In Belgium, northern France, and other parts of the Low Countries, bakers create a Christmas pastry that’s reminiscent of the shape of the baby Jesus himself.
This pastry, which is often called cougnou, cougnolle, coquille de Noël, or other regional names, 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 of a swaddled baby. Sometimes it’s one long piece of soft dough with a baby made from sugar nestled in the middle, as if the pastry is a cradle.
Children often receive cougnou on Christmas Day with hot chocolate. Some Europeans remember receiving it at school, along with an orange or other treat. Overtones of cannibalism aside, it’s a delightful tradition that many people look forward to each year.