Not so Traditional Cozonac
Every year before Easter, my mom and I get together to make cozonac and to inevitably have an argument about something, it’s our tradition and we have reached a point where before we start working, we have a quick laugh wondering what this year’s argument subject will be.
Cozonac is a sweet bread that’s similar to the babka and it’s made to be served on both Easter and Christmas as a dessert; it’s made from a risen dough (yeast or sourdough) and can be filled with walnuts, cocoa, Turkish delight, raisins, etc.
But we don’t make the traditional cozonac recipe. I mean, we sometimes do, because we like it. What we do make, however, every year on Easter and Christmas is my Grandmother’s recipe of a nut roll that contains more walnut than dough and for this reason the end result is not a puffed up and fluffy loaf, but rather a compact, moist, walnutty and thus, gorgeous one.
My Grandmother came up with this recipe because she was unsatisfied with the general amount of walnut found in regular cozonac; as she used to say: “they were hardly smeared with any”. And so, the smaller, less attractive, yet richer and more delicious cousin of cozonac was born. We didn’t change anything in her recipe and we wouldn’t dare to.
This recipe, like any cozonac recipe, takes a while to make. While it’s not necessarily hard to make, especially if you have a stand mixer with a hook attachment, you will need to give the dough a rest in the fridge for about three hours, so this is not the quickest of desserts to say the least. Because it’s so compact and filled with so much walnut, it keeps really well for a long time. It tastes freshest in its first 5 days, but if stored in an airtight container, wrapped in parchment paper, it will keep for 10 days.
Makes 3 rolls
For the dough:
125ml/1/2 cup full-fat milk
2 Tblsp sugar
25 gr fresh yeast
500gr/2 cups plain flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
200gr/7 oz. unsalted butter
1 Vanilla pod, seeds scraped
Zest from one orange
In a saucepan, heat the milk (do not boil). Remove from the hob and add the sugar, allow to melt. Next, add the yeast and mix well, then leave for 30 minutes. If using a stand mixer with the hook attachment, add the flour, salt, baking soda and mix a little. Add the egg and the butter mixture and mix well. Add the milk mixture, the zest and the vanilla pod seeds and mix on medium until the dough comes together and no longer sticks to the bowl. If mixing by hand, sift the flour with the salt and the baking soda in a very large bowl. Next, make a well in the centre and add the egg, then add one third of the butter and one third of the milk mixture and mix until incorporated. Continue alternating the butter and milk mixture and mixing everything. Next add the zest and the vanilla seeds and mix by hand until the dough no longer sticks to the bowl; it should come together and be quite elastic. Cover with a towel and leave to rise in the fridge for 3 hours, until it has doubled in volume.
For the walnut filling:
500ml/2 cups milk
500gr/7 oz. chopped walnuts
500gr/2 cups sugar
Zest from one lemon
In a saucepan set over low heat, bring the milk to a boil. While hot, pour over the walnuts and mix until well incorporated. Allow to cool to room temperature, add the sugar and the lemon zest and mix just until incorporated.
Assembling the rolls:
A little bit of vegetable oil
Three loaf pans, greased and lined with parchment paper
Egg-wash (one egg whisked with 1 Tbslp milk)
Preheat your oven to 180C/350F. Divide the dough into three equal balls. Grease a very clean surface with a little bit of vegetable oil and roll out the first ball of dough, with the aid of a rolling pin, until you obtain a rectangle of about 30x45cm (11×18 in). Spread one third of the walnut mixture on the rolled dough, leaving a 3 cm border at the top. With your hands, roll the dough from the lower end, folding the sides inwards as you go and making sure the slit is on the bottom when you’re done. Lift the roll off the table and place in your pan. Repeat with the following two, then brush egg-wash on top and sprinkle with sugar. Pop in the oven for 40-60 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.