Cozonac recipe or Romanian sweet bread: this is the most traditional Romanian pastry, a soft yeast dough with a sweet walnut filling.
Romanian cozonac recipe
A simpler and delicious cozonac recipe for your Easter or Christmas table, you will love this Romanian sweet bread with walnut or dried fruit filling. Try other traditional festive recipes like Pasca, Boeuf Salad or Sarmale.
Making the sweet walnut bread was my grandmother's task when I was a kid. She was the only one in our family who would ever make them and she would bake them for the whole family. Lots of them... She was the expert, no one else would have the patience or the skill to make a proper cozonac. Weird enough, considering that she never baked anything else...
So she did bake cozonac for everybody twice a year. It was a lot of work. 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!
This loud and extenuating work is what kept me from making cozonaci for a long time, actually, I've only started baking them about 5 or 6 years ago. All the recipes I had were complicated, the use of a stand mixer for kneading the dough was considered a heresy, you would have to use like a thousand egg yolks and there were lots and lots of other complicated things.
Well, I did try a couple of these super-complicated recipes and then I got tired of them. Tried something simpler (like today's recipe) and surprise: the sweet loaves of bread were at least just as good and fluffy, if not even better.
What is cozonac?
A sweet, brioche-like bread consisting of a yeast dough made with lots of eggs or, even better, egg yolks and filled with nuts or other fillings.
Similar cozonac recipes are extremely popular in Romania, Moldova, and Bulgaria and it is always baked for Easter and Christmas. You can also buy it at any time of the year in pretty much any bakery. You can find similar sweet bread in other countries as well, countries like Hungary, Greece, Armenia, Turkey, Croatia and so on.
Tips for making the yeast dough
- The most important tip I can give you when making this cozonac recipe is to use a kitchen scale. Measuring flour with a cup is always risky.
- You can use fresh yeast to make the dough. If fresh yeast is not available, instant or active dry yeast are perfectly fine. Instant yeast can be mixed directly with the dry ingredients, while fresh and active dry yeast needs to be proofed or bloomed before adding the rest of the ingredients.
- Make sure that the milk needed to bloom the yeast is only lukewarm – body temperature. If the milk is too hot, it will kill the yeast.
- All the ingredients should have room temperature, not only the eggs but also the oil and the flour.
Kneading without a mixer:
- Mix the wet and the dry ingredients as well as you can.
- Start kneading the dough and do it for at least 10 minutes or until the dough is elastic and doesn't stick anymore.
Kneading with the stand mixer:
- Using a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook makes life so much easier.
- Sift the flour into the mixer's bowl, add the egg yolks mixed with the lukewarm milk and the activated yeast.
- If using instant dry yeast, mix that with the flour and only add the egg yolk mixture to the flour.
- Knead the dough for about 5 minutes, it will be very stiff at the beginning, but it will get softer in the end.
- Add the icing sugar, one tablespoon at a time, with the mixer kneading continuously between the additions. Knead for about 4-5 minutes more. The dough will become softer now.
- Start adding the oil, slowly and keep kneading until the dough is elastic and doesn't stick anymore about 5 more minutes.
- Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and cover well with plastic wrap. Leave to rise in a warm place for about 1 hour and 30 minutes. If your kitchen is not warm enough, place the bowl in the oven and turn on the oven light. Just the oven light, not the oven.
Fillings for cozonac:
- The quantities required by this cozonac recipe are for two loaves. If you only want to make one sweet bread, halve the quantities.
- Also, the required ingredients for each filling in the recipe card are enough to fill both loaves of bread. If you want to make one bread filled with nuts and one filled with dried fruit, halve both filling recipes.
- The most common filling is the walnut and egg white filling, it is the only filling my grandma ever made, she was not adventurous or curious in her cooking or baking.
- Dried fruit: a mixture of raisins, candied cherries, currants, even dates or figs. Lemon and/or orange peel can also be used, just make sure that you like them, they are not popular with many people and definitely not with kids.
- Other nuts: hazelnuts, almonds or a mixture of different ground nuts.
- Cocoa: many people add 1 tablespoon of unsweetened cocoa powder to the nut filling. It makes the filling darker and gives it a slight chocolate touch. Do use cocoa, if you wish.
How to form a cozonac?
There are two ways to form a cozonac, you can roll it (like my grandmother used to do) or you can braid it. Brading the cozonac is easy, so give it a try, the sweet bread loaves are prettier if formed this way.
- Divide the dough in two.
- Roll one piece of dough on a lightly oiled surface, about 30 cm/ 12 inches long, 40 cm/ 16 inches wide and 3-4 mm/ 0.13 inch thick.
- Spread half of the filling on top and carefully roll the dough into a thick sausage starting from the shorter side closer to you.
- If the filling comes out a little around the edges, try to clean that as good as you can manage.
- Place in one of the buttered loaf pans and repeat with the second piece of dough.
- Divide the dough into four equal parts.
- Roll one piece on a lightly oiled surface about 30 cm/ 12 inches long, 20 cm/ 8 inches wide and 3-4 mm/ 0.13 inch thick.
- Spread ¼ of the filling on top and roll carefully starting from the longer left side. Repeat with a second dough piece.
- Braid the two sausages together and place them in the prepared loaf pan.
- Repeat with the remaining dough portions.
Rise and bake:
- Cover the pieces of bread with kitchen towels and let rise in a warm place for about 1 hour and 15 minutes or until nicely risen.
- During the last 15 minutes of the rising time, preheat the oven.
- Place a small pan of water on the bottom of the oven. The steam will make the crust of cozonaci softer and nicer.
- Brush the Romanian bread with the egg wash just before placing them in the oven. You can even sprinkle them with a little granulated sugar if you wish.
- Bake for 15 minutes, then remove the pan of water from the oven.
