Bake This: Romanian Nut Roll (Cozonac)

March 2024

article & photos by Renata Haidle

Similar in texture and taste to the Italian panettone , cozonac is a traditional Romanian sweet bread that is very popular at Easter, Christmas, and other religious holidays and weddings. Various renditions of it show up in other Central and Eastern European countries. You will find them under names like potica (Slovenia), povitica (Croatia), or babka (Poland).  


For the dough:  

  • - 8 Cups all-purpose flour 
  • - 1 Tablespoon active dry yeast 
  • - 4 egg yolks at room temperature 
  • - 2 Cups whole milk, warm but not hot (95F if using a food thermometer) 
  • - 7 Tablespoons melted butter 
  • - 5 Tablespoons canola oil 
  • - ⅔ Cup sugar 
  • - 1 Tablespoon organic, unwaxed lemon zest 
  • - 1 Tablespoon organic, unwaxed orange zest 
  • - 1 teaspoon rum extract 
  • - 1/2 teaspoon salt 

For the filling: 

  • - 4 egg whites at room temperature 
  • - 1 Cup ground walnuts 
  • - ¼ Cup raisins 
  • - ½ Cup sugar 
  • - 5 Tablespoons cocoa  
  • - 1 teaspoon rum extract 

For the wash: 

  • - 1 egg 
  • - 1 Tablespoon milk 
  • - 2 Tablespoons sugar 

The secret to a successful nut roll (think well-risen, fluffy bread) is a warm kitchen and equally warm ingredients. Make sure the room temperature is at least 75F before you begin. 

Step 1: Dough 

  1. Place the dry yeast, 4 teaspoons of sugar, and 4 Tablespoons of warm milk in a small bowl. Stir gently and set aside. 
  2. In a separate bowl, mix 4 egg yolks with the canola oil and melted butter for 1-2 min. 
  3. Sift the flour in a large bowl. Make a dip in the center and sprinkle the salt. Add the egg mixture gradually and stir. Add the yeast, sugar, and milk mixture when it is incorporated, and keep stirring to form a soft dough.  
  4. Combine the remaining milk with the rum extract, lemon zest, and orange zest. Add to the dough and knead until all the flour is thoroughly incorporated. Adding a bit of oil to your hands will prevent the dough from sticking. Keep kneading until the dough doesn't stick to the bowl or your hands.  
  5. Cover the bowl loosely with a kitchen towel or plastic film, and allow it to proof in a warm space (an oven with the light on works well) until doubled in volume. 

Step 2: Filling 

  1. Whip the egg whites until soft peaks form.  
  2. Add all the other filling ingredients and mix gently, taking care not to destroy the air bubbles. 

Step 3: Assembly 

  1. After the dough has doubled its volume, split it into four equal parts. 
  2. Grease a large, clean surface with some oil, then roll each dough ball into a 10x10” square.  
  3. Add 2-3 tbsp of the filling and spread over the entire area. Roll the dough and set aside. Repeat the process with the remaining dough balls.  
  4. Take two of the rolls and twist them against each other to form a larger roll. Place into a greased baking tray lined with parchment paper. Repeat the process for the remaining two rolls. 
  5. After placing the rolls in trays, let them proof for another 30-45 min in a warm environment. Once again, they should almost double their volume. 

Step 4: Baking 

  1.  Brush the rolls with the egg and milk wash. Sprinkle the sugar on top and bake in a preheated oven at 350F for 35-45 min until a golden-brown crust forms on top.  
  2. Remove from the oven and let them cool for 10-15 min in the baking trays, then remove the rolls and allow them to cool completely on a cooling rack. 

Originally printed in the March 2024 issue of Simply Local Magazine

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