Saturday, 19 December 2020


"Classic Romania Christmas and Easter cake, stuffed with walnut, Turkish Delight or raisins"

Cozonac - Romanian Christmas and Easter cake
One of the things that most Romanians associate closely with Christmas is ‘cozonac’, a sweet eggy cake or bread which has various fillings running through it. It somewhat resembles a brioche in texture (when made well and fresh). The filling that I’ve most commonly encountered in Romania is a cocoa-walnut paste, but you frequently find it with other things, such as raisins and ‘rahat’ (Turkish Delight/Lokum) or even candied fruits.

Ideally, I’d be baking it in my wood-burning oven in the countryside, but, due to the pandemic and social distancing, it’s really not worth my firing it up to bake 20 cozonac when there is nobody to share them with, and besides, it’s probably more useful to experiment in the regular oven as that's what most people will be using. So, fingers crossed, here goes my first ever attempt at making a Romanian cozonac!

Time: 30 minutes working time, 90 minutes proving, 45 minutes baking

Servings: two to three cakes


For the dough:

500g of warm milk, as fatty as possible
200g of sugar (brown or white)
100g of melted butter
100ml sunflower/vegetable oil
5 egg yolks, beaten
2 cubes of fresh yeast (about 50g)
1kg of good plain white flour
1 vial of vanilla essence (optional)
Zest of one lemon

Walnut filling for one cozonac (dough above makes 2-3 cozonac):

250g of walnuts, ground (coarsely or finely, according to preference)
2 tablespoons of cocoa powder
3 tablespoons of icing sugar (I found it quite bitter so put more if you like a sweeter cake)

Other/additional fillings:

200g of Turkish Delight/candied fruits
200g of raisins

For glazing:

One egg yolk
A splash of milk
A little sugar
Poppy seeds (optional)

PRO TIP: make sure all your ingredients are at room temperature before starting.


1.       First of all we need to make the yeast starter. Crumble up the two cubes of fresh yeast into a small bowl, add a heaped tablespoon of the flour and a teaspoon of the sugar and pour on four or five tablespoons of the warm milk and beat into a smooth paste. Leave it in a warm place for 15-20 minutes and you should see it start to swell and bubble a little, meaning the yeast is good and has become active.

2.       Pour the rest of the warm milk into a bowl, add the 200g of sugar (can be white or brown, according to taste) and stir until dissolved. 

3.       Sift the flour into a large mixing bowl and add the yeast starter, which should have shown signs of activity by now. Add the grated lemon zest and the five beaten egg yolks. Add about half of the milk/sugar mix to the flour and start to mix them together. Continue added the milk and mixing until you get a fairly consistent but sticky mixture. The dough for cozonac should be quite a sticky one, not as firm as, for example, bread dough.

4.       Once it is well combined (only takes a couple of minutes) you can start to add the melted butter (100g) and oil (100ml). If you want a more luscious texture, you can use just 200g of melted butter, particularly if you haven’t used very fatty milk. Whatever combination you use, add a little, knead, add more, knead, and so on till it has all been combined. At this point you can sprinkle on the vanilla essence too if using it.

5.       Next comes the hard work – the kneading. Go at it hard, stretch it, punch it, pull it, throw it – really work at it. And you need to do this for 10-15 minutes until you achieve an elastic texture. You could use a machine if you don’t feel like the work out. Once done, cover with a clean towel and leave in a warm spot to prove for about an hour, or however long it takes to roughly double in volume.

6.       While it’s proving, you can prepare the fillings. Put the ground walnuts into a bowl, mix in the cocoa powder and the icing sugar, and then add a splash of milk and start to beat the mixture into a paste, something like the consistency of peanut butter – not too liquid but spreadable. Set aside. NOTE: The quantities for the walnut mix are enough for ONE of the two cozonacs. I chose to make one with walnuts, and one with raisins and Turkish delight. If you want walnut paste in both, then double the quantities.

7.       [See ‘observations’ below before starting this part] When the dough has risen sufficiently, prepare a workspace by oiling or flouring it. Cut the dough into two equal parts, take one of the halves and with your hand spread it out into a rectangle about 1cm thick. Spread some of the walnut/cocoa paste over the dough, keeping a few centimetres back from the edges, and then, if you like, you can sprinkle on some raisins and/or some Turkish delight cubes (as much or as little as you like). Repeat with the second half, using whatever filling you fancy.

8.       Roll up the dough, starting from the longest edge, and put into a long narrow loaf tin (lined with baking paper) with the join at the bottom. Leave it in a warm place to rise until level with the top of the tin or slightly proud. Once they have risen well, brush the top with a mixture of egg yolk and milk and sprinkle with sugar and/or poppy seeds if you wish.

9.       Pre-heat the oven to a medium heat, around 180 Celsius (360F) and bake the cozonac for about 40-45 minutes. Do NOT open the door for the first 20 minutes but after that you can check on it from time to time to make sure you don’t overcook it. I checked it by sliding a knife into the middle and seeing if it came out sticky – if so, then the centre is still raw and needs more time.

10.   When cooked through, remove, de-tin, and leave to cool on a wire rack.


This was my first time cooking cozonac although I’ve got quite a lot of experience eating it, especially home-cooked versions from the countryside. My attempt, well, it was ok for a first go, I suppose.

On the positive side, the cozonac was light, fluffy and delicate, but perhaps needed a little more sweetness, especially the one with the walnuts. The walnut paste was a little bitter (fine if you’re a black chocolate lover) but next time I think I will increase the sweetness of the walnut paste.

