An Easter story

A staple on Romanian tables, especially during the great Christian holidays, the sweet bread, a dessert that has become a tradition in our country, has an extremely long history and a journey that has covered across Europe.

Archaeological finds show that the oldest cake was created 4000 years ago in Egypt. It was, in fact, special bread sweetened with honey, which the ancient Egyptians enjoyed as a dessert alongside various drinks.

With the advent of yeast, the Greeks made improvements to the Egyptian cake. It is from them that the honey-sweetened sponge cake filled with nuts or hazelnuts and raisins originated. From the Greeks, yeast made its way to the Romans, who also made their mark on sponge cake. The Romans were masters of dried fruit, so the filling of Roman sponge cake was made of various dried fruits. The Romans used to make two types of sponge cake: a smaller cake which they offered as an offering to the gods, and placenta, a cake for eating. Also the sweet cake was filled with cheese and raisins. The cake spread across many areas under Roman rule.

In the Middle Ages the sweet cake was very popular because lasted longer and could be eaten over a longer period of time.

In Britain, the first recipe for the sweet bread can be found in a 1716 cookbook. This recipe also recommends that the dessert should be baked in long, narrow molds.

The French named the pastry brioche, a word that first appeared in the French dictionary in 1404. In the mid-19th century, the French introduced the dessert to the menu. Often this was a pastry.

The name cozonac is derived from the Greek kosona meaning doll. Until the advent of affordable sugar in Europe, sweet bread was sweetened with honey. The Romanians did not take over the Roman version of the cake, with dried fruit. The Romanians favored the cake that was filled with walnuts, hazelnuts or poppy seeds and raisins.

The oldest cookbook in Wallachia is the one written by the stolnic Constantin Cantacuzino, in the 18th century, but it does not mention any sweet bread recipes. In 1841 Mihail Kogălniceanu’s cookbook “200 recipes for dishes, cakes and other household chores” appeared, in which the recipe for this type of cake was also written. It used 18 eggs, milk, butter, flour and was kneaded until the dough came away from the hands.

Catherine Steriady’s recipe is even more sophisticated because she recommended using flower water, rum and lemon zest to make the sweet bread, and also mentioned that they could be plaited. Steriady’s book,” The Good Housekeeper”, was printed in 1871.

Also in the Romanian cuisine is famous the „cozonacul domnesc”, an expensive recipe with 44 egg yolks and 12 egg whites, with a filling of walnuts, hazelnuts and raisins.

The Turkish delight has ended up alongside walnuts and hazelnuts in Romanian „cozonac”.

While the British prefer the dry sweet bread, the French prefer the chocolate, and the Romanians have chosen fluffy, well-risen sponge cake filled with nuts, raisins and Turkish delight. The sweet bread with cheese is called „pască”. Is made as traditional cake for Easter.

„Cozonac” can be considered a widespread dessert in the European world, which started from a special bread sweetened with honey and was continuously improved, becoming the favorite dessert of Romanians.

Text’s author: Maria Stroescu