Let’s start 2021 and the second half of this trip around the world with an easy, cheerful bake from the Czech Republic. Like every country in the former Austro-Hungarian empire, Czech has a strong coffee-and-cake culture, and the bake that you see everywhere is a light cake made with fresh fruit called Bublanina – a close relative of the French clafoutis.
The idea of a Bublanina is that the cake batter bubbles up around the fresh fruit. The trick is to use enough fruit that’s fresh enough that the cake is moist and fruity, but not so much that it’s damp and soggy. There’s no prescription about what fruit to use: it’s really a case of whatever’s in season. In the middle of a London winter, I went for blueberries (which are presumably in season somewhere across the globe), but strawberries, cherries, peaches and plums are all possible.
You have various options on the batter. At one of the end, you can just shove everything into a bowl and mix it; at the other, you can separate the eggs and pack air into the whites as a raising agent, soufflé-style. You can make the batter more traditional by using some semolina flour, can emulate the clafoutis by adding ground almonds, you can use various flavourings (vanilla, orange or lemon zest, Grand Marnier, etc). I’ve kept it simple and gone with a recipe from czechcookbook.com by Kristýna Koutná, a native of Brno, one of my favourite places in Czech; I’ve added lemon zest and changed the amount of flour slightly (my batter was definitely coming out runnier than Kristýna’s video).
A couple of notes on the photos: (1) I used 250g of blueberries, which was all I had. 400-500g would have been better. (2) The ingredients shot is missing the vanilla and lemon.
Butter for greasing cake tin
320g plain flour (plus 20g or so for sprinkling)
200g sugar (plus 30g or so for sprinkling)
8g baking powder
Grated zest of 1 lemon
240 ml milk
40 ml oil
Vanilla extract to taste
400g fresh fruit in season
Icing sugar for dusting
Preheat oven to 180℃ fan
Grease a cake tin or baking dish (I used a rectangular Pyrex dish or around 30cm x 20cm, but you can use any shape you like). Dust it with flour and shake out the excess.
If you’re using fruit like peaches or large strawberries that need to be cut up, do so now: make sure the fruit isn’t too wet.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, mix flour, sugar and baking powder and blend.
Add lemon zest, eggs, milk and oil
With the standard beater, mix until smooth – do not overbeat.
Pour the batter into your cake tin or dish
Lay out the fruit on the batter. If it sinks, it doesn’t matter.
Sprinkle a bit of sugar over the top.
Bake for around 40 minutes until golden brown on top
Leave to cool
Dust with icing sugar before serving
You can eat bublanina warm or cool it to room temperature. If you find it a bit dry on its own (particularly if, like me, you were a bit short of fruit), add a fruit coulis.
It being that time of year, I was casting around for a Christmas cake that was suitably exotic for this blog, but still had that fruit-laden richness for cold winter evenings. To my surprise, the one that leapt out at me was a recipe from Sri Lanka, which makes something that’s recognisably in the English Christmas Cake tradition, but softer and moister. The ever-reliable sbs.com.au provided the recipe.
What distinguishes the Sri Lankan version is a hefty dose of chow-chow preserve (other Sri Lankan touches are the addition of rosewater and cardamom). Chow-chow is a fruit with many names: choko, chouchou, mirliton, chayote; it’s roughly the shape and consistency of a quince, with a bright green skin reminiscent of a Granny Smith apple. I couldn’t find the preserve locally, but the fruit was readily available in Indian or Caribbean stores, of which we have plenty in London, so I made my own preserve, which wasn’t difficult. (Admission: I did leave mine on the stove for way too long, so it crystallised on setting: this didn’t seem to damage the cake overly.)
Traditionally, you would cover the cake with marzipan and hard icing. That’s too much sweetness for me, so I just made the fruit cake. I also left mine relatively soft and gooey, which is really delicious, at the expense of being tricky to cut. You may want to leave yours in a bit longer than I did.
The chow-chow preserve
Starting with this recipe, this made enough for two cakes. You may want to halve the amounts.
1.1 kg chayote (3 fruits)
1.5 kg sugar
380 ml water
¾ tsp salt
Peel and chop the chayote.
Put everything into a preserving pan and cook until the fruit is soft and the syrup is thick. You probably want a sugar temperature of around 105℃ – I went well over that.
Cool, and put into sterilised jars until needed.
150g unsalted cashews
150g unsalted almonds
200g glacé cherries
500g chow-chow preserve
150g glacé pineapple
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cardamom
½ tsp ground cloves
1 tsp rosewater (see Note)
Grated zest of 1 orange
Grated zest of 1 lemon
60 ml brandy
250g unsalted butter
385g caster sugar
180 g semolina flour
Preheat oven to 140℃ fan
Line a cake tin with baking paper (these quantities work perfectly for a fairly tall 20cm x 20cm tin)
Chop the almonds, toast them in a dry pan, set aside to cool
Chop the cashews, toast them in a dry pan, set aside to cool
Halve the cherries (if they weren’t already bought that way
Chop the pineapple and chow-chow preserve so that the pieces are smaller than half a glacé cherry. How small you want to go is up to you.
Put all fruits, zest, spices, rosewater and brandy into a large bowl and mix them up.
When the nuts are cool, add them also and mix
Chop the butter into small pieces and cream it with the sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer
One a time, separate the eggs, adding the yolk to the butter-sugar mix and incorporating it, and reserving the white in another bowl.
Combine the egg yolk/sugar/butter mix with the fruit-nut mix, add the semolina flour and stir until evenly spread.
Beat the egg whites until soft but not hard, fold into the mix.
Spoon the mixture into your lined tin, pressing it to the edges to smooth out any ruffles in the baking paper.
Cut another square of paper and place it on the top: this will stop the cake drying out
Bake for around 3 hours, or more if you prefer a less gooey cake
For Americans, the phrase “Apple Pie and Motherhood” (or possibly “Apple Pie and Mom”) means “a thing in life that everyone agrees to be unarguably good”. But even Americans would accept that Apple Pie comes from the Netherlands. In fact, there are two variants of Dutch Apple Pie: appeltaart, the lattice-topped version that I’ve made here, and appelkruimeltaart, a crumble-topped version whose American equivalent is Pennsylvania Dutch Apple Pie.
Most Dutch recipes (I’ve started with this one) go for a shortcrust pastry with a fairly high butter to flour ratio (this recipe uses 2:3, but I’ve seen higher), sweetened with brown sugar. As often, I’ve cut down the amount of sugar – the original recipe goes for 50% more than I’ve used. The Dutch use self-raising flour, which moves the end result somewhere in the direction of a cake compared to a typical French apple tart or English pie. A neat trick is to cover your base with a layer of breadcrumbs: this soaks up the juices in the early part of the bake and helps to prevent the dreaded soggy bottom.
The filling is usually fairly heavily spiced and often has other fruit or nuts in addition to the apple. I’ve chosen cinnamon and raisins, but there are plenty of alternatives: cloves, ginger, walnuts or almonds to name just a few. At least once recipe recommends soaking your raisins in rum.
If you’re not in the Netherlands with access to Goudreinet (Golden Rennet) or Belle de Boskoop apples, you’ll have to improvise. You’re going to want an apple which is crisp enough not to disintegrate while baking, and which has plenty of flavour and a level of tartness. Lockdown London isn’t offering my usual levels of choice, so I went for 50/50 Granny Smith and Cox’s Orange Pippin, which worked pretty well. The Granny Smiths are there for tartness, but I’d worry that using them exclusively would be both too sour and too watery.
300 g self raising flour, plus flour for rolling
100 g soft brown sugar
a pinch of salt
200 g cold butter
1 egg, beaten
Combine the flour, sugar and salt.
Cut the butter into small cubes and mix into the flour mixture with your fingertips until you’ve got rid of the lumps of unblended butter.
Keep aside a small amount of egg for brushing, pour the rest into your mixture and blend until you have a smooth dough which no longer sticks to the side of your bowl.
Wrap in cling film and refrigerate for 20-30 minutes.
1 kg apples (see above)
Juice of 1 lemon, or more to taste
6g ground cinnamon
50 g sugar
50 g raisins
Peel, core and chop the apples into quarters, then chop each quarter into 4-5 slices. As you go, put the pieces into a bowl with the lemon juice and mix them around: the lemon will stop the apples going brown as you work.
Add the raisins.
Combine the sugar and cinnamon, add them to the apples and raisins and mix everything until even.
Breadcrumbs (probably around 30g – sorry, I didn’t measure)
I used the fan setting on my oven and I wish I hadn’t – baking for longer without the fan would have resulted in a somewhat softer filling. If you like the apples crunchier, go with the fan option.
Preheat oven to 180℃ conventional.
Grease a 22-23cm springform tin with butter.
Divide the dough into 3 portions, roughly 40%, 40%, 20%.
Roll out the first portion into a circle and use this to line the base of your tin. Trim off any excess and keep it.
Roll the next portion into a long rectangle (you may need more than one) and use it to line the sides of your tin. Again, trim off and keep any excess.
Add all the excess dough to your third piece, roll it out and cut into strips, around 1cm wide.
Spread the breadcrumbs evenly to cover the base of your tart.
