Growing up, our family was incredibly spoiled at Christmas time. My mother, Shirley, and my paternal grandmother, Grandma Szewczyk, excelled at baking. Because Grandma Szewczyk lived directly across an alley from us, we were doubly blessed.
My mom’s walnut roll was a Christmas must have. My grandmother would make one filled with poppyseeds – makowiec. Poppyseeds to Polish folks are believed to bring good luck, so it is traditional to serve the poppyseed variation at Christmas and New Year’s. Over the years, Grandma deferred to my mother’s walnut roll, but continued to make her more than fair share of baked goodies.
I started making walnut rolls for my family when we were all much younger. It continues to be one of our favorites, and baked every year. The dough is rich, buttery and extremely easy to put together. The filling is softly crunchy, slightly sweet, tasting a little bit like raisins, Make your own walnut filling – it doesn’t take much time with the aid of a food processor to ground the walnuts. Neither my mother or grandmother drizzled any sort of icing on the rolls, but you can quickly make one out of milk, powdered sugar, and vanilla.
In a cup of warm water, add one teaspoon of sugar and one Tablespoon dry active yeast. Stir until the yeast is dissolved. Set in a warm place until the yeast begins to bloom.
In the mixing bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, measure 4 cups of all-purpose flour. Add 5 Tablespoons sugar, 1 teaspoon salt, and on the lowest setting of your mixer, combine the dry ingredients.
Separate two egg yolks, and set aside. Cut 2 stick of cold butter into cubes. With the mixer set to the lowest setting, add the butter. Mix until the butter begins to break up, and is incorporated into the flour – 15-30 seconds. Add the egg yolks, and mix until they are just combined. Pour in the yeast mixture, and mix on the lowest mixer setting until a dough forms – 1-2 minutes. Be sure not to over mix.
Pour the dough onto a floured surface. Knead for 5 minutes to remove air bubbles, adding additional flour, if needed. The dough should form into a soft, smooth ball. Place the dough into a lightly greased bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel. Put in a warm place to rise to double in bulk. (I put mine in a cold oven with the oven light on.) Gently punch down the dough – cover again – and let rise again – yep, a second rise.
See pictures below
During the second rise, which should not take more than an hour or so, it’s time to make the walnut filling – no big deal! I put one pound of walnut halves or pieces in my food processor, and let it whirl until the nuts are ground.
In a large saucepan, combine all the filling ingredients: 1 lb. of ground walnuts; 3/4 cup granulated sugar; 1/2 cup of honey, 3/4 cup of milk, juice of one lemon; and a dash of cinnamon. Over medium heat, cook the filling until it begins to “pop,.” sort of like when you’re making oatmeal. Remove from the burner, and allow to cool. The filling should be soft and spreadable.
When the second rise is done, remove the dough to a lightly floured surface, Divide into thirds. Roll one piece of dough into a rectangle. These rolls turned out to be about 15 inches wide and 12-13 inches long. The dough is thin, but easy to form the roll. Spread 1/3 of the walnut filling across the dough, leaving 1″ of a long side uncovered – this is so you can pinch a seam to enclose the filling.
Begin to form the roll along the long side. Pinch the roll together. Place on a sheet tray lightly sprayed with vegetable oil, or lined with parchment or silpat. seam side down. Cover with a kitchen towel, and allow to rise while the oven is warming.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Bake the rolls for 25 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown. Remove the rolls to cooling racks, and allow to come to room temperature. Once cooled, you can wrap the walnut rolls in foil and freeze. When you want to serve, let the rolls thaw to room temperature. Before slicing, you can drizzle a light frosting made from milk, powdered sugar, and vanilla – just make sure the frosting is thin enough to drizzle, not to spread with a knife.
A rich dough and slightly sweet walnut filling make Shirley’s Christmas Walnut Roll a huge it for the holidays.
- For The Dough
- 2 sticks, ½ lb, butter, cold and cut into cubes
- 1 Tablespoon dry yeast
- 1 cup warm water
- 5 Tablespoons sugar
- 4 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 egg yolks
- 1 teaspoon salt
- For The Nut Filling
- 1 pound walnuts, ground
- ¾ cup sugar
- ½ cup honey
- ¾ cup milk
- Juice of one lemon
- Dash cinnamon
- For The Dough
- Add one teaspoon sugar to warm water. Add yeast, and stir to dissolve. Put in warm place, until the yeast begins to bloom.
- In the bowl of your mixer using the paddle attachment, add 4 cups of flour, salt, and sugar. Mix for a few seconds, until the dry ingredients are combined.
- Add the butter cubes, and on the lowest speed of your mixer, stir for 30 seconds to one minute, until the butter is broken up and distributed through the flour.
- Add the egg yolks, and mix for 15-30 seconds, until the yolks are evenly distributed.
- Pour in the yeast mixture. On the lowest speed of your mixer, stir the ingredients until a dough forms 1-2 minutes.
- Place the dough on a floured surface. Knead for 5 minutes, until the dough forms a soft ball.
- Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel. Place in a warm spot, and allow to rise to double in bulk.
- When the dough has risen, gently punch it down. Bring it together into a ball. Cover and allow to rise again until doubled in bulk.
- After the second rise, place dough on a lightly floured surface. Cut into thirds. Roll the dough into a rectangle.
- Spread ⅓ of the walnut filling evenly across the dough, leaving 1" across one long end, so you'll be able to seal the roll.
- Starting with a long end, roll the dough over the filling. When the roll is formed, pinch the 1" end across the roll to seal.
- Place the walnut roll on a baking sheet lightly greased or lined with parchment paper or silpat.
- Repeat with the remaining dough, so you have 3 rolls.
- Cover the walnut rolls with a dish cloth. Allow to rise, while the oven is heating.
- Reheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Bake for 25 minutes, until the rolls are golden brown. Remove from oven to a cooling rack. Allow to come to room temperature before slicing.
- For The Filling:
- In a large saucepan over medium heat, add all the filling ingredients. Stir together, and cook until the filling begins to "pop." Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
Optional: When you're ready to serve and before slicing, you can drizzle an icing made of milk, powdered sugar, and vanilla mixed together to a medium thickness. The icing should be drizzled, not spread over the nut roll.