Mucenici Moldovenesti (Northern Romanian Delight)

Okay, so I have a confession to make: I have never had these until yesterday, when I made them for the first time.  I heard of them, but I'm a city girl from the South.  These are the ones I grew up with.  They are delicious, of course, and follow the same tradition on March 9.  But these ones from the North, from the Romanian Moldova, are quite a delight!  The dough is sweet and fluffy, then you "drown" them in a delicious syrup, ooze them with some honey and sprinkle ground walnuts all over the top.  Once you have a taste, there's no going back, trust me.  Don't get discouraged by the long list of ingredients.  Yes, it is a bit time consuming, but every second spent on them is well worth it. :)  Enjoy!
For dough:
-1/2 cup lukewarm water
-2 1/4 tsp dry active yeast
-1/2 cup warm milk
-5 Tbs salted butter, melted and cooled
-1 cup sugar
-1 egg
-4 cups flour
For glaze:
-1/8 cup milk
-1 egg yolk
For syrup:
-1 cup water
-1 cup sugar
-2 tsp vanilla extract
-2 tsp rum essence
-lemon zest from 1 lemon
For topping:
-1 cup ground walnuts
In your mixer's bowl, combine the water and yeast.  Let it sit for 5 minutes.  Turn the mixer on an gradually add the milk, butter and sugar.  Mix well.  Add the egg and mix well.  Add the flour.  Using the hook attachment, mix until well incorporated.  Keep the mixer going for 15-20 minutes so that the dough gets kneaded nicely.
Remove the hook.  Keeping the dough in the same bowl, cover and let it rise in a warm place for 1-1.5 hours.  Don't worry if it didn't rise too much.
Remove dough form bowl and place on your counter.  Divide the dough into 16-20 equal portions.
 Using the back of your hands, roll each piece of dough until thin and long.
 Fold in half.  Using your finger, hold still the top of the folded dough, and "braid" it (don't twist, just braid).
 Now, unite tops, so that the braided dough forms a circle.  Doesn't it look so pretty? :)
 Shape the circle into an eight.
 Place all of the "eights" onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper.  Let them rest in a warm place for 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 350 F.
Meanwhile, let's make the syrup.  In a small saucepan, combine the water, sugar, vanilla and rum.  Mix well and bring to a boil, like this:
 Once boiling, let it keep going for about 10 minutes.  Remove from the heat and add the lemon zest.  Set aside.
Mix the glaze ingredients.  Brush oven the eights (mucenici).
Bake the mucenici in preheated oven for 20-25 minutes, or until lightly browned on  top.  Remove from the oven and, while still hot, brush with the syrup.  Be generous!  You should use all of the syrup.  Don't worry; it might seem much, but it's not. :)  Drizzle each of them with honey and sprinkle with lots of ground walnuts.  You can eat them hot, warm or cold.  Any way, they are still out of this world delicious!  Enjoy!