This nut roll recipe hails from an old family friend and is a Christmas staple. It only requires one rise, so it’s easy to churn out a ton of nut roll!
It’s Christmas week and we need to talk nut roll!
I’ve seen this called nut roll, Hungarian nut roll, Slovak nut roll, Polish nut roll, kolache, even Pittsburgh nut roll, which blew my mind when I saw it! I didn’t realize they were so synonymous with this region, but that makes me just plain giddy. Whatever name you go by, traditional nut roll is a soft sweet dough that is filled with a sweet walnut mixture. It basically tastes like Christmas and it wouldn’t be the holidays without devouring an embarrassing amount of nut roll.
I originally shared this nut roll recipe with you nearly six (SIX!) years ago, and SO MANY OF YOU have made it year after year for the holidays, which just makes me so ridiculously happy. In that time, however, I’ve received a lot of questions about two very specific components of this recipe: (1) the use of cake yeast; and (2) some issues with the dough splitting open and filling oozing out during the baking process.
I’ve gone back and re-worked the recipe a couple of times to help troubleshoot those issues, and I’ve got you covered!
My mom gave me the recipe card for nut roll, which hails from her best friend of a gazillion years, Cheryl. I just adore old handwritten recipe cards 💗
Okay let’s dig into the specifics of this recipe. First up, the yeast…
The original recipe calls for cake yeast, which is typically sold in the refrigerated section of the grocery store near the butter. When I first began making this recipe, I bought cake yeast all the time, however, it hasn’t been stocked in my regular grocery store for some time now, and it sounds like the same is the case for many of you.
I recently made a batch of this nut roll substituting active dry yeast and I had no issues whatsoever. One fresh cake yeast is equivalent to three packages of active dry yeast, so you’ll see that substitution option listed in the recipe below. The most important difference to keep in mind is that the temperature of the water needs to be different based on the type of yeast you use. For fresh cake yeast, you’ll want a lower temperature to activate the yeast, while the active dry yeast requires a higher temperature.
Next up is the issue of the dough splitting and the filling oozing out. I think I have this one figured out!
The last time that I made this, instead of adding all of the flour, I added a little at a time and then stopped once the dough was no longer sticky, and I still had quite a bit of flour left. And what do you know? Those rolls had perfectly smooth dough from start to finish on ALL of the rolls – no cracking, splitting or filling spilling out. I’m convinced that the issue had to do with the dough being too dry and, as a result, cracking and splitting, which can cause the filling to come out.
The exact amount that you use will vary wildly depending on the time of year, the ambient air temperature and humidity levels, but definitely go with a little flour at a time, and then stop periodically to feel the dough as you near the end of the flour. It shouldn’t be sticky, but should still be quite soft and supple.
So that’s it! This is my go-to nut roll recipe and has been for years, and I hope I’ve made it a little bit easier for you to tackle it. At first glance it might look like a lot of work (8 nut roll!) but it’s really not a lot of hands-on time and they only require one (long) rise, so totally doable. I made my Christmas batch last week and managed to get them totally mixed and assembled in an hour while Joseph was at preschool and Dominic was napping. I left them to rise and baked later that afternoon. Done!
You can buy nut roll from bakeries and tons of churches in this area around the holidays, but I’m always surprised once I dig in and tackle them at how uncomplicated they are. If you’ve been too intimidated to try nut roll before, have no fear! I’ve also successfully scaled this recipe, so if you don’t need this many nut roll, feel free to cut it in half.
In a word, this nut roll recipe is spectacular. Too often I’ve had nut roll that are doughy and dry and/or don’t have enough filling. The dough for this recipe is very, very soft, and the filling is supremely moist. Plus, the filling-to-dough ratio is very high, which keeps everything from drying out and packs a ton of flavor into even the smallest of slices.
I hope you’ll give these a try and that they become one of your Christmas traditions as well!
Make the Dough: Dissolve 1 teaspoon sugar into the ½ cup warm water (if using fresh cake yeast, the water temperature should be between 90 to 95 degrees F; if using active dry yeast, the water temperature should be 120 to 130 degrees F). Crumble the fresh yeast or sprinkle the active dry yeast and stir to combine. Let sit for 5 to 10 minutes, or until foaming.
In the bowl of a stand mixer using the paddle attachment, beat the eggs on medium speed until combined, about 1 minute. Add the sour cream, melted butter, sugar, vanilla, salt and the softened yeast. Mix on medium speed until smooth and well-combined, about 2 to 3 minutes. Switch to the dough hook, reduce the mixer speed to low, and add the flour a little at a time, until the dough does not feel sticky but is still soft and supple. Continue kneading until the dough does not stick to the sides of the bowl. Cover with a damp dish towel while you prepare the filling.
Make the Filling: In a large bowl, combine all of the ingredients for the filling, stirring well to ensure that it is completely mixed and all of the ingredients are incorporated.
Assemble the Nut Roll: Line four baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats. Divide the dough into eight pieces. On a clean work surface and one at a time, roll each piece out into a 9x14-inch rectangle, using flour if necessary to keep from sticking. Spread one-eighth of the filling to within ½-inch of the edges. With the long side in front of you, roll up gently and pinch the seams shut. Place on the prepared baking sheets, 2 rolls per sheet. Cover loosely with plastic wrap. Repeat with all eight pieces of dough. Place the baking sheets in a draft-free area and allow to rise for 3 hours (the rolls will puff and swell but will not look huge).
Bake the Nut Roll: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Bake one pan at a time for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the tops are lightly browned. Cool completely before slicing. Wrap leftovers tightly in plastic wrap and store at room temperature for up to 1 week. The nut roll can be frozen by wrapping in plastic wrap, then again in foil, and stored in the freezer for up to 2 months. Thaw at room temperature.
If you do not have a stand mixer, you can mix and knead this dough by hand.
You can cut this recipe in half to make only four rolls instead of eight.