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Romanian Traditional Sweet Bread With Walnuts- Cozonac

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Romanian Traditional Sweet Bread With Walnuts- Cozonac is a recipe that is made every year for the holidays. Flour, sugar, eggs, milk and yeast are the main ingredients.

Romanian Traditional Sweet Bread With Walnuts- slices on a Christmas plate

Romanian Traditional Sweet Bread With Walnuts- Cozonac

What is Cozonac?

Cozonac is a sweet bread, into which milk, yeast, eggs, sugar, butter and other ingredients are mixed together and allowed to rise before baking.

Pretty much every European country, from Portugal to Spain to England, Italy, Greece or Romania, has a version of sweet, beautiful Christmas or Easter bread that is made mostly for these celebrations. It just doesn’t feel like Christmas or Easter without it.

In Italy is called Panettone, Greeks have Tsoureki, Slovenians have Potica, Germans have Stollen etc. 

This Romanian rich yeast bread tastes like the Italian Panettone,  but is a little bit denser and usually has a filling inside.

There are dozens of variations of the recipe. Some have a walnuts or  poppy seed filling, some have raisins or other dried fruits in the bread dough, like in the picture below.

Romanian Traditional Sweet Bread with candied fruits

The variations seem to be endless, but the results are always spectacular.

Romania is predominantly Christian Orthodox and despite the 50 years of communism that ended in 1989 with a revolution, the traditions are still very strong.

I grew up eating this bread every year and every holiday. Christmas or Easter, this bread was on our tables.

Even today, the bread is made in almost every household and if you don’t know how to make it, you might still have a grandmother, mother or aunt who would bake it for you.

If you don’t have anybody to bake, you can buy it. Around the holidays, this bread is available in all bakeries.

Romanian Traditional Sweet Bread With Walnuts- two loaves of sweet bread slices on a wooden board

Each household has its own recipe and each region of the country makes it differently.

People might argue about which recipe is more authentic than the other, but if you look at the ingredients and how is made, the process is pretty much the same.

What varies is the amount of eggs, sugar or what kind of filling is used.

Romanians are proud to keep the traditions alive and making Cozonac for holidays is a pretty important part of the celebration.

For Easter, they might also make the so called “Pasca”, which is the same sweet yeast bread, but filled with Farmer cheese and raisins.

Easter table with glasses, flowers in a vase, colored eggs in a bowl and slices of sweet bread on a white golden plate

The dough is baked in a round shape and the cheese is placed in the middle, like in my picture here.

Sweet bread with cheese- an Easter round bread

Isn’t that beatiful?

For this post, I chose a classic recipe of the sweet bread filled with walnuts, something you might find in most Romanian households.

Romanian Traditional Sweet Bread With Walnuts- slices of bread on a Christmas plate

My grandmother used to make multiple loaves of this slightly sweet bread for Christmas or Easter. It was a ritual and rules needed to be followed.

This bread is very suitable for gifting and this is what she used to do around the holidays. In the Orthodox religion, people honor and remember ancestors by giving food away.

This is done various times a year, but especially around the holidays, people would gift food to the less fortunate, who might not be able to afford much around that time. 

My grandmother would put together plates filled with food that she made for the holidays.

It was maybe a slice of this delicious bread, perhaps 4-5 stuffed cabbage rolls(very traditional on Christmas day), few meatballs, slices of Feta cheese, salami, fresh homemade sausages, slices of bread, cookies or other desserts she had available. 

The plates were always accompanied by a glass of wine to celebrate the holidays. It was a wonderful way to make the holidays a little bit easier for these people.

My grandmother’s way of making cozonac:

Getting back to this traditional bread, I remember that my grandma’s kitchen, where the dough was supposed to rise, had to be very warm, so my maternal grandma would wake up very early in the morning and make the fire in that room.

She would gather together the ingredients for the dough and bring them to room temperature. This was one very important step.

The windows were foggy and we, as kids, were kind of banned from getting in and out of the kitchen multiple times.

The drafts of cold air that might disturb the natural process of the rising dough were not allowed.

I am not sure if this was true or not, but my grandmother used to be very adamant about the matter.

The other exhausting step was kneading and beating the dough. She did not have a KitchenAid!

