Tuesday, 15 April 2014

A recipe for the 'Mouna', a traditional Easter brioche from North Africa

My mother was born and brought up near Algiers in North Africa, where Easter Monday was celebrated with a family picnic and the sharing of the 'Mouna', a traditional Easter brioche. Even long after leaving Algeria, she still baked a Mouna for our family and the smell of the brioche baking in the oven - a blend of citrus fruit and aniseed - was absolutely divine.

Where does the name Mouna come from? Nobody really knows. Some claim that is originates from Spain where a similar brioche called 'Mona de Pascua' is baked for Easter Monday. Others associate it with Fort Lamoune near the Algerian town of Oran. The fort was built by the Spanish in the seventeenth century and called Fort Lamoune (or Castillo de la Mona) because lots of monkeys lived in the area, and in Spanish, monkey is 'mona'. The families of the men imprisoned in Fort Lamoune could only visit them once a year, on Easter Monday, and used to bring them sweet bread loaves. Another explanation is that the Mimouna is the last day of the Jewish Easter and that it was traditional on that day for Jewish families from Algiers and other North-African towns to spend the day outside, in parks and forests - and have a picnic.  

Whatever its origins, the Mouna is delicious, if a little denser than other brioches.

Ingredients for 4 small Mounas. (You would traditionally bake four Mounas, one for you and your family, one for relatives, the others for friends and neighbours.)
1 kg flour
300 g sugar
75 g butter
5 eggs
1 sachet yeast
6 large spoonfuls of oil
the zest of one lemon
the zest of one orange
the juice of one orange
a few aniseeds (optional)

30 minutes - 2 to 3 hours for the dough to rise - 30 minutes to bake

1. Pre-heat the oven at 100°C (th.3/4).
2. Mix the sugar, eggs, lemon and orange zests until the mixture is pale and fluffy. Add the melted butter and the oil and mix well. If you have aniseeds, you can add them to the mixture now.
3. Now mix in the sachet of yeast into the flour, and add bit by bit to the rest of the mixture, working the dough until you can roll it into a soft ball. Cover with a tea towel.
4. Switch the oven off and put the dough (covered with the tea towel) inside for 2 to 3 hours.
6. Take the dough out of the oven, and knead it until it's soft and does not stick.
7. Make 4 balls. With a sharp knife cut a few lines on top of each ball, then brush egg yolk on top and sprinkle sugar (traditionally you crush sugar lumps or cubes but you can't really find them in England). Leave for 15 min before putting in the oven.
8. Bake for 20 min at 210°C (th.7) then switch the oven off and leave for a further 10 minutes.

My family was truly multicultural. Just before biting into my mother North-African Mouna for breakfast, we would be submitted to the Polish 'dyngus' by my father! For those who don't know, it's the tradition to throw water at people on Easter Monday (which can vary from a weak sprinkling to a thorough soaking).

Joyeuses Pâques! 


  1. Thanks for the recipe, Marie. I love brioches, and this looks fabulous! I've tried to find the sugar you mention in the UK, but have never succeeded. Crushing sugar lumps was the best I could do, too! I'll try these over Easter - thanks!

  2. I hope you enjoy the brioche, Helena, and don't worry, crushing sugar lumps should be just fine.

  3. Hi,

    We have noticed that you have great recipe posts on your blog and would like to give you the opportunity to share them with the world!

    We are a recipe search engine where you can find thousands of recipes from blogs and sites, we would be delighted if you chose to join us.

    Please have a look at our website (http://www.alldishes.co.uk) and if you would like to your blog and recipes listed, all you have to do is to register your blog from here :)

    We hope to see you soon!