Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Nut Roll with a side of Fairy Tale

 Hello, Yankee Belle Cafe! The Fresh Pioneer is back and I've got a super recipe to share. It's not only delicious, but it's traditional for Christmas time AND it comes with a love story. (You know how much I enjoy a good love story.) This one definitely falls into the genre of fairy tale, and if you've read many fairy tales you'll see why.

(book carving art by Su Blackwell)

 Once upon a time there was a happy young family. A mother and a father, two little boys, and a village where nothing very exciting happened, except all the small events in life that make living worthwhile. Seasons passed peacefully.

Then a brutal civil war began and the young father was drafted into the army.
The unthinkable happened. The young mother was left to care for her little boys alone.
The war raged on.

Across the sea there lived a man who lived a quiet life in a peaceful part of the world. His children were grown and off on their own adventures.The man heard about the war. He knew what it was like to grow up without the things a boy might need, so he decided to become a benefactor.
 An organization paired him with the little family. He sent money to help with school supplies and clothes... and he wrote letters.
The young woman spoke no English, but she had a small dictionary. She worked hard to decipher the letters and craft a response. This went on for many years. The boys grew older. The war eventually ended. The pair  continued to write. The man asked the woman if she would come visit America and at first, she declined. It was too far, too scary, and she had never really traveled before.

But the young boys were eager to see the new land and finally their mother agreed to a short visit.

 There were many strange and mysterious things in this land. Like lime jello. And self-locking doors. And cheese that went in the fridge. But the strangers had one thing in common.

Two continents and an ocean apart, their faith was the same. They all enjoyed the lazy summer days. A few short weeks and it was time for the woman and her sons to return home to their own land.
And the man's heart was empty and sad.
So he asked the woman to marry him, to come live forever in the land far, far away. Like any good mother, she first wanted to ask her sons. They all agreed it was a fine idea.

Oh, wait. The nut roll! We've forgotten the nut roll. I got so excited about the fairy tale, I forgot the food.
So, Nada Belavic is the brave young woman who took a leap of faith and ended up over here married to the old, cranky-pants man (hi, Dad!). That was many years ago, when I was just graduating from college. She introduced us to all her delicious Croatian recipes and in turn, we introduced her to lime Jello. (I know she's very grateful about the Jello. She hasn't said so, but I believe it.)
 Isn't that the cutest apron? Her sister gave it to her before she came to this country. Adorable.

 Now, my husband is a huge fan of Nada's nut roll. I'm afraid if it came down to me or the nut roll, I might have to fend for myself. So, in the interests of preserving my marriage, I asked Nada to teach me how to make this delicious dessert.
 She took one of her few days off from her job as a nurse to come over and tutor me in the mysteries of nut rolls. (Right, she not only moved to a faraway land, but learned English, homeschooled her sons and went to college, too. Overachiever alert!)
We have an abundance of walnuts (unleashing my inner squirrel this fall gave us close to twenty pounds) so I have the kids shell and then I grind them up. You'll need a lot, close to four cups.
Nada says it's probably a traditional recipe for the Christmas season because the nuts are readily available, and it also gets dark so early. What can you do but sit around the fire and shell walnuts? This dish is usually reserved for feast days and New Year's.
 4 c. flour sifted (I don't usually sift the flour, but it makes this a lot easier if you don't have to work out the lumps)
2 tsp salt
2 tsp yeast
2 1/2 tbs sugar
1c. lukewarm milk
1/4 cup water
So, make a well with the flour, and add in the center the first four ingredients. Then gradually add in the milk and water, stirring with a fork as you go.

In the center, add one beaten egg and 1 tsp of grated lemon peel. (A small person has come to watch the proceedings. He's thinking this might turn into something delicious... soon.)
 Add 2 tbs oil to the mix.
Keep mixing until the dough has formed. There might be some flour left over. Not too sticky, not too stiff. (Hey, that's a different small person. They're invading.)
Now, leave the dough for about five minutes in a warm place.