Everything was done by hand, so watching my grandma “beat” the dough was very entertaining and we loved being around!

The only condition was to choose which side of the door we wanted to be, as remember, entering the kitchen door multiple times was frown upon.  

It always smelled so comforting in the kitchen with the aroma of orange/lemon peel, rum , butter and finally baked bread.

A Few observations regarding the process of making Cozonac:

I heard many Romanians complaining that this sweet bread (Cozonac) is hard to make. I had this fear for many years too, until I moved to US and could not find the bread in the store, so I had to make it.

One thing I learned over the years is that indeed, it takes a little bit of time. It is easy for me now, because I don’t have to knead the dough by hand.

 I have a KitchenAid mixer that saved my life in the kitchen on many occasions.

My grandmother used to spend some time on that. She made huge amounts of dough and it was a real work out to make sure the gluten in that dough is developed correctly.

These women knew how the dough should look like in order to obtain a perfect final product. They also took pride on their work. 

Also, the quality of the ingredients matters. Living in US, I like buying organic flour, organic eggs, organic milk. While it is not mandatory to have organic ingredients, make sure you use the best ingredients you can afford.

Weight everything! A kitchen scale is very important, especially when you bake. As I said many times, 500 g of flour is 500 g of flour, while in 2 cups of flour, the amount can vary tremendously.

That can ruin a very good recipe! Measure, measure and measure again!

Bring the ingredients to the room temperature. As my grandmother used to do, having the eggs, butter, flour at  room temperature is extremely important.

Also, make sure you put together the ingredients before you start the recipe. 

There is nothing more frustrating than running around the kitchen while you bake, for little things, or discover that you do not have enough flour, butter, eggs to use in the recipe! Have them all prepared on the kitchen counter.

The dough needs time to rise and the kitchen temperature is very important. 

If the temperature in your kitchen is 72F/22C, the dough will double in size in about 90 minutes.

However, if the temperature is lower, like in my kitchen where is usually colder, around 66-67F/18-19C, it might take about 2-3 hours. If your kitchen is very warm, 76-77F/25C, the dough will rise in about an hour.

Just so you know, the dough also can rise in the fridge 35-40F/2-6C in about 12 hours.

Also, because there are so many recipes out there and you might be tempted to combine recipes or replace ingredients, keep in mind that if you use more sugar and butter in the dough, the rising process might be longer.

Also, if you add too much sugar, you might end up with a dense bread, as sugar and butter inhibit the development of gluten.

How To Make this Romanian Traditional Sweet Bread With Walnuts- Cozonac:

For the filling:

Measure 1/4 rum and place the raisins into the bowl. Set aside until you are ready to make the filling.

Starter: 

Warm up the milk to 110F/44C, add the sugar and mix to dissolve. Add the yeast and set aside in a warm, draught-free place for 5 minutes or until frothy.

Add the lemon rind and vanilla.

Separate the eggs. For the dough, we will use only the yolks. (The egg white will be used to make the filling.)

In a small bowl, mix yolks with the salt. Salt is very important in baking. It enhances the taste of the final product.

Also, in this case, the salt intensifies the color of the yolks and the bread will have a slightly yellow, beautiful color. Set aside.

Meanwhile, sift the flour and place it in a bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Start the mixer on low speed and add egg yolks. 

Kitchenaid bowl filled with flour and egg yolks

Mix slowly, while you start adding the milk mixture.

Kitchen aid bowl and measuring cup filled with milk

You will obtain a very soft, sticky dough. Continue to mix while you add the soft butter, little by little.

Continue to knead on low speed for 6-8 minutes or until the dough is smooth, elastic and not sticky anymore.

Tip: If the mixer gets too hot, stop and let cool for 5-10 minutes, then knead again until you obtain the elastic dough.

Lightly grease a medium bowl with a little bit of oil, add the dough and turn to coat the dough in the oil.

Cover with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm, draught-free place for 1 hour or until doubled in size.(according to the temperature in your kitchen it might take longer)

bowl filled with rising dough

(As you can see in the picture, the dough got a little bit crazy here.) 🙂

Meanwhile, prepare the filling: 

Beat the egg whites frothy, then add the sugar and continue to beat to a soft pick. Fold gently the ground walnuts and the mixture of raisins and rum. 

