Korovai Showstopper Challenge

For my daughter’s 8th birthday, she asked for cat-shaped cakes or breads inspired by our four cats. This timed perfectly with the Great British Bake Off 2018’s bread week showstopper challenge, a three-tiered korovai — an Eastern European celebration bread typically served at weddings.

I thought it would be great to shape her favorite bread — an ensaymada — as cats and stack them on top of each other. An ensaymada (or ensaimada) is an enriched sweet bread topped with butter and sugar that’s very popular in the Philippines. Along with the butter and sugar, it can also be topped with shredded cheese or filled. Some popular fillings are ube, jam and cream cheese, but you can pretty much anything you want.

This cat stack was easier said than done, however, and I think I ended up with breads that look like giant mice.



Luckily, my daughter still loved them!

My just turned 8-year-old eating the head of the ensaymada cat topped with chocolate instead of sugar.


  • Ensaymada is typically shaped as rolls and not loaves. You can buy ensaymada molds but you can just as easily use jumbo muffin tins.
  • Use cold butter to put in the hot milk. This will bring the temperature down so that it’s warm when you put it in the flour mixture not hot.
  • If the bread starts getting too brown before time, cover the brown bits with tin foil so it doesn’t burn.
  • For the water, I just use warm tap water. Make sure it’s not hot so it doesn’t kill the yeast.
  • The dough should be soft but not sticky when you start kneading it.

Ensaymada Recipe (makes 12 rolls)

  • 120ml warm water
  • 7g (1 packet) active dry yeast
  • 120ml milk, hot
  • 1 tsp and 50g granulated sugar, plus extra for sprinkling at the end
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 60g cold, unsalted butter
  • 2 large eggs lightly beaten, room temperature
  • 500g strong/bread flour
  • 120g unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese (optional)


  1. Combine the warm water, yeast and 1 teaspoon sugar. Stir until dissolved then set aside until bubbly (about 10 minutes).
  2. Heat the milk in a small saucepan until simmering. Remove from heat and stir in the 50g of sugar, salt and cold butter. Stir until the butter melts. Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, combine the yeast mixture, milk mixture, eggs and 200g flour. Stir until combined. Keeping adding flour a little at a time (about 60g or 1/2 cup) and incorporating fully until the dough starts pulling together to form a ball. You may not need all the flour. The dough should be soft but not sticky.
  4. Tip the dough onto a lightly floured surface or surface sprayed with nonstick spray and knead until smooth and elastic, about 8-10 minutes.
  5. Lightly oil the large bowl you used to combine the ingredients and place the dough back in the bowl. Cover with a damp cloth or paper towel and prove for an hour until it doubles in size.
  6. If not shaping in specific shape e.g. cats, take out the dough and roll to a long log, about 60 cm in length. Divide into 12 equal pieces.
  7. Flatten each piece into 10 x 16 cm rectangles, with the long edge facing you. Brush with melted butter and roll up longways, starting with the edge facing you. Pinch the ends slightly to seal. Coil like a spiral in the muffin tin or ensaymada mold. Brush the tops with more melted butter and cover again with the damp cloth or paper towel and let rise for another 30 – 45 minutes.
  8. Preheat the oven to 190°C / 375°F and bake on center rack for 20 minutes or until golden brown.
  9. Let cool in the tin until cool enough to handle but still warm. Transfer to a cooling rack and brush with melted butter or spread cold butter on the bread. The warmth will melt the butter for you. Depending on how much sugar you want, you can either sprinkle the sugar on top or you can roll the bread in a bowl of sugar. If desired, you can then top it with shredded cheddar cheese.
Stack of cat ensaymadas
Stack of ensaymada
Overhead view of cat stack

Want to try another celebratory bread? Sign up for the But First, Dessert email list and get access to a French holiday bread recipe!

Author: Jorina Fontelera

I love eating carbs, feeding people and watching the Great British Bake Off (aka in the US, the Great British Baking Show). I'll be chronicling my attempts at all the challenges per GBBO season.

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