Cougnou, a Christmas bread shaped like the baby Jesus
Here we are:
We are in Belgium or in northern France, where bakers create a Christmas pastry that’s reminiscent of the shape of the baby Jesus himself! In the Southern Low Countries, is know also “bread of Jesus”.
This pastry, often called cougnou, cougnolle, coquille de Noël, or with other different regional names, seems to have originated in ancient Hainaut, and it is a sweet brioche, sometimes studded or decorated with raisins, chocolate chips, or sugar crystals.
Most often, it’s made of one large, elongated ball of dough in the center, with two smaller balls of dough on either end, giving the impression really of a swaddled baby.
Sometimes it’s one long piece of soft dough with a baby made from sugar just in the middle, as if the pastry is a cradle.
Children often receive cougnou on Christmas Day with hot chocolate, and some Europeans remember once receiving it at school, along with an orange or other treat. In some regions it’s a delightful tradition that many people look forward to each year still today.