Mucenici (read: Moochaneech), these so traditional Romanian pastries are made only once a year, on March 9th. Every year on this date, the Orthodox Church celebrates the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste (commonly known in Romania as mucenici). The mucenici celebration coincides also with the start of the agricultural year. For this occasion, Romanians (especially in the Moldova region) bake these pastries to honor the event. The pastries are basically made from a yeast dough filled or not with walnuts, baked in the shape of an eight, soaked in a delicious syrup and glazed with honey and more walnuts.
I usually make these pastries without the filling inside(just to cut on calories and sugar), but this time, I tried something different. The dough has a very small amount of sugar, as there is so much honey and syrup in the glaze. The pastries are fluffy, delicious, beautiful and full of flavor.
HOW TO MAKE MUCENICI:
Start by placing lukewarm milk in a medium bowl. Dissolve the yeast and a little bit of sugar in it. Let the mixture rise and bubble for 10-15 minutes.
When that is done, place the flour in a KitchenAid mixer that has a dough hook. Add the yeast mixture, the eggs and the melted butter. Mix on a low speed to incorporate the ingredients. Add the sugar, lemon and orange zest, a little bit of salt and vanilla.
Note: If you do not have a mixer , you can use a bowl to mix all the ingredients and knead the dough by hand.
Knead the dough for about 10 minutes until it becomes smooth, elastic, and does not stick to the bowl or your hands. Oil a clean bowl and also the dough. Place the dough in the bowl and cover it with a clean towel. Let it rise in a warm place for about an hour or until it doubles in size.
HOW TO PREPARE THE WALNUT FILLING:
Add powder sugar and milk to the ground walnuts. Mix well. You should obtain a thick paste. Set aside.
HOW TO FILL THE PASTRY:
When the dough doubled in volume, place it on the working table and flatten it. Split it in equal size pieces, based on how big you want the pastries to be in size. Traditionally, they should be about the size of your palm when done, so I split my dough in about 20 small pieces. Form balls and place them on the table. Cover them with some plastic wrap, so they don’t form a dry crust while you work the pastries.
Grab a piece of dough and form a roll about 7-8 inches long. Flatten the roll with your hands and stretch it with a rolling pin to make it about 10 inches long and 2-3 inches wide. Place a dollop of walnut paste on the entire dough length. Roll the dough inside to cover the walnut filling and form back the roll.
Grab the ends of the roll and bring them together to form a ring. Twist the ring in the middle to form an eight. Shape it nicely to look like the number 8. Place the dough on a parchment paper lined baking tray.
Continue the same way until you finish the dough. Let the pastries rise again for about 20-30 minutes. Brush them with beaten egg and bake them at 350F for about 20 minutes.
HOW TO GLAZE THE PASTRY WITH SYRUP:
When done, they should be golden brown on top. Place the pastries on a cooling rack and while they cool off, prepare the syrup. Mix sugar, water, lemon and orange peel, vanilla pod in a saucepan, bring to a boil and simmer for about 5 minutes. When ready, strain and place the syrup in a big bowl.
Soak each pastry both sides for about 10 seconds each in the hot syrup and place them back on the cooling rack.
To glaze the pastries, you will need to place the honey in the microwave for only 10 seconds, just to make it more fluid. Brush each pastry with the honey and dip the pastry top on the ground walnuts.
Serve. The Mucenici pastries go really well with coffee, or tea, as breakfast or snack.
I made a bunch of them and took them at work for my coworkers. They just loved them! I hope you get in the kitchen and make them too. The pastries are not very difficult to prepare and, oh boy, they look and taste delicious!
- For the dough:
- 4 cups/21.2oz/600g all purpose flour(sifted)
- 2 large eggs
- 1 cup/8fl.oz/250ml whole milk
- ½ stick/1/4 cup/50 g unsalted butter(melted but cool)
- 4 Tablespoons/2.1oz/60g granulated sugar
- 1 lemon zest
- 1 orange zest
- 3 Tablespoons/10g dry yeast
- pinch of salt
- Walnut Filling:
- 2.5 cups/10.5oz/300g ground walnuts
- 7 Tablespoons/1.7oz/50g powder sugar
- 6 Tablespoons/2.7 fl.oz./80 ml whole milk
- 1½cup/10.14fl.oz/300 ml water
- ¾ cups/5.29oz/150 g sugar
- 1 lemon zest
- 1 orange zest
- 1 vanilla pod
- ½cup/7oz/200g honey
- ¾ cup/3.5oz/100g walnuts
- Brushing the pastry: 1 egg beaten
- How to prepare the dough:
- In a little bowl dissolve the yeast in half of the milk. Add a teaspoon of sugar to the mixture. The milk has to be lukewarm, not hot.
- Set aside and let it rise for 15 minutes.
- In a KitchenAid mixer bowl add the sifted flour.
- Start mixing the flour on low speed, using a spiral dough hook attachment. One by one add the yeast, eggs, melted butter, sugar, lemon and orange zest, vanilla and a pinch of salt.
- While the dough is kneaded, add slowly the lukewarm milk until you form a dough.
- Let the machine knead the dough for about 7 to 10 minutes until you obtain a smooth, elastic dough that doesn't stick to the bowl or your hands.
- Place the dough in an oiled bowl and let it rise for an hour or until it doubles in volume.
- When the dough rised, place the dough on the working table and flatten it slightly.
- Cut the dough in 15-20 equal pieces. You can cut it in 8-10 pieces, for bigger size pastries.
- Shape every piece into a ball and if necessary weigh them to make sure they are the same size.
- Place them on the table and cover them with plastic wrap.
- Take one ball, shape it into a roll, flatten it with your hands and stretch it with a roller pin. It should be about 10 inches long and about 2-3 inches wide.
- Add the walnut paste at the edge of the dough, on an even layer and roll it gently to form a roll.
- Bring the ends of the roll together and form a ring. Twist the ring in the middle to form an eight(8).
- Place the pastry on a parchment paper lined baking tray.
- Continue to shape the rest of the dough. When finished, let the pastries rise again on the tray for about 20-30 minutes.
- After the dough is risen, brush them with the beaten egg.
- Bake them 20 minutes at 350F.
- Remove them from the oven and place them on a cooling rack.
- Meanwhile, prepare the syrup by placing the water in a saucepan together with sugar, orange and lemon zest and the vanilla pod. Bring to a boil and simmer the syrup for about 5 minutes.
- Remove the syrup from the stove, strain it and place it in a clean bowl.
- Soak each pastry in the hot syrup for 10 seconds on each side, remove and place them back on the cooling rack.
- Glazing the pastry:
- Place the honey in the microwave for a short 10 seconds to make it more fluid.
- Brush each pastry on the surface with honey and dip them in the ground walnuts.