Romanian Cozonac: The Best Treat on Your Festive Table
A Culinary Delight with A Long History
A Word About Romanian Cozonac
Romanian Cozonac is a beautiful festive delight I grew up with as a child in my country of origin.
Each major holiday mom would bake the best treat there could be. Be it Christmas or Easter, our house would smell wonderful, filled with delightful flavours escaping from the oven. And I would wait impatiently for the festive dinner to finally savour the best treat created by humankind!
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The ladies of Romania, especially in the countryside, would take at least half a day before a holiday to bake lots of cozonaci (plural [cozonach]) for the festive dinner, and mom is still not an exception.
How Cozonac Evolved During the Ages
Based on bread baking and using a raised dough, cozonac (kozunak in Bulgarian, or Panettone in Italian) has seen a long history, going back to pharaohs’ old times.
Apparently, the ancient Egyptians made fermented dough sweetened with honey they would bake in ovens, as shown in some wall paintings.
The ancient Greeks also made honey-sweetened bread they would fill with nuts and call plaukos.
The more advanced and ever so posh Romans have improved the recipe by adding eggs, butter and dried fruits.
In Middle Age Europe, dried fruits would mostly fill the sweet loaves of bread because they lasted longer.
In England, a mention dates from 1718 of a sweet bread filled with dried fruits and baked in long, thin loaves – the shape primarily used today.
In France, the famously infamous Marie Antoinette remained in history with her uninspired advice to the poor to eat brioche if they could not afford bread. The said brioche seems the be our same delight. Unfortunately, she paid with her head for her lack of touch with her country’s harsh reality!
By the nineteenth century, cozonac became a traditional holiday treat around Europe with slight recipe variations.
To any Romanian, the presence of cozonac on each festive dinner table is an absolute must.
In recent years, cozonac, like anything else, has become a commodity sold in supermarkets.
But most Romanian ladies would still bake it at home using different types of filling, from walnuts to poppy seeds, Turkish delight or chocolate. These last three ingredients also make a perfect substitute for nuts for persons with an allergy.
To me, Romanian cozonac is the best festive treat there can be, and I can never get enough of it!
You can offer me the most elaborated sweet made by the most in-demand French pastry chef at a fancy king’s court, and I would always choose cozonac! Nothing beats the aromas that fill the air when you bake it and the taste offered by the combination of spices used in the preparation!
As you get in the holiday spirit, may you have the table filled with goodies and your soul overflowed with goodness and cheerfulness!
- 1 kg plain flour (sieved)
- 4 tbsp coconut sugar (spoonfuls)
- 600 ml (2½ cups) milk (tepid)
- 2 tbsp youghurt (at room temperature)
- 100 g (½ cup when melted) butter (melted and tepid, not hot)
- 140 ml (⅔ cup) sunflour oil (tepid)
- 3 egg yolks
- 20 g (5 rounded tsp) dried yeast
- 1 orange zest
- 1 pod vanilla
- ¼ tsp saffron/turmeric (for colour)
- ½ tsp salt
For the nut filling
- 700 g (7⅓ cups) walnuts
- 100 g (⅔ cup) raisins
- 1 vial rum oil essence
- 7 tbsp coconut sugar
- 2 tbsp cocoa powder
- 1 tbsp cinnamon (ground)
- 1 tsp clove (ground)
- 1 orange zest
- 3 egg whites (whisked stiff)
Alternative poppy seeds filling
- 600 g (4¼ cups) poppy seeds (ground)
- 6 tbsp coconut sugar
- 1 tbsp cinnamon (ground)
- 1 ornge zest
- 1 vial rum oil essence
- 3 egg whites (whisked stiff)
- Mix the egg yolks with salt, yoghurt, orange zest, vanilla in a bowl, and leave it aside. Heat the milk in a pan and pour a part of it over the above mix.
- The other part goes in another bowl over the yeast mixed with sugar. Allow 10-15 min to activate the yeast, preferably in a warm place.
