Recipe: Orevnitza

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This recipe comes from my mom's Serbian family. It's a barely sweet, yeasted bread filled with dates, honey and walnuts. It's made only at Christmas in my family, so it has the specialness of any once-a-year family food tradition.

I still have a humiliating memory of my parents getting caught gleaning the walnuts for the bread from a roadside orchard when I was about 7. I was sitting in the car. And no, we weren't that poor. I think it was sport. Despite this childhood trauma, I still love this bread and make it every year. This is actually my aunt's recipe. My mom discovered a short cut recipe that was never as good. My favorite way to eat this bread is toasted for breakfast with lots of butter.

Orevnitza

makes 2 loaves

4 1/4 to 4 3/4 cups flour
1 package active dry yeast
1 1/4 cups whole milk plus approx. 2/3 cup for the filling
1/4 cup granulated sugar plus 1 cup for the filling
1/4 cup butter
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 pound ground walnuts
2 cups dates, ground fine in the food processor
honey to taste

In a large mixing bowl, combine 1 1/2 cups of the flour and the yeast.

In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, warm the 1 1/4 cups milk, the 1/4 cup sugar, butter and salt, stirring occasionally, until just warm, but not boiling and butter is melted.

Add warm milk mixture to flour. Add eggs. Using a handheld electric mixer, beat on low for 30 seconds. Turn mixer to high and beat for 3 minutes, scraping the sides of the bowl as you go. Using a wooden spoon, stir in as much of the remaining flour as you can.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead for 10 minutes, adding the remaining flour as you go until the dough is soft and not sticky.

Shape dough in a ball and place in a lightly oiled bowl. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled. Punch dough down.

*My aunt doesn't say how long. Inside my preheated and then cooled oven, it took about 2 1/2 or 3 hours.

Meanwhile, make the filling. Combine the ground dates, walnuts and sugar and mix together with your hands to combine. Add milk until the mixture is spreadable. Add honey to taste. Set aside

On a floured work surface, divide dough into two equal parts and roll each one out into a rectangle about 12 in. x 18 in. and between 1/4 in. and 1/8 in. thick. Spread the filling evenly over the dough, being careful not to tear the dough. It's easiest to use your hands. Leave about 1/2 inch around the edges bare.

Preheat oven to 325°F.

Roll each piece up fairly tightly from the long side. Brush lightly beaten egg on the edge to seal it. Pinch the ends shut. Gently bend the loaves into a snail shape and place on parchment lined baking sheets. Cover with a clean towel and let rest for 30 minutes.

Brush surface with beaten egg and bake for about 40 minutes or until golden brown all over. Cool on a rack before slicing.

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