Knead it until it looks glossy. Put in a clean, greased bowl, let rise in a warm place for about an hour or until doubled in size..
                                                           Oooooh, fluffy!
Now, we take our walnuts and add 3/4 c sugar, 1 tsp vanilla and a 1/2 c of boiled milk.  Mix it together, make sure it's not too wet or too dry. It should be like a paste.

Divide the dough into two generally even balls. Roll one out, like so. Add the nut mixture on top, smoothing evenly to the sides in one layer.
Roll the dough and the nut mixture up together, just like a cinnamon roll. Put it in a greased pan. repeat with the other small ball of dough and the remaining nut mixture. let it rise in a warm place for about 20 minutes, checking every five. Depending on the weather, it can rise nicely in ten minutes or take the whole 20.

Preheat the oven to 350F while the rolls are rising.

Ready for the oven!
While it was rising, Nada decided my sink needed to be uncluttered. Too many dirty dishes. How's that for a good guest? She makes nut roll AND does dishes! This is probably the cleanest my sink has been for weeks. Score!

So, it took about thirty minutes, but you 'll want to check on them often after about twenty. They need to puff, but not burn the tops. Sometimes the top can be hard and crusty, and a bit of butter melted on it will solve that problem. But it seemed to be just soft enough so I skipped the butter part.
I sliced them, sprinkled on a little powdered sugar, and laid them out on the table. Aren't they glorious?? They're called orehnjača and they're delicious!
The children are ready to sample this midwinter feast! (No, the baby doesn't get the coffee. That's mine.) Our Advent wreath is lit, with a special candle in honor of Medjugorje, the pilgrimage site in Nada's country of Croatia. Did you wonder about her name? It means HOPE. How's that for perfect?

This tale has a happy ending, but it started with tragedy, something we've all felt deeply the past week.  We're saying many prayers for those families dealing with unimaginable loss this Christmas. May they know God's healing, comfort and peace.
   Dođi, Gospodine Isuse!  Come Lord Jesus!

 See you all again on Christmas Eve!



  1. Oh, I swoon over a good love story! And what a great happy ending :)

    But there's more - do you remember last week when I said I was looking for a recipe for something my husband called kolaches? What he remembers looks a LOT like your nut rolls!

    Except in his memory the rolls are a bit smaller, and his mom used poppy seed filling.

    What's really interesting is that my mother-in-law's grandparents were from Bohemia. Awfully close to Croatia...just far enough from each other (and across some awfully high mountains) to account for slight differences in these recipes.

    I think I'm going to stop calling my husband's favorite Christmas treat "kolaches" and start calling them poppy seed rolls. :)

    1. You know, I wondered about that. When you said they were rolled and described them... But then there are a hundred varieties. When I googled Croatian nut rolls, there was only oen recipe out of 15 that looked like this one. I think it really does vary from family to family.

      And I kept askingfor the recipe and she would say she didn't know. She had to show me, because she's never measured it before!

      When I amde the almond cake, I picked up a can of poppy seed filling, just to see if I could make a roll I had in Poland. Blah. Didn't work!

  2. Oh, you made me cry. Such a beautiful story, lovely pictures, and gorgeous children! You know I love your children. Now I love Nada too.

    PS Love the plaid table cloth and Advent wreath.

    Peace, Julie

    1. It's a very fitting post, and lovely that she had time just last week to come and show me.

      Her 'boys' are men now, grown and out of college, married with their own little families.

      But to me, Matija and Josip will always be giggling 9 and 12 year old kids, laughing over TV shows they can't understand and making up their own lines to go with the action.

  3. A wonderful story AND recipe! So fitting for Christmastime. I'm not sure I have the patience to make your nut rolls, but they do sound scrumptious. We have favourite Christmas goodies, mostly from my husband's family, and they've been passed along to our married children, too. There's something comforting about making the familiar recipes every year and gathering the family around to enjoy them. I love traditions!

    1. I was really surprised at how long this took. For eyars, I've just gobbled down the nut roll and enjoyed every bite. Now I realize HOURS of work goes into the baking! Yikes!

