I made this bread while in Romania, doing absolutely everything wrong, and it still came out great. I used this recipe, which has great photos and instructions. My version is little more simple, and it demonstrates that you don’t really need fancy things like measuring cups or even all the ingredients to make a great cozonac.
First, you make the nut filling. The instructions recommended making this the night before and putting it in the fridge, which I did, but then you have to take it out the next day or it’s too cold to spread. I didn’t do that. So either you have too hot filling or too cold, choose your poison. I’d probably just make it the same day, you have to wait for the bread to rise anyway.
10 oz (or about 2 1/2 cups) ground walnuts (or in my case, we didn’t have walnuts so I used peanuts and almonds)
1 cup whole milk
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup rum (or .5 oz rum extract, as I used)
.5 oz vanilla extract
1 tsp orange extract
2 tsp orange peel
1/2 tsp ground espresso
1/4 cup cocoa
I used rum extract and vanilla extra and it’s a very common flavor in sweets in Romania. There’s a certain way the rum extract tastes that is very familiar. I would use real rum if possible, but just know if you use the extract then it’s not entirely different then how the bread will taste in Romania.
In a pan, warm up the milk and sugar until the sugar dissolves. Then add your crushed walnuts (or whatever nuts you are using):
It should reduce quiet a bit, until it’s very bubbly, gooey and not too much liquid left. On low heat it took about 15 minutes, but your time may vary. It should look like this:
Then you add in your cocoa and flavorings, stir it together and continue to cook for a few more minutes. There’s a point where you’re like, “Is it done?” and you’re pushing the sludge around, then it just firms up and there’s no liquid left and you think, “Yup, okay that’s done.” Then you panic a little about not burning it. Then it’s done.
In the end, my filling looked like this:
Put your filling aside because you have bread dough to make! This part will take a few hours because you have to wait for it to rise.
If you don’t have any baking tools, you can still make this. I used a coffee cup and guessed what was about 1 cup. I measured out the flour, milk and sugar, using that cup as my standard (even if it’s wrong, it’s still correct relative to the others).
The original recipe calls for a mixer with a dough hook. Nope. Don’t need it. I mean it would have been nice, but totally not necessary. Here’s what I did:
Get your yeast started by putting it in some hot water (like hot to touch but not scalding). Put it aside.
Warm up the milk, sugar and butter in a sauce pan until the butter melts. Pop it in the freezer to cool it down some. Toss the eggs into a bowl and mix. Add the rum and vanilla extract. Then mix in the milk/sugar/butter mixture you have in the fridge. Add the yeast/water mixture.
Then add your flour one cup at a time and get in there! It’s going to be a mess, but you can just pull and tug at the dough until it starts to take shape.
Eventually you should have something that looks like this:
Cover that dough with a towel, then put it somewhere warm, and wait 1-2 hours for it to double in size. Like this:
You have filling, you have dough. Voila! Now you just have to put them all together. For this recipe, I was trying to braid the dough, so I cut the dough into four parts, two parts for each braid.
Then I put some oil on my hands and stretched the dough out until I had a long flat strip. (You’ll also want to use oil on your counter to stretch it out, and add more if it starts to stick to anything).
It truly does not matter what it looks like, because you’re going to roll it all up. Then you smear on your filling. Well, some people do. Mine is hard as a rock because I just took it out of the fridge, so I just sort of sprinkled it on. It still melts in the oven and no one is the wiser.
The next attempt came out a little better:
After you have your filling spread on more or less evenly-ish, then you just roll it up:
With the two pieces, you can pinch them together on the top and do a loose one-over-the-other braid. Just pick one up, drop it over the other, pick the other up, cross it over.
You can just pop that braided bread into a bread pan, or if you’re like me, you can try to cook it in a big 9 X 11 pan and use the entire batch at once (there were 4 parts of dough, so I made two full braids). I took the braided dough and curled it around itself, then I took the second braid and wrapped it along the edge. Then I beat an egg and washed the top of the whole thing. Done. Good enough:
And all our bad braiding technique is forgiven because no matter what you do, it comes out looking lovely, with fluffy bread, crispy crust and little swirls of chocolate and nuts added in:
It’s sweet but not too sweet. I really love the hint of orange (I might have used way too much orange peel):
The family loved it.
My new holiday bread: