Honey and Walnut Pastries

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Honey and Walnut Pastries, known as Moldavian Little Saints or “mucenici” in Romanian, are a beloved traditional dessert.

Honey and Walnuts Pastries

Honey and Walnut Pastries, known as Moldavian Little Saints or “mucenici” in Romanian, are a traditional dessert with a soft, fluffy texture and a sweet, nutty flavour.

Made with a simple dough infused with lemon peel and vanilla, these pastries are shaped into figure-eights, baked until golden, and then soaked in a fragrant syrup of sugar, water, and citrus peel.

Finally, they are brushed with honey and sprinkled with ground walnuts for a delightful finish.

If you enjoy baking you should try these recipes next One egg lemon pound cake, Super soft Jam-Filled Bread Roll, Easy Flourless Yogurt Cake: light and fluffy cheesecake, The BEST Mini Ricotta Cakes, Raspberry and Coconut Cake Recipe or Brownies Topped with Pink Berry Cream.

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Expert Tips

Ensure the yeast is activated properly by using warm milk and allowing it to rest for 10 minutes before proceeding with the recipe.

Don’t rush the rising process; allow the dough to double in size during both proofing stages for a light and airy texture.

When soaking the baked pastries in syrup, ensure they are completely cooled to prevent them from becoming soggy. Dip them briefly to absorb the flavors without making them too moist.

What is the history behind these pastries?

The history of Moldavian Little Saints, or “mucenici” in Romanian, is rooted in Romanian tradition and folklore. The name “mucenici” translates to “martyrs,” and the pastries are typically made and consumed on the Feast of the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste, a Christian holiday celebrated on March 9th.

Legend has it that during the Roman Empire, forty soldiers who refused to renounce their Christian faith were martyred by being left to freeze to death on a frozen lake in Sebaste (modern-day Sivas, Turkey). The martyrs are said to have sung hymns and prayers while enduring their fate, and the Feast of the Forty Martyrs commemorates their bravery and sacrifice.

The tradition of making Moldavian Little Saints on this feast day has evolved over time. The pastries are shaped into figure-eights to represent the number 40 and are often flavoured with lemon and honey, symbolizing purity and sweetness. They are shared among family and friends as a gesture of remembrance and celebration of the martyrs’ steadfast faith.

Today, Moldavian Little Saints remain a cherished part of Romanian culinary heritage, enjoyed not only on religious occasions but also as a beloved treat shared with loved ones.

Ingredients

Warm Milk: Use milk that is lukewarm to activate the yeast. It should be around 110°F (43°C). Too hot, and it will kill the yeast; too cold, and it won’t activate properly.

Sugar: Provides sweetness to the dough and syrup. Use granulated sugar for best results.

Melted Butter: Adds richness and flavor to the dough. Ensure it’s melted but not too hot when adding to the dough.

Eggs: Eggs provide structure, richness, and color to the dough. Use large eggs at room temperature. The extra egg for the egg wash gives the pastries a glossy finish when baked.

Dry Yeast: Leavening agent that helps the dough rise. Ensure the yeast is fresh and within its expiration date for optimal results.

Flour: Provides structure and volume to the pastries. Use all-purpose flour for a balanced texture.

Vanilla Extract: Enhances the flavor of the dough with a sweet and aromatic note. Use pure vanilla extract for the best flavor.

Lemon Peel: Adds a subtle citrus flavor to the dough. Use a fresh lemon and avoid the white pith, which can impart a bitter taste.

For the syrup:

Water: Forms the base of the syrup. Use filtered water for a clean taste.

Sugar: Sweetens the syrup and helps to preserve it. Dissolve the sugar completely when making the syrup.

Vanilla Extract: Adds flavor to the syrup. Use pure vanilla extract for the best taste.

Orange and/or Lemon Peel: Infuses the syrup with citrus flavor. Use fresh, unwaxed citrus fruits for the best aroma and flavor.

For decoration:

Honey: Adds sweetness and a glossy finish to the pastries. Use quality honey for the best flavor.

Ground Walnuts: Provides a crunchy texture and nutty taste to the pastries. Toast the walnuts lightly before grinding for enhanced flavour.

Honey and Walnuts Pastries

Substitutes

Here are some possible substitutes for the ingredients without compromising the recipe:

Warm Milk: You can use warm water or a dairy-free milk alternative such as almond milk or soy milk.

Sugar: Substitute with an equal amount of coconut sugar, maple syrup, or honey for a different flavour.

Melted Butter: Replace with an equal amount of melted coconut oil or vegetable oil for a dairy-free option. For a richer flavour, you can use melted ghee.

Eggs: Use a commercial egg replacer or make a flaxseed or chia seed “egg” by mixing 1 tablespoon of ground flaxseed or chia seeds with 3 tablespoons of water until gel-like.

Dry Yeast: If you don’t have dry yeast, you can use an equal amount of active dry yeast or instant yeast.

Flour: Gluten-free flour blends can be used as a substitute for wheat flour. Look for a 1:1 gluten-free flour blend for best results.

Vanilla Extract: Replace with almond extract, maple extract, or vanilla bean paste.

Lemon Peel: Substitute with orange peel or omit it entirely if you prefer a milder taste.

For the syrup:

Water: You can use fruit juice such as orange juice or apple juice for a flavored syrup.

Sugar: Replace with an equal amount of honey, maple syrup, or agave nectar.

