Christmas in Croatia

 

Orehnjača (Walnut Roll)

Ingredients

 

For the Dough

  • 1 cup of warm milk
  • 1 packet of vanilla sugar (or two teaspoons of vanilla essence)
  • 1 tablespoon dry yeast
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup melted butter
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 teaspoon rum, dark
  • 3.5 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon warm butter

For the Filling

  • 2.5 cups walnuts, ground
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons plum jam
  • 1/2 a cup raisins (optional)
  • Zest of a lemon
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon, ground
  • 1 tablespoon rum, dark
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted

Instructions

The Dough

  1. In a large mixing bowl place warm milk, vanilla sugar, and the dry yeast. Let it activate (should take around 10 minutes)
  2. Then to that mixture, add 1 egg, salt, white sugar, melted butter, lemon zest, rum and mix all ingredients with an electric mixer for 30 seconds
  3. Add 1.5 cups of flour and beat for two minutes at medium speed with a paddle beater, then change to a dough hook and slowly add more flour spoon-by-spoon until it pulls away from the bowl. It should take around an extra 2 cups of flour, but if you need less do not add it all
  4. Shape the dough into a ball, and place it into a bowl, and then massage the surface with warm butter. Cover with plastic wrap and let it rise for 1 to 1.5 hours. It should double in size

The Filling

  1. In a saucepan warm the milk, then add the walnuts, honey, plum jam, raisins (optional) and the lemon zest and mix
  2. Add the sugar and cinnamon, and cook on low for approx. 10 minutes until the milk is incorporated into walnuts. Watch that the milk does not burn! The mixture should be thick like porridge
  3. Remove from the heat. Add in the rum and butter and mix
  4. Place in a bowl and cool in the fridge. It’s easier to spread if it’s cool so this step is a must!

Get Ready To Roll

  1. Knockdown the dough, which has risen, cut in equal halves – either use a baking scale or eyeball it if you have the skills
  2. Roll out each piece to 20 inches (50 cm) by 14 inches (35 cm)

Note: The dough will fight you back as it is very elastic, so be patient

Get Ready To Assemble The Walnut Roll

  1. Remove the filling mixture from the fridge and separate it into two equal halves. Spread one half of the filling, onto one piece of the rolled-out dough. Leave 1 inch (2.5 cm) on 3 sides and two inches (5 cm) on the back seam
  2. Roll into a sausage roll, and on the last two inches (5 cm) use a pastry brush and apply an egg yolk wash to seal it. Then transfer it to a well-greased (or lined with paper) 9 x 13 inch (23 x 33 cm) pan
  3. Repeat the same process for the second roll
  4. Poke both rolls all over with a toothpick, then glaze with an egg wash
  5. Leave uncovered, and allow it to rise for one hour for it to double in size

Bake

  1. Bake uncovered at 150°C (300°F) for 20 minutes, then bake for an extra 40 minutes covered with aluminium foil (covering the rolls prevents the tops from burning)
  2. You’ll know the rolls are done when you hear a hollow sound as you tap the top of them
  3. Allow the walnut roll to cool slightly in the pan for 20 minutes
  4. Then remove from pan, dust with icing sugar and serve warm

 

 

It's December and Christmas is nearing. What does it mean for Croatians? For a start, it means getting an Advent wreath to light up one more candle every Sunday until Christmas. Advent time is considered very important and there are stalls with Christmas decorations in every city. There are also stalls with food and drinks. In Zagreb you will definetely find a stall with fritule (doughnut-like festive pastry). And it isn't Advent or Christmas if there isn't any mulled wine, in which you can also add cinnamon.

Other important dates during Advent are 6 December, St. Nicholas' Day and 13 December, St. Lucia's Day. The night before St. Nicholas' Day children should clean their boots and put them on the window. If they were good, St. Nicholas will leave candies for them in their boots, but if they were bad, Krampus will leave a stick in them. On St. Lucia's Day, Croatians plant wheat grains and grow it until Christmas. The more it grows, the happier the next year will be. And on Christmas, the weat is often tied with a red, white and blue ribbon (colours of the Croatian flag).

On Christmas Eve, it's important to decorate a Christmas tree. For many families it is also important to participate in the Midnight Mass (keep in mind that Croatia is mostly a Catholic country). So, what about the food? It really depends on the region. For example, on the coast, people like eating the cod fish on Christmas Eve, while in Slavonia they tend to eat pike perkelt. The common thing is that on Christmas Eve people usually eat a little less so that they can enjoy the feast on Christmas Day.

So, what do Croatians eat on Christmas Day? It once again dependes on the region. In Dalmatia, people like eating pašticada (a type of a beef stew dish), in Slavonia they like eating roast suckling pig with an Olivier salad, and in the north they like eating roasted turkey with mlinci (a type of pasta). Another popular dish is sarma (leaves of cabbage stuffed with meat and rice). And, of course, there will also be desserts. Among the most popular you will find orehnjača (walnut rolls) and makovnjača (poppy seed rolls), but there will also be other, mostly dry cakes (of which many will include walnuts) and cookies, as well as gingerbreads.

 

In Croatia, Christmas is considered to be a very important family holiday, so visiting relatives or having relatives visiting is very common. This festive mood lasts up until 6th of January, the Epiphany or the Holy Three Kings day, when all the Christmas decorations are taken off and stored for the next year.