Nut rolls are a popular dessert throughout Eastern Europe typically made with a yeast-risen dough and walnuts. Nut rolls have earned such revered status that they are usually placed in a separate category from other rolled-type desserts like poppyseed or almond rolls, or strudels.
What the nut rolls are called varies widely, even from region to region in the same country. They are known as potica (poh-TEET-sah), gubana, and gubanica in Slovenian, strucla orzechami in Polish, orechovnik in Slovak, povitica (poh-vee-TEET-sah) in Croatian, orehnjaea and diosbejgli in Hungarian, orehnjaca in Serbian and Croatian, banitsa in Bulgarian, and on, and on. But no matter what they're named, they always make an appearance at weddings, Christmas, Easter, and other church and national holidays.
How Nut Rolls Are Made
Although the recipes differ from each other, there are certain ingredients and techniques that are consistent from nut roll to nut roll. All nut roll doughs are made with yeast and left to rise, and walnuts are the nut of choice for the filling. The dough is usually rolled into a 1/8-inch thickness, spread with a generous portion of nut filling (sweetened with sugar or honey and moistened with milk), and rolled into cylinders that are baked as a log or in loaf or tube pans. Once cooled they are sliced to reveal a swirled design inside.
How Nut Rolls Differ
Along with the range of names for nut rolls, the walnut fillings vary widely as well and may contain a choice of ingredients including raisins, cinnamon, lemon zest, rum, heavy cream, or sour cream. The dough is usually yeast-raised and made with oil or butter and sometimes sour cream, although some regions of Serbia and Bulgaria make it with thin, filo-like strudel dough.
Many of these recipes are handed down from generation to generation, and become traditional desserts at holidays and celebrations. If this is your first time making a nut roll, you might want to try an easy nut roll recipe, where the sour cream dough only needs one rise. In other nut roll recipes, the dough is placed in the refrigerator overnight and then needs about an hour to rise before baking. And the St. Sava Serbian Sisters' nut roll recipe is the one made by dedicated female volunteers three times a year—thousands of rolls are sold to raise money for the St. Sava Church in Merrillville, Indiana.