I’ve been wanting to cook with Baba (Grandmother in Croatian) Maria for some time now, and when I asked her daughter Lucy for something which was festive for Easter she thought of the Orahnjača, the Croatian version of the commonly found nut roll across all of Eastern Europe.
Having grown up with a Slovenian grandfather I fondly recall the nut roll by the name potica, and never having the opportunity to learn this recipe from his family or friends I was very excited to learn from the seasoned pro, Baba Maria.
She starts off by referring to her Croatian cookbook which looks like it’s seen its fair share of cooking over the years. She admits that she only learned the recipe in Australia from her good friend Lidia who also being a great cook worked in her daughter's Sydney restaurant for many years, so we know the recipe has come from a reliable source.
Maria was born in the town of Zadar along the Croatian Dalmatian coast in 1937. Her and her family left their beloved Croatia, then known as communist Yugoslavia, in 1955, taking refuge in an immigration camp in Udine, Italy. After a few years in Italy, in Naples and later the town of Pescara (Abruzzi region), Maria took the long voyage for love to Australia, arriving in Sydney in 1961. So although softly spoken she recounts this recipe eloquently in Croatian, Italian and English. As we start to pull together the ingredients, she tries to recall the recipe with her daughter Lucy and granddaughter Nastassia; these inter-generational moments are what I live for, it’s beyond special to share in these family traditions behind my camera lens.
We start mixing this and kneading that, and in no time we have our dough ready to be set to one side for it to rise. Baba Maria, of course, gives the bread her blessing before she lets the yeast do its thing, for some extra luck. I learn that Orasi in Dalmatian means walnuts, and this is where the name for the beloved Orahnjača comes from. The walnut paste is perhaps the easiest part of all the recipe but when we see that we’ve added too much milk to the mixture Baba Maria cheekily says “Let’s just add some almond meal, because it won’t bite your bum if it’s a little bit rough.” We all laugh at her Croatian saying, and she tells us her mother used to say this as well, whenever she made a mistake in the kitchen.
The Orahnjača turned out beautiful with a crunchy outer shell and fragrantly nutty filling. It reminded me of all the years back, when I would sneak a piece from my grandfather’s cabinet after bringing it back from mass. Thank you to the beautiful Baba Maria for letting me into her kitchen and sharing this moment around food.
Prep Time: 4 hours Cook Time: 40-50 mins Makes: 3 rolls
- 3 packets of dry yeast
- 3 teaspoons caster sugar
- 100ml warm milk (to activate the yeast)
- 150ml warm milk for mixture
- 2 eggs at room temperature ( 1 full egg, 1 egg yolk)
- 100g softened butter
- 1kg Plain Flour (750g for sifted, 250g for kneading)
- Rind of 1 orange
- 1 packet of bertolini ( Italian brand of vanilla flavoured rising agent)
- 450g walnuts ( ground)
- 180g sugar
- 1 cup of sultanas soaked in maraska ( Dalmatian cherry liqueur)
- 150ml hot milk for mixture
- Rind of 1 lemon
- 1 egg
- Dash of milk
- Start by activating your yeast. Place your 3 packs of yeast in a bowl with 2 teaspoons of caster sugar and warm milk. Set aside for 10 minutes to activate
- In a small bowl place your sultanas to soak in Maraska, they will be used in the walnut paste
- In another small bowl, crack one of your eggs and separate the second egg yolk from the egg white. Place with first egg & whisk with 1 teaspoon of caster sugar.
- Sift your 750g of plain flour, leaving the other 250g for kneading and the lining of tin
- Place your softened butter, whisked eggs, bertolini and orange rind in with the flour and start combining with your hands
- Add your activated yeast and continue to combine with your hands
- Start adding your warm milk slowly to the mixture and combine all the flour thoroughly, add milk as needed ( humidity and weather can affect the dough, so use your judgment as to whether you think it needs to be softer or is too dry)
- Once dough combined, start kneading on a dusted flour board (ensure the surface isn’t cold i.e.: marble/granite as it can contract your dough). Knead for 10-15 minutes. You will know your dough is ready when you touch it with your finger and it springs back
- Place in a dusted bowl and cover with a heavy cloth ( Baba Maria, used a table cloth). Set aside to rise for 1 hour in a warm area of your kitchen.
- Whilst you wait for your dough to rise start on your walnut mixture.
- Use a food processor to grind your walnuts down and place in a bowl.
- Drain the maraska from the sultanas, and add the sultanas to your ground walnuts, along with the sugar and lemon rind.
- Heat your milk to a high temp and add to your walnut mix. Mix and you should have your paste. It should not be too liquid, but not too dry. If you don’t have backup walnuts and your mixture is too runny, almond meal is a good hack, to thicken up the paste up.
- Once your dough has risen, separate into 3 balls. Roll each ball out into a thin circle, with a rolling pin.
- Spread your walnut paste generously over the dough.
- Begin to roll your Orahnjača by rolling the edge closest to you, away from your body. Each time you roll tuck it under and press down to make it as tight as you can.
- Place on an oven tray which has been buttered and dusted with flour.
- When you get to the end of your Orahnjača, tuck the ends of the roll in, like a loaf of bread. This stops the walnut paste from running out from the Orahnjača, when in the oven.
- Once rolled, let rest for another hour, as the yeast will continue to make the rolls expand.
- Preheat the oven to 175°C on fan force.
- Make your egg wash, by cracking an egg and adding a dash of milk. Once your Orahnjača have rested for an hour wash them with your egg wash and place in the oven for 40-50 mins, they should be browned and have a hardened outer shell
- Let cool and cut into slices. In my opinion, it tastes best once completely cooled, but after all that work it’s understandable as to why you wouldn’t want to wait