- Place the flour in a large bowl and add the wet ingredients. Knead with one hand. The dough might be soft and sticky at first, but do not add extra flour! As you knead it, the consistency will change.
- Add the tepid butter mixed with oil little by little and keep kneading.
- When the oil is absorbed, you can move the dough on a floured worktop and continue to knead. The whole kneading process should take approximately 20-30 minutes.
- Place the dough back into the large bowl, cover it with a dry kitchen towel and let it rise until the volume doubles, preferably in a preheat oven to 40°C (104°F).
- Importantly, before you cover the dough, you should make a cross sign over it. Believe it or not, it will make your dough rise – so say all the Romanian, Italian or Balkan lady bakers. Since I only made cozonac once in my life and a long time ago, I don't remember if I respected this tradition/superstition. To me, all baking and cooking ingredients, in general, are chemical compounds that produce a chemical reaction at a temperature and mix nicely to result in the food we eat. Try to convince a granny, especially one who lives in the countryside, that cooking is biochemistry! It's way easier to cross the dough and spare a long scientific debate that will not convince the granny in the least! This year, I baked with mom and had fun when we got to this point in preparation, but she still respected the tradition!
Method for the nut filling (makes three cozonaci)
- While the dough rises, prepare the filling by mixing well the dry ingredients.
- Separately, whisk the egg whites until stiff, then incorporate spoon by spoon into the dry mix until obtaining a thick paste.
Method for the poppy seeds filling (makes three cozonaci)
- Place the ground poppy seeds in a pan and cover them with milk.
- Place the pan over medium heat and mix continuously until the poppy seeds absorb the milk.
- Add the sugar, orange zest, cinnamon and rum essence and keep stirring until the ingredients incorporate nicely.
- Remove the pan from the heat and let the content cool before use.
Method for filling and baking cozonaci
- Oil the worktop, divide the dough into six equal pieces and let it rest for 10 minutes.
- Using your hands, spread each part at a time in a rectangular shape and cover it evenly with 2-3 spoonfuls of the walnut mix, leaving the edges free.
- Roll it and leave it on the side.
- Repeat the process with a second piece, braid them together and place your first cozonac in a loaf tray coated with parchment.
- Because the dough is elastic, you can pull or tuck it to adjust to the tray size.
- Repeat the process with the rest of the dough pieces and nut/poppy seeds filling.
- Preheat the oven to a maximum of 40°C/104°F, turn the heating off and place all three loaves on racks. Close the oven door and let the cozonac rise for about 20 minutes.
- Remove the trays from the oven.
- Beat an egg and use a brush to coat the entire surface, then sprinkle a little bit of sugar evenly.
- Place all three trays back in the oven on the same rack so that they are positioned right in the middle, but leave some space between them to allow hot air to reach the trays evenly.
- Heat the oven to 130°C/266°F at first, for about 10-15minutes, then increase the temperature to no more than160°C/320°F (fan oven) and let the cozonaci bake for another 45 minutes until they turn golden brown.
- When ready, remove from trays, place the loaves on a rake and let cozonac cool completely before you slice them.
Thank you for sharing the history of Romanian Cozonac Christmas bread. I love learning the history behind certain recipes. It’s fun to spend time on your blog. It’s like taking a mini-vacation from my work desk. 🙂
Aw, thank you! Yes, cozonac has a long history and I believe will have a long future, provided the young will learn how to bake it rather than waiting for mom to do that, LOL!
Love all of your instructions and total step by step that is so super helpful to see. And no wonder it’s so good these ingredients are delicious!!!
There is no better dessert to me, and I have a massive sweet tooth! You will understand me when you make cozonac😄
thanks for sharing the history behind this recipe. it was really tasty! we loved it
What a lovely picture you painted! I can just imagine all the ladies of Romania making these delicious breads! Wonderful recipe!
This looks awesome! I can see the freshness in it. Can’t wait to taste and share with my family. Thanks!:)
I love making bread with fillings like this. All the spices amaze me with how well they go together for great flavor. And, this is such a pretty bread to slice.
tasty recipe – thanks for the easy instructions
I love to learn about all the different treats of Europe especially, being Italian decent we always had Panettone & Crostoli… & yes always cross the Bread…LOL
Must not forget, LOL!
