Many countries have their own versions of a cake made of a large number of very thin layers: the Hungarian Dobos torte is probably the most famous, the Czechs have Marlenka (originally from Armenia), the Croatians have Mađarica, there are various Asian versions like the Indonesian kek lapis. The Ukranians go for a multilayered honey cake called Medovik (which is originally Russian and popular in much of Eastern Europe).
Medovik consists of alternating layers of cake and a cream filling. Recipes for the cake are fairly consistent: they come out closer to a biscuit or pastry than to a normal sponge cake. Recipes for the filling vary more: the base ingredient can be sour cream or whipped ordinary cream or an egg custard.
There are two keys to Medovik, one of which is easy and one of which is decidedly not so. The easy part is to remember, when you’ve made your layers, to give the cake a long time in the refrigerator during which each wet cream layer soaks into the relatively hard biscuit layer below it, which is what results in a delightfully spongy feel to the whole assembly. The hard part is rolling the cake dough out as thinly and evenly as possible. You need to keep your rolling pin constantly floured to stop it lifting the dough, you need a careful touch to maintain evenness and you need to do your best to create a circle rather than the heart shape that I always end up with when I’m not concentrating. Picking up a finished circle is an impossibility, so I rolled my dough directly onto a silicone sheet: I suspect that it might be easier if I put a layer of cling film on top before rolling, but I didn’t try this.
I used the batter and the basic technique from a recipe on Ukrainian website ukrainefood.info, and used a simple sour cream and condensed milk filling as recommended by Smitten Kitchen (which may or may not change the cake’s name to smetannik – “sour cream cake” rather than “honey cake”).
Most of the recipes I’ve seen expect you to frost the sides of the cake in order to produce a beautiful round cylinder. I can’t see the point of doing this, so I made less filling and just put it between layers and on the top of the whole cake. I still had plenty to spare.
The cake layers
350g flour, plus plenty more for rolling
1 tbsp bicarbonate of soda
Vanilla essence to taste
Improvise a double boiler by using a metal bowl over a pan of boiling water.
Put the honey, butter and sugar into the double boiler. Cook it until smooth, stirring continuously.
Add the bicarbonate of soda and vanilla, and cook for another minute.
Remove from the heat and leave to cool for around 4 minutes. You are about to add eggs and you don’t want them to be scrambled.
Beat two eggs in a jug with a spout. Add the beaten egg very slowly to the mixture, continuing to beat as you go.
Add the flour and stir until mixed thoroughly.
Preheat oven to 200℃ fan.
Form the dough into a ball, wrap with cling film, and place in a freezer for around 15 minutes.
Remove the dough from the freezer, cut into 8 equal pieces (make the weights as even as you can, they should be around 90g each). Form each piece into a ball, cover with cling film and replace in the freezer for another 5-10 minutes.
Have a pile of flour ready to flour your rolling pin.
Remove the dough from the freezer. Place a ball of dough out on a silicone baking sheet and roll it out until it is larger than a 20cm circle. The dough will be very thin, so you really need to take care that the rolling process doesn’t cause it to tear – although you can patch it and re-roll if you have to.
Cut out the circle and set aside the offcuts from around the edge (the best way of doing this is to use the base of a springform tin as a template).
If you have two silicone sheets, do another one.
Place the sheet(s) in your oven and bake for around 5 minutes until golden.
Cool on a rack. When sufficiently cool, place in a pile.
Repeat until all 8 sheets are done. Roll out the offcuts of pastry and bake them alongside your last cake layer (or couple of cake layers, if you have a lot). You may want to put the unused balls of dough back in the freezer occasionally to keep them cool during the process.
600ml sour cream
400g condensed milk
Whisk the sour cream and condensed milk together until smooth.
Cut a circle of baking paper somewhat larger than your cake – perhaps 24cm in diameter. Place it on your cake plate, and dab a small amount of filling in the middle.