Brush four loaf pans with melted butter to grease.

Punch the centre of the dough down with your fist and turn onto a lightly oiled surface. Knead for 1-2 minutes or until reduced to its original volume.

Divide the dough into 4 equal portions. Use a lightly oiled rolling pin to roll out a dough portion to a 8×10 inches(20 cm x 25 cm) rectangle.

(My daughter loves doing this part every year.)

Sprinkle a quarter of the filling evenly over the dough. Starting from a long side, roll up the dough to form a log and enclose the filling.

Repeat with the remaining dough portions and filling.

Place each log into a tin. Cover with a slightly damp kitchen towel and set aside in a warm place for 1 hour or until almost doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 350F/180C. 

Brush the tops of the loaves with the whisked egg and sprinkle with the raw sugar. Bake for 20 minutes.

Reduce the temperature to 330F/170C and bake for a further 30 minutes or until cooked through and the loaves sound hollow when tapped on the top.  

Easter eggs in abasket and sweet bread

Your oven could be different, therefore you might need to bake for another 5-10 minutes, or less.

Stand in the tins for 5 minutes before turning onto a wire rack to cool (this will take about 1 hour).

two loaves of sweet bread on wooden board

Serve at room temperature, cut into slices and enjoy!

Yield: 4 loaves

Romanian Traditional Sweet Bread With Walnuts- Cozonac

Romanian Traditional Sweet Bread With Walnuts Cozonac4

Romanian Traditional Sweet Bread With Walnuts- Cozonac is a recipe that is made every year for the holidays. Flour, sugar, eggs, milk and yeast are the main ingredients.

Prep Time 1 hour
Cook Time 50 minutes
Additional Time 2 hours
Total Time 3 hours 50 minutes

Ingredients

For the dough:

  • 2 tablespoons active dry yeast
  • 2 cups/500 ml whole milk
  • 1 1/4 cups/250g granulated sugar
  • 5 egg yolks(reserve the egg whites for the filling)
  • 8 cups/1 kg all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup(250g) unsalted butter room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • Zest from 1 lemon 
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 egg beaten for brushing the loaves
  • 2-3 tablespoons oil for oiling the table surface and the bowl

For the filling:

  • 10 oz/ 300g ground walnuts
  • 5 egg whites
  • 1/4 cup rum or 1 teaspoon rum flavor
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1 cup/200g granulated sugar

Instructions

For the filling: Measure 1/4 cup rum and add the raisins. Set aside until you are ready to make the filling.

Starter: 

  1. Warm up the milk to 110F/44C, add the sugar and mix to dissolve. Add the yeast and set aside in a warm, draught-free place for 5 minutes or until frothy.
  2. Add the lemon rind and vanilla.
  3. Separate the eggs. For the dough, we will use only the yolks. (The egg white will be used to make the filling.)
  4. In a small bowl, mix yolks with the salt. Salt is very important in baking. It enhances the taste of the final product. Also, in this case, the salt intensifies the color of the yolks and the bread will have a slightly yellow, beautiful color. Set aside.
  5. Meanwhile, sift the flour and place it in a bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Start the mixer on low speed and add egg yolks. Mix slowly, while you start adding the milk mixture.
  6. You will obtain a very soft, sticky dough. Continue to mix while you add the soft butter, little by little. Continue to knead on low speed for 6-8 minutes or until the dough is smooth, elastic and not sticky anymore. 

Tip:If the mixer gets too hot, stop and let cool for 5-10 minutes, then knead again until you obtain the elastic dough.