I love learning about dishes from other cultures – this bread is beautiful!
I’ve always been in awe of people who bake gorgeous bread like this. You’re step by step photos make me confident that I would be able to make this as well!
I am certain that you can bake cozonac perfectly on the first try! That’s its beauty: it seems complicated, but it is very simple to bake it. Good luck; let me know how it turns out!
This sweet bread has my name written all over it. I love how tasty it looks. Cannot wait to make this.
I hope you do and truly taste the fantastic flavours of cozonac!
This is such a beautiful bread! I may try making it this week at school if I have a spare moment.
That would be great, Cindy!
This looks amazing! I love the story that goes with the bread. Its so neat to look at the history of where the food came from. I love your website and all the different types of dishes from around the world!
Thank you, I appreciate it!
I shouldn’t have read this while I am hungry. This sounds amazing! Although I’m not sure where to find coconut SUGAR? Must look this up, because now I need to try this.
This is one place: https://amzn.to/3rsyPSY, or Costco. In the UK I found it in TK Maxx if it helps
I love your website. Full of tantalising goodies.
Thanks, I try:))
Thank you for sharing the story behind this lovely bread. I love learning about traditional foods across the world.
Love the history behind it, thank you for sharing it. Love to make as I love all that has nuts and raisins fillings.
If I cannot find coconut sugar, what can I substitute it with?
Thank you for sharing
https://amzn.to/3rsyPSY try here. I have used it for a long time now after having tried a few alternatives. Molasses – not crazy about the taste, and the cakes are way too dark. Stevia – all good until I read about the producing process (there was something I didn’t like, although I don’t remember what right now). Chemical sweeteners are a no-no, although preferred by slimming programmes. I settled with coconut sugar because it is produced in the cleanest way possible (not from the fruit, though, but from sap, and not much refining). I hope this helps!
I was born and raised in Romania, so this recipe is pretty familiar to me. My mom used to make Cozonac every Christmas (and for Easter too), and because she was good at it the whole family asked her to make Cozonac for them too. I remember how hard worked, so I promised myself I’ll never learn how to make Cozonac, hahaha! However, since she passed away, I never tasted real, good Cozonac, so I may have to learn to bake it.
Anda, I get you, and I am so sorry your mom is not with you anymore:( If you ever consider giving cozonac a try, you would be amazed how easy they are to make. just think that the most time takes the… resting time!:))
Oh wow! I canot wait to make this recipe. I love traditional Christmas breads like this and the ingredients for the nut fillings look enticing.
It does, have a go and you’ll love it:)
This cake/bread looks so festive and yummy! I find it so interesting that there are similar recipes across the entire European continent. Another proof that the national borders are just a (relatively) modern invention and that the people living in different nations are more similar to one another than some would want to believe.
Absolutely correct! We move around the world too much and migrate on occasions multiple times to pay attention to nonsense! It is nice, though, that we take our traditions with us and offer others a glimpse of our origins:) I have friends that were told to go back to their country just because some stupid ass heard them speaking another language. I ALWAYS talk in another language(s) (because I can!) and can’t wait for the first stupid ass to tell me to go back to my country! They can’t even dream what’s coming their way! I am a Scorpio; I can spew educated poison when stupid asses step on my tail – although I never had the chance in the past 20 years; it must show on my face that they shouldn’t mess with me! LOL
What a beautiful loaf of bread. Thank you for including photos in the instructions. I always wondered how these types of breads were made.
It is a lot simpler than it looks; I hope you’ll try it if you have the chance!:)
This bread sounds amazing and with all those fruits, nuts, and spices inside. Loved reading the history behind this recipe.
This is perfect for the holidays!
Looks fabulous! I saved the recipe to make it during the holidays. Thanks!
This looks amazing!
I love finding new recipes and learning new things! Can’t wait to try it!
I’m sure you’ll have fun with your little helper!:)
Can’t wait to try this for upcoming holidays
This was so good! Making again for the holidays.
The instructions were great, sometimes breads like this can be intimidating!
They can be, it’s true. I was pleasantly surprised to be successful on the first try and then it just became routine:)
Wow! This was delicious! I loved how easy it was to make!
I love hearing about others holiday traditions. Beautiful recipe!
Oh my goodness!! Yummy! Thanks for sharing! Looks like a great Christmas time treat
This recipe is beautiful! I don’t know whether I’d have the confidence to try it out but it looks absolutely delicious!
You should try it. It might sound complicated, but it is not. If I could make it, anyone could!
I am from Europe and we bake something very similar here for Christmas dinner. I absolutely love it!
This looks both delicious and beautiful! Can’t wait to try it!
Yum!! This looks delicious!!
We have polish family that makes something similar. We will be trying this! Thank you!
This looks amazing!!!! I’m definitely saving this to try!!!
I’m always looking for a new holiday recipe. Being the one of the younger sibling everybody already had assigned dishes so I have to earn my way in with new dishes.
I hope you chose this cozonac recipe then and make it a successful one!
Oh wow, I’d never heard of this dish before today, but these look AMAZING!! Thank you for sharing 🙂
Oh this looks like a wonderful tradition! Thankyou for sharing the recipe!
This looks like a proper holiday bread! Thx for sharing it.
This looks delicious and I love the tradition behind it!
Such a delicious holiday bread. It looks really pretty with the twists and swirls. The filling sounds amazing and no doubt I am sure the smell while baking is divine!
These look and sound amazing! I had no idea that Romania had their own version of panettone! I am adding this to our Christmas baking list.
Perhaps the Italians have their own version of cozonac! Haha
Oh my goodness does this bread over look good! I’ve never wanted to bake something so badly in my life! I can just imagine the intoxicating smell of this baking. I love that you include the history behind the foods you make and I love that this recipe is attached to wonderful holiday memories for you.
Intoxicating indeed! Is sheer punishment having to wait until cozonac is cool enough to cut!
These are so incredibly lovely! Thank you for sharing this!
Yum! This sounds amazing. I love your beautiful description of it as well – I feel like I can taste all the delicious history of this treat. Thank you for sharing!
This bread sounds like something special. I love the step by step pictures. As when you somethings especially when trying something new you can be unsure if what your are doing is right or should look like this!
Oh very interesting! I will bring it to the christmas table this year 🙂
I’m allergic to nuts so I will drop those from the recipe. This looks so delicious and absolutely beautiful. My girls have been hassling me to bake some bread. I bet I will shock their socks off with this one! Thank you for the awesome recipe.
Turkish delight or cacao powder mixed with some sugar a little milk make the perfect replacement for nuts. I hope you’ll have fun making and eating it!
I’m so excited to finally get your recipe for Cozonac! I love bread that’s filled with nuts and dried fruits, and the orange and rum oil would make it even better! I have been experimenting trying traditional Christmas breads from around the world, and I’m looking forward to making this my next venture.
I’m happy too that it’s finally here. This was just a little tryout. I can’t wait for Christmas!
thank you for sharing a bit of history about this bread, it looks really delicious and filling! Especially when sliced the inside is perfect.
This recipe is so beautiful and it sounds like such a wonderful tradition to make for the holidays! My family made something that goes by various names, nut roll, kolache or Pittsburgh nut roll! We always gathered up all the women in the family and made enough for an army! Love that cinnamon nut holiday flavor! I’m working on a keto version now so I don’t have to miss out!
Mom makes cozonac for an army too, only that a few people get to devour it! I hope a keto version works; if it does, you should post it. I’ll send it to the younger generations of Romania; I doubt the grannies would give a damn!:))
Love the way this bread is swirled – makes it so pretty! One question – how much is in the vial of essence? Thanks!
4 ml, or about a tiny teaspoon. I use different flavours for every single cake I make. It is plant-bases and very concentrated, the smell around the house when I bake brings my neighbours out in the adjacent garden for a chat (and share, normally!)