Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Handmade Holidays

I am thrilled to be a part of Jennifer's Handmade Holidays: Inspirations blog hop.  Have you been following along? 
I have brought back an article I wrote a few years ago about a long time baking tradition that my grandparents brought with them when they came to America at the turn of the 20th century. I hope you enjoy reading about this delicious pastry that I have grown up eating and making.
Comfort and Joy
For as long as I can remember, making nut rolls has been a part of our Christmas tradition.
Some of my earliest memories of preparing the food for Christmas are of my dad sitting on the couch,
watching television, with a huge bowl of walnuts in front of him.

Mom would buy whole, unshelled walnuts and dad would sit for hours and crack them for her. Then mom would use her hand-crank grinder and finely grind the nuts.

Things have gotten a little easier since then. I have switched to pecans, because I like them better, I buy the pecans by the bag at Costco, already shelled. I use the grinding attachment on my Kitchen Aid mixer to get a finely ground nut meal.

The original recipe comes from my paternal grandmother. She was an amazing cook and baker. Grandma was originally from Czechoslovakia, where she was a cook for a wealthy family. 
A few years ago I met my cousins in Slovakia for the first time and was brought to tears when they brought out a plate of their homemade Nut Roll. It really is a long standing family tradition.

Being originally from Pennsylvania, where there were a lot of Slovak people, everyone seemed to have their version of this recipe. I have included my version in my Stanley Family cookbook so my boys will always have a copy for themselves. That's my mom on the page, since her recipe is the one I use...with a few changes. I like to make a little more filling than Mom did.
Here is my updated recipe:
Two Hour Nut Roll
Nut Roll by Diane Stanley


  • 3 envelopes active dry yeast
  • 3/4 c. lukewarm milk
  • 9 c. flour
  • 1 1/2 t. salt
  • 1 1/2 c. butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 c. sour cream
  • 9 egg yolks
  • 3/4 c. sugar
  • 3 T. oil
  • 2 lb. pecans, ground in a meat or nut grinder.
  • 1 c. milk, scalded
  • 1 c. butter, melted
  • 3 c. sugar
  • 2 t. vanilla


  • 1
    Dissolve yeast in warm milk. Mix in sugar, salt, butter, sour cream, egg yolks and oil. Put flour in a large bowl, make a well in the center. Pour in liquid mixture and gradually begin stirring to incorporate all flour. When dough forms into a ball, then lightly knead for a few minutes. { You can also use the dough hook on a Kitchen-Aid mixer and mix until a smooth dough forms.}
  • Let rise in a greased bowl, covered, in a warm place for 1 1/2 hours. Divide dough into 9 pieces. Roll each piece out to a large circle, approximately 1/4 inch thick. Spread filling on dough and roll up like a jelly roll, sealing both ends. Place in greased pans with high sides,seam side down. Cover and allow to rise for 30 minutes. Beat 1-2 additional egg yolks and paint rolls with egg wash. Bake at 300’F for 45-60 minutes, until they look firm and appear done. I like to weigh the dough and filling and divide it evenly to make sure that all rolls are of a uniform size.
  • 2
    For Filling: Scald milk, add ground nuts, sugar, butter and vanilla. Allow to cool before using.

I didn't really know there was a competition in my dad's family until we traveled back to Pennsylvania for Christmas when I was 10 years old. 

My parents packed my brother, sister and me into the family car. They stuffed the trunk with our gifts from Santa and a gift for all of my cousins. I have 31 cousins! Are you getting the picture, here? We were crammed into that car for 2 days of driving straight through from California to Pennsylvania. 
Can you say "LEG CRAMPS"?
Of course, we visited all my parents' siblings.  Aunt Mary's nut rolls were so delicious! And then I tasted Aunt Emma's and her's were good too. Uncle George claimed he made the best ones. My Uncle Brownie was an amazing cook and baker. Hmmm...could there be a little competitiveness among the siblings and in-laws?
Either way, I sure enjoyed trying all the different versions and some yummy cookies as well. My aunts and uncles were all amazing cooks and bakers.
These delicious confections are not just a Christmas food. They are great for whenever you need some comfort and joy. I often make them for family funerals because they evoke so many memories of the "good ole days".
So a lot of sugar, butter and nuts wrapped in a delicious dough can make anyone feel better, right?
Making and eating this sweet treat brings back so many fond memories of holidays in the past.

It's also therapeutic to do something so comforting as making dough 

 rolling it out
 and spreading it with a sweet nut mixture.
This is a soft dough that rolls out so easily. 

 Just 30 minutes more for the second rise
 a brush with beaten egg yolks
 an hour in the oven

a thick schmere of nut filling between layers of sweet dough


I've made a double batch to get us through Thanksgiving and Christmas this year. Nut Roll is just one of the many Christmas treats I will be making this year.

What holiday sweet brings comfort and joy to your heart?
Be sure to link your Handmade Holidays project at Ellison Lane for a chance to win some generous prizes.


Debbie said...

Very sweet post in more ways than one. Thanks for sharing Diane!

Kathleen said...

oh what a lovely post... I stopped dead at "driving straight from California to Pennsylvania........ugh !

Sandy said...

My grandmother used to make a variation of these nut rolls along with a poppy seed roll every Christmas! My mom could never remember where she got the recipe or how they became a tradition, but your story explains so much! My grandmother and grandfather were from Pennsylvania. My mom was born there but they moved when she was little. My brother now carries on the tradition of making the rolls. Thank you so much for sharing the recipe and the history behind it.

Jill Fisher said...

My mom made a version of a but roll. She called it Poticza bread. I loved it SO much. I'm with you, though, I much prefer the taste of pecans over walnuts. I felt like a bit of a rebel the year I swapped! I think I might try your recipe this year!