- Bake for another 15 minutes and check the color of the crust. It should be golden brown by now.
- Loosely cover them with aluminum foil to prevent the crust from getting too dark and too dry.
- Bake for another 30 minutes (a total of 1 hour) until the cozonaci are baked through.
- Let rest in the tins for about 10-15 minutes. Transfer to wire racks and let cool completely.
- It is a good idea to turn the pieces of bread every 10-15 minutes or so on the wire racks. They are very soft and they might get squashed if they spend all the cooling time lying on only one side. Turning them a few times in between will make sure that they keep a nice form.
How to store?
- The Romanian sweet bread should be kept wrapped in clean kitchen towels and then placed in a plastic bag, this way they will be fine for about 4 days, getting drier towards the end of this time.
- It is preferable to be kept in a cooler place, but not the refrigerator.
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Romanian Sweet Bread with Walnuts – Cozonac
- 500 g all-purpose flour 1.1 lb/ 4 cups + 2 tablespoon
- 2 ¼ teaspoons active dry yeast 7 g/ 0.2 oz (Note 2)
- 200 ml lukewarm milk 6.7 fl.oz/ ¾ cup + 2 tablespoons
- 4 egg yolks keep 3 egg whites to make the filling
- ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1 tablespoon rum or a few drops rum aroma optional
- 125 g icing sugar 4.4 oz/ 1 cup
- 100 ml vegetable oil canola, 3.4 fl.oz/ ⅓ cup + 2 tablespoons
- Filling enough for 2 breads:
- 3 egg whites
- 100 g granulated sugar 3.5 oz/ ½ cup
- 1 tablespoon rum or rum aroma optional
- 120 g ground walnuts 4.2 oz/ 1 cup
- Dried fruit filling enough for 2 breads:
- 300 g dried fruit 10.6 oz, like raisins, currants, cherries, cranberries, lemon or orange peel (not too much of those two), etc.
- Egg wash:
- 1 egg
- 2 tablespoons milk
- Proof yeast: Mix the active dry yeast with 1 tablespoon granulated sugar and add about 50 ml/ 2 fl.oz/ ¼ cup of the lukewarm milk. Stir well and let stand for about 10-15 minutes until frothy. If using fresh or instant yeast, please read the notes.
- Mix the egg yolk and salt using a fork. Add the remaining lukewarm milk and the rum or rum aroma (if using) and set aside.
- Knead: Place the flour in the bowl of a stand mixer or kitchen machine. Add the egg-milk mixture and the activated yeast. Knead for 5 minutes. The dough will be stiff at this point.Slowly add the icing sugar, one tablespoon at a time, while the mixer is kneading. Knead for another 4-5 minutes. The dough will become softer after adding the sugar.Slowly, start adding the oil as well. Knead for another 5 minutes or so until the dough is elastic.
- Let rise: Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with cling film/plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place for about 1 hour and 30 minutes or until doubled in size.
- Walnut filling: Whisk 3 egg whites until stiff. Slowly add the sugar and the rum (if using) and continue whisking until the mixture is stiff again. Very carefully fold the ground walnuts into the egg white mixture, do not over mix.
- Alternative filling: Chop and mix 300 g/ 10.6 oz dried fruit, like raisins, currants, cherries, cranberries, lemon or orange peel (not too much of those two) and so on. This amount will be enough for both loaves of bread. If you only want to fill one piece of bread with dried fruit, halve the amount of fruit.
- Fill: Spread the filling on the rolled dough and form the loaves of bread, either rolled or braided.
- Form loaves:
- Butter two loaf pans, about 24 cm/ 9.5 inches long and 11 cm/ 4.3 wide (a little more or less is fine).
- Rolled loaves: Divide the dough in two. Roll one piece on a lightly oiled surface, about 30 cm/ 12 inches long, 40 cm/ 16 inches wide and 3-4 mm/ 0.13 inch thick.Spread half of the filling on top and carefully roll the dough into a thick sausage starting from the shorter side closer to you. Place in one of the loaf pans and repeat with the second piece of dough.
- Braided loaves: Divide the dough into four equal parts. Roll one piece on a lightly oiled surface about 30 cm/ 12 inches long, 20 cm/ 8 inches wide and 3-4 mm/ 0.13 inch thick.Spread ¼ of the filling on top and roll carefully, starting from the longer left side. Repeat with a second dough piece.Braid the two sausages together and place them in the prepared loaf pan. Repeat with the remaining dough portions.
- Let rise: Cover the loaves of bread with kitchen towels and let rise in a warm place for about 1 hour and 15 minutes or until nicely risen.
- Preheat: During the last 15 minutes of the rising time, preheat the oven to 160 degrees Celsius/ 320 degrees Fahrenheit. Place a small pan with water on the bottom of the oven.
- Egg wash: Mix the egg and the milk. Brush the bread with this mixture and place it in the oven immediately after brushing.
- Bake: After 15 minutes, remove the small pan with the water. Continue baking the bread for 45 minutes or until cooked through.
- Check after 20-30 minutes and lightly cover the bread with aluminum foil. If they are already brown, they probably will be.
- Cool: Remove from the oven and let stand in the pans for 15 minutes. Remove and let cool entirely on wire racks, turning them on another side every 15 minutes or so, so that they retain a nice form.
- Always use a digital kitchen scale in baking; it ensures the best results (Amazon affiliate link).
- You can use the same amount of instant dry yeast. Just mix it with the flour without activating and proceed with the recipe.
- You can use 30 g/ 1 oz fresh yeast. Stir it with 1 tablespoon granulated sugar until liquid. Add about 50 ml/ 2 fl. oz/ ¼ cup of the lukewarm milk and stir well. Let stand for 10-15 minutes until frothy. Add to the flour together with the egg mixture.