The garden chives are up! The garden chives are up! Can it be true? Is it really spring at last?
When Pat (Feeding My Enthusiasms) told us what she had chosen for the BBBabes to bake this month, I thought, ‘Ooooh, lovely! This looks like fun!’ And what a nice comfort it would be for us as we sat inside, wrapped up in blankets, wondering when spring would appear.
I really was beginning to believe that winter wouldn’t end….
Pat announced that our comfort food would be a Romanian Festive Bread:
Sweet bread (cozonac – the Romanian for panetone) is the Romanian traditional cake for all holidays: Easter or Christmas, wedding or christening. Every Romanian woman has a recipe from her mother. […] Cooking sweet bread is a magic ritual: it must be done in a warm room where the doors and windows stay close during the cooking time. Any thread of cold air could damage the dough. We have to begin early in the morning when the sun starts to fly its eyelashes over the skyline.
– Exploring Romania, Sweet bread recipe – the Romanian name being “cozonac”
I was going to make this in time for Orthodox Easter last Sunday. But… here’s a big surprise: I missed the deadline.
And once again, I’m in just under the wire (okay, okay… I’m a few minutes late – I having been furiously typing this up starting around 23:00 on 16 April. I thought I’d manage to post on the same day. But no…).
Here’s how things went:
BBB Romanian Spring Bread diary:
15 April 2015, 07:13 …best laid plans. Ha! I WAS going to make this bread in time for Orthodox Easter last Sunday. But… well, you know.
On the weekend, we noticed that we were running low on flour. So yesterday, we jumped on our bikes and rode about 20km north to the only store (as far as we know) that sells unbleached (no-additives) all-purpose flour in 10 kg bags. It was a gorgeous day – sunny with wispy Mare’s tail clouds in the south. And when we got there, we got a special reward. The flour was on sale, at $11.99! That’s right, it was $1.19 per kilo instead of the usual $1.50 or so!
So, today, with all this flour on hand, I have no excuse not to make the bread.
And because there are just the two of us, I’ve decided to cut the recipe in half.
We love poppy seed fillings but I have never made one before. After reading “finely ground almonds (or walnuts, poppy seeds, etc)”, I thought it might be wise to find an actual poppy seed filling.
So I did a little googling to find out exactly how to make the filling. Many of the online recipes for this bread are just a little too casual, saying simply to use the filling of your choice – walnuts, poppyseeds, raisins, ricotta cheese…. This is all very well for people who have grown up watching their grandmothers and mothers baking. But it’s not very helpful for a non-Eastern European like me, is it?
Luckily, there were some that conveniently spelled things out. I particularly like this instruction:
[B]e sure to use freshly ground poppy seeds as they’ll make a big difference with the overall taste.
-Suzanne Urpecz, The Hungarian Girl, Poppy Seed Filling
10:49 Re: Exploring Romania’s instruction, “[I]t must be done in a warm room where the doors and windows stay close during the cooking time. Any thread of cold air could damage the dough. We have to begin early in the morning”
Oh oh. It’s a.) not early in the morning and b.) there are enough threads of cold air in the kitchen to put onto a loom and make into a tablecloth.
Wish me luck!
12:49 Hmmm…. Time has a way of getting away from you, doesn’t it? I just finished mixing the dough – without any lemon zest. We thought we had a lemon in the fridge. And, in fact, we do. But someone has already zested it…. I’m hoping that it won’t hurt to lightly knead it in later this afternoon when I’m about to slather on the poppy seed filling and shape the bread. Once again. (I seem to ask for this a lot, don’t I?) Wish me luck.
19:00 What was that I was saying about time? We just got back about an hour ago. I quickly washed and zested part of the lemon and gently kneaded it into the almost completely risen dough. Yes, I did say “almost”. I’m afraid that even though all the windows are closed, and the dough was in the oven with only the light turned on, it’s still quite cool in the kitchen.
I then proceeded to make the poppy seed filling. I started measuring the poppy seeds. I needed 125gm. The jar (that I had filled myself from a larger package of poppy seeds in the drawer) contained 90gm. I rifled through the drawer to find the rest of the poppy seeds. To find none. Whaaattttt?! Are you kidding me?
Who didn’t put poppy seeds on the list?!
I decided to pretend that the recipe called for 90gm poppy seeds.
