Mucenici are a traditional Romanian dish made only once a year and eaten on March the 9th. Mucenici are made to celebrate the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste, a religious holiday celebrated by the orthodox church.
Mucenici are a very authentic Romanian recipe and as a kid, I grew up with this tradition. The beginning of Spring is associated with this delicious dish which basically consists of vegan pastry in a nutty, sugary syrup. Think of it like a sweet pasta soup that tastes fantastic.
Mucenici take different shapes all around Romania, each region celebrating this holiday with its own type of mucenici. For example, where I'm from, Bucharest, we make small mucenici in the shape of an 8 and simmer them in walnut and sugar water to give them taste. The result is a fantastic sweet pasta soup with lots of nuts and sweet aromas.
I make my Romanian mucenici from scratch, every single year on the 8th of March, in preparation for the 9th of March, when we are meant to eat and enjoy the dish. In Romania, you can now buy 8-shaped pastry in the supermarket but I like to keep them traditional and make everything from scratch. Besides, it's really easy and fun to do it.
How to make traditional Romanian mucenici
Mucenici are made of 8-shaped dough and a sugary broth in which we boil them. Here's how to make mucenici from scratch, with step by step pictures to help you along the way.
Dough for mucenici:
In a standing mixer, place the flour, water, oil and salt. Mix for 15 minutes until the dough is well combined. It should be soft but not at all sticky. You should be able to touch it and have no dough stuck to your fingers.
Prepare a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. You won't need to bake anything, this is just so we can dry the mucenici overnight.
Dust your worktop with a little bit of flour and start rolling your dough. Roll it as much as you can until you get a sheet of 0.5 cm in thickness. You will need two round cookie cutters of different sizes. Alternatively, you can use a shot glass and another round item you can find in your kitchen. I used a shot glass and one of my round piping nozzles.
When the dough is rolled, cut circles using your larger cutter (in this case, the shot glass for me). Remove the unused dough around the circles and set aside.
Now take the smaller cutter and press it into the centre of your circles. You should obtain some rings.
Take each ring and twist it once, to form the number 8. Press a little in the middle to make sure the dough is sticking in that shape.
Place the 8-shaped dough on top of the parchment paper. Repeat this with the remaining rings.
Now use the remaining dough and repeat this process. You should have two full baking sheets full of 8-shaped dough.
Dust them with a little flour and allow the dough to dry overnight.
The mucenici broth:
Place the mucenici in around 2 litres of boiling water. Add rum essence, cinnamon and vanilla sugar and simmer the mucenici until they are fully cooked. You know they are cooked when they start to float at the top of the water. Make sure to taste one to ensure it's fine. It should have a bite and should be al dente, just like pasta.
Now add the sugar, orange zest, lemon zest and 2/3 ground walnuts. Simmer for another 5 minutes and remove from the fire. Taste and make sure the broth tastes sweet and nice.
The mucenici are now ready to be served. Serve them in a bowl with the remaining 1/3 ground walnuts on the side. You are meant to add a few more tsp of walnuts on top of the dish as you eat it.
That's it. You now know how to make a traditional Romanian recipe that welcomes Spring! It's delicious and brings back amazing childhood memories. I am certain you are going to have a lot of fun making mucenici in your own kitchen. After all, it's nice to make new memories with your own family.
This recipe has been developed entirely by Yuzu Bakes. Any resemblance with other recipes is purely coincidental.