As the story goes, in the Croatian town of Karlovac, there lived a family with two sisters who held a culinary rivalry for decades. In deed, the rivalry surpassed almost a lifetime. At the true center of dispute was a delightful pastry or bread, if you will, called Orehnjača – nut roll. Consisting of a wonderfully rich walnut honey filling spiraled inside a fragrant yeast dough, it was a special treat served at holidays, weddings and christenings.
As told to me by their nephew Luka, Ella and Ana’s competition was not created by which recipe was the most flavorful. The recipe for each was the same generational family recipe. At stake was the final presentation of the Orehnjača when removed from the oven.
Through the generations, their feud eventually became a term or verb. If your Orehnjača came out of the pan with the dough still flawlessly intact around the filling, one said “I Ella-ed this!” On the other hand, if it was removed from the pan and demonstrated cracks in the dough exposing the filling, the sigh was “What an Ana I created.”
I worked side by side with Luka for several days to learn to create beautiful Orehnjača. Luka based his methods and amount of ingredients to make 12 nut rolls each morning for his restaurant. He no longer reserved Orehnjača for holiday or family events. He served a slice on a small plate with a pat of butter beside every diner’s entrée.
As I began creating Orehnjača on my own, I had a quest to locate 11 friends who would accept the extra as gifts. It was not a long quest, but eventually, baking 12 became a challenge of time. Through the years, I finally developed the following recipe using the same ingredients and methods as taught by Luka. It is now a more manageable 6 or less by using extra dough to create What’s in the Pantry Stuffed Dinner Rolls.
I have enjoyed the incredible aroma of baking Orehnjača through the years. Sometimes they are an Ella and sometimes they are an Ana.
This version each third of the dough to create two nut rolls resulting in a thin dough spiral and thick filling spiral that is my preference so creates a total of six nut roll. The dough may be rolled thicker by using half of the dough and creating 4 nut roll.
This dough does not require kneading. Simply mixing completely does the trick here. Also, there is no second rise after the dough is shaped. Simply shape the dough, place in pans and bake.
There is one critical element to the filling – the texture of the walnuts. They must be ground fine either with a hand grinder or stand mixer grinder attachment. Using a food processor or blender simply does not grind the walnuts to a texture that creates an almost paste like filling.
The pan size, 13×4.5 is a bit unusual. Use of a 9 x 13 pan may substituted to bake two rolls side by side.
One last word on Orehnjača; it is a requirement to slice the end from one of the rolls almost immediately after removing from the oven. Spread the slice with butter and allow it to melt, pour a cup of coffee and enjoy your achievement.
1 packet dry yeast, approximately 2 ¼ teaspoon
1 t sugar
½ c warm water, 100° – 110° F
1 c whole milk, room temperature
1/3 c shortening such as Crisco, melted
¼ c + 2 T sugar
2 ½ t kosher salt
2 eggs, beaten, room temperature
5 – 5 ½ c all purpose flour
1 T butter, unsalted, room temperature
20 ounces English walnuts, finely ground
2 eggs, room temperature
1 c honey
1 T vanilla
1 T ground cinnamon
Place yeast, 1 teaspoon sugar and water in small bowl. Stir to dissolve. Set aside for 10 minutes.
In a medium size bowl, combine milk, shortening, remaining sugar, salt and eggs. Whisk to combine. Add yeast mixture.
Pour yeast mixture into bowl of standing mixer. Add 5 cups of flour.
Using a dough hook, combine flour and yeast mixture until a medium soft dough forms. About 5-7 minutes.
Dough may also be mixed by hand using a large spatula or wooden spoon. It will take 10-12 minutes to combine completely.
Roll the dough out onto a tea towel. Grease bowl and replace the dough in the bowl. Turn dough to grease the top. Cover with a tea towel. Set in warm place. Allow to rise until double, about an hour.
In a medium bowl, combine the walnuts, honey, eggs, vanilla and cinnamon. Using a spatula, combine until a soft paste forms.
Preheat oven to 350°. Once doubled, place a third of the dough on a large, lightly floured tea towel. Roll to a 26x13 rectangle. Cut in half.
Evenly divide the filling between the two two halves. Spread the filling within a ¼ inch on all sides.
Beginning on the side opposite the cut side, tightly roll the dough around the filling. Tuck the ends under slightly.
Generously grease two 13x4.5 bread pans with shortening. Place nut rolls into pans. Brush the tops of each loaf with softened butter. Place in preheated oven. Bake for 30 minutes. Turn pans. Bake an additional 20-25 minutes until golden brown and produces a "hollow" sound when tapped.
Immediately tip pans over to remove loaves. Place on wire rack to cool.
Bread may be sliced while still slightly warm.
Serve warm with butter. Enjoy!