Then while I was getting the currants down from the shelves, I managed to tip over two containers of nuts. Nuts! There were pecans and almonds all over the kitchen floor. Because, of course, the lids came off and both containers landed upside down. We decided that our kitchen floor is clean enough and that all nuts will be cooked before being eaten anyway…
Once the floor was pecan and almond free, I began grinding the poppy seeds. Who knew that poppy seeds were so oily? They were quite difficult to remove from the bottom of the grinder that would hold only about 25gm at a time.
Happily, there were no more calamities or minor difficulties. Unless you count the honey struggle.
Simmer for a few minutes, stirring constantly, then remove from the heat and stir in the lemon zest, rum, and honey. Allow filling to cool for 10 minutes before using.
-Suzanne U., The Hungarian Girl, Poppy Seed Filling
Errrrrrrrrrr… Of course. I completely forgot that our honey has completely crystalized and is solid. Runny honey?? In our kitchen in early spring? I don’t think so.
Back onto the heat went the poppy seed sludge to melt the honey. And at last it was done. I put it into a little bowl to cool for the requisite 10 minutes while I washed the dishes.
At last I retrieved the dough from the oven. It had risen perfectly!
And suddenly everything was spectacularly easy. The dough rolled out beautifully into three rectangles. The poppy seed sludge was obedient. Sealing each rope went disturbingly well. Braiding was a breeze. If we had had any poppy seeds left, I would have sprayed the braid with water and scattered poppy seeds over-top….
The braid is now languishing (covered with its blanket of tea towel and plastic grocery bag) in the oven with only the light turned on and T is making dinner (using the lemon juice from the zested lemon – yay!).
22:05 After dinner, when I checked the braid, I saw that it had risen perfectly! When the oven was preheated, I remembered to slather the braid with milk – and then put the bread on the top shelf of the oven – to prevent burning on the bottom.
It looks fantastic!! Guess what we’re having for breakfast tomorrow….
But. Does anyone else think the bread is laughing?
Even if it wasn’t, we were. It was lovely toasted (exactly the right amount of salt!). Although… we couldn’t detect any rum flavour at all. Still, it was quite delicious with cafe au lait.
Here is the BBB April 2015 Romanian Festive Bread recipe. And here is what I did to it:
BBB Romanian Festive Braid
adapted from a recipe in ‘The Festive Bread Book’ by Kathy Cutler and Suzanne Urpecz’s (The Hungarian Girl) poppy seed filling recipe
makes 1 30cm(ish) long braid
- 60g (60ml) boiling water
- 2 Tbsp (28g) salted good quality butter ¹
- 40g (40ml) water at 96F ²
- 3g (0.75 tsp) active dry yeast
- 10g (scant 2.5 tsp) sugar ³
- 1 egg
- 7g (5 tsp) skim milk powder
- 250g (2 c) flour 4
» 225g unbleached all purpose flour
» 25g 100% whole wheat flour
- 4g Kosher salt (generous 1/2 tsp fine salt) 5
- 0.25 tsp lemon zest, more or less 6
- 90g (~0.5 c) poppy seeds
- 60g (60ml) milk
- 25g (2 Tbsp) sugar
- 30g (~3 Tbsp) currants
- 0.5 tsp lemon zest 6
- 0.5 Tbsp (~7gm) rum
- 2 Tbsp (~42gm) honey
- whole poppy seeds, optional
- 1 Tbsp (or so) milk 7
- mixing the dough: In the morning of the day you will be baking the bread, cut the butter into small cubes and put it in the bottom of a largish mixing bowl. Add sugar. Pour the boiling water overtop and stir with a wooden spoon to melt the butter.
- In a small bowl, whisk the yeast into the warm water and set aside briefly.
- Make sure the butter mixture has cooled enough to be finger-safe (if you used butter right out of the fridge, the temperature should have come down quickly). Whisk in the egg.
- Add milk powder, flours, and salt to the butter mixture. If, by a miracle, you have lemon zest on hand, add it now. If you don’t, don’t worry; you can add it later. Pour yeast mixture overtop and using a wooden spoon, stir until the dry ingredients are incorporated.
