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Apr 14, 2017

Traditional Romanian sweet bread ("cozonac" - from Bucovina region)

As Easter is just around the corner, I figured you'd appreciate a recipe for "cozonac", the traditional Romanian sweet bread, which we typically bake for all holidays. This is my favorite recipe, as it is specific for Bucovina region, and the outcome is a fluffy, tasty and- of course - baby friendly sweet bread.  😄 
The original recipe is a classic and it belongs to Silvia Jurcovan. I found it  here and I adapted it to be baby friendly, basically by using dates instead of sugar. The result was not as sweet as the original, but tasty and ideal for kids (especially together with a cup of warm milk or yogurt). 

*Tips and tricks:
- when you start preparing the sweet bread, all ingredients have to be on room temperature (except for the butter, which has to be melted). So, it's good to leave all ingredients on the table overnight.

Ingredients - for two loaves:
- 1100 g white wheat flour;
- 8 egg yolks;
- 600 ml milk;
- 50 ml oil;
- 60 g fresh yeast;
- 200 g butter;
- 8 dates, hydrated and blended into a paste (the original recipe has 250g of sugar: the 8 dates give just a little sweetness);
- zest of a lemon and zest of an orange;

- seeds of a vanilla bean;
- 1 leveled tsp of salt (you can omit that if you have any restrictions).

Ingredients - for the walnut filling (1 loaf with A LOT of filling):
- 250g ground walnuts;
- 2 Tbsp carob powder (cocoa, in the original recipe);
- 6 egg whites, whisked until fluffy; 
- 3 dates, hydrated and blended into a paste (in the original recipe - 5 Tbsp of sugar) 

Ingredients - for the poppy seeds filling (1 loaf with A LOT of filling):
- 250g ground poppy seeds;
- 200 ml milk;

- 3 dates, hydrated and blended into a paste (in the original recipe - 5 Tbsp of sugar) 

In a bowl, place 100g of flour. Boil 200ml of milk and pour them over the 100g of flour, mixing vigurously until you break all lumps. Set aside and let cool.

In another bowl, solve the yeast in a little milk (in the original recipe, the yeast is mixed with 1 Tbsp of sugar and mixed until it becomes liquid - I tried both with and without sugar and the result is OK either way). 

Once the parboiled dough is cooled, add the yeast, mix well, cover the bowl with a clean cloth and let rise in a warm place, for about 20 minutes. It should double its volume.
While the dough is rising, blend the egg yolks, salt (if using), date paste, vanilla, lemon and orange zest, oil, remaining milk and 100g melted butter.

Sift the flour into a big bowl. Add the risen dough and the egg yolk mix and start kneading. I used the kneading tool of my kitchen machine and I let it knead for about 20 minutes. If you knead by hand, you will need about 30 minutes.
After kneading, the dough has to be soft and a little sticky. Add the remaining 100g of butter, melted and from this moment don't knead anymore, just pack the dough from the margins to the interior  and tap it with the back of you hand, to incorporate all butter.
Cover the bowl with the clean cloth and let rise for about an hour - it should double its volume.

Meanwhile, prepare the filling.
For the walnut filling, whisk the egg whites until fluffy, add the date paste, the sifted carob powder and mix carefully, with a spatula, to keep its fluffiness.
For the poppy seeds filling, boil in milk the ground seeds mixed with date paste, until it thickens. Let cool.
When the dough is risen, split it into 4 equal pieces (each of them is half of a loaf).
Flatten each piece of dough, using your hands (not the rolling pin!), in a rectangular shape. Place the filling (about 1/2 of the quantity needed for a loaf) on top, distribute evenly (leave a clean strip at the margins), then roll up the dough into a log.
Repeat with another piece of dough.
Braid the 2 logs together and place them into a bread pan lined with baking paper).
Repeat everything with the remaining dough. If you have smaller pans, you can make more loaves.
Turn on the oven, at 180 degrees Celsius.
Let the sweet bread rise some more, in the pan, for about 30 more minutes. Coat them with egg yolk (lightly beaten) and place them in the oven until they turn golden brown (at least 45 minutes).
To check if the sweet bread is baked, test it with a very thin knife or with a skewer- introduce it in the middle and if it comes out clean, it's baked.


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