Fill the tart with the apple mixture, trying to get rid of the air gaps so the apples are packed well down (but don’t press too hard). The filling will probably form a slight dome over the top: that’s fine.
With your strips of dough, form a lattice over the tart. The Dutch tend to do a kind of overlapping W-shaped pattern – my attempt at this was comically clumsy, as you’ll see from the photos, but this didn’t really matter. You can also do a standard criss-cross version (and if you’re feeling particularly competent, weave it).
Brush the top of the pastry lattice with the remaining egg.
Bake until the pastry is a deep golden brown, which should take around 50 minutes (conventional) or 40 minutes (fan) – depending, as ever, on your oven.
Leave to cool. After 10 minutes or so, extract the pie from the tin.
Enjoy. It’s the perfect treat for a damp, autumnal day.
The Germans are fantastic bakers. I could have chosen from dozens of breads and pastries: pumpernickel, pretzels, seed-filled Vollkornbrot, melt-in-mouth Franzbrötchen and so many more. But I’m a child of the 1960s and I couldn’t resist the German cake of my childhood: the over-the-top architectural construction of chocolate cake, cherries and whipped cream that is the Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte – the Black Forest gâteau.
You need to be careful on this one: most English and American recipes are very sweet. The German recipes have better flavour balance, but do tend to be unbelievably heavy on the cream – I’ve seen recipes specifying over 1 kg of cream for a cake not much bigger than the one I’ve made here. The nice people at Gästehaus Reger, in the heart of the Black Forest, have posted an English language version of their recipe, so I’ve used that as my starting point (dramatically reducing the cream content). By the way, according to Wikipedia, Black Forest gâteau doesn’t actually come from the Black Forest (it was created by a confectioner near Bonn), but they seem to have embraced it with enthusiasm.
German recipes specify jars of sour cherries. Being unable to get these, I substituted frozen black cherries, adding lemon juice to give a sour edge. It’s not perfect, but it worked. I was also short of kirsch – the cherry-based firewater that is the key ingredient of authentic Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte, so I had to substitute some blackcurrant schnapps, left over from a trip to Sweden, which gives a similar flavour. I suggest that you don’t go for the cherry brandy that features in many recipes, because it has a very different flavour, stronger and sweeter.
The next problem to solve is your choice of cake tin. Ideally, you want to follow the Germans and use a single tin, slicing the cake into three layers after baking, because you don’t want lots of crusts. However, the cake extremely light and airy due to its mixture of both sabayon and meringue: my 23cm springform tin is about 6cm high and the cake overflowed it by some margin. This required me to trim some rather misshapen excess: use a deep tin if you have one.
This is a fairly complex and time consuming recipe, with two different baked layers and three fillings/drizzles. You will also use and wash up more bowls than you can possibly imagine. But none of this is unduly difficult.
You need to make the base, the cake and the cherry filling far enough in advance that they’re completely cool. The rest is best done at the last minute.
The cherry filling
If you can get jars of sour cherries, use 500g of those and 250g of the juice from the jar in place of the frozen cherries and lemon juice listed below. Also omit the blitzing of cherries and add 30g sugar.
750g frozen pitted cherries
Juice of 1 lemon
Defrost the cherries. (That’s why I’ve shown this step first – you may want to make your cake layers while this is happening).
Reserve 12 of the best looking cherries – you will use them later for decoration.
Blitz half of the remaining cherries to a coarse puree.
Put the puree and any juice into a saucepan with the cornflour, stir thoroughly and warm gently until thickened.
Add the remaining cherries and bring to the boil.
Remove from heat and refrigerate.
The shortcrust base
This is optional (several recipes don’t include one) but it gives a nice contrast of texture and makes the cake easier to handle.
120g plain flour
3g (around ½ tsp) baking powder
vanilla essence to taste (around 1 tsp)
1 small egg
60g butter, softened
Preheat oven to 180℃ fan
Mix all ingredients together. Cover and refrigerate for around 30 minutes.
Roll out on a baking sheet to a size slightly larger than your cake tin.
Bake for around 10 minutes
Leave to cool
The chocolate cake
150g plain flour
50g cocoa powder
10g baking powder – around 2 tsp
200g caster sugar
Vanilla essence to taste – around 1 tsp
Grease your cake tin
Sift the flour, cornflour, cocoa powder and baking powder into a bowl and combine evenly
Separate the eggs
Add around 50 ml of warm water to the egg yolks and beat at your mixer’s highest speed for around three minutes, until you have a creamy sabayon-like texture. Add 130g of the sugar and beat for another three minutes.
Beat the egg whites until soft peaks form, then add the remaining sugar, then beat until you have a stiff meringue.
