A few days before Christmas, friends came to my house to share holiday treats and stories of their family food traditions. Their recipes hold long-treasured memories kept alive by us for the next generation. While we come from different places -- Hungary, Italy, the Ukraine, Poland, or Puerto Rico -- the stories are similar. Some of them are about great cooks, some about those who could not cook at all. Some of the stories are wistful, like longing for the crusciki recipe that died with my friend’s mom. Some are joyful, like enjoying rice pudding with coconut and cinnamon.
It’s the rare family that doesn’t have some tradition to share, from sitting around the table all day making pierogies, to sharing twelve dishes for the twelve Apostles on Christmas eve, to enjoying a whole roasted pig wrapped in green banana leaves.
For me it’s all about my mother’s Hungarian pastries.
My mother’s mother brought the secret of these specialties with her when she immigrated to the US many years ago and the recipes were never written down. So when my mother set up her own household, she had to experiment to recreate them. She must have tried twenty versions, trying her friend Gabi’s recipe and those of others before she felt she had matched her favorite, the nut rolls.
I was luckier. I became my mother’s baking helper and in so doing learned her nut roll secrets. Along the way she offered pointers, saying “here’s the way I like to do this” while demonstrating each step. For silky smooth dough she instructed “stretch and fold it until the surface shines.” Or to avoid a gritty filling, “a splash of hot milk does the trick,” she advised.
These days my mother supervises while I do the heavy lifting. Each year the nutrolls turn out a little differently but we look for success in a golden brown crust and uniform pinwheel shape. No matter how they turn out, we congratulate ourselves on another year of keeping this family tradition alive.
For yeast - 1 packet yeast, 1 Tbs sugar and 1/4 cup hot water. Set aside to foam.
5 cups flour
5 Tbs sugar
1/2 Tsp salt
2 sticks butter somewhat softened,
1/2 pint sour cream.
Combine the butter, salt, sugar and butter till clumps the size of small peas form then add wet ingredients. Knead till no longer sticky. Place in buttered bowl, with softened butter spread on top and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnite. It will rise a little but not much.
Next morning set out on counter for 30 minutes. Divide into 5 balls. Fold each over again and again till silky. Add additional flour if necessary.
Filling for 3 Nut Rolls
1/12 pounds walnuts chopped coarsely, divided into 3 bowls.
In each add 6-8 Tbs sugar and 1-2 Tbs hot milk. Combine.
Filling for 2 Poppyseed Rolls
2 jars of Bakers Secret poppyseed filling
Assembly and Baking
5 Tbs melted butter
1 orange, with grater
Roll dough ball into rectangle. Spread with melted butter . Spread filling mixture and top with grated orange peel. Roll up lengthwise. Set aside on greased baking pan, covered by a cloth, to rise.
Let rise for 1 hour.
Glaze each roll with beaten egg mixed with a splash of water for a glossy surface.
Bake on greased pans in 350 degree oven, about 35 minutes. Done when rolls are golden brown.
Remove from oven and spread with softened butter. Cool. Cut into pinwheels to serve.