Austrian Nussschnecke – mini versions.

Raised pastry made from scratch used to scare the shit out of me. Only recently I leaped the hurdle and made the first one without the helping hands of my Mom or Grandma. It was a plain pizza yeast dough, so nothing special and not too difficult actually. Even for a yeast-dough-newby like me. So I started experimenting with yeast doughs and tried a few recipes. And in this blogpost I want to share one of the recipes: nut rolls. Or how we call it in Austria: Nussschnecke (Nut Snails. haha). They remind me a lot of cinnamon buns that are so typical for Scandinavia, bun instead of ‘only’ putting cinnamon and sugar into the filling, we add grounded nuts in there.

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I have made them several times before, but always in a lazy fashion: with store-bought flaky pastry. I usually make mini versions as they are the perfect snack-size and the big ones – the ones you get at the store or in bakeries – are just too big sometimes. Plus, the minis make a nice sweet party snack, especially during winter when they are fresh out of the oven!

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A yeast dough base usually consists of a bit of milk and sugar, a pinch of salt, and wheat flour. Sometimes soft butter and eggs are added – according to my Mom (and she got it from her Mom) eggs are used when you want a ‘finer dough’, so for ‘better’ pastries, for special occasions. So technically, yeast-dough can easily be vegan if plant-based milk and vegan butter are used, and the eggs skipped.

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This time I made the dough from scratch – plus I made them plant-based, with a little advise from my mom on how ‘hot’ the milk should be and with our both remembrance of my grandma’s ‘recipe’ for the nut filling. Everything with a nut filling just reminds me of my grandma as she used to make pastries with such a filling on a regular basis when I was younger.

What you need for the dough for 25 Mini-Nussschnecken:

  • 400g wheat flour – but you might need a bit more
  • 1/2 of a yeast dice (instead: 1 package of dry yeast)
  • 150-250ml warm (plant-based) milk
  • 50g sugar
  • 60g soft butter (room temperature!)

What you need for the nut-filling:

  • 200g grounded walnuts
  • 1 tbsp. sugar (add more if you like it sweeter)
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • some milk
  • some butter

What to do:

Sift the flour into a big bowl, crumble the yeast dice into the center of the bowl and add the warm milk and sugar to the top of the yeast. Mix this bit and wait for a couple of minutes, add the butter and salt, mix everything with a spatula until you can knead the dough with your hands (beware, this takes a while). It depends, maybe you need some more milk or more flour until the dough is really smooth and detaches from the bowl. Then put a (clean) kitchen towel over it, and place the bowl somewhere warm for around an hour.

In the meantime you can take care of the filling. In a small pan or pot melt some butter and add the sugar, grounded walnuts and cinnamon, and stir it so it does not burn. After a short time you can add the milk and stir everything for a couple of minutes until it is smoothly combined. Remove it from the heat.

After doubling in size put the dough onto a floured surface and knead it once again before rolling it out into a rectangular shape that is around 2-3mm thick. If you want to make it perfect you can cut the edges with a knife so it is a true rectangle. Spread the nut-filling over the rolled out dough. Roll it up so you have a long cylinder which you can cut into 2-cm-pieces. Place the ‘snails’ with the cut edge upward onto a baking plate and leave enough space between them so they don’t stick together in the end. I also brushed them with plenty of leftover milk so they are extra soft. If you want you can put a towel on top of them and let them rise again for some time, but this is not a must. Bake them for around 20 minutes at 180°C until they are golden. If you want, you can then put a sugar glaze on top of them by mixing a few tablespoons of water with a lot (!) of powdered sugar, and let the Snails cool down – or devour right away. Mine turned out to be better-tasting the day after.

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A few things worth knowing when working with yeast:

Fresh yeast or dry yeast. Personally I have never tasted or seen a difference between the two. However, dry yeast is less vulnerable, it does not expire that early, and the process is a bit easier because you can always (correct me if I am wrong) skip the yeast starter and put it straight into the flour without mixing it with warm milk.

Temperature is key! It is important that the milk is not too hot or cold. Yeast needs the ‘perfect’ temperature: too hot would destroy the yeast, and too cold would prolong the fermentation process. The ‘best’ temperature of the milk apparently is around 35°. In general it is advised to use ingredients at room temperature. So take the ingredients out of the fridge or wherever you keep them a good amount of time before using them.

Rising place. The same applies to the temperature for the rising-duration. You could keep the dough in your already warm kitchen. Or if you are not sure if your kitchen is ‘hot enough’, you could preheat the oven to the lowest temperature (which is usually 50°C) and turn it off again so your dough rises in the remaining heat. One option that is used in my home is putting some hot water into the sink and placing the bowl with the dough into the sink.

Yeast starter. Sometimes it is advised to make a yeast starter – the dough is made in a two-step process. In the first step fermentation for a period of time is allowed by mixing warm milk, sugar, and the yeast and keeping it in a warm place for a while. In the second step, the yeast starter is added to the final dough’s ingredients. This is usually done for taste, texture, and chemistry apparently. My grandma used to make a yeast starter for the very special kinds of yeast pastries like Krapfen, another traditional Austrian dessert.

Patience is a virtue. A dice of yeast never acts the same as the dice you’ve used previously. Summer is different from winter. Your oven might be different from mine. You might not have the temperature that you had last time. So what you actually need is: time on your hand to keep an eye on the dough and see whether it is already the way you like it to be or if it needs another 15 minutes. So unfortunately, you can never exactly tell if you need one hour for the whole thing or two ;) But I would say the more often you try the dough the better feeling you get for it (but I guess this is true for every recipe that you get from somewhere?) Or if you do not actually have that much time you just have to accept that your pastry is not going to be the fluffiest on earth. Which is totally fine too if you ask me.

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