In Bucovina of northeastern Romania, alongside the traditional rectangular cozonac, people also bake a round braided or swirled loaf. This celebratory bread is called colac, meaning “round.” The filled dough is rolled and coiled onto itself like a giant seashell, perhaps a symbol of the sun or the cyclical nature of life.
My friend and food writer Dana Burlacu Visternicu, who writes about her family traditions, makes a version with poppy seeds. She follows a recipe from her grandmother, who used to grow poppies on a little patch of land at the back of the house.
“Poppies were a usual crop in people’s gardens, and they provided cheerful splashes of color and tasty seeds to put in cakes,” Dana said. I’m giving you her recipe, too, hoping that I did it justice.
For the Dough
- 2 cups (9 ounces) all-purpose flour
- 2 cups (9 ounces) bread flour
- 1 cup whole milk, at room temperature
- 3 ounces caster sugar
- 1 packet (1/4 ounce, or 2 1/4 teaspoons) instant yeast
- 3 egg yolks, at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla paste
- Zest from 2 lemons
- 3 1/2 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled to room temperature
For the Filling
- 1/2 cup whole milk, at room temperature
- 1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) sugar
- 7 ounces poppy seeds, ground, plus more for sprinkling on top
- 1 teaspoon vanilla paste
- 1 tablespoon breadcrumbs
For the Glaze
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 tablespoon water
Make the Dough: All ingredients need to be at room temperature. Combine all the ingredients through the lemon zest together, then add the melted butter. Knead until the butter is well incorporated and the dough starts to come away from the sides of the bowl. Cover and allow to rest in a warm place for 1 1/2 hours, until it doubles in size. In the meantime, make the filling.
Make the Filling: In a small saucepan over low to medium heat, gently bring the milk and sugar to a boil and add the poppy seeds. Cook on low heat for 10 minutes, stirring from time to time to avoid burning. Remove from heat and let cool completely, then add the vanilla paste.
Shape the Loaf: Turn the dough onto a well-floured work surface. Roll out the dough into a 16- x 35-inch rectangle, with the longer side closer to you. Sprinkle with the breadcrumbs, then distribute the poppy seed mixture evenly on top. Roll the dough gently away from you into a log, then coil one end of this log around itself to make a giant round bread. Lift it onto a baking tray, cover, and allow to proof for 30 minutes.
Bake the Loaf: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Whisk together the egg yolk and water for the egg wash, then gently brush onto the loaf and sprinkle extra poppy seeds on top.
Bake for 30 minutes. Insert a wooden skewer into the middle, and if it comes out clean, the colac is ready. You can allow it to cool completely or serve it slightly warm, but not hot out of the oven.