  4. Aw, what a good story. And a clean sink. Very envious of the clean sink.

    1. I'm telling you, not sure which was better. And a few hours later, it was full of dishes again. Such is the life of a mom of six without a dishwasher. :)

  5. I'm lusting for the clean sink. Send Nada here. Please.

    Loved the story and the fancy-pants artwork.

    Send Nada here. Please.

    The kids are adorable and I love them from afar. But alas, we have many of their kind on hand.

    Send Nada here. Please.

    The table looks perfect. It will not stay that way with small children. This, you and I have in common.... But it's nice for effect, right? Love it!

    Send Nada here. Please.

    Medjugorje.... I had a lovely aged friend named Rose back in the 70's... A true mentor. She went to Medjugorje on a pilgrimage. If you knew Rose, you would know that she would only speak God's truth. A strong German woman who survived the war, became a widow, raised her two children, worked and went to daily Mass all her life, this woman never spoke ill or shirked duty. Truly a good person, inside and out.

    She told me about her trip when she came back. So excited, so blessed, never expecting to see anything out of the ordinary, but believing in the holiness of the journey...

    During a Mass, Mary appeared to Rose. Again, if you knew Rose, you'd nod and say, "Sure she would, because Rose would never embellish a story to her own ends and if I was Mary, I'd appear to Rose."

    Rose said it was the most beautiful feeling, but Mary was behind her, beckoning, arms out in a strange light...

    Rose said others didn't see her, or feel her presence. But she did. But she said to me, "Ruthy, I was at Mass. Her son was before me. The mother, behind me. I looked up at her and said, "I cannot turn my back on your son."

    She said she felt Mary's smile and that the vision/appearance faded.

    Someday I'll tell you about Rose's rice pudding and how I'm a liar, but that's a story for another day. But when Rose (probably in her late 70's at that time) told me about that vision, I totally believed her.

    Send Nada here. Please. ;)

    1. HAHAHA!

      Yes, I would send her except she's MINE.

      I'm a skeptic at heart.

      But my older brother is an even greater skeptic.

      My father took us to Medjurgorje during the war (we brought medical supplies to distribute, lots of suitcases) since it was easily accessible with all the tourism.

      My skeptical brother, the one who silently scoffed at all the nustos, but wanted to participate in the humanitarian effort... This brother had a vision. Out of nowhere.

      So, just like I believed my brother, I believe your Rose. (What a beautiful woman. I think I'm more more distractable. And that's why no one has ever appeared to ME. I don't ened any distractions. I can hardly focus as it is.)

    2. Expecting the unexpected... I totally believe that God's ways are far beyond our meager understanding, but at least we've figured out COOKIES... so our time on Earth is blessed!!!

  6. Okay, back on topic of nut rolls... and recipes.

    The basic dough is such a huge part of what you remember when you eat lovely ethnic pastries. Finding a way to make the dough you remember is the tricky part I think, Jan... Or the dough hubby remembers. A little less water, a little more milk, an egg here or there. Bread pastry dough is so stinkin' basic that a slight variation in ingredients rising time, oven temp, pans makes a huge difference. If this was baked in a loaf pan, the consistency of the dough would be softer and chewier on the sides and bottom... and that can be the difference in how we remember things!

    Send Nada here. Please. My sink has needs, too!!!

    1. Heehee! Every time I read that, I laughed.

      And I had no idea what went into the prep for this dessert. Oh the guilt I carry for gobbling more than my fair share at Christmas gatherings!

      But no longer! I shall take up the mantle of orehnjača!!

      At least, I will try.

      I'm leaving the dishes where they are.

    2. I did try to make my husband's fav this week - I've tried to put together a recipe based on my memories before, but never someone else's. I ended up at about 75% success. The dough was almost there, but not quite.

      Here's the feedback I got:

      Him: *nod, chew, nod* "the top wasn't so floury" *bite, chew* "and a little sweeter".

      Me: "The whole thing needs to be sweeter?"

      Him: "No, just the top." *bite, chew" "And they weren't so...big..."

