Belgium ❀ Cougnou

This is the cake I baked a few days ago as part two of Christmas baking season on Where the Food Is.  It looked good, tasted equally nice, and has an interesting backstory, but the fates seem to be conspiring against my sharing it with you.

I’ve been very busy with Christmas preparations and travels in the last few days.  Then, yesterday evening, I finally settled down during a three-hour intercity coach ride to write it all up – and happened to be sitting next to the two loudest girls on the entire European continent.  Their screeching about Rihanna and hair extensions prevented me from forming any coherent thoughts whatsoever, short of wondering whether they had any razor blades on board.  And now, on Christmas Eve, I find what paltry paragraphs I had written have been deleted by mischievous WordPress elves.  I’m full of mulled cider and eggnog, my family is listening to carols downstairs, and I hope, dear readers, that you won’t be offended if I choose them over you for a few more days.

Here then, without the usual faffing about, are some photos and a recipe of this yummy but highly inoppertune cake.  It’s shaped like a swaddled Christ-child, eaten in the southern French-speaking area of Belgium, and decorated with another Jesus, this time made of sugar.  It’s eaten with hot chocolate around Christmas, and it’s yeasty and rich. That’s all I’ll be telling you tonight, so I hope you find time to make it yourselves this holiday season, and to share your experiences of it with me.

In the meantime, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

What Did I Need?

I got in a bit of French practice by translating and modifying this recipe (makes 3 large cougnou)

  • 750 gram flour
  • 300 ml milk
  • 200 gram softened butter
  • 3 egg yolks (plus one egg for finishing)
  • 300 ml milk (plus a bit to finish)
  • 60 gram yeast
  • 100 gram sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 100 gram pearl sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 70 grams of raisins, nuts, chocolate chips or whatever takes your fancy (optional)

How Did I Do It?

  • Warm the milk, and dissolve the yeast in it, stirring until smooth.
  • Sift the flour onto a clean counter and form a well in the centre.  Sprinkle the cinnamon over the flour.  Gradually add the milk/yeast mixture, sugar, egg yolks and flour back to the inside of the well. Then add the salt, which should not come into direct contact with the yeast, and finally the butter. Knead the dough for a few minutes until smooth and elastic.
  • Cover the dough with a damp cloth and leave near a heat source or in a warm room for 1 -1.5 hours or until the dough has roughly doubled in volume.
  • Rework the dough, incorporating the pearl sugar and any other ‘extras’.
  • Form three breads on a greased baking sheet as below, placing a ball on either side of each long ‘sausage’.
  • Cover and let rise again for at least 30 minutes in a warm place.
  • Beat egg with a little milk and some sugar and brush on the breads. Bake for half an hour in an oven that has been preheated to 180 ° C (leave in a little longer if not brown enough).
  • Enjoy with hot chocolate at Christmas!

So How Did It Taste?

Like this:

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6 thoughts on “Belgium ❀ Cougnou

  1. Helga-Bara says:

    Hang on, I come more from the Jule type tradition of the “christmas” season”, but I hve this strong sence that somehow there is be something spookie about EATING the christ child. I think we need an epilogue with a quote, not necessarily on the taste of the body of this child, but rather the story behind an idea ;-) Happy Jule !

    • Haha, yes – it is rather a strange tradition, isn’t it? Eating a baby is strange enough, not to mention when that baby is supposed to grow up to be God! According to a few websites, the tradition seems to have originated in the 9th century. Sometimes cougnous just looked like little men, but other times – and I suppose around xmas particularly – they took this form. People even used to gamble with them: they would make 5 versions that increased in size from super small to XXL, and then use them as prizes in taverns! That beats winning a bottle of wine in a pub quiz, eh? ;-)

  2. Paula Fourie says:

    I know…visiting Elsje meant that I went to Bruges one day with Jesus’s head in a lunch box.

  3. Helga-Bara says:

    Actually the 6th of January is “the Thirteenth”, i.e. the last day of Christmas/Yule, the thirteenth day in fact, so you were just iin time ;-) That´s when the last of our Jule lads (the 13th, .. you see a pattern here !) goes back up to the mountains until next Yule. Take care.

  4. Never realised what a strange tradition it was! Now that you mention it…

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