Romanian Cozonac: The Best Treat on Your Festive Table

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A Culinary Delight with A Long History

sliced cozonac

Cozonac is a beautiful festive delight I grew up with as a child in Romania. Each major holiday mom would bake the best treat there could be. Be it Christmas or Easter, our house would smell awesome, 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!

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.

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 used to make a fermented dough sweetened with honey they would bake in ovens, as shown in some wall paintings.

The ancient Greeks also made a 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 the Middle Age Europe, dried fruits would mostly fill the sweet loaves of bread because they would last longer.

In England, there is a mention dating from 1718 of a sweet bread filled with dried fruits and baked in long, thin loaves, which is 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 variations of the recipe.

To any Romanian, the presence of cozonac on each festive dinner table is an absolute must. Although like anything else, it has in recent years become a commodity sold in supermarkets, the majority of Romanian ladies would 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 if you have a nut allergy.

To me, 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!

sliced cozonac

Cozonac

Cozonac is a delicious festive treat with an old tradition in Eastern Europe, who's popularity has long spread around the world!
5 from 10 votes
Prep Time 1 hr
Cook Time 45 mins
Rising time 1 hr 15 mins
Total Time 3 hrs
Course Dessert
Cuisine Romanian
Servings 3 loaves

Ingredients
  

  • 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)

Instructions
 

  • In a bowl mix the egg yolks with salt, yoghurt, orange zest, vanilla 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. 
    ingredient mix
  • 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. 
    sticky dough
  • 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. 
    dough knead
  • 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).
    raised dough
  • 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 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 bake cozonaci

  • Oil the worktop, divide the dough into six equal pieces and let it rest for 10 minutes
    split dough
  • 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, then braid them together and place your first cozonac in a loaf tray coated with parchment.
    braided dough
  • 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 filling.
    tin loaf
  • Preheat the oven to maximum 40°C/104°F, turn the heating off and place all three loaves on racks. Close the oven door and let 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 in 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. 
    ready cozonaci
  • When ready, remove form trays, place the loaves on a rake and let cozonac cool completely before you slice them. 

Notes

The specified quantities for dough make three cozonaci.
Mom usually doubles the quantities for dough and makes both fillings, nuts and poppy seeds. I cannot say which one is better; to me, they are both heavenly!
Keyword Cozonac

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33 Responses

  1. Melinda says:

    5 stars
    I love hearing about others holiday traditions. Beautiful recipe!

  2. Oh my goodness!! Yummy! Thanks for sharing! Looks like a great Christmas time treat

  3. Karine Gareau says:

    5 stars
    This recipe is beautiful! I don’t know whether I’d have the confidence to try it out but it looks absolutely delicious!

  4. Eva says:

    5 stars
    I am from Europe and we bake something very similar here for Christmas dinner. I absolutely love it!

  5. This looks both delicious and beautiful! Can’t wait to try it!

  6. Ally says:

    5 stars
    Yum!! This looks delicious!!

  7. Rachel says:

    We have polish family that makes something similar. We will be trying this! Thank you!

  8. This looks amazing!!!! I’m definitely saving this to try!!!

  9. Tessa says:

    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.

  10. Lexi says:

    Oh wow, I’d never heard of this dish before today, but these look AMAZING!! Thank you for sharing 🙂

  11. Oh this looks like a wonderful tradition! Thankyou for sharing the recipe!

  12. Daphne says:

    This looks like a proper holiday bread! Thx for sharing it.

  13. Sarah says:

    This looks delicious and I love the tradition behind it!

  14. 5 stars
    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!

  15. Rachael says:

    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.

  16. 5 stars
    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.

  17. Sarah Tucker says:

    These are so incredibly lovely! Thank you for sharing this!

  18. Julianne says:

    5 stars
    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!

  19. Josephine says:

    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!

  20. Ann says:

    Oh very interesting! I will bring it to the christmas table this year 🙂

  21. Jenn Summers says:

    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.

  22. 5 stars
    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.

  23. Jeannie says:

    5 stars
    thank you for sharing a bit of history about this bread, it looks really delicious and filling! Especially when sliced the inside is perfect.

  24. Lindsay says:

    5 stars
    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!:))

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