Saturday, December 20, 2014

Nut Roll with a Side of Fairy Tale- revisited

 Hello, Yankee Belle Cafe! The Fresh Pioneer is back and I'm reposting a recipe I first shared in winter 2012. 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.
(This is where I live... picture taken by my friend Dean Perrault, who let me steal his awesome name for a book character.)

 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, with everything that has happened in the news (the school attack in Pakistan, the hostage situation in Australia, the anniversary of Sandy Hook here in the US).  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 next week!


  1. What a wonderful 'fairy tale'! It just goes to show that we can't know how tragedies will end because sometimes they take many years to evolve.

    The nut roll looks and sounds delicious to me, but hubby isn't fond of walnuts. I'll bet I could use finely chopped pecans for a slightly different version. I wonder if I could borrow Nada... my kitchen could use her touch. I've just made shortbread cookies and it's a total mess. :)

  2. Heehee! Carol, the first time I ran this post I think Ruthy said she wanted Nada more than any nut roll. But she can't have her. Well, maybe on loan. :)

    Ohhhhh, shortbread is a big favorite of mine. And a cookie I've never seemed to master. I still have hope that someday I'll figure out that very delicate balance between soft and crumbly. *sigh*

  3. Oooohh, I remember this post! Love revisiting fairy tale land. :-) And I'm with you on the shortbread cookies, Virginia. I can't seem to get them right either. Made some recently and they're not terrible, but they taste bland -- no melt in the mouth euphoria. Very frustrating.

    1. They're a tough one! I don't want to give up yet, but shortbread may be beyond me!

  4. YUMMMMMM!!! What a lovely tale too!

    1. I know you disapprove of eating in books, Tina, but I just can't tell a story without food... and vice versa!

  5. What a sweet story!! And sweet little cherub looking over the coffee. :)

    1. Oh, he looks sooooo young! Amazing what a difference two years makes. Those chubby baby cheeks are changed into little boy cheeks. And so it goes!

  6. I think you should get her to make a couple dozen of these then hide them in the freezer and let your hubby think you made them....

  7. I remember this story from two years ago, and I still love it!

    And the nut roll, too :)

    And just wait until those little boy cheeks get fuzzy, wiry and scruffy. Oh, I miss little boy cheeks!