miss the eggs at all on that front. The texture could be a tad fluffier, so perhaps some more experimention is in order next year, but I was content with my first try.

Easter Sunday brunch was lovely, out on the sunny balcony, with a cup of creamy hot almond-chocolate milk and kozunak, pretty much like I remember from childhood. Food is an emotional thing, inextricably tangled with memories of people, places, feasts and celebrations. I believe it’s one of the big reasons that a diet change, such as the vegan transition, is challenging and seems impossible for many, whether they consciously realize it or not. Jonathan Safran Foer explores this aspect of food in his book „Eating Animals“, which by the way is highly recommended reading. So I was relieved that with my first kozunak experience, I didn’t feel like I was missing out. In my own way, I continued a tradition, and the spirit of celebration, of cherished childhood memories, lived on, sans eggs and butter.

Kozunak (Bulgarian Easter bread)

1 kg white flour
6 tablespoons soy flour
pinch salt
300g sugar + 1 tablespoon for dissolving yeast
250ml non-dairy milk + 100ml for dissolving yeast, warmed
180g soy yoghurt
150g vegan butter, melted (I find the Provamel brand available in bio stores works best)
150ml vegetable oil
42g yeast (1 pack)
zest of 1 lemon, finely chopped
2 packets vanilla sugar
raisins (optional)
slivered almonds (optional)
 

  • Mix yeast with 100ml warm milk and 1 tablespoon sugar until smooth. Leave somewhere warm until foamy, around 10 minutes.
  •  Mix the sugar with the vanilla sugar and lemon zest.
  • In a big bowl, sift together white flour, soy flour and salt.
  • Make a well in the middle and pour in yoghurt, melted butter and yeast mixture.
  • Start mixing the flour in, gradually adding sugar mixture and milk until all the flour has been absorbed.
  •  Continue to knead, pouring in vegetable oil a little at a time, until well absorbed.
  •  Continue to knead until the dough is smooth and small air bubbles are starting to appear, at least 15-20 minutes.
  • Let the dough rise in a warm place until double in size, around 2 hours.
  • While the dough is rising, prepare your pans. I used two 25-cm round springform pans and one 25-cm loaf pan. I might try smaller pans next time, so that the dough takes up about half the volume before the second rise, and rises to the top of the pans just before baking. Grease them with butter.
  • When the dough has doubled, divide it into three equal portions. For each part, knead it out a little then form three ropes and stuff in raisins, if using. Braid them into a braid, then carefully transfer to prepared pans.
  •  Let raise again until doubled, around 1.5 hours
  • Spread a little soy milk on top, sprinkle with big sugar grains and almonds, and bake in preheated oven at 180 degrees until nicely browned, around 30-40 minutes.

 

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