Romanian Christmas Cozonac
Cozonac (Romanian pronunciation: [kozoˈnak]) is a traditional Romanianand Bulgarian sweet bread. It is usually prepared for Easter in Bulgaria, and mostly for every major holiday (Christmas, Easter, New Year, Pentecost) in Romania. A similar dessert can be found in the Italian cuisine, panettone.
Cozonac is a sweet bread, to which milk, sugar, eggs, butter and raisins are added. In Bulgaria, the cozonac is prepared by adding lemon zest to the dough mixture, just as the Romanian version. The Italian Panettone is very similar to the basic cozonac, the most visible difference being their shapes.
In Romania, the recipes differ rather significantly between regions in what concerns the trimmings. The dough is essentially similar throughout the country: a plain sweet bread made with flour, eggs, milk, butter, sugar and salt. Depending on the region, one may add to it any of the following: raisins, lokum, grated orange or lemon rind, walnuts or hazelnuts, vanilla or rum flavour. Cozonac may be sprinkled with poppy seeds on top. Other styles dictate the use of a filling, usually a ground walnut mix, ground poppy seeds mixture, cocoa powder, rum essence and raisins. The dough is rolled flat with a pin, the filling is spread and the whole is rolled back into a shape vaguely resembling a pinwheel. In the baked product the filling forms a swirl adding to the character of the bread.
It’s possible that the first cozonac has been made in ancient Egypt. Perhaps it was sweetened with honey and filled with seeds. TheGreeks took from the Egyptians the interest in cuisine, the yeast and the leavened doughs. Certainly the Greeks have eatencozonac. They made it with honey, raisins and walnuts. The Greek cozonac is called plakoús (πλακούς). Yeast and implicitly leavened bread and cozonac were “stolen” from the Greeks by the Romans, which added to the cozonac dried fruits. At first there were only two varieties called libum and placenta. Libum was a small cake, used as an offering to the gods. Later appeared versions consumed also by people, not only by the gods. Placenta, more elaborate, is a cozonac with cheese, raisins and peanuts, which was served with a sweet wine. Although they took the ready-made yeast from the Greeks and the Egyptians, the Romans were the ones who discovered all the possibilities offered by the yeast added to doughs, thus becoming true masters of pastry. In the Middle Ages, European bakers often made cozonaci with dried fruits, because they resisted longer.
In Great Britain, first recipe of cozonac appears in a cookbook in 1718, with the recommendation to be baked in long and narrow forms, recommendation that remains valid nowadays. The French people, those who in the nineteenth century added the third kind of meal, the dessert, are those who put forward the cozonac, more than others.
- 2 1/2 tablespoons + 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup +1/2 cup + 1/4 cup milk
- 1 package active dry yeast
- 4 large egg yolks
- 3/4 cup superfine sugar
- 4 ounces light or dark raisins
- Zest of 1 lemon
- 4 ounces melted butter
- 1 tablespoon dark rum
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon canola oil
- 1 ounce walnuts (optional)
- 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar (optional)
- Scald 1/2 cup milk and stir in 2 1/2 tablespoons flour until smooth. Let cool 10 minutes.
- Heat another 1/2 cup milk just until lukewarm. Do not scald. Place yeast in a small bowl and pour lukewarm milk over, stirring until dissolved. Add yeast mixture to flour paste and beat until large air bubbles appear. Cover and let rise at least 15 minutes.
- Heat the remaining 1/4 cup milk to lukewarm. Do not overheat. Pour into a warmedlarge bowl or bowl of a stand mixer. Add, stirring after each ingredient, the egg yolks, sugar, raisins, zest, yeast mixture and flour. Knead about 10 minutes by machine or 15-20 minutes with buttered hands while still in the bowl, adding butter as necessary to achieve a nonsticky, pliable, moist ball of dough. It will probably take about 3 ounces of butter. Save the rest.
- Add rum, vanilla and oil and knead another 2-3 minutes. Cover bowl with greased plastic wrap and let rise until doubled. Punch down and with hands dipped in some of the reserved melted butter, knead another 5-10 minutes.
- Heat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 10- to 12-inch round pan that is at least 3 inches deep with cooking spray. Using buttered hands, twist the dough and place in the pan. Cover with greased plastic wrap and let rise until dough reaches the top of the pan.
- Mix 1 large egg yolk with 1 tablespoon cold water and brush top of dough. Sprinkle walnuts and a few raisins on the dough, if desired. Bake 1 hour or until toothpick tests clean or an instant-read thermometer registers 190 degrees.
- Remove from pan and cool on wire rack. If you wish, while the cake is still hot, sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar and walnuts.