Imagine a cinnamon roll that is less gooey-sweet, but with the delicious richness of ground walnuts; something like baklava without honey.
Now add to that the ability to slice off the serving size you want and the entire pastry staying soft and fresh for days. Best thing ever, right?
But wait there’s more: You can make this pastry in less than four hours, from craving to cooling rack. I’m talking about a yeast-leavened walnut roll pastry that’s a blend of Jewish kuchen and Slovak kolache (also called orechovnik), and has various manifestations throughout Central Europe. For example one of our newsletter subscribers wrote to us about the Croatian and Slovenian potica, a similar walnut roll cake.
The flavor is so delicious and the process is simple, fast, and fun–I had to write it up for the Breadtopia community and for my own future bakes. I used SAF Gold instant yeast in this recipe, which is ideal for leavening sweeter doughs. This yeast is “osmotolerant,” meaning it better stands up to the reduced water availability caused by sugar. Osmotolerant yeast is recommended in dough with more than 10% sugar weight relative to flour weight. I’ve had a pound of this yeast in my freezer for several years, and it’s as powerful as ever. You can use regular instant yeast (or even active yeast), and the dough will simply take a little longer to rise, probably a 30-to-60-minute difference. At some point I may try sourdough leavening (here’s a conversion how-to for that), but I really enjoyed the speed and yeasty flavor of this recipe as is.
Filling and risen dough (visible fresh-ground nutmeg in the dough)
The filling is from this Slovak kolache recipe, often made at Easter and Christmas, and the dough is from this Jewish kuchen roll recipe, from the fascinating book, The Settlement Cook Book, first published in 1901 as a home management guide for immigrant women. Many thanks to Breadtopia forum participants @Abe for sharing the dough recipe link, and @Melissa_Florida, @Evnpar and @Abe for raving about kuchen in the bialys recipe comments thread. They inspired me to try this pastry.
You can fill the dough with anything you enjoy (prune or date paste, chocolate, strawberry jam), but I absolutely love nuts, so when a friend suggested I try the walnut filling of Slovak kolache, I jumped on the idea. You can see my earlier versions of this pastry with different fillings in this forum thread.
Roll out the dough out, brush on melted butter, sprinkle with ground nuts-sugar-cinnamon, and roll up into a tube.
Note: The photo above shows the recipe doubled, but the ingredient amounts below are for one roll that’s about 14 inches in length.
Walnut Roll Pastry
Perfect to serve with tea or coffee, as a breakfast treat, or for dessert; this walnut roll pastry is so delicious. The dough is soft, slightly sweet, and fragrant with nutmeg, while the ground walnut filling is rich with butter and sugar, and perfectly swirled through the dough. This pastry pulls ingredients from Jewish and Slovak recipes for yeasted cake rolls, a pastry format that is popular throughout Central Europe and wonderful for slicing different serving sizes and keeping soft and fresh.
1 cup milk (237g)
4 Tbsp unsalted butter (57g)
¼ cup sugar (50g)
1/2 beaten egg (reserve the other half of the egg for brushing on the dough before baking)
5 Tbsp melted salted butter (71g) if unsalted add a pinch of salt
Dough Mixing and First Rise
Scald the milk in a pan on the stove or in a glass bowl in the microwave, bringing it up to 180°F.
Cut the butter in pieces and add it to the milk to melt the butter and cool the milk. Then add the sugar, half-egg, and salt.
In a large bowl or stand mixer, whisk together the ground nutmeg, instant yeast, and flour (start with the smaller amount). You can add the reserved flour if needed, but only if your dough is very damp and sticky.
Combine the wet and dry ingredients and mix until the dough comes together and is smooth.
Cover the bowl and let the dough rise somewhere warm, in a lit oven or on a raisenne dough riser for 1½-2 hours. The dough should double in size.
While the dough is rising, grind the walnuts and sugar in a food processor. Add the cinnamon afterward, so it doesn’t poof through the seams of your food processor. Do not add the butter. If you don’t have a food processor, you can put in the nuts in a ziploc bag and smash them with a rolling pin.
Melt the butter in a glass bowl on low power in the microwave.
Prep a baking sheet with parchment paper.
When the dough has doubled, scrape it out of the bowl onto a lightly floured surface.
Roll it into a square that’s roughly 12″ x 12″ and 1/4″ thick. Before topping the dough, make sure you can slide it around the countertop. Flour and flip the dough if you can’t.
Brush on the melted butter, leaving a 1/2″ strip at the top side free of butter to later seal the roll. If it seems like you have too much butter, hold some back and drizzle it on after you’ve added the absorbent nuts-sugar-cinnamon.
Spread all the nut mixture on the butter as evenly as possible.
Roll the dough toward the bare strip and rest it briefly on the seam.
Lift the roll of dough, gently stretch it a bit lengthwise, and place it on the baking sheet, seam down.
Cover the dough with plastic wrap or a damp towel and let rise in a warm place about 1 hour.
Preheat your oven to 350°F for about 15 minutes.
Just before putting the pastry in the oven, brush the dough with the reserved beaten egg.
Bake for 45 minutes. Rotate the baking sheet if needed for even browning.
Let the walnut roll cool on a rack at least 20 minutes before serving.