Place a cake layer in the middle, then spread it thoroughly with frosting. This will dribble down the sides – that’s why you made the paper larger than the cake.
Repeat until all the layers are done.
Blitz the offcut pastry to crumbs (I didn’t have enough, so I supplemented mine with ordinary biscuits). Scatter crumbs over the top of the cake.
Cover (I have a plastic cake plate with a matching cylindrical cover, which was ideal) and leave in the refrigerator overnight.
Around 30 minutes before serving, take the cake out of the refrigerator and tidy up the edges, cutting the baking paper to the size of the cake and removing the surplus frosting which has dribbled down.
Serve with coffee. OK, the coffee isn’t technically essential, just highly desirable.
Tunisia grows a lot of oranges. Over 550,000 tonnes, according to The Guardian, in what was admittedly a freak year – apparently, 200-400,000 is more normal. Anyway, you have to do something with all that fruit, and one of things the Tunisians do is to make orange cake – or “Khobzet borgden”, as it’s called in Arabic.
If you look up English language recipes for Tunisian Orange Cake, you tend to get something different, often involving stale breadcrumbs and a lot of ground almonds. These are also very good – my wife has been making her mother’s orange almond cake recipe for years and it’s a winner – but I can’t find any evidence that they’re authentically Tunisian: the closest I got was a recipe where the cake was decorated with flaked almonds.
So I’ve gone for one of the many recipes for Khobzet borgden on Tunisian websites, generally in French. Variations include choice of fat (butter / olive oil / vegetable oil) and how to treat your oranges: the most extreme one I’ve seen involved blitzing whole oranges – skin, pips and all – and adding the resulting purée to your cake mix. Just about all the recipes involve drizzling your finished cake with an orange syrup. I’ve started with one from tunisienumerique.com (translation: digital Tunisia), which uses oil (I chose olive – it doesn’t specify) and lots of orange zest as well as decorating the top of the cake with slices of orange.
A couple of notes on my adaptation: (1) the suggested baking time of 20-25 minutes wasn’t even close. Either their oven or their baking tin is very different from mine. (2) my cake domed hugely in the middle. The original recipe specifies one sachet of baking powder, and I have no idea how much you get in a Tunisian baking powder sachet. So I went with around 12g, which may have been a bit excessive.
300g plain flour
12g baking powder
150g granulated sugar
100g olive oil
Preheat oven to 180℃ fan.
Grease with butter a 20cm springform tin (or other cake tin of similar size).
Sift your flour and baking powder into a bowl.
Zest at least two of the oranges (all three if you really want a bitter orange flavour).
Slice one of the zested oranges into rounds (I needed five rounds to fit onto my 20cm springform tin). Squeeze the juice out of the rest of this orange and the other two: you should get around 200ml. If the yield is substantially less, you might want to add some orange juice from elsewhere (or from a fourth orange if you have one).
Put the eggs and 100g of granulated sugar into the bowl of your stand mixer and mix at high speed until well blended.
Add the orange zest and 100g of the orange juice and mix until well blended.
Add the oil and mix until well blended.
Add the flour and baking powder and mix until you have a smooth batter.
Pour the batter into your tin. Arrange the orange slices over the top, pressing each slightly in so that it’s level with the batter.
Put your tin into the oven and bake for around 30-35 minutes until a skewer comes out clean.
Meanwhile, make a syrup: put your remaining 50g of sugar and 100ml (approximately) of orange juice into a saucepan, bring to the boil, stirring frequently.
Cook until the syrup is thick (if you’re using a sugar thermometer, aim for around 105℃).
When the cake is done, leave it to cool for a couple of minutes, then drizzle the syrup you should try to get the rest absorbed into the cake.
Take off the outside of the springform tin and then cool the cake on a rack.
Tunisians would accompany this with black coffee. Personally, I’d go for both black coffee and a scoop of pistachio ice cream. But the choice is yours…
The German (or, in this case, Swiss-German) habit of running nouns together does sometimes lead you to a recipe that does exactly what it says on the tin: Basler Kirschenbrottorte (cherry-bread-cake from Basel) is, er, a cake whose two main ingredients are bread and cherries. And which comes from the city on the triple border between Switzerland, France and Germany. It’s surprisingly light for something which is not so far from a bread pudding, it’s fruity, cinnamon infused and bursts with flavour. This recipe comes from the food blog Helvetic Kitchen, where it’s accompanied by a nice family story to go with. I’ve halved the quantities.
To state the bleeding obvious, it isn’t cherry season in London right now, so I’ve gone for a 500g pack of frozen black cherries. This seemed to do the job OK, with the advantage that the cherries arrive already stoned, albeit with care needed to ensure that they were properly defrosted and with most of the surplus water dried off. However, I’m going to suggest that if you have fresh cherries growing anywhere near you, the way to go is definitely going to be to make this in season.
Warning: this recipe uses a lot of bowls. I can’t see an obvious way around this.
250 g leftover bread (in my case, this was the last of my Antiguan Sunday Bread)
200 ml milk
vanilla paste or extract to taste
100 g biscuit crumbs – I used Digestive biscuits; in the US, one would probably go for Graham Crackers.
60 g butter
100 g sugar
3 large eggs (around 200g total)
pinch of salt
50 g ground almonds
10 g flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
kirsch or fruit schnapps to taste
If using frozen cherries, defrost them.
Preheat oven to 180℃.
Cut the bread into 1 cm cubes and put in a bowl.
Put the milk and vanilla into a saucepan and scald until very warm (80-90℃). Take off the heat and pour into a bowl to cool.
Remove the stones from the cherries, if this hasn’t been done for you already
Prepare a 20cm springform tin: line the bottom with baking paper, grease the sides generously with butter.
Once the milk is at room temperature, pour it over the bread and squeeze it down so that all the bread has soaked up some milk.
Blitz your biscuits to a powder. Take about half the crumbs and spread them evenly over the base of the tin.
Cream the butter and sugar together.
Separate the eggs, pouring the whites into a bowl of your stand mixer, and the yolks into the butter-sugar mixture.
In yet another bowl, mix the remaining biscuit crumbs, ground almonds, flour, cinnamon and salt; stir until blended evenly.
Add the bread mixture into the butter-sugar mixture and mix.
Add in the flour mixture and mix until everything is very even.
Add the cherries and kirsch and mix.
Beat the egg whites until stiff and fold in.
Pour the cake mix into your tin and bake for 40-45 minutes. If the cake looks like browning too far before the middle is cooked, cover it with foil for the last 5-10 minutes.
Time for a different kind of bake altogether: a yeasted fruit cake, which is a lovely afternoon snack somewhere between a cake and a bread. This one is from Lithuania and comes to us all via food writer Barbara Rolek: the same recipe seems to surface in lots of different US websites. I first spotted it on The Spruce Eats; I’ve halved and metricised the quantities, as well as tweaking a few things.
The result is a bit like a giant, fruit studded cinnamon bun. It’s great for slicing and storing in the freezer for a ready supply of snacks. The recipe doesn’t need excessive amounts of work, but it needs a lot of elapsed time – there are multiple rises which can each take a couple of hours, depending on the temperature of your kitchen. Start early.
A couple of caveats, especially if you’re looking at the photos:
You can use pretty much any dried fruit you like. I couldn’t get glacé cherries, which looked nice in the original recipe.
The dough on mine came out very stiff indeed, so you may find you want to increase the amount of milk.
I used bread flour, which was probably a mistake. I’d stick with plain flour next time.
Also next time, I’d probably start by activating the yeast in some warm water (or milk) and sugar. The recipe doesn’t suggest this, but not doing it meant that my dough took an eternity to rise.
