There’s no Christmas and Easter in Romania without cozonac ((Romanian pronunciation: [kozoˈnak]). The cozonac is a Romanian rich, sweet bread, often filled with walnut, poppy seed, raisin and/or turkish delight filling. The Romanian cozonac originates from the Russian kulich, which probably originates from the French sweet brioche and so goes on. In the neighbour country of Bulgaria, the same sweet bread is called kozunak.
I have tried many cozonac recipes, since I’m spending time in the kitchen. Many of them were very good, with a special mention for the recipe of the Romanian writer Păstorel Teodoreanu, published for the first time on may 14, 1933. This very complex recipe requires to use no less than 50 eggs per kilogram of flour!
Today, I chose to make a much more simplier recipe, but a very good one. I know it from my Godmother, who received it from her friend Aurora, who … well, it looks like this cozonac recipe was baked in many homes and many families were excited about it. This is a tested recipe that travels on friendship way from house to house, what can more beautiful? It is a simple Kozunak recipe, quick and easy, no problems regarding the labour, but with beautiful results.
As for the fillings, you can use what you like more! Sometimes, I used the poppy seeds filling, which is my favourite, aswell the walnut filling. My family preferes a simple cozonac, filled with small pieces of Turkish delight, as in the picture bellow.
You can also use raisins softened in rum, or some candied orange zest. From the quantities above will result two pieces of cozonac, so you will need two trays with the dimensions L=24 cm (9,5 in), l=11 cm (4,3 in) and h=7 cm (2,8 in).
You cand prepare the dough using any kind of kneading machine, like a stand mixer with the hook attachement or even a bread maker. You can knead the dough by hand, as well, mostly if you want to exercise your arms, because the kneading it will be not an easy job!
1. Boil the milk and sugar. Cool the milk at about 30°C (86°F), you don’t have to use it too hot because it can harm the yeast. For cooling it a little, I put the milk bowl in another one with cold water. Beat the 3 yolks and the whole egg with the pinch of salt. Melt the butter, which it mustn’t be too hot. Now, put in your stand mixer’s bowl, or in your bread maker: the luke warm milk, the beaten eggs, the melted butter, the vanilla extract and the citrus zest. Add now the sifted flour and the dehydrated yeast.
2. Set the mixer or the bread maker to the kneadig program for 15 minutes. The mixer or the bread maker does all the hard work.
3. If you use fresh yeast and / or work the dough by hand, firstly dissolve the yeast with the sugar in small bowl, in a little warm milk, add a little flour and wait for some bubbles.
4. In a roomy bowl, place the sifted flour, make a hole in the middle and add the activated yeast. Then add the milk and sugar boiled and cooled to 30°C(86°F), mixed with the egg and yolks beaten with salt, flavorings, and stir with a wooden spoon to incorporate the liquids into the flour. Attention, the dough is sticky and not very easy to work, just like any other cozonac or sweet brioche dough. Do not add more than two, maximum three tablespoons of flour, otherwise the dough will lose its smoothness.
When you will be sweated, start adding the melted butter, about 1 tablespoon at one time, untill the butter is completely absorbed, and the dough is smooth. The kneading process (by hand) will take you about half an hour. The more you knead it, the more fluffier your cozonac will be! The dough will be soft and should come off the sides of the bowl and your hands, as well. For a properly kneaded cozonac dough, when you take in your hands a small part of it, you should be able to stretch it in a fine, almost transparent pelicula.
Cozonac dough proving
5. No matter how your dough for cozonac is kneaded, by hand, by mixer or your bread maker, once your dough is ready, take a large bowl and grease it with a few drops of oil, shape the dough into a tight ball and place it in it. Cover with plastic wrap and place it in a warm place.
Let the dough rise abour 1:30 – 2 hours, until it doubles in size.
While the dough is rising, we have plenty of time for our filling. In the Ingredient list bellow, I suggested two different fillings. Both of them are very tasty, the poppy seed filling and the walnut filling as well. The poppy seed filling, which is my favourite, is more often used in the western side of Romania (in Transilvania). The walnut filling is the most popular, all over the country.
For the poppy seed filling:
1. Firstly, you have to grind the poppy seed. You can do this using a manual poppy seed grinder, as in the picture bellow.
You can grind the poppy seeds using a high speed electric coffee grinder or even a high speed blender.
2. Put the milk in a pan, on medium heat. Add the ground poppy seed and stir frequently, until it thickens. Let cool.
3. Beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until it forms foam. Gradually add the sugar and beat until soft peaks. Add the beaten egg white in the cooled milk and poppy seed mixture. Add the vanilla and the grated lemon zest, too, and mix well. Set aside until it will be needed.
For the walnut filling:
1. Add your walnuts in a food processor and pulse a few time, until the walnuts are finely ground, then put them in a bowl.
