My husband grew up in Romania, and it’s been fun for me to try and recreate some of his favorite Romanian dishes from time to time. This year for Easter, I tackled cozonac, a traditional Easter and Christmas treat. When we lived in the East coast, we could go to the store and buy a cozonac, but here in Colorado, it doesn’t appear to be available. No problem!
Let me first say this recipe is neither quick nor healthy. I made no efforts to healthify this recipe, despite the fact that it is rich in butter and sugar – we were going for authenticity! And for a once a year treat, it’s worth it to go the whole nine yards. I didn’t want to mess with the original, and it was fun to do something out of the ordinary for me.
It’s not hard to imagine why Romanians (or anyone else) would adore cozonac. Imagine a sweet eggy bread (similar to challah) with a filing of ground nuts, cocoa, sugar, orange zest and a good dose of rum. Sounds good, no? I’ve always loved making yeast breads because it’s such a fun process and I love braiding them into pretty shapes.
I found a great recipe and description from a blog called Home Cooking in Montana which I followed almost exactly. The only changes I made were to reduce the amount of filling slightly to account for the amount of nuts I had on hand, and to reduce the orange flavor because my husband doesn’t like it too citrusy. I also don’t use an electric mixer, so you’ll see mine is a “manual” version. If you’ve got a mixer, check out the original recipe for her method.
To Ellie, the author, thank you so much for the incredible recipe and for the smile it brought to my husband’s face!
For the filling:2/3 cup skim milk( you could probably get away with 2%) 1/2 cup sugar
8 oz ground walnuts(or a mixture of nuts, I used 6 oz walnuts and 2 oz almonds)1/4 cup rum or 1 tablespoon rum extract (I used extract) 1/2 teaspoon instant coffee or espresso 1/4 cup cocoa
1. In a saucepan, combine the sugar and milk until it dissolves, then add the nuts. Cook and stir every few minutes while it gets thicker. I cooked it for 15 minutes at a low boil.
2. Add remaining ingredients and stir. Cook until the mixture is paste-like in thickness. Mine took about 5 more minutes.
3. Divide mixture equally into 2 bowls and set aside to cool. It will thicken even more.
For the bread dough:1 cup milk 6 oz salted butter (1 and 1/2 sticks) 3/4 cup sugar
3 eggs, beaten1 tablespoon rum extract or vanilla (or both!) 1 teaspoon orange zest
5 cups bread flour1 packet yeast (normal or rapid rise is fine) Additional: 1 beaten egg to brush the tops of the loaves
1. Prepare two loaf pans by lining the bottom with a piece of buttered parchment paper. Also butter the ends of the pan where the paper doesn’t cover. (I only have one loaf pan, so I did one loaf on a cookie sheet, on a piece of buttered parchment.)
2. In a saucepan, heat the milk, butter and sugar to combine, then cool until just barely warm. Add beaten eggs, rum/vanilla extracts, and orange zest.
3. In a large mixing bowl, combine 2 cups flour with the yeast. Add the wet ingredients and stir for a few minutes to combine. Gradually add additional flour until mixture becomes too firm to stir with a spoon. Then, transfer to countertop and knead by hand for 8 minutes, adding additional flour as needed to keep it from sticking to your hands.
4. Place dough in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap or a damp towel and place somewhere warm to rise for 1.5 to 2 hours. (I turn my oven on for just a minute, then turn it off, then put the dough in there).
5. Oil your counter top and scoop the dough onto it. Cut it into two pieces (one for each loaf). The simplest way to shape this is to roll out each piece into a rectangle, spread it with the filling, and roll up like a jelly roll. When you slice the loaf you have a nice spiral of filling in each slice.
I rolled mine out and separated the dough for each loaf into two long, thin rectangles. Then I spread the filling on each piece (see photo) and rolled it up, making two ropes, which I twisted together. Have fun with it. It will taste good even if it looks wonky and even leaking out filling looks delicious! Place the formed loaves into the loaf pans (or on the cookie sheet) and place back in your warm spot to rise for another hour.6. Baking time at last! Brush the tops of loaves with beaten egg and bake in a preheated 375 oven for 10 minutes. Then cover loosely with tin foil and bake another 30-35 minutes, or until nicely browned all over and you can’t resist the smell any longer! Let cool slightly, then remove from pans.
You can save them by cooling completely, wrapping well in plastic and freezing. But let’s be honest, you won’t have any trouble getting rid of them!
And everyone probably wants to know, did I eat them? After all I just posted my food rules, which don’t exactly coincide with butter and sugar laden cakes! I did have a small piece, but just a couple bites. For me, the best part was the process of making it and seeing how happy it made my husband. He told me it was as good as any cozonac he remembered eating.
Rupert wanted some too….