180 ml milk
550g plain flour
1.5 large eggs
180g mixed fruit
30 ml rum
In your stand mixer, combine 300g of the flour, 60g of the sugar, the yeast and milk and mix until reasonably smooth. Cover and leave to rest for an hour.
Melt the butter. Add it to the mix with the eggs, the salt and the rest of the sugar and the flour. With the dough hook, knead for 5-7 minutes.
Add the fruit, raisins, walnuts and rum. Mix thoroughly.
Leave to rise until doubled in size. Expect this to take an hour or two.
Melt the butter.
Mix with the sugar and cinnamon. Leave to cool somewhat.
Putting it together
Grease a loaf tin.
Flour a surface and roll out your dough into a rectangle. The width of your rectangle should be somewhat under the length of your loaf tin; the length around 1½ times the width.
Spread your rectangle of dough with the filling. Don’t go too close to the edges – you won’t want filling leaking out.
Roll up the dough into a thick sausage, ensuring the filling is sealed inside. Transfer the sausage into your loaf tin.
Leave to rise until doubled in size. Again, this could easily take 1-2 hours. If this hasn’t happened after a couple of hours, give up and bake it anyway.
Preheat oven to 200℃ fan
Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce temperature to 175℃, then bake for around another 40 minutes.
Leave to cool on a rack. If you want, sprinkle with icing sugar (I didn’t).
The weather in London today has been unremittingly grey with continuous drizzle, reminding me of a trip to Savonlinna in Finland, which is also the country which provided us with the biggest northern hemisphere rainstorm of our lives. So here, in homage to Finland and in honour of the poet Johan Ludvig Runeberg’s birthday next week, are Runebergintorttu or Runeberg Cakes.
To be fair on my many Finnish friends and on Savonlinna, which is a truly fabulous festival set in an impossible atmospheric mediaeval castle, it’s drop-dead gorgeous when the sun comes out (which it did the following day). And the Finns have a lot going for them, not least the best rainproof gear I’ve ever bought and also the best loudspeakers on the planet (with all those forests, the Finns really know their wood) and a surprisingly dry sense of humour (opera lovers need to check out Covid fan tutte).
One note on the photos: I don’t have the tall cylindrical moulds that you need to make Runebergintorttu properly, so mine are baked in a standard muffin tin. But they taste the same… If that level of authenticity bothers you, this is the kind of thing that should work.
I started with a recipe from scandikitchen.co.uk and only changed a few things: I couldn’t get hold of Leksands crispbread, but I did find some dark Ryvita which I believe to be pretty similar. I used blackberry jam rather than raspberry. Vanilla essence is easier to find than vanilla sugar in these parts. I didn’t have any amaretto either, so I grated the zest of the orange that made the orange juice and added that. Personally, I think the combination of orange, cardamom and rye turned out to be an absolute winner.
125g butter, plus some for greasing
50g ground almonds
100g plain flour
6g (1 tsp) baking powder
50g crispbread (Leksands, Ryvita or whatever), or just use breadcrumbs
80g caster sugar
1 whole egg plus 1 egg yolk
50ml orange juice, plus zest of the orange
Vanilla essence to taste
80g icing sugar
Raspberry jam (or, in my case, blackberry jelly) to finish
Preheat oven to 180℃ fan.
If your butter isn’t soft, cut it into small cubes and leave to soften.
Grease your muffin tin (or other cake mould) with some more butter.
Mix your flour, baking powder, ground almonds and salt.
Grind your crispbread into breadcrumbs
Cream the butter and sugar together
Add the eggs and mix
Add the flour mixture and combine
Add the breadcrumbs and cream and combine
Add the orange juice, zest and vanilla essence and mix thoroughly. You should now have a fairly thick, sticky batter.
Divide the batter into the moulds in your cake tin.
Bake for around 15 minutes.
Leave to cool in the tin for a short while, then turn them out.
