Cozonac-Romanian Holiday Sweet Bread

Total Time
3hrs 45mins
Prep 3 hrs
Cook 45 mins

This is the traditional Romanian bread for different holidays, most prominently Easter and Christmas. It is like a brioche or Portuguese sweet bread, but I think better than either. It is slightly sweet and has a great soft texture. The fillings are optional but add a lot of character. This recipe is based off of several online recipes, some friends' recipes, and my own intuition. It comes out beautifully, but is a labor of love! I'm sure there is a way to use a mixer or bread machine, but I love doing this the old fashioned way. The preparation time includes rising time.

Ingredients Nutrition

Directions

  1. Heat the milk. When it becomes lukewarm remove 1 cup and put into a small bowl. Sweeten with 2 teaspoons of the sugar and add the yeast. Mix well and set aside until foamy.
  2. Pour the rest of the milk into a larger bowl. Add about 1 cup of flour and mix well. Let it cool down to room temperature. Add the yeast/milk mixture and mix until well incorporated. Set this aside for about 30 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a saucepan. Let it cool down to room temperature.
  4. Set aside about 1/4 cup of the egg whites for glazing the bread. Beat the rest until fluffy but still slightly wet (NO STIFF PEAKS). Divide these beaten egg whites in half. Put one half in the refrigerator.
  5. Beat the egg yolks, and add to the room temperature butter. Mix well, and then add the vanilla, lemon rind, and the rest of the sugar. Mix until it is creamy and well-blended. Fold in the half of the beaten egg whites that is not in the refrigerator.
  6. Your yeast, milk, and flour mixture (i guess its a sponge) should be growing and bubbly. Mix the butter/egg yolk/sugar mixture into the sponge.
  7. Now its time to get the dough finalized. Put the remaining flour into a very large mixing bowl and make a well in the middle of it. Pour in the liquid/sponge mixture and begin slowly mixing together. Work slowly and gently, incorporating the flour from around the edges with a wooden spoon. You will get a rather sticky dough eventually and you are now ready to knead!
  8. Flour your table well and put on some good music. This will take a while.
  9. Put the dough on the floured table and begin kneading. Sprinkle on more flour to keep the dough from sticking, but do so gingerly -- you don't want the dough to be too dry. Knead for 20-30 minutes. No, really! It might be painful, but this long kneading process is really what will make for a light, tender bread. You will know the dough is ready when it begins to be smooth, elastic, and shiny.
  10. Clean out your large bowl, butter it, and put the dough inches Cover with a towel and let it rise for about an hour. I like to let it rise in an unheated oven.
  11. While the dough is rising you can make your filling. This part is easy -- get the other half of the egg whites from the refrigerator and beat them up again if they look deflated. Add the walnuts, sugar, cocoa, and lemon rind. Mix it until it forms a cohesive paste.
  12. You should also butter 5 loaf pans during the rising time.
  13. Once the dough has doubled in bulk bring it back to your floured table. Divide the dough into five equal sized pieces and begin working.
  14. You can make a very simple cozonac by just shaping the dough into loaves and baking them -- but the fillings are more fun and charming.
  15. Divide each of the five pieces into two equal sized pieces. Stretch each piece into a loose rectangle, about 7 by 3 inches or so. Spread the two rectangles with your nut or poppy seed filling, leaving about a 1/2 inch margin around the edges. If you are using Turkish Delight just sprinkle the cubes on top of the dough. Roll the two rectangles up like jelly rolls, avoiding any filling squeezing out.
  16. Now take the two filled pieces of dough and twist them together to make a loaf shape. Place your loaves in the baking pans and let them rise again until double in bulk.
  17. If you want to make a fancy two-colored cozonac, when you have your two dough pieces for your loaf, take one of them and sprinkle it with cocoa. Begin kneading it until it is uniformly chocolate colored -- this takes about 5 minutes.
  18. Roll out your white dough into the 7x3 rectangle. Roll the chocolate dough into a slight smaller rectangle. Sprinkle the white dough rectangle with raisins and Turkish Delight. Place the chocolate dough over it, and press down so that the two pieces of dough stick together. Roll the dough up like a jelly roll. This will make a lovely two-colored spiral loaf. Place your loaf in its greased pan and cover and let it rise like the others.
  19. Preheat the oven to 375.
  20. Once the loaves have doubled in bulk, glaze them with the reserved unbeaten egg whites. Sprinkle each loaf with granulated sugar. You can sprinkle each loaf with a something to remind you of the filling; chopped walnuts on the nut filled one, poppy seeds with the poppy seed, granulated sugar on the Turkish Delight, etc.
  21. Bake the loaves for 15 minutes at 375, then lower the heat to 350 and bake for another 30-35 minutes. Breads will be done when a knife inserted comes out clean. The loaves should be a rich golden brown color.
  22. Remove the cozonaci from their pans as soon as they are done, and let them cool on a rack or a towel overnight. These are best the next day, and will last for a week or so.
  23. Enjoy and Happy Holidays!