Ever since I can remember, this day was celebrated in my house by Grandma making this dessert. Traditionally, depending on the specific region you’re from, there are two types of dessert made in remembrance of the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste, whom were persecuted for openly confessing their Christian faith in the year 320.
But let’s get back to the food. The region we’re from celebrates with a soupy dessert made with a pasta-like dough that is shaped into the number 8 (these are usually store-bought) and boiled in water and sugar, then sprinkled with cinnamon, orange zest and walnuts. I didn’t particularly like these growing up, so my Grandma made the Moldavian kind, which is basically a babka dough shaped into eights, that after baking, are covered in crushed walnuts and drizzled with a honey syrup.
I spent Sunday morning with my Mom and my daughter, making the latter kind, following my Grandma’s recipe. And yes, I did have one straight out of the oven, because I really couldn’t wait. But the secret is to drench them in the honey syrup and leave them for a couple of hours to one day, so that they become just a tad soggy and highly delectable.
The recipe is not hard to make, you just need time to leave the dough to rise. Other than that, it’s a breeze. I’ve made this recipe using honey and absolutely no sugar, which I highly recommend, as this dessert is quite the carb bomb and what it really doesn’t need is sugar added to that.
Sfintisori (Moldavian Mucenici)
1 kg/8 cups all-purpose flour
A pinch of salt
4 large free-range eggs
10 Tbsp milk, warm (not boiled)
150g/11 Tbsp butter, melted and at room temperature
1 Vanilla pod, seeds scraped
Zest from one lemon and juice from 1/2 lemon
Zest from one orange
Egg wash made from 1 egg yolk and 1 Tbsp milk
300gr/3 cups walnuts, blitzed in a food processor
9 Tbsp honeyPut the milk in a bowl, add the crumbled yeast, two Tbsp honey and mix until well incorporated. Leave for ten minutes. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the hook attachment, place flour and salt, then add the eggs, one at a time and mix well on medium speed. This can also be done by hand or with a hand-held mixer. Next, add the yeast mixture, the melted butter, vanilla and the citrus zest and mix on medium speed for about ten minutes, until dough is moist and elastic and it pulls away from the sides of the bowl. Alternately, you can do this by hand. Put the dough in a large bowl, cover with a damp kitchen towel and leave to rise for about 2 hours, until it has doubled in volume.
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F. Divide the dough in two (for each of the two baking trays), then divide each part into 15 equal pieces. On a very clean surface, roll each piece of dough with your palms until a long cylinder shape is formed. Twist the cylinder (or not) and roll into an 8 shape. Place on a baking tray covered with parchment paper, brush all over with egg-wash and leave to rise for 30 minutes. Repeat with the second batch and place in the oven for about 25 minutes, until golden brown.
While the Mucenici are baking, make the syrup by combining 7 Tblsp honey with juice from half a lemon in a shallow dish. In another shallow dish, place the walnuts. Remove the Mucenici from the oven and when they are ok to handle, dunk in the syrup, then in the walnuts and place on a serving dish, stacked. Serve with extra honey syrup on the side. Enjoy!