You will serve the cakes upside down. Since they have probably domed somewhat, cut them reasonably flat so that they stand upright.
Mix the icing sugar with about 10ml warm water until you have a thick paste. Transfer this to a piping bag.
Pipe a circle of icing around the top of each cake. Put a dollop of jam into the middle of the circle. I found this easier than the original recipe, which suggests doing the jam first (as per the photos).
Leave the icing to dry (or don’t bother) and enjoy!
Continuing with the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s coffee-and-cake tradition, here’s a cake from Croatia that deserves to be close to the top of the best-seller list, particularly with a coffee after a brisk morning winter walk (I speak from immediate experience).
In point of fact, Mađarica (or Madjarica, if you prefer to avoid the “d with stroke”) is the Croatian word for “Hungarian girl”, and the cake bears a distinct resemblance to the Hungarian Dobos torte, created in 1885 for the National General Exhibition of Budapest. Who knows (or, for that matter, who cares) which came first?
Croatians seem to bake this cake for the thousands: all the recipes I came across were for seriously large quantities. I went for this recipe from Tamara Novacoviç and halved it, which still made for a generous cake.
Mađarica is one of those multi-layer cakes where you’re trying to get the layers as thin as you possibly can. Croatian recipes tend to assume that you’re using a standard cake tin and baking the layers one at a time. Since you’re trying to make a rectangular cake, I figure it’s easier to use large flat tins (Swiss roll tins or similar) and then cut the layers to size after baking. Obviously, how you tackle this is going to depend on what tins you have available.
25g plain flour
25g cocoa powder
vanilla extract or paste to taste
25g dark chocolate
½ tbsp rum
Mix the flour and cocoa powder in a bowl and set aside. Have a balloon whisk ready.
Put the milk, sugar and vanilla into a saucepan and bring to the boil. When just boiling, take it off the heat, pour about a quarter of it into the bowl with the flour and cocoa powder, and whisk until thoroughly dissolved.
Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and return the saucepan to the heat. Add the chocolate, reduce the heat and keep whisking until the mixture thickens.
Take the mixture off the heat, give it a minute or so to cool slightly, then add the butter and whisk until thoroughly melted.
Stir in the rum.
Cover (to avoid too much skin forming – you can’t avoid having a bit) and leave to cool while you make the rest of the cake.
300g plain flour
½ tsp (2g) baking powder
1 egg white
90g sour cream
90 g sugar
90g butter, at room temperature
I’m going to confess at this point (in case it isn’t obvious from the photos) that I wimped out: I had two 33x22cm Swiss roll tins ready but I didn’t dare roll the dough thin enough to use more than one of them. I should have had the courage to use both – my layers are definitely twice the thickness they should be – so that’s what I recommend that you do.
Preheat oven to 180℃.
Prepare two 33cm x 22cm Swiss roll tins (or whatever other baking trays you have) by greasing them and lining them with baking paper.
Sift the flour and baking powder into a bowl.
Cut the butter into cubes and put it with the sugar, sour cream and egg white into the bowl of your mixer; beat until smooth.
Add the flour mixture and knead to a smooth dough. Add a bit more sour cream or water if your dough is too crumbly.
Now the tricky part: divide the dough into two, and roll each half thinly enough to spread out evenly over its baking tin. It’s probably easiest to do this by rolling the dough between two sheets of baking paper. Transfer your rolled dough to the tin.
Bake for around 8-10 minutes.
Leave to cool on a wire rack.
Assembly and glaze
50g dark chocolate
20g sunflower oil (or other neutral oil)
Cut each cake/biscuit layer into three, using a ruler or measuring tape to make pieces that are as close to identical in size as you possibly can.
Place the first layer on your serving plate.
Spread around one fifth of the filling evenly over the layer, then add the next layer. Repeat this four more times to build up your cake.
Melt the chocolate and butter together (30s in a microwave should do this fine, if you can’t be bothered to wash up a double boiler).