The one mistake I made was not using big enough loaf tins. Mine were 25cm long and two portions of dough was too much for them meaning that they puffed up too much and the extra cooking time (maybe an hour in total) left the inside perfect, but the crust was a little burnt and bitter. For the Turkish Delight one, I reduced the amount of dough and it came out a lot better – cooked inside and golden brown on the outside. So, I would recommend the above quantities for three 25cm tins or two if they are the longer ones (I’ve seen some around 35cm which would probably be ideal).

Good luck and pofta buna!!

Wednesday, 7 October 2020

Flavours of Romania

"Flavours of Romania"

A nine-part series covering the cuisine and culture of Romania.

Presented by Charlie Ottley, who has already produced a number of documentaries about Romania's wildlife and countryside, and who recently purchased his own farmhouse in the country of Brasov near the Piatra Craiului mountains, the series travels from region to region exploring its culinary traditions. You can find more details about the series here:

Internet Movie Database

"Flavour of Romania" Facebook page

Netflix page

I'm not sure if it's available on Netflix in all regions, so you maybe have to be creative. Let me know if you've managed to watch it in the USA, UK or other countries.

Thursday, 3 September 2020

Lichiu sau Hanklich

"Saxon style bread-base and sweet dairy topping dessert" 

'Lichiu' (pronouned 'licky-oo') or 'Hanklich' in German is a dessert most Romanians from Transylvania will be familiar with. Typically attributed to the cuisine of the Saxons of Transylvania, this dessert or pie is made up of a bread base, something like a thick pizza base in a way, which is then topped with a sweet creamy mixture and baked - ideally in a wood-fired oven. It is mostly something cooked at home, particular at times of the year when there is a surplus of eggs (my countryside neighbours frequently cook it around Easter time), and the recipe varies considerably from household to household.

The picture on the left shows the lichiu made by my neighbours in the countryside, freshly removed from the wood-fired oven, out of the tins, and cooling down ready to be sliced. As you can see, when they make it, they make a lot (it's hard worth firing up the wood oven unless you plan to do a big bake). Alongside this, they also baked bread, cozonac (a kind of traditional cake) and a few other goodies. In the end I think they made 12 tins of lichiu!

I have seen it on rare occasions in restaurants - a pizza place I visited once advertised it on the menu and out of curiosity I ordered it. It was basically a pizza base with the vaguely lichiu-like topping but with plums added. So if you want to try something less commonly known from the Romanian countryside, why not put on your baking hat and try some lichiu

Time: A couple of hours of prep and baking, depending on the oven 
Serving: 8-10 slices 


For the base dough:

350g of white flour 
25g cube of fresh yeast (or a teaspoon of dried) 
2 egg yolks (save the whites for the topping) 
Zest of one lemon 
3 tablespoons of sugar 
50ml of oil (vegetable is fine) 
1 teaspoon of salt Warm milk (have about 
250ml to hand, but you'll add it as needed) 

For the topping: 

1 litre of milk 
1 cup of 'gris' (this is semolina flour) 
Sugar to taste 
1/2 a teaspoon of salt 
6 egg whites 
4 egg yolks 
100g of butter 
350g of heavy cream 
2 small packets of vanilla (or equivalent in essence if preferred) 


1. First of all, you should prepare the dough. Firstly, prepare a yeast starter by mixing together the yeast, one tablespoon of the sugar, one tablespoon of the flour and about 100ml of the warm milk (make sure it's not too hot or it'll kill the yeast). Mix these together well and leave in a warm place. In about 10-15 minutes, you should see it start to froth and smell 'yeasty', this means it's activated and ready to use. 

2. Once it's ready, put the rest of the flour in a large bowl (or on a surface if so inclined) and make a well in the middle. Into the well add the prepared yeast starter and the two egg yolks and the salt. Start to combined them (eggs, starter, salt) and then add the rest of the warm milk, the rest of the sugar, the zest. Start to draw in the flour and bring it all together to make a dough, adding the oil little by little once a dough it formed. Keep keep kneading the dough until it becomes more 'elastic' and stops sticking to your hands. 

3. When you feel the dough is ready (this is something bread or pasta makers amongst you will 'feel', otherwise, just kneed it until well combined and no longer 'sticky'), rub a little oil on the ball of dough, put it in a large bowl, cover, and leave in a warm place to rise to about double its original size. 

4. Meanwhile, make a thick semolina by boiling the semolina flour in the milk. Add sugar according to taste (I've had lichiu that's very sweet and other times almost savoury, but it is a dessert and I think it tastes better on the sweeter side). Leave the mixture too cool. 

5. Beat the egg whites until they start to make peaks, then fold it in gradually into the semolina, which should be luke warm. 

6. Separately, blend the four egg yolks with the butter, add the vanilla flavouring, and then gradually mix in the heavy cream. 

7. Finally, once the dough has risen, roll it out to about 3-4mm. You can use a shallow baking tray here, or maybe even a pie dish, whatever you have to hand. Traditionally they trays are greased but unlined, but feel free to use baking paper if you prefer. Lay the rolled-out dough in the tray and adjust it to go right to the edges. Pour the semolina mixture onto the dough base, then spread the cream mixture on top of that, making sure to spread it out evenly. 

8. Bake the lichiu for about 40-45 minutes (keep an eye on it) until it is gold brown on top. If using a conventional oven, pre-heat it to about 180 Celsius. 

 Pofta buna and let me know how yours turned out!