      Okay, so now I know. I'll try the same dough recipe with maybe a little more sugar, use less of the dough for each roll, and glaze the top with a cream/sugar mixture before baking - or maybe after baking.

      But no more experimenting until after Christmas! I haven't started cookie baking yet!

      Send Nada here on her way to Ruthy's. Please.

    3. FUNNY!!

      And you're so nice, Jan. I would have given it one shot.

      My husband is kind of the 'my mother makes this a bit differently' comment.

      So I don't touch those recipes.

      Every now and then (read: every five years) I try to make tamales. They're never quite right!

  7. Virginia,

    The clean sink is impressive, especially to my one and only son, who is a bit miffed at having to wash dishes as he said "the old-fashioned way" because my dishwasher (the appliance) is not acting properly right now. I told him it was a glimpse into my life at 11 when I was the dishwasher in the family. He was able to get his attitude together, especially since it is the week before Christmas!

    Even more impressive is the beautiful nut roll. Thank you for posting the recipe. As a child in Pittsburgh, I ate these (gobbling like you) as "nut horns." My mother would divide them into individual cookies and do the flat circle-nut spread thing over and over until the dough was gone. No wonder she professes to have lost the recipe now! It is much easier to make it as a log, even though it is still labor intensive. I don't know if I will make the leap this Christmas, but I will print this off for future Christmas baking and will appreciate what goes into it as I eat every bite.


    1. You know, Piper, my children complain about washing dishes...and we have a dishwasher. So all they're doing is loading the dishwasher and washing a couple pots that don't go in it.

      Such is the way of dishes and dishwashers (the two-footed kind).

    2. I hate kids breaking my dishes, so I put them to the pots and pans and plastic pieces. The rest I do myself. It's actually quite relaxing, if no one is crying at my legs.

      Sometimes I even get good plot ideas!

  8. Now, how cool is that??!! I LOVE this story! And a yeasty, sweet bread to boot! Wow. Thanks for sharing, Virginia!

  9. This post and all the comments are the perfect blend of goosebumps and laughter. What a treat to go with my lunch!

    Re dishwashers: drum roll please -- I don't even know how to use one since I've never owned one!!!! I live in dread of being found out whenever a group from church go to help out at home in need or after a potluck. No one can quite understand my zeal for attacking those pots and pans that don't go into the dishwasher.

    And nice of you to give Edna a day off, Virginia! Say hi to her for me, will you?

    Even more embarrassing -- I don't know how to use a cell phone since I don't have one of those either. I live in dread of being present at some crisis or other and someone throwing me their cell and ordering me to dial 911 and I won't even know how to turn it on. LOL.

    Ahem -- nut rolls. Haven't experienced the joy of them but I can remedy that, I think, since there is a Polish bakery at the end of my street and I bet they have their own version.

    1. Oh, Kav. You would have to be brainless not to be able to figure out a dishwasher! Plates in the rack. Silverware in the little space below. I know some people have a certain way of putting everything in, but I don't have one and I've succeeded in loading on when I've been in other kitchens.

      Have no fear. Dishwashers are low tech.

      As for the cell phone, grab someone right away and have them show you the 'on' button and then 'send'. You know your numbers, so that part is easy. (Except everyone leaves their phone ON so you won't have to turn it on. You better know how to press 'send' after the buttons, though.)

      Life is too short to be afraid of anything. I didn't have a cell phone until about five years ago when my sister got tired of worrying every time I left the house with all my kids. Bad weather and an ancient car almost gave her a heart attack. She wants her neices and nephews safe!!

  10. Sniff, sniff.... There's nothing I love better than a good happily ever after. Except maybe a tasty treat. And this looks scrumptious. Wonder if I can fit that into my repertoir?

    And I LOVE those book carvings. Absolutely amazing. Where did you find those?

    1. So Blackwell did the book carvings. I think she was one of the first and has quite an album. (I think I put up a little note under the first one, saying that was her art.)

      There are others, different styles, some in color. But hers are my favorite. :)