Combine the sabayon, the meringue and the flour mix and blend thoroughly. Mix it as a gently as you can (avoiding losing the air that you’ve just beaten into the eggs) but enough to be sure that you haven’t left any clumps of unblended flour.
Pour the cake into your tin, smooth it off so you have a flat top, then bake for around 40 minutes. The cake is ready when a skewer comes out clean.
Remove from the springform tin and leave to cool.
The whipped cream filling
600 g double cream
60 g sugar
Vanilla essence to taste (around 1 tsp)
60 ml kirsch
Whip the cream for a minute or so.
Add sugar, vanilla essence and kirsch.
Whip the mixture until stiff.
20g dark chocolate for grating (the amount is very approximate)
Add 75 ml kirsch to the cherry filling and mix thoroughly
Add 75 ml kirsch to 75 ml water and 20g caster sugar and mix thoroughly
If the cake is heavily domed (mine wasn’t), trim off the domed crust.
Turn the cake over so the crust side is down.
If your cake overspilled the edges of your tin, trim it so that you have a cylinder.
Slice the chocolate cake into three slices horizontally. It’s helpful to mark the slices with a toothpick in each one, immediately above each other: this will help you re-assemble the cake into exactly the right place.
Move the slices next to each other and drizzle them with the kirsch/water/sugar mix.
Trim the shortcrust base to a circle the same size as your cake.
Spread some cherry filling over the base – remove any whole cherries so that you’re just spreading the jam.
Place a layer of cake onto the base (start with the one that was the topmost layer while baking).
Spread the rest of the cherry filling evenly over the cake. Make sure you get to the edges.
Reserve around 80g of the whipped cream for decoration: you’ll want to put it into a piping bag with a star nozzle.
Spread ⅓ of the remaining whipped cream over the cherry filling. Make sure you get to the edges.
Place the remaining two layers of cake on top, using the toothpicks to orient you as to exactly where to put them. After each layer, spread another third of the whipped cream: the top layer should be very even. (At this point, the Germans would also spread cream over the sides to form a perfect white cylinder. But that’s too much cream for me.)
Grate the chocolate into shavings with a grater of vegetable peeler, and sprinkle the shavings over the cake. If you’ve put cream over the sides, also dust the sides with grated chocolate.
Pipe twelve small doughnuts of cream in a circle close to the edge of the cake. Into each doughnut, place a cherry.
You’re done! It was complicated and it was a long haul, but you’ve created a real spectacular, which is light as a feather and tastes fantastic.
The biscuit tin (Americans: read “cookie jar”) was empty. So it was time to head back to the Middle East to refill it, in the shape of ma’amoul, filled cookies made from a shortbread dough rich in semolina. The filling is usually made of dates and/or nuts (usually pistachios, almonds or walnuts): for this first attempt, I used a date and walnut mix.
I’ve gone for a very simple, easy version of ma’amoul, using baking powder rather than yeast and eschewing any overnight resting. Even allowing for an hour’s resting, this takes not much over 90 minutes start to finish. The result was a crumbly, tasty biscuit that wasn’t excessively sweet and that I would definitely make again.
I used good quality soft medjool dates, which are easy to purée to paste with good consistency; various Middle East recipes consider that making your own date paste is tedious, preferring commercially made product.
Once ma’amoul have been filled and formed into their balls, they are often pressed into a patterned wooden mould, because (a) it makes them look pretty and (b) if you’re making more than one different filling, you can use a different pattern for each one. Strangely enough, I don’t own a ma’amoul mould, and if I bought the approved piece of specialist equipment for every item I fancy baking, my house would be filled several times over with baking junk, so I improvised the desired dome shape using a gravy ladle and a coffee tamper. It’s not like I expect everyone to have a gravy ladle, but you get the idea. If you’re doing more than one filling but you don’t have multiple moulds, you can try doing your own decorating by punching indents with a fork or skewer.
This recipe made 16 generously sized ma’amoul. Photo warning: these are more cracked and crumbly than I’d like. I should have added a bit more water to the dough.
110 g butter
40g icing sugar
240g semolina flour
160g plain flour
4g baking powder
30g orange blossom or rose water
Pour everything into the bowl of your stand mixer and mix the whole lot for one or two minutes until thoroughly smoothly combined. The dough should be wet enough to be able to pick up stray bits of flour from the side of the bowl, but no more than that. If it’s sticky, add a bit more flour. If it’s really crumbly, add a bit more milk.
Form the dough into a ball, and leave to stand at room temperature for around an hour.
Filling and baking
The quantities given are what I made as shown in the photos. The next time I make ma’amoul, I’m planning to use 200g dates and no walnuts – I’m not convinced they complement each other and I’d prefer a bit more filling. I would do a walnut filling as an alternative, chopping some 100g of walnuts very finely, adding a couple of teaspoons of syrup and making them into a paste.
125g medjool or other soft dates
Icing sugar for dusting
Preheat oven to 180℃ fan
Chop the walnuts coarsely and toast them in a dry pan for a minute or two until fragrant.
If your dates aren’t pitted, take the stones out now.
Blitz the dates to a soft puree. Add a tiny amount of water if you need to, or more if your dates were quite hard. You could add sugar syrup rather than water if you want a sweeter filling.
Have a 40x30cm baking sheet ready.
Divide your dough into 16 parts, form each part into a ball
Divide your filling into 16 parts, form each part into a ball
Roll out a ball of dough flat and wide enough that you’ll be able to wrap it round your ball of filling
Place a ball of filling in the middle of your dough, then stretch it over to cover.
Press the whole ball into your mould (or, in my case, gravy ladle)
Take the cookie out of the mould and place on your baking sheet
When you’ve done all 16 ma’amoul, put the baking sheet into the oven and bake them for 15 minutes. They should be a pale brown colour: don’t bake them as far as the more usual “golden brown”.
On removal from the oven, dust with icing sugar to taste.
In Sweden, October 4th is Kanelbullens dag, which makes the humble cinnamon bun the only baked item I know to have an officially sanctioned holiday. To be fair, it’s not the most long-standing of national holidays, having been dreamed up in 1999 by the Swedish Home Baking Council. But this year, as it happens, it coincided with a cold and rainy Sunday morning here in London, so no possibility of my usual tennis game. How better to spend the morning than with a bit of traditional baking?
The basics of the cinnamon bun are straightforward enough: make a slightly sweetened bread-like dough enriched with butter, milk and (in many recipes) egg, let it rise, roll it flat and spread with a butter/sugar/cinnamon filling. At this point, you have two choices: for the traditional cinnamon roll, you roll it into a sausage; for the cinnamon twist or knot (kanelknutar), you start with a book fold and do a tricky looking twisting trick. I went for the simple roll.
Just about anywhere in Sweden, the buns would be garnished with the little white sugar nibs known as “pearl sugar”, and in many places, it would be brushed with a syrup glaze after baking. My sweet tooth isn’t what it was, so I’ve omitted both of these. For added puffiness, however, I’ve followed an American blog called “True North Kitchen” and used an Asian pre-dough technique called Tangzhong, which helps to keep the buns stay soft for several days after baking.
The Tangzhong (or “water roux”)
75 ml milk
75 ml water
30g strong white flour
Whisk the ingredients together in a saucepan, getting as many lumps out as you can
Heat over medium heat until the mixture thickens, whisking frequently. Make sure you get rid of lumps as they appear.
Keep heating for a couple more minutes – there shouldn’t be any taste of raw flour left – and then remove from the heat and set aside.
Ground cardamom to taste (I started with whole pods and shelled and ground my own in a pestle and mortar, which yielded about 1g, which was fine)
Melt the butter and leave to cool
In the bowl of your stand mixer, evenly mix the yeast, sugar, salt, flour and cardamom
Warm the milk to lukewarm (around 40℃)
Add the milk, egg, melted butter and tangzhong to the dry mix. Stir until combined into a smooth dough (either with a wooden spoon or the standard paddle of your mixer.
Knead for around 5 minutes with the dough hook.
Leave to rise until you have a light, puffy dough: this took a couple of hours in a not particularly warm autumn kitchen, but will vary according to the temperature of your kitchen
Preheat the oven to 225℃
75g butter, softened
75g brown sugar
pinch of salt
Combine all the ingredients and stir until you have a smooth, even dark brown paste.
Make sure it’s soft enough to spread thinly and easily: 30 seconds in the microwave is a good way of doing this. There’s no point in tearing your dough because you had lumps in the filling.
1 teaspoon of milk
Roll out the dough on a lightly floured board until you have a thin rectangle around 50cm x 40cm – try and be as accurately rectangular as you can manage, otherwise (as you’ll see from my photos) the two buns at the end will be rather conical and rather shorter of filling.
Make an egg wash by whisking the egg and milk together until smooth
Slice the dough into sixteen even slices.
Prepare two baking trays and array eight buns on each one. If you have paper bun cases, use them: they help the buns keep their shape. If not, make sure the trays are properly greased.
Brush some egg wash over each bun
Bake the buns until golden brown: this should take around 8-10 minutes; if you did both trays at the same time in the oven, the bottom tray will need a couple of minutes longer.
Where home-coming Argentinians make a beeline for Alfajores, Paraguayans head for Pasta Frola: a lattice-topped jam tart filled with either guava or quince paste. Childhood summers in Portugal have made me particularly partial to quince paste, and in any case, guavas are hard to get hold of here in England, so the quince version was the obvious choice.
