Cozonac is not only a culinary tradition , but a lesson in history as well. First baked in Ancient Egypt, sweetened with honey and filled with nuts, it soon appealed the Greeks – plakoús, πλακούς – who added raisins and walnuts into its filling. Next, the Romans loved it, adding their own spin to the recipe, dried fruits, and sharing it all over the Roman Empire – Romania included.
NOTE: this recipe makes 4 loaves (and 3 baby ones, please see below). Half it if you want to make less.
The cozonac is a sweet bread with filling, so having a filling is crucial for an all rounded taste.
TIME: preparation alone, between 3 – 4 hrs with baking time (because the cozonac must be allowed to rise twice). To reduce this time you can prepare the nut filling the day before).
The recipe for cozonac consists of two parts:
- the filling (this is a nut filling, but if you are allergic to nuts or prefer not to use nuts, you can skip this part and use 250 g small cut Turkish Delight or plain chocolate spread instead);
- the sweet bread dough.
Nut filling recipe (for 2 loaves):
- 250 ml milk (I used a lactose-free coffee creamer)
- 425 g ground walnuts (TIP: you can put the walnuts in a sandwich bag and roll them over with a rolling pin – please see below)
- 170 g white sugar
- 40 ml rum extract (you can substitute with 10 ml vanilla extract)
- 10 ml lemon extract (or lemon juice)
- 1 Tbsp lemon zest
- 2 Tbsp good cocoa powder (even 3 Tbsp if you love cocoa)
How to prepare the nut filling:
Melt sugar in milk over medium heat.
Add ground walnuts and stir for 10 minutes, until mixture is thickened.
Remove from the heat and add cocoa, rum extract, lemon extract, and lemon zest. Set aside and let it cool.
Sweet bread dough recipe (makes 4 loaves):
- 1 l milk (I used a lactose-free coffee creamer)
- 2 kg white flour
- 12 Tbsp white sugar
- 2 Tbsp lemon zest
- 40 ml rum extract (or use 5ml lemon juice + 10ml Vanilla)
- 6 -9 eggs at room temperature (depending on the size, e.g. 6 XL or 9 small). Use the freshest eggs you can find. The yolks will also give the cozonac, when cooked, a lovely light-yellow tint.
- 300 g butter (at room temperature)
- 1 tsp salt
- 3 packets fast rising dry yeast (3×10 g)
- 1 beaten egg for brushing the top of the loaves (or milk)
TIP: you will need a mixing bowl big enough to accommodate both your fists and still to give you enough space to knead the dough. A big cooking pot can also be used.
Mix butter, 1/2 of the milk and sugar in a saucepan and place it over medium heat until butter is melted and sugar is dissolved. Add the other 1/2 of the milk and let it cool until just warm.
Beat the eggs and blend them in the lukewarm milk mixture. Add lemon zest and rum / vanilla essence. Mixture should be +- 35 Degrees before adding it to the flour (too cool and the yeast will not be activated; too hot and it will kill the yeast).
In a large bowl place the white flour, sprinkle the salt and the dry yeast and give it a little mix. Make a hole in the center, like a well. Add the butter-milk-sugar-egg-essence mixture in this well. Mix with a wooden spoon until all ingredients are blended together – see images below.
Next you need to knead the dough with your fists for about 15 minutes. Knead then fold it over, turn the bowl 180 degrees and repeat. This will get the yeast to work. If the dough sticks to your hands pour a little bit of cooking oil (a teaspoon the most) over your hands and rub them, then knead again.
Just when you are done (15 minutes later) tug the dough in all around turning it into a nice, flat ball, rub a little bit more cooking oil over its top and all around the walls of the bowl. This is important as the dough will rise, you don’t want it to stick to the walls of the bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic and a clean tea towel and place in a warm spot. Allow the dough to rise until double in size. (about 20 – 30min)
Meanwhile, oil and flour your loaf pans and sprinkle your working area with flour. You can feel like a kid again and draw something…
Once the dough doubled in size kneed it down the dough once or twice, then divide it into the number of loaves you decided to make.
Pick one of the balls of dough and, while holding it above the working surface, stretch it a bit. Lay it flat and roll it with the rolling pin until it is about 3-4mm thick. In lengths, it has to be a little bit longer than your cooking pan. With a butter knife divide it in three.
TIP: consider how many loaves you will make and divide the nut filling or the Turkish delight accordingly.
Fill each of the three strips with the fillings desired. Roll each strip, pinch both ends and pinch along the rolled edge. Plait the three rolls together into a loaf. Carefully pick it up and place it in the pan.
Repeat for the remainder loaves.
Place each cozonac into a greased and floured loaf pan, brush with egg or milk and cover with a lightly greased plastic and a clean tea towel.
Allow the loaves to rise for another 20-30 minutes in a warm place.
Switch on the oven at 170 degrees Celsius or 340 Fahrenheit (Gas 3-4).
Bake for about 45 minutes or until light brown.
Set the pans on their side for 5 minutes.
Remove from the pan using a butter knife and then allow the cozonac to cool completely before serving – if you can resist it.
Serve with milk, coffee, tea, ice cream, red wine or with hard boiled egg and spring onion for breakfast!
Merry Christmas! Craciun Fericit!
What about you? What is your favorite Christmas meal?
If you decide to make cozonac using the recipe above, do send me a picture of your cozonac. I would love to post it here!