- Kneading Use your hands to knead the dough in the bowl. Knead it well for about 10 minutes until the dough is really smooth, silky and completely unsticky. Sniggering at your flagrant disobedience, pretend that you didn’t notice the instruction to “place in greased bowl, turning to coat top”. Simply cover the bowl with a plate and put it in the oven with only the light turned on until it has doubled in size. In a normal kitchen, this will take about an hour. In a kitchen like ours (roughly 15C or maybe a little less), it will take at least 3 hours.
- Prepare the Filling Working in batches, finely grind the poppy seeds in an electric
spice grinder. coffee
- Put milk and sugar into a small pot and bring to a boil. Add ground poppy seeds and currants and immediately turn the heat down to low. Stirring continuously, simmer for a few minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in lemon zest, rum and honey. Notice that the honey is solid and crystalized in your cold kitchen and put the pot back over the heat until the honey melts. Keep stirring. Remove from heat once again and allow to cool for at least 10 minutes before shaping the bread. If the dough has not risen enough yet, set the filling aside, covered, on the counter. If you haven’t already put the lemon zest into the dough, lightly knead it in now. Cover the bowl and leave it to continue rising.
- Shaping Cover a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Once the dough has doubled, turn it out onto a very lightly floured surface and divide it evenly into three pieces. Using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll each piece out into long thin rectangles (roughly 12cm x 25cm).
- Spread each rectangle with the evenly divided poppy seed filling, making sure to leave a margin around the edges. Starting from the long edge, roll each rectangle like a jelly roll. Using your thumbs, seal the seam and ends. When you are done, you should have 3 long ropes.
- Cross the ropes over each other and place on the parchment papered cookie sheet.
Starting at the center of the ropes, braid to one end. Turn the cookie sheet around and braid the other end. This ensures that your braid will be widest at the center of the bread. If you still have any whole poppy seeds left, liberally spray the braid with water and sprinkle on the poppy seeds. If you don’t have poppy seeds, you don’t have to spray with water. Don’t be too upset; know that the bread will still look beautiful. Cover the braid with a clean tea towel, followed by a large plastic grocery bag and put in the oven with only the light turned on to rise until double. In a normal kitchen, this will take about 30 minutes. In our kitchen, it took about 90 minutes.
- Topping and Baking When the braid has almost doubled, remove it from the oven. Make sure that there is a rack on the top shelf of the oven and turn it to 375F. When the oven has heated up (about 10 minutes),
- Just before putting the bread in the oven, liberally brush the braid with milk. Put the cookie sheet on the top shelf (to prevent burning on the bottom). Immediately turn the oven down to 350F and bake for about 30 to 40 minutes. Put the finished bread on a footed wire rack to cool. Allow the baked bread to cool completely before cutting into it. It’s still baking inside! (Even if you’ve ignored the instructions about using hot water from the tap, please do not ignore this step.) 8
1.) Flour The BBB recipe simply calls for “flour”. To mimic hand-milled flour, I adde a little whole wheat flour. I had also planned to throw in some ground flax seed, but forgot. Oops.
2.) Butter The BBB recipe calls for unsalted butter. We had some decent salted butter in the fridge, so I used that.
3.) Milk and Water The BBB recipe calls for heating the milk and butter in a pot. But I’m lazy. Rather than heating up milk and butter, I opted for using boiling water to melt the butter in the mixing bowl and to add skim milk powder to the dry ingredients. And as for the water for the yeast, you know what I’m going to say about the water, don’t you? It’s the usual: please do not use water from the hot water tap. Instead, heat the water in a kettle or microwave. If you are allergic to using a thermometer, you can check the temperature by putting a few drops of water onto your wrist: if it feels warm, it’s too warm; if it feels cool, it’s too cool; if it feels like nothing, then it’s fine. Please note that before the yeast is added, the liquid temperature must be BELOW 120F (49C) because yeast begins to die when the temperature is higher than 120F.
4.) Sugar The BBB recipe calls for 25 gm (2 Tbsp) sugar in the dough. That just seemed like too much sugar to me. So I reduced it. Next time, I’d leave it out entirely.
5.) Salt The BBB recipe calls for only 0.5 tsp salt. First of all, we use kosher salt – much bigger grain. I have to weigh it…. (For more information about measuring salt, please see Salt is salt, right?.) Second of all, that just seems like way too little salt at a baker’s percentage of 0.8%! I decided to double the salt to a more reasonable 1.6%. Susan (Wild Yeast) says, “Typically the amount of salt in a dough is between 1.8 and 2 percent of the amount of flour, by weight”. I figure that by using salted butter with this amount of salt, the resulting baker’s percentage for the salt will be about 1.8%.