Time for a couple of short linguistic digressions. The Spanish for quince is “membrillo”, and quince paste (sometimes called “quince cheese” for reasons I can’t fathom) is “dulce de membrillo”. In Portuguese, however, a quince is a “marmelo” and the paste is called “marmelada”. The English word “marmalade” confuses both Portuguese (where orange jam is just called “doce de laranja”) and Italians, for whom the word “marmellata” means jam of any sort, and “marmellare” means “to make jam”. In Italian, “pasta frolla” simply means shortcrust pastry, and this dessert would be called a “crostata”.
You can buy dulce de membrillo ready made in the UK, but it tends to be fairly expensive at around £25 or £30 for a kilo. Anyway, our local shops don’t stock it and our local fruit shop had quinces, so I had a go at making my own. Peeling quinces is a bit of faff – the skin is very tough – but other than that, the process isn’t too difficult.
This is metricised and modified slightly from the recipe from simplyrecipes.com. I overbought quinces and made around double this recipe, which was way too much: the quantities here will make well over 1kg of paste, which is a lot more than you need for the Pasta Frola.
Around 1 kg of quinces (typically 4 fruit)
Grated zest and juice of one lemon
Vanilla essence to taste
Around 800g jam sugar (to be adjusted)
Peel and core the quinces, being sure to remove the fibrous bit of stalk that’s inside the quince. Chop coarsely (maybe 8-12 pieces per fruit).
Put them in a saucepan, add the grated lemon zest cover them with cold water and bring to the boil.
Simmer for around 30-40 minutes until you can cut them with a wooden spoon
Drain the quince pieces and transfer to the bowl of a food processor: blitz until extremely smooth (this can take several minutes).
Return the puree to a saucepan, add the sugar, vanilla essence and lemon juice.
Bring to the boil, uncovered, and simmer gently for 60-90 minutes, stirring often enough to ensure that you don’t caramelise the paste on the bottom of the pan.
Preheat oven to 125℃
When the mixture is a dark pink/orange, remove from the heat. Line a shallow rectangular oven dish with baking parchment and spread the mixture evenly into the dish.
Leave the dish in the oven for around 90 minutes for the paste to dry out. The Spanish and Portuguese cook theirs to the consistency of thick jelly, so that you can cut slices of it. It’s quite difficult to get to this stage without burning it somewhere, and in any case, you don’t need to for Pasta Frola: a soft paste is just fine and you’re going to be baking it some more anyway.
By the way, quince paste is a really wonderful accompaniment to cheese, particularly sharply flavoured cheese.
The Pasta Frola
Thanks for this to my daughter’s South American colleague Daniel (who was the person who insisted that it should be included in this blog in the first place). His recipe was for about double this amount as a 40cm x 30cm traybake: I used a square tin with a removable base of around 23cm x 23cm, which left a small amount of pastry left over.
250g plain flour (use OO if possible)
15g baking powder
90g cup of sugar
125g butter, plus some for greasing
3 egg yolks (around 50g)
700g quince paste (see above)
50ml madeira, port or similar fortified wine
Preheat oven to 150℃
If your butter isn’t soft, cut it into squares and leave it a few minutes to soften
In the bowl of your stand mixer, combine flour, sugar and baking powder and mix well
Add the butter and mix until you reach the breadcrumb stage
Separate the eggs and add the yolks to the mixture, together with the milk
Mix until you have a smooth dough
Knead it for a couple of minutes until somewhat elastic, then cover and leave for 15 minutes
Meanwhile, grease the tin, and mix the quince paste and madeira in a bowl
Once the dough has finished resting, separate out one third of it and set aside. On a generously floured board, roll it out to the size of your tin with around 2cm overlap all the way round
Line your tin with the dough. If, like me, your dough always breaks at this point, don’t worry – just press it into the bottom and sides with your fingers as best you can. The recipe is very forgiving
Pour your quince mixture into the tin and spread it to the edges
If necessary, trim the pastry down to the height of the filling
Roll out the remaining amount of pastry and cut it into strips approximately 1cm wide. Use these to form a lattice over the tart. At this point, you might like to think about how many pieces you’re going to cut the tart into and make sure that you have a gap, not a strip of pastry, at the point at which you’re going to do this (clue: I didn’t do this and learned the hard way).
Brush the pastry on the top with some of the egg white.
Last night was Erev Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year’s Eve), so there was a need to bake something suitable for a Jewish occasion, so what could be better than cheesecake? What I think of as “Jewish cheesecake”, which is broadly similar to what Americans call “New York Cheesecake”, actually hails from Poland, where it’s not particularly Jewish and is called Sernik.
Dozens of countries have versions of curd cheese: paneer in India, Quark in Germany, túró in Hungary, labneh in the Middle East and many more. The Polish version is called twaróg: just about all the Sernik recipes I’ve found use this. It’s readily available in England; otherwise use any other curd cheese: farmer’s cheese, ricotta, etc.
There are many different variations of Sernik, regional or otherwise, which use different toppings and/or pastry bases; some even dispense with the pastry altogether. I’ve chosen the version from Kraków, Sernik krakowski, largely because it looks pretty and I’ve actually been to Kraków. The pastry is a fairly standard shortcrust, except that it includes baking powder, thus ending up somewhere between a pastry and a cake. The Kraków-specific bit is to top the cheesecake with a lattice made of the same pastry. I’ve included raisins (definitely part of the cheesecakes of my childhood) and separated my eggs, making a meringue with the whites: this makes the finished product lighter.
280g plain flour (OO if you have it)
5g baking powder
140g butter (start from cold)
2 large eggs
50g soured cream
In the bowl of a food processor, mix flour, baking powder and salt
Cut the butter into cubes, add into the food processor and process for 20 seconds or so until you get to the consistency of fine breadcrumbs
Add the eggs, sugar and soured cream, process for a few seconds until thoroughly blended
Form the dough into a ball, put into a covered bowl and refrigerate for 30 minutes
Preheat your oven to 180℃ fan
Grease a cake tin around 28cm diameter
Take about ⅔ of the pastry and roll out on a generously floured surface
Line the base and sides of the tin, pressing the pastry firmly into the corners. Prick the base with a fork. Add any offcuts to the rest of your pastry and set aside
Line with baking paper and fill with baking beads. Bake for 15 minutes
When you’ve taken out the pastry, reduce the oven temperature to 150℃
The cheese filling
100g butter, soft
500g twaróg or other curd cheese
25 g flour
vanilla extract to taste
125 g raisins
Separate the eggs.
Beat the butter until smooth.
Add the twaróg and mix thoroughly
Add the egg yolks, flour, and vanilla and mix
Beat the egg whites until soft, add the sugar and mix until stiff
Fold the two mixtures and the raisins together
Roll out the remaining pastry and cut into 1cm wide strips
If you haven’t already, remove the baking beads and paper from your blind-baked pastry case.
Fill the pastry case with the cheese filling
Form a lattice over the top of your cheesecake with the strips of pastry (if you don’t know how to do this, YouTube is your friend)
Bake for around 50 minutes until the pastry lattice is nicely brown
After taking on a bake with a serious degree of difficulty with make-your-own-strudel-pastry last week, it was time for something at the opposite end of the scale: a simple, unpretentious cookie that takes minimal effort and skill to prepare but delivers lovely flavour and texture. In short, Azerbaijan’s butter cookies called Shaker churek (to my shame, I have no idea how to pronounce the name).
This recipe comes from a splendid Dutch blog called the cookie companion. It’s the simplest version I found: there are other recipes that use yeast.
100g icing sugar
vanilla essence to taste
In a bowl, weigh out the icing sugar
Melt the butter, not letting it get too hot, and add it to the icing sugar: mix until smooth
Add the flour and mix thoroughly – you will get a dough that’s far too dry, which is fine at this stage
Separate the egg; keep half the yolk aside and add the other half yolk and all the white to your mix.
Add the vanilla essence, and mix thoroughly until you have a smooth, slightly damp dough
Cover and leave in the refrigerator for around an hour
Preheat oven to 180℃
Line a baking tray with a silicone sheet or baking paper
Divide the dough into eight equal parts (they should be just over 60g each). For each part into a ball, flatten slightly and place it on your baking sheet. Warning here: the cookies spread, so make sure you leave plenty of space around them.
With the end of a finger or some other implement (like the end of a rolling pin, if you have that kind of rolling pin), make a small depression in the middle of each cookie. Fill the depression with the reserved egg yolk.
Bake for around 15 minutes
Like most cookies, shaker churek are really, really good straight out of the oven: but leave them to cool for a few minutes so that they don’t actually burn your mouth!
When I visit Budapest, which used to be pretty much a yearly occurrence before Covid-19, my first culinary port of call is the Első Pesti Rétesház – the First Strudel House of Pest. There’s a dizzying array of mouth-watering strudels with many different fillings, both sweet and savoury, made on the premises in front of your eyes.
Strudel (rétes in Hungarian) came into the former Austro-Hungarian empire from Turkey – it’s the child of Turkish baklava – and I could have assigned it to any of dozen countries in the empire. But having already visited Vienna for Sachertorte, I’ll give the honour to Budapest: and anyway, it’s further east, so the Turks probably got there first.
