This blog is dedicated to my mother, Ann Lazinsky who instilled in me the importance of family traditions. It is written primarily for my daughter, Emma, and my niece Debbie Lazinsky, who are most likely to keep this delicious Hungarian, Nicklos family tradition going!
It’s Lent, and time to think about Easter. As a youngster, I remember vividly the two times a year when our house turned into a makeshift bakery. For about a 24-hour period, before Easter and before Christmas, it was NUTROLL season!
My mom called it kolache, but I think that was referring mostly to the yeasted dough used to hold the nuts. Kolache in the U.S. is widely known as a Czechoslovakian pastry popular in Wisconsin and Texas. The Hungarian Cookbook, by Susan Derecskey has a recipe for something that sounds like a version of nutroll called Dios Beigli, but the filling is different from the one we use. There are many variations of this recipe. I even remember some of my mother’s sisters, Helen and Mary making different delicious versions of the tasty treat. Mary also made poppyseed filling, which was special too!
I took over the tradition of making the Anna Nicklos Lazinsky version of nutroll for Easter 1998. Emma was a one-year-old at the time, and the urge to share family traditions arrived with motherhood. So, I set out with no recipe and little proper equipment to make the beloved treat.
Long before she died, my mother gave me one piece of nutroll equipment in hopes I would carry on the baking. It’s the metal bowl she used to make the dough. Keep in mind, she made enough nutrolls to feed the entire neighborhood. The bowl measures 14 inches in diameter, and stands six inches tall. It’s huge! I could have bathed newborn Emma in it. Mom filled
that gigantic thing with dough and kneaded it (she called it beating it) until she reached what looked to me like complete exhaustion! After all of that work, the bowl sat covered near a heat vent to make sure the dough raised the proper amount. This all took place late at night or in the wee hours of the morning.
The equipment I didn’t have was the old, beaten-up, barely-working hand grinder my mom used to grind the nuts. I’m not sure she ever tried any other way of grinding the walnuts because Mom thought this broken-down little tool made the nuts the perfect texture. Her hands would ache after she spun the handle of this little thing for hours. My sister and I would help sometimes, but I don’t remember ever using the grinder for more than a few minutes before my hand began to hurt. The compartment that held the walnut halves was so small. Only a few nuts fit in at a time. Grinding was the true labor of love!
Luckily, I remember the taste of my mother’s nutroll like I ate a piece just yesterday. When I set out to make it, I knew I needed a yeasted sweet dough, walnuts, sugar and currants. Betty Crocker’s Cookbook, Third Printing, 1980, came through with the sweet dough recipe. I didn’t use the “mega bowl,” however. I used the food processor to mix, then knead the dough. I wanted to make a few nutrolls, rather than enough to feed an army. Because I didn’t have the hand-crushing grinding tool, I again used the food processor. I really felt like I was cheating for the first two or three times I made the nutroll. It felt like sacrilege to use the food processor. It worked well, though. I turned out a good dough, and the food processor ground the nuts to the right consistency. I added sugar a bit at a time to get just the right sweetness, and I added the currants last. This tiny version of a raisin adds moisture and a slight bit of tartness. My adaptation of the recipe makes about four equal rolls.
While it’s not the production of the old days, it’s still a rich tradition that I’m willing to carry on. My mother usually got little or no sleep the night before baking the nutroll. My process is a lot quicker, and should be pretty easy, even for someone with little experience.
Thanks to my Mom for all of the wonderful memories of the process, the smells, and the tastes.
Here’s my recipe for four nutrolls:
Betty Crocker’s Sweet Roll Dough
1 package active dry yeast
½ cup warm water (105 to 115 degrees)
½ cup lukewarm milk (scalded, then cooled)
⅓ cup sugar
⅓ cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon salt
3 ½ to 4 cups all-purpose flour
1 additional beaten egg to brush on top of the nutrolls.
Dissolve yeast in warm water in a large bowl. Stir in milk, sugar, butter, salt, egg and two cups of the flour. Beat until smooth. Mix in enough remaining flour to make dough easy to handle.
Turn dough onto lightly floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. Place in a greased bowl; turn greased side up. Cover; let rise in warm place until double, about 1 ½ hours. (Dough is ready if an indentation remains when touched.)
If you use a food processor, as I do, follow your processor’s instructions for kneading dough.
Punch down dough. Roll out four equal rectangles, fill with nut mixture. Roll and let rise again. Brush the tops of the rolls with beaten eff. Bake about 20 to 30 minutes in a 325 degree oven. Crust should be browned, but not burned.
2 pounds walnut halves
2 cups sugar
1 cup currants
Use food processor or chopper to grind the nuts. They should be fairly fine without many large bits. But, be sure to stop processing before the nuts become a paste. Mix in the sugar and currants.