Lightly grease a medium bowl with a little bit of oil, add the dough and turn to coat the dough in the oil. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm, draft-free place for 1 hour or until doubled in size.(according to the temperature in your kitchen it might take longer)

Meanwhile prepare the filling: 

  1. Beat the egg whites frothy, then add the sugar and continue to beat to a soft pick. Fold gently the ground walnuts and the mixture of raisins and rum. 
  2. Brush four loaf pans with melted butter to grease.
  3. Punch the centre of the dough down with your fist and turn onto a lightly oiled surface. Knead for 1-2 minutes or until reduced to its original volume.
  4. Divide the dough into 4 equal portions. Use a lightly oiled rolling pin to roll out a dough portion to a 8x10 inches(20 cm x 25 cm) rectangle.
  5. Sprinkle a quarter of the filling evenly over the dough. Starting from a long side, roll up the dough to form a log and enclose the filling. Repeat with the remaining dough portions and filling.
  6. Place each log into a tin. Cover with a slightly damp kitchen towel and set aside in a warm place for 1 hour or until almost doubled in size.
  7. Preheat the oven to 350F/180C. 
  8. Brush the tops of the loaves with the whisked egg and sprinkle with the raw sugar. Bake for 20 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 330F/170C and bake for a further 30 minutes or until cooked through and the loaves sound hollow when tapped on the top. 
  9. Your oven could be different, therefore you might need to bake for another 5-10 minutes, or less. Stand in the tins for 5 minutes before turning onto a wire rack to cool (this will take about 1 hour).
  10. Serve at room temperature, cut into slices and enjoy!

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Nutrition Information:

Yield:

32

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 218Total Fat: 9gSaturated Fat: 1gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 7gCholesterol: 36mgSodium: 91mgCarbohydrates: 28gFiber: 2gSugar: 2gProtein: 7g

Did you make this recipe?

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Anna-Maija

Sunday 13th of December 2020

Hi!!

Thank you for a very nice recipe!!

I only had one problem and this is not the only time it happened with a cozonac.

I baked it for 90 min or so and it's getting dark on the outside but not cooked on the inside. I covered it with a tin foil.

Do you have any tips on why my cozonacs fail to cook through?

The Bossy Kitchen

Sunday 13th of December 2020

90 minutes is A LOT! However, the bread might be uncooked inside because the oven might be too hot and the outside of the bread cooks faster than the inside. This type of bread is rich in fats and sugar, and the sugar caramelizes faster. The bread catches color quicker and can burn faster.You need to check the temperature of your oven. I personally have an oven thermometer I bought online(very inexpensive) and I keep it inside the oven when I bake.

If the oven is running too high then you may need to turn it down slightly.If you have hot and cold spots inside the oven, you will have to rotate the breads while they bake.

It is a good idea to cover the breads with some foil if they burn on top, but lowering the temperature should also help.

Lison

Thursday 16th of January 2020

I made this recipe yesterday. It was very good, not too sweet. I think I will omit raisins next time because my family didn't really enjoy them and the rum aroma. A couple of things surprised me, the raw filling is very white and more on the batter side ( I maybe didn't whisk the egg whites enough, I use a manual whisk and was having a busy day) than on the paste side, if that makes sense. I usually make my family's poppy seed filled bread, and the filling is cooked on the stove. The dough is sticky. I make bread around 3 times a week (all kinds) by hand. This dough took about 15 minutes to knead, which is pretty quick. I wouldn't recommend it to beginners who want to do it the traditional way. Anyway, great recipe, not too sweet.

The Bossy Kitchen

Friday 17th of January 2020

Hi Lison, Thank you for taking the time to write a review. The dough is sticky at the beginning, but during the kneading process it becomes less and less sticky and more elastic. You know it is done when it doesn't stick to your hands anymore. Sometimes, the kneading process takes a long time because of that and some people smack the dough against the table to insure enough air gets incorporated and the gluten develops. I use my Kitchen aid mixer for the kneading, as this activity made by hand never attracted me. I am glad you liked the fact that it is not sweet. I like it this way too. If you add fillings, the bread becomes sweet enough. We don't need a lot of sugar in our life anyway.:-) Thank you again for visiting.

PaulaG

Thursday 18th of April 2019

I tried this recipe last night and it's just as I remember it as a child! Good job. Do you happen to have the recipe of the cheese filling to use with cozonac?

The Bossy Kitchen

Thursday 18th of April 2019

Hi Paula, So happy to hear you liked the recipe! While I don't have on the blog a recipe for Pasca, made with the cozonac dough, I have this recipe that is an easier version for it. https://www.thebossykitchen.com/easy-romanian-traditional-easter-cheesecake/ I hope it helps. Thank you for visiting and Happy Easter!