My favourite strudel fillings at the Rétesház are meggyes (sour cherries) and túró (curd cheese made from soured milk), but I didn’t have access to the right ingredients for either of these when baking for this post, so I’ve gone for the classic apple filling as found both in Budapest and at Schloss Schönbrunn in Vienna.
This is not a straightforward bake. Stretching strudel dough is a tricky business: the best tutorial I’ve found comes from the Lil Vienna website. This is my first attempt and as you’ll see from the photos, I got the dough pretty thin, but nowhere near the targeted perfect transparent rectangle big enough to fit all the filling. So I’ve suggested using about a third more dough than the quantities in the tutorial: you can probably reduce this as your strudel skills improve. (The Schönbrunn recipe, by the way, uses an egg in the dough, which I didn’t).
Making the strudel dough
20g sunflower oil, plus more for coating the dough
4g lemon juice or vinegar
200g strong white flour, plus plenty more for flouring surfaces
Combine salt and flour
Combine water, oil and lemon juice or vinegar and mix
Combine the wet and dry mixes and mix until you have a smooth dough. If the dough is too sticky, add a modest amount more flour and work it in thoroughly, but don’t overdo it: you want the dough to be moist.
Knead the dough for around 10 minutes (if by hand) or around 7 minutes (if using the dough hook on a stand mixer). Form the dough into a ball
Put a bit of oil into a bowl; roll the dough to coat it completely with oil, cover the bowl and leave it for an hour at room temperature
The apple filling
20g rum (optional)
10g ground cinnamon
Around 900-1000g tart apples (I used Granny Smiths, American recipes tend to use MacIntosh)
20g lemon juice (around half a lemon)
Mix the rum and raisins and leave to soak
Mix the sugar and cinnamon and set aside
Melt butter in a pan, add the breadcrumbs and cook over a medium flame, stirring frequently, until the breadcrumbs are golden brown but not burning. Set aside.
Peel and core your apples, then slice each apple quarter into 4-5 slices.
Mix the apples, raisins and cinnamon sugar (but NOT the breadcrumbs) in a large bowl.
Stretching the dough and putting it all together
50g butter, melted
1-2 tsp icing sugar
Preheat oven to 190℃ fan. Identify a large, flat baking tray: typical would be around 40cm x 30cm. Either cut a piece of baking parchment to approximately the same size or identify a silicone baking mat of that size.
Find a clear space of around 40cm x 100cm on a table or counter top and spread a tablecloth over it (or use an improvised alternative like a sheet); lightly spread flour over the tablecloth.
Spread flour somewhat more generously over the board onto which you will roll your pastry: you’ll need a space of around 30cm x 30cm.
Put your ball of dough in the middle of the board, and using a rolling pin, roll it out into as even and large a rectangle as you can manage.
With both hands at one end, pick up the rectangle of dough and allow gravity to stretch it downwards. Working quickly, pass the dough around so that you’re holding a different edge all the time and the dough is stretching evenly across its whole area.
Once you’ve stretched it as much as you dare without it tearing, spread the dough out on your floured tablecloth.
Pull the dough from opposite sides to stretch it. Each time you put it down on the sheet, it will shrink back, but you should gradually be increasing its overall size. You know you’re done when the dough is nearly transparent: traditionally, the test was that you should be able to read a newspaper headline through it, which did not achieve (although I came close). You’re aiming for a length of around 100cm and a width slightly larger than the width of your baking tray.
Spread melted butter over your dough.
Spread the breadcrumb mixture over around one third of the rectangle of dough, around 2-3cm from one end and the sides. Spread the apple mixture on top.
Fold three edges over in an attempt to stop the filling leaking out.
Roll the strudel from the filled end, either by lifting the tablecloth as you roll or using your fingers.
Finish by rolling the completed strudel onto your baking mat or parchment sheet; transfer this onto your baking tray. Brush the whole lot with more melted butter.
Bake until golden, which should take around 30-40 minutes. Beware the photos: mine was slightly overbaked.
Cool, dust generously with icing sugar and transfer to the dish or board that you will serve the strudel from.
Cut into slices to serve, either on its own or accompanied by any of vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, chantilly cream or crème fraiche. And, of course, coffee.
The whole “stretching strudel to paper thickness” process doesn’t actually take that long, but it’s fairly scary when you’re not used to it and it does generate laundry. But my result was palpably more authentic and had better texture and taste than using store-bought phyllo pastry, even though my first attempt had many imperfections: the stretched dough wasn’t thin enough, wasn’t an even rectangle and had several small tears. I’m sure that practice will make perfect and I’m not planning on going back to supermarket phyllo any time soon.