Pat confirmed that this would be a good idea; after making the bread earlier in April, she wrote to us, “I might also increase the salt by a 1/4 teaspoon to 3/4 teaspoon…the dough was just a tiny bit flat tasting”.
6.) Lemon Zest The BBB recipe calls for a total of 0.5 tsp lemon zest. Have you ever tried putting lemon zest into a measuring spoon? It’s pretty much impossible. I guessed. For half the recipe, I ended up using all of the zest from a largish lemon – half for the bread and half for the filling.
7.) Topping The BBB recipe calls for the glaze to be made with egg and milk. With eggs at a premium, there’s no way I’m going to waste an egg just to make bread shine. All it needs is a little protein, so I used milk instead. I was going to add whole poppy seeds too. But we didn’t have any left….
8.) But I LIKE warm bread just out of the oven!! N.B. Of course you will want to serve warm bread. Reheat it after it has cooled completely. (It is still baking when first out of the oven!) To reheat any UNsliced bread, turn the oven to 450F for 5 minutes or so. Turn the oven OFF. Put the bread in the hot oven for ten minutes.
- Bread Baking Babes April 2015 recipe
» Pat (aka Elle), Feeding My Enthusiasms Romanian Easter Bread
- Information and Tools
» Jo Cooks: Poppy Seed Roll (Cozonac cu Mac) (excellent photo essay on how to make the bread)
» The Hungarian Girl: Poppy Seed Filling
» Gourmet Sleuth: Cooking Conversions Calculator
» Anahad O’Connor, New York Times: The Claim: Never Drink Hot Water From the Tap
» Chad Skelton, Vancouver Sun: Why you shouldn’t use hot tap water for drinking or cooking
- recipes from OUR kitchen:
» more bread recipes
» even more bread recipes
Thank you, Pat, for this beautiful spring adornment!
Pat (aka Elle) is our host for April 2015’s Bread Baking Babes’ challenge. She wrote:
After spending some very delightful time looking at various bread recipes, I decided that since Easter and spring are going to be here during the bread baking time for April that I would invite all of you around the kitchen table to have fun with a Romanian Easter Braid. Even if Easter isn’t your thing, this braid should be delicious with its nut filling and spring time flavors of butter, egg, and lemon.
The Wiki information is interesting: “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,… grated orange or lemon rind, walnuts or hazelnuts, vanilla or rum flavour. Cozonac, (the Romanian bread for Easter similar to Italian pannettone), 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
-Pat (aka Elle)
We know you’ll want to make a Romanian Festive Braid too! To receive a Baking Buddy Badge to display on your site: make the bread in the next couple of weeks and post about it (we love to see how your bread turns out AND hear what you think about it – what you didn’t like and/or what you liked) before the 29 April 2015. If you do not have a blog, no problem; you can also post your picture(s) to Flickr (or any other photo sharing site) and record your thoughts about the bread there. Please remember to email the Kitchen of the Month to say that your post is up.
For complete details about this month’s recipe, the BBB and how to become a BBBuddy, please read:
- BBB Kitchen of the month: Pat (aka Elle), Feeding My Enthusiasms, April 2015
- BBBuddy guidelines
- about the BBBabes
Please take a look at the other BBBabes’ December bread:
- Aparna, My Diverse Kitchen
- Cathy, Bread Experience: Sourdough Romanian Easter Braid #BreadBakingBabes
- Heather, girlichef: Romanian Easter Braid #BreadBakingBabes
- Ilva, Lucullian Delights
- Jamie, Life’s a Feast
- Karen, Bake My Day
- Katie (BBBBB), Thyme for Cooking: Bread Baking Babes celebrate spring with a twist
- Lien, Notitie van Lien: Easter BBBabes
- Pat (aka Elle), Feeding My Enthusiasms: Romanian Spring Braid with the Babes; Happy Buddies Made Beautiful Filled Breads (kitchen of the month)
- Tanna, My Kitchen in Half Cups: BBB Romanian Easter Bread ~ Babes go with Braids!
Susan (Wild Yeast) compiles lists of many bread-specific recipes from across the web and publishes them periodically. For complete details on how to be included in the YeastSpotting round up, please read the following: