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Saturday, March 9, 2013

Sfințișori moldovenești (Mucenici) (Romanian)

"Sfințișori" means "little saints" and they're eight-shaped sweet bread pieces traditionally baked in Romania on the 9th of March (The 40 saints day). It would be ideal to bake 40 of them to stick to the tradition, but the recipe here is for only half (20). 
This specific variation is Moldavian, because that is the historical region I grew up in and I follow my mother's recipe. Also sfintisori is the Moldavian name, in the rest of the country people tend to call them "mucenici" more often than "sfințișori". In the south of the country (Muntenia region) they are usually a lot smaller, not very sweet (sometimes they're more like "8"-shaped soup noodles, very small) and very often commercially sold in packages, dried like pasta and needing to be boiled. Almost everyone agrees that those are really bad compared to the home-made "bread" version and that from the different kinds of home versions, the Moldavian "sfințișori" are the best. (Like the Moldavian kitchen in general, actually :) ).
The dough is yeast-based, semi-sweet, and they're served with a sweet syrup, honey and ground walnuts sprinkled on top (at least in Moldova). 

As to more on my personal experience with them - I liked to make them with my mom when I was little, though that didn't happen every year (we weren't a very traditional family). There was also a funny saying that the more "saints" one managed to eat on that day the more sins of his/hers would be forgiven. To this day I'm not sure that this was indeed a popular saying which other people knew about or just something my mom made up and used to say only to encourage me to eat more, given the fact that I was an extraordinarily thin child. :)

Last year: Simple coconut brownies.
Two years ago: Italian sunset (cocktail), Amaretto cupcakes and Chicken-avocado salad.

Ingredients (makes about 20):
For the dough:
  • 1 fresh yeast cube (42 g)
  • 2-3 tablespoons warm water
  • 500 g flour (plus extra for kneading)
  • 100 g sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 250 ml milk
  • 70 ml sunflower oil (or melted butter)
For brushing:
  • 1 egg yolk
For the syrup:
  • 200 ml water
  • 40 ml orange liquor (or amaretto or rum)
  • zest of one orange, grated
  • 7-8 tablespoons sugar
For serving:
  • some honey and ground walnuts to serve

Break the fresh yeast into crumbles in a bowl:

Pour the warm water over it and mix well. Let it rest for 15 minutes. In a food processor mix the flour and sugar. Pour the yeasted water over them:

Mix slowly until even, then gradually incorporate the eggs (lightly beaten before this step), the oil and milk, a little at a time, until you have an even dough.

Let it rest for 2 hours until very puffed:

Put it on a flour-covered surface and knead it, adding maybe a bit more flour until you have a dough not so sticky (that you can work with):

Preheat oven to 170 degrees C. Line a baking tray with baking paper. Get a handful of dough and roll it into a long log, then twist it into an eight. Place it on the tray and repeat (leaving a little space between them).

Brush them with the lightly beaten yolk and bake for 25-30 minutes. You might need to repeat this with the remaining dough. Take the sfintisori out of the tray and place in a large bowl:

For the syrup, bring the sugar and water to a boil, add the zest and the liquor:

Mix again and let it cook for 4-5 more minutes. Lightly toast (dry fry) the walnuts and grind them also:

To serve, arrange 2 sfintisori on a plate, poke little holes in them and pour 1-2 tablespoons of syrup. Let them soak it up, then top with 1 tablespoon of honey and 1 of ground walnuts. Let some honey and walnuts nearby so everyone can help themselves with a little extra to taste.

Dig in! :)

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