Vanilla Extract: Omit if you don’t have it on hand, or use almond extract.

Orange and/or Lemon Peel: Use zest from other citrus fruits such as lime or grapefruit, or omit it entirely for a simpler syrup.

For decoration:

Honey: Replace with maple syrup, agave nectar, or date syrup.

Ground Walnuts: Substitute with ground almonds, pecans, or hazelnuts for a different nutty taste.

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Storage and leftovers

Once cooled, store the pastries in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days, or refrigerate for up to 1 week. Leftovers can be frozen for up to 2 months. Thaw in the refrigerator or at room temperature before reheating in the oven.

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Honey and Walnuts Pastries

Honey and Walnuts Pastries

Claudia
Honey and Walnut Pastries, known as Moldavian Little Saints or "mucenici" in Romanian, are a beloved traditional dessert.
5 from 5 votes
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Resting Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Total Time 2 hours 20 minutes
Course Dessert, Easter, Holiday Baking
Cuisine Romanian
Servings 12

Equipment

  • Large mixing bowl
  • Balloon whisk or a fork
  • Measuring cups and spoons
  • Stand mixer or mixing bowl and spoon for kneading
  • Baking Tray
  • parchment paper
  • Pastry brush
  • Oven

Ingredients
  

For the dough:

  • 1 cup 200 ml of warm milk
  • ¼ cup 50 g sugar
  • cup 80 g melted butter
  • 2 eggs + 1 egg for egg wash
  • 1 packet 7 g dry yeast
  • 4 cups 500 g of flour
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • Lemon peel from 1 fruit

For syrup:

  • 1 ½ cups 350 ml water
  • ½ cup 100 g sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • Orange and/or lemon peel

For decoration:

  • 1 cup 250 g honey
  • 1 cup 250 g ground walnuts

Instructions
 

  • Begin by combining the warm milk, yeast, and sugar in a large bowl. Use a balloon whisk to mix them thoroughly, ensuring the yeast is well dissolved. Let the mixture rest for about 10 minutes to activate the yeast and allow it to froth.
  • To the yeast mixture, add the eggs, melted butter, finely grated lemon peel, and vanilla essence. Stir the ingredients together until roughly combined. The lemon peel adds a subtle citrus aroma to the dough, enhancing its flavor.
  • Gradually add the flour to the wet ingredients, stirring continuously until a shaggy dough forms. Then, transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead it for about 5 minutes until it becomes smooth and elastic. If using a stand mixer, attach the dough hook and knead on low speed.
  • Grease a large bowl with cooking oil and place the dough inside. Turn the dough over to coat it lightly with oil. Cover the bowl with a clean kitchen towel or plastic wrap and let the dough rise in a warm, draft-free place until it doubles in size, which typically takes about 60 minutes.
  • While the dough is rising, prepare the syrup by combining water, sugar, vanilla extract, and strips of orange and/or lemon peel in a saucepan. Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar is completely dissolved. Set the syrup aside to cool slightly.
  • Once the dough has doubled in size, gently punch it down to release the air. Transfer the dough to the floured surface again and divide it into 12 equal portions. Shape each portion into small figure-eight shapes, resembling the traditional Moldavian Little Saints.
  • Line a baking tray with parchment paper and arrange the shaped dough pieces on it, leaving some space between each pastry. This allows room for the pastries to expand as they rise during baking.
  • Cover the tray with a clean kitchen towel and let the shaped pastries rise for an additional 30 minutes. This second rise helps to develop the texture and flavor of the pastries.
  • Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F) or Gas Mark 4 while the pastries are rising. This ensures that the oven is properly heated and ready for baking once the pastries are prepared.
  • In a small bowl, beat an egg with a splash of milk to create an egg wash. Brush the risen pastries with the egg wash, giving them a glossy finish when baked.
  • Place the tray in the preheated oven and bake the pastries for 15-20 minutes or until they are golden brown and cooked through. Keep an eye on them to prevent over-browning.
  • Once the pastries are fully baked and cooled, immerse each one in the prepared syrup to soak up the sweet flavors. Then, brush the tops with honey and generously sprinkle them with ground walnuts for added texture and flavor.
  • Serve and enjoy these delightful Moldavian Little Saints, also known as “mucenici” or “sfintisori,” with a cup of tea or coffee for a truly indulgent treat!

Video

Notes

Ensure that the milk is warm but not too hot, as it can kill the yeast if it’s too hot.
When kneading the dough, add flour gradually until you achieve a soft, elastic consistency.
Allow enough time for the dough to rise until it doubles in size, as this is crucial for achieving a light and fluffy texture.
While preparing the syrup, simmer it gently to dissolve the sugar completely and infuse it with the flavors of the orange and/or lemon peel.
Shape the dough into small figure-eight shapes, ensuring they are evenly sized for uniform baking.
Brushing the pastries with egg wash before baking gives them a golden color and a glossy finish.
Monitor the baking time closely to prevent over-browning. The pastries are ready when they turn golden brown.
Once baked, allow the pastries to cool slightly before dipping them into the prepared syrup to absorb the sweetness.
Brushing the tops of the pastries with honey and sprinkling them with ground walnuts adds a delicious finishing touch.
Enjoy these traditional Moldavian Little Saints with a cup of tea or coffee for a delightful treat!
Keyword baking, honey, pastries, walnut

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