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Cougnou is a sweet, yeast bread that is made to resemble the shape of a swaddled baby. As this baby is supposed to represent baby Jesus, the bread is therefore also known as the bread of Jesus. Various types of such sweet and yeast breads are typically eaten as Christmas foods in the European Low Countries; cougnou originated in Hainaut province, which, when created by Henry IV in 1071, included parts of both Belgium and France, and so cougnou breads can also be found in French cuisine. Apart from Christmas time, these sweet breads are also usually available in food shops, bakeries and restaurants throughout the year. Cougnou is often eaten with hot chocolate.
The ingredients for making the bread of Jesus usually include eggs, all-purpose flour, warm milk, soft butter, raisins, fruit pieces, granulated sugar, salt, cinnamon and dry yeast. To begin with, the all-purpose flour and salt are mixed together in a large mixing bowl, and warm milk and yeast are added to the bowl, allowed to sit for a few minutes, and then mixed together thoroughly. The next step is to add eggs, cinnamon, soft butter and granulated sugar to the bowl, and the batter is then processed in a food processor to get a smooth textured dough.
The cougnou dough is sprinkled with flour to make it less sticky, and it is then kneaded well, covered with a damp cloth and set aside for a few hours. After the dough has risen and doubled in size, it is kneaded again and raisins and fruit pieces are pressed into it. The dough is then divided into several smaller sections, and these are joined together to get the requisite shape of a swaddled baby. The shaped dough is again covered with a damp cloth and set aside to rise for a few hours.
The risen dough is next lightly brushed with a glaze mixture of egg yolk, milk and sugar, and placed in a baking pan and baked at a high temperature; traditionally, in Belgium and in Belgian-American communities, the bread baking was carried out wholesale in red-bricked outdoor bake-houses. The bread needs to be baked for about half an hour, and it is done when it has turned a rich dark brown. The cougnou bread is given to both children and adults at Christmas, and it may be decorated with colored sugar, bright flowers, clay circles, or plaster statuettes.
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