Cozonac – a delicious sweet bread typically filled with a walnut filling, this is the most traditional sweet thing you will find in every Romanian family on Easter and Christmas. It is normally filled with a walnut-egg white filling, but you can actually find many other ways of filling it according to your liking.
I didn’t like nuts in cake as a child (weird I know), so my favorite kind of sweet bread during those days was a plain one. Nothing else, just the yeast dough and a bit of sugar on top. You could also fill it with hazelnuts or a cocoa-nut filling for those of you who like chocolate. You could also find it filled with Turkish delight, that colorful, soft and overly sweet thing, but I strongly advice against it. I find it disgusting and I think the only person I ever knew who liked it was my sister. But otherwise I suppose the sky is the limit! Not typically Romanian but totally delicious is a cinnamon-sugar filling, my favorite filling actually.
The following recipe is very similar to the one my grandmother used to make. She was the only one in the family who would bake the sweet bread, so she had to make it for everybody twice a year. It was a lot of work, I have to tell you. She would wake up very early in the morning and start with the dough and I still remember how much power she needed to beat that huge amount of dough in an extremely large basin. And what a loud process that was! I don’t have her recipe, unfortunately, she never wrote recipes down, she had everything in her head, and I never asked her about this one. But I found this recipe in a traditional Romanian cookbook (Carte de bucate – Silvia Jurcovan) and I have to say it tastes just like my grandmother’s used to do. And when reading the instructions I realized that many of them were things my grandma said to me while she was making cozonaci.
- For the dough:
- 500 g/ 4 cups/ 17.6 oz all-purpose flour
- 4 egg yolks (2 egg whites are needed for the filling)
- 300 ml/ 1 ¼ cups milk
- 1 ½ tablespoons vegetable oil
- 30 g/ 1 oz fresh yeast
- 100 g/ 3.5 oz butter
- 100 g/ ½ cup/ 3.5 oz granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon rum
- zest of ½ organic lemon
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon vanilla sugar
- For the filling:
- 2 egg whites
- 100 g/ ½ cup/ 3.5 oz granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon rum
- 80 g/ ⅔ cup/ 2.8 oz ground walnuts
- Place 50 g/ ⅓ cup + 1 tablespoon/ 1.7 oz of the flour in a large bowl. Bring the milk to a boil and pour 100 ml/ ⅓ cup + 1 tablespoon of the milk over the flour in the bowl. Let the rest milk cool down a bit for later. Mix very quickly until the mixture is smooth. Leave to cool.
- Crumb the yeast is a small bowl and stir it with ½ teaspoon sugar until it becomes liquid (it will happen, don't worry). When the flour-milk mixture is almost cold, pour the yeast over it and mix until incorporated. Cover with a kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place for about 15-20 minutes or until doubled in volume.
- In the meantime melt the butter and let cool down a little. Mix the egg yolks and the salt together. Add the sugar, lemon zest, vanilla sugar, rum, oil and only 50 g/ 1.7 oz of the butter. Mix very well with a spoon and pour this mixture over the yeast-flour mixture. Add the rest of the lukewarm milk and stir very well.
- Sieve the remaining flour over this mixture and stir with a spoon as long as possible. Start kneading the dough and keep doing it for about 15 minutes until the dough starts to slightly detach itself from the bowl. It won't properly detach itself at this point, it should just begin to do so. The best way to knead this dough is to form a fist and knead with the fist, bringing the dough from the walls of the bowl in the middle every now and then. The dough will be very sticky in the beginning, but it will get a bit better after about 15 minutes. Don't be tempted to add more flour, the dough is supposed to be so soft and sticky and this point. It will remain a very soft dough but will stop sticking after you add the rest of the butter.
- Now you can add the rest of the melted and cooled butter and continue kneading. You will now beat the dough with the back of your open hand and keep folding the edges of the dough over the middle. Keep doing this until all the butter is incorporated. This stage of the kneading is quite easy by comparison, the dough will not stick anymore, it will be very slippery.
- Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and let rise for 15-20 minutes or until doubled in volume in a warm place. This can take a shorter or a longer time, depending on the temperature in your kitchen.
- In the meantime preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius/ 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter two loaf pans, 30-35 cm/ 12-14 inch long.
- To make the filling, whisk 2 egg whites until stiff. Slowly add the sugar and the rum and continue whisking until the mixture is stiff again. Very carefully fold the ground walnuts into the egg white mixture, do not over mix.
- Roll the dough on a lightly floured surface, about 3-4 mm/ 0.13 inch thick and about 35 x 60 cm/ 14 x 23 inch large. Spread the filling on top. Using a sharp knife divide the dough in the middle, so that you would be able to roll two breads. Start rolling the breads beginning in the middle where the dough was cut. Form the bread, press well at the ends and immediately place the roll into the prepared pan. Repeat with the second roll.
- Let rise for 10 minutes in a warm place. Place in the oven and bake for about 50 or 60 minutes or until golden brown and cooked through. Check after 30 minutes, if the top of the bread becomes to dark, cover it loosely with aluminum foil.
- Remove the breads from the pans, wrap them well in thick kitchen towels and let them cool. Apparently if they would cool down unwrapped in towels they would become soggy. I don't know, I haven't tried, I just followed the instructions, wrapped them well and let them get cold. They were perfect in the end.
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