2. Put the milk and the sugar in a pan, on medium heat. Boil until sugar is completely dissolved.
3. Pour the hot milk over the ground walnut in the bowl. Mix well, add the cocoa, the rum, the vanilla extract and the raw egg white.
Mix well and set aside until it will be needed.
Once the dough has risen, divide it into 2 equal parts, for two pieces of cozonac. If you wish to make braided cozonac, divide each part in half. You can use diferrent fillings for each part of the same cozonac, braiding a part with walnut filling with a part filled with Turkish delight. Or you can use the same filling for both parts, braiding it only for a nicer look.
1. Put the dough on slightly oiled work plan (one piece at the time). Flatten the dough by hand or using a rolling pin. Shape the dough in a rectagular shape. If you braid the cozonac, the rectangle shoud have a longer side, about 40 cm (15 in), if not, it has to be about 30 cm (12 in) long.
2. On the flattened dough, distribue ½ of your poppy seed or walnut filling, or some Turkish delight pieces. If you use Turkish delight, don’t use more than 250 grams/cozonac piece, to not overweight the dough. Of course, if you want to braid your cozonac and the dough will be divided into four pieces, the fillings will be divided to four, too. Spread the filling all over the dough, keeping about 1 inch of clean dough all around.
3. Flip two of the clean margins over the filling, then roll the dough with the filling inside.
4. After rolling each part, I put them in two trays with the dimensions L=24 cm (9,5 in), l=11 cm (4,3 in) and h=7 cm (2,8 in), greased with soft butter and lined with baking paper.
5. In the pictures bellow, you can see the shaping of a braided cozonac (with Turkish delight filling).
After filling and rolling the dough, simply braid the two parts.
Then put both the cozonac pieces in the trays, greased and lined with baking paper as shown on step 4.
6. Cover the trays with cozonac with double kitchen towel and place in a warm place to rise until they get close to the tray height. Beat the egg yolk (for finishing) with 2-3 tablespoon of water and brush the surface of the cozonac with a very, very soft brush and the most gentle touch possible.
1. Turn on your oven and set it to 180°C (350°F, gas mark 4). I use to place a thick metal tray (I have an old, small cast iron tray) at the bottom of the oven. Then, I boil a little water and pour it in the preheated tray. This will produce some steam in the oven, that helps a lot the dough to rise beautifully.
2. Bake both they trays with cozonac in the preheated oven at 180°C (350°F, gas mark 4), in a middle position. After 15 minutes, I remove the tray with hot water, allowing the cozonac to finish baking in a dry oven.
3. The dough beeing sweet, plus there’s also smeared with egg, it tends to burn quickly over. So when it is brown enough, I cover the cozonac with baking paper, and I continue baking it until 50 minutes. If you insert a knife blade into a properly baked cozonac, it should come out clean.
4. After being baked, I let them cool in the tray, about 5 minutes. Then, I remove both the cozonacs from their trays and let them cool on a rack for cookies, preferably lying on one side and turn them several times from one side to the other.
How to serve this traditional delicacy?
I don’t cut them until they cool completely, even if they are smelling so good and for sure, the craving is so hard to resist!
I assure you that the finesse of this cozonac worths to the effort of preparation, it is the best possible. To keep it fresh for several days, wrap it in foil after it has cooled completely, it will remain fluffy and soft. In the picture bellow you can see the walnut filling version with its fluffy, delicious section.
Cozonac recipe for Romanian sweet bread roll
- 500 grams unbleached flour plus 1-2 tablespoons in case the dough is not tied enough
- 180 ml milk
- 120 grams fine sugar
- 3 piece yolks 20 grams/pieces
- 1 whole egg 60 grams/piece
- 100 grams butter 82% fat
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 7 grams dehydrated yeast or 20 grams of fresh yeast
- 1 tablespoon lemon zest, grated the zest of 1 large lemon
- 1 tablespoon orange zest, grated the zest of 1 orange
- 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon rum
- 1 piece egg yolk for finishing
Poppy seed filling
- 250 grams poppy seeds ground
- 150 ml milk
- 2 pieces egg whites 50 grams of fresh egg white
- 80 grams sugar
- 1 tablespoons lemon zest, grated
- 350 grams walnut ground
- 100 ml milk
- 200 grams sugar
- 1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa
- 25 ml rum
- 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
- 2 pieces egg whites 50 grams of fresh egg white
- Prepare the dough as described step by step above, and let it rise untill doubles its size.
- Fill the with the desired filling. I suggested two kind of fillings, one of poppy seeds and one of walnut, but you can use candied orange zest, rainsins or small pieces of Turkish delight, too.
- Roll the cozonac with the filling inside, brush it with some egg yolk and bake it at 180 Celsius degrees.
- Let cool before serving. Detailed instructions with step by step pictures, in the text above.