Baking Bulgarian Pitka Bread (Koledna Pitka) is a tradition in Bulgaria during the festive Christmas period. It is a pull-apart, tear, and share type of bread and it's a great treat for every special occasion. Every family has its own Pitka Bread recipe and way of shaping it.
The first time I've tried this cheesy, buttery, and fluffy bread was a few years ago when my Bulgarian friend invited us for dinner. It wasn’t Christmas time but a special enough occasion for her to bake this Bulgarian bread for us. It was deliciously soft inside and crispy on the outside. I lost count on how many of them I've had that night but I made sure to take the recipe from her at the end of the dinner.
Why This Recipe Works?
- It is a very simple recipe to follow with step-by-step pictures and instructions.
- You can freeze the leftovers and keep them for up to three months.
- It is versatile, you can serve them for breakfast or you can serve them with soup, stews or pasta as a side dish. They also make a great snack when you feel peckish!
- You can turn them into garlic bread. Simply add some garlic paste or wild garlic pesto into the butter before spreading it on the dough.
Ingredients and Substitutes
- Plain flour - It is also known as all-purpose flour and is perfect for making cakes, cookies, pastries and thickening sauces.
- Milk - I use semi-skimmed milk in this recipe but full-fat milk would work as well. It gives the Pitka bread a soft texture.
- Eggs - They add colour, structure and flavour to the dough. Keep one egg yolk for egg washing the bread before baking them.
- Yeast - I use fast-action dry yeast for this recipe. The recipe also works with standard active/dry yeast or fresh yeast. Although you don't normally need to dissolve the fast-action yeast in warm water and then leave it to become foamy, the Pitka bread becomes fluffier if dissolved in warm water first.
- Sugar - I use caster sugar or granulated sugar. It feeds the yeast and helps the dough rise.
- Salt - It increases the strength of the dough as well as the flavour.
- Feta cheese - I use creamy feta cheese for this recipe. You can substitute it with mozzarella, halloumi or cheddar as well as use a mixture of a few types of cheeses.
- Kasar cheese - It is a semi-hard yellow cheese that is similar to cheddar but much milder and is made from sheep milk. It is widely used in Turkey and Balkan Countries for pastries and general cooking. You can replace kasar with mozzarella, gouda, cheddar or any other semi-hard cheese you like. You can find Kasar cheese from Turkish or Middle Eastern shops as well as from .
- Butter - Make sure the butter is soft enough to spread it on the dough. Butter prevents the dough layers from interacting with each other. When you put the pastry in the oven, the butter in between the layers melts and creates air pockets. You can use hard margarine instead of butter.
- Sesame or nigella seeds - They give extra crunch to borek and pastries.
How to Make Pitka Bread?
Although this is a very simple recipe, you need to follow a few simple steps to achieve the best results:
Preparing the dough
Before starting the dough, bring the eggs and butter to room temperature. Warm the milk up gently in a pan then add the sugar and the yeast. Mix them well and wait for 10 minutes to get the yeast working its magic. Add the eggs, salt and flour gradually until you get a soft and slightly sticky dough. Pitka dough doesn’t need much kneading. I usually knead it for a few minutes and start shaping straight after.
Shaping the Pitka Bread
There are many ways of shaping Pitka bread. I prefer shaping them very similar to cinnamon buns. This way of shaping keeps the inside of the buns soft and fluffy while the outside is still golden and crispy. To shape the buns, cut the dough into 2 equal pieces and form them into balls. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the first ball into a rectangular shape, size of 45 cm x 25 cm (18" x 10").
Spread half of the soft butter and then sprinkle half of the cheese on the dough. Tightly roll the dough from the long side to the long side to turn it into a log. Using a serrated knife, divide the log into 10 equal pieces.
Repeat the same procedure for the other dough ball. Alternatively, you can add some garlic paste or Wild Garlic Pesto to butter and make garlic bread with the other dough ball.
Place the buns on a lightly oiled baking tray size of 30 cm x 21 cm (12" x 8"). If you use a smaller tray, you will overload the tray, and the buns in the middle will stay undercooked. When placing the buns on the baking tray, try to leave some space in between them. They will double the size during the rising and cooking period. Eggwash them with one egg yolk using a brush.
Allow the buns to rise for 45 minutes to 1 hour depending on the temperature and the humidity of the room. I usually use a warmed-up oven for rising the dough in cold weather. If you want to use the oven for rising, place the tray in the warm oven and then leave them in for 45 mins or until doubles the size. Sprinkle some sesame seeds and nigella seeds on.
Baking the Pitka Bread
When the buns double the size, preheat the oven to 180 °C (356 °F) fan oven, and cook them for about 35 - 40 minutes or until they are golden brown.
For more delicious savoury baked goods why not try:
- Sucuklu Pide (Turkish Bread with Spicy Sausage)
Yes, they freeze beautifully. When they are cooled down, wrap them individually with a cling film or place them into freezer bags and then keep them in the freezer for up to 3 months.
Koledna Pitka is a simple yet delicious traditional Bulgarian Christmas Bread layered with butter and cheese. It is traditionally eaten on Christmas eve and throughout the Holidays.
Top Tip From the Chef
You can spread on your favourite filling such as tahini, Nutella, homemade jam, or peanut butter and sprinkle on some nuts to make different variations of this soft and fluffy bread.
I hope you enjoy the process of making this delicious Pitka Bread as much as you enjoy eating it! 🙂
Bon appétit! / Afiyet Olsun!
Pitka (Bulgarian Christmas Bread)
For the Dough
- 3 eggs (1 egg yolk kept for egg wash)
- 400 ml milk (lukewarm)
- 7 g fast action dried yeast (1 small pack)
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 750 g all purpose flour (plus extra for dusting)
For the Cheese Filling
- 150 g butter (soft enough for spreading)
- 100 g feta cheese (crumbled into small pieces)
- 100 g kashar cheese (grated)
For the Top
- 1 egg yolk
- Sesame seeds or Nigella seeds
- Gently heat the milk until warm then mix with the sugar and yeast in a large bowl. Leave for 10 mins to activate the yeast.
- Separate 1 egg yolk for the egg wash and add the egg white + 2 whole eggs into the mixture. Sift in the flour with the salt and mix all until you have a smooth dough. We are after a soft dough, slightly sticking to your hand. Add more water or more flour until you have the right consistency.
- Divide the dough into 2 equal pieces and shape them into balls.
- On a lightly floured surface, roll out the first ball to a large rectangular shape using a rolling pin. (Approximately 45 cm x 25 cm).
- Spread half of the soft butter on the dough.
- Mix feta cheese and kashar cheese for filling and sprinkle half of it on the dough.
- Tightly roll the dough from long side to long side to turn into a log.
- Divide the log into 10 equal pieces with a serrated knife.
- Repeat the same procedure for the second ball dough and place the buns in a greased baking tray size of 30 cm x 21 cm. When placing the buns in the baking tray, try to leave some space in between them. They will double the size up during the rising and cooking period.
- Egg wash the buns, cover the tray with cling film or damp cloth and leave it to rise in a warm place.
- Preheat the oven to 180°C (fan oven).
- Sprinkle on sesame seeds or nigella seeds.
- Cook for 35 to 40 mins or until golden brown.
- Cook to a minimum temperature of 165 °F (74 °C)
- Don’t leave food sitting out at room temperature for extended periods
- Never leave cooking food unattended
- Use oils with high smoking point to avoid harmful compounds
- Always have good ventilation when using a gas stove
See more guidelines at USDA.gov.
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