Kolach, Hungarian nut roll

Kolach is certainly on the Christmas tables of Hungarian-American homes. I saw this sweet bread called beigli at Budapest’s Great Market Hall. It is known in most Eastern European homes by other names: kolachi, kolache, povitica, and potica. Americans most likely know it as Hungarian nut roll.

This yeast bread roll filled with a sweet ground walnut filling was a holiday tradition on my Hungarian-American family’s Christmas cookie tray. My Swiss-born mother was an excellent Hungarian cook but not a Hungarian baker. We were fortunate to be gifted these delicious rolls from Hungarian family friends.

Through the years I have kept this Christmas tradition alive. I made an annual trip to Cleveland’s vibrant Hungarian community to purchase these nut rolls. I decided to find the perfect recipe and bake kolach as one of my Christmas traditions. I began my quest with my collection of Hungarian American church cookbooks.

I finally settled on a recipe from the 1979 Select Hungarian-American Recipes by the members of Calvin Presbyterian Church in Canton, Ohio. The contributor was Margaret Bodo. Although I do not know Margaret, she is an amazing Hungarian cook. Many recipes in this book came from her kitchen; each one very authentically Hungarian.

Orginal recipe from Select Hungarian-American Recipes

Below is my version of Margaret’s nut roll. It is basically her recipe downsized. The changes I made come from my years of experimentation. I have included tips gathered from Hungarian food and traditions Facebook groups.

Hungarian Nut Roll

Margaret Bodo

Roll Ingredients:
1/3 cup warm milk
3/4 cup warm water
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons melted butter
4 cups flour
1 tablespoon yeast
2 eggs, well beaten

Filling Ingredients:
1-pound walnuts, finely ground
1 1/2 cups milk  
3/4 cups sugar
4 tablespoons butter
2 eggs

Prepare the nut filling:

Combine nuts, milk, sugar, and butter in a saucepan and bring to boiling point. Boil 1 minute. Remove from heat. Slowly whisk in beaten eggs Let cool until thick.

Prepare the dough:

Combine milk, water, sugar, salt, and melted butter. Add yeast and stir until dissolved. Add beaten eggs. Add liquid mixture to flour and mix as for bread. Turn out on a board and knead to a smooth dough. Put into greased bowl and let rise 3 hours.

Tom’s Notes:

  • All ingredients should be at room temperature.
  • Do not add yeast to a too hot or too cold liquid. The ideal temperature should be around 105-110.
  • Allow the mixture to proof for 15 minutes before adding the room temperature beaten eggs.
  • You should be able to see the yeast double in volume.
  • 3 hours seems like a long time for the rise, but it works.

Assemble the nut roll:

Divide dough into 2 parts. Roll out to 1/4-inch thickness on floured surface and spread with nut filling. Roll dough up into long rolls. Place on greased jelly roll pan and let rise 1 1/2 hours. Bake at 350. for 1 hour.

Tom’s Notes:

  • This recipe makes 2 14” rolls that are generously filled and fit nicely on a jelly roll pan.
  • Spread the filling to within ¾” of the sides and the long edge closest to you. Leave 2” free of filling on the long edge farthest from you.
  • Fold the sides over to the edge of the filling. This helps contain the filling as you roll.
  • Carefully roll lengthwise towards the top. Finish your roll with the 2” edge on the bottom of the roll.
  • Use parchment paper or a silicone baking mat on your baking pan for easy removal.
  • Brush the rolls with a well-beaten egg wash every 10 minutes during the last 30 minutes of the rise. This gives the roll a golden crust and traditional smooth glossy texture.

Baking hints:

  • I, like many people, have an issue with the rolls cracking. Here are some tips others have given me to prevent this from happening.
  • Brush the rolls 3 times with egg wash as detailed in the above notes.
  • Use a wood skewer and pierce the roll in several places prior to baking. This allows steam to release.
  • Do not overfill the roll or roll it too tight. I believe this roll’s bread to filling ratio is perfect.
  • Some people make these rolls side by side in a 13×9 baking dish that prevents the rolls from spreading.
  • Allow the nut rolls to cool fully in the pan for several hours without moving them.
  • Enjoy your roll with its imperfections. It is just as delicious.
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