Add the oil and mix thoroughly.
Pour the glaze over the top of the cake, making sure that you cover the whole cake with an even layer of glaze. Some of the glaze will have dripped over the sides: if you want, even this off with a palette knife.
Refrigerate for several hours (or overnight) until the glaze hardens.
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
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
It’s been a strange Fourth of July this year: the poison of the Trump era has made it harder than ever to summon positive feelings for the United States. Still, I’ll use the occasion to celebrate happy days in the past and hope for happier ones in the future, with some close family members and numerous friends in the USA firmly in mind.
I lived in California for a couple of years in the early 1980s and one of my fondest memories is of whiling away hours at Printers Inc., a bookshop-plus-café that was a kind of prototype Borders. Long before Starbucks had started to expand outside Seattle, Printers Inc. served really good coffee and superb brownies and carrot cake. Cake lovers would invariably spot some book they liked, while those in search of a book, with equal inevitability, would be entrapped by the aroma of fresh coffee and cake.
Sadly, I never did get the recipe for the best carrot cake I ever had, baked by Gigi Ellis, the wife of my boss at Fairchild, and I lost touch with Frank and Gigi decades ago. So this recipe, which is close to the Printers Inc. version, comes from the cookbook I bought at the time, a model of Californian eclecticism entitled San Francisco à la Carte. I’ve turned everything metric, because I just don’t see how you can bake accurately using measuring cups, or indeed why you would want to when digital scales are cheap, accurate and generate less washing up.
The quantities here will work for a single cake in a 23cm x 23cm square tin. That will do for 16 small portions (or 8 very generous portions, or whatever you pick in between). If you prefer, you can use more than one tin, which avoids the tricky process of slicing the cake in half, at the price of leaving you with an internal crust that you don’t really want.
Make the cake:
250g carrots (weight after peeling)
250g plain flour
10g baking soda
150g corn oil
Preheat oven to 175℃.
Grease the bottom of your cake tin, line it with baking paper, then grease the bottom and sides.
Mix together the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. There’s no need to sift the flour.
Peel and grate the carrots.
Beat the eggs (I use a stand mixer). Add the oil and beat until the eggs and oil have combined into a smooth mixture.
Add the flour mixture to the egg and oil mixture and beat until smoothly combined.
Add the carrots and stir until they’re evenly distributed.
Pour the whole mixture into your baking tin, ensuring that you spread it evenly including the corners.
Bake for 30 minutes – use the usual skewer test to ensure that it’s done. I’m always surprised by the way the cake can be really raw at 25 minutes and just fine at 30. By the way, some people like their carrot cake sticky: if you’re one of them, make sure the skewer *does* come out with some mixture sticking to it.
Cool in the baking tin for 5-10 minutes and then on a wire rack.
Make the frosting:
200g cream cheese
150g icing sugar
Vanilla essence to taste (optional)
Beat these together thoroughly until very smooth.
Cover and leave in the refrigerator: especially if it’s summer, the frosting will be very runny and you want it to hold its shape when you spread it.
Assemble the cake:
90g pecan halves
Reserve 16 of the best pecan halves for decoration (this will use around 40g). Chop the remainder into small pieces.
Transfer the cake from the wire rack to whatever you’re going to serve the cake on: cake plate, board, tray or whatever.
With a long knife, slice the cake horizontally into two approximately equal parts. Take the top half off and set aside – I do this by sliding a plastic chopping mat between the two halves, sandwiching the top half between the mat and a wire rack and lifting it off.
Spread half the frosting over the bottom half. Scatter the chopped walnut pieces evenly across the cake.
Put the top half of the cake back into place.
Spread the remaining half of the frosting over the cake and decorate with remaining pecan halves, in whatever pattern takes your fancy.
It’s probably a good idea to chill the cake at this point, because the frosting really is quite liquid. Take it out of the refrigerator half an hour or so before serving.