Sunday, March 27, 2016

Happy Easter! Vesele velikonočne praznike!



Easter greetings to everyone who observed the holiday today.

Our celebration included homemade potica, of course. But this year I also discovered a new tradition: Slovenian Easter eggs, or pirhi.

Last week, my Slovenian teacher gave each of us one of the beautiful, intricately decorated black-and-red eggs ("pisanice") that you can see at the top of the photo. This is a traditional folk art that is unique to Bela Krajina, a region in southeast Slovenia.

That first egg inspired me to try my hand at a much simpler style of decoration, using homemade dyes from natural ingredients. This is an Easter tradition in Slovenia and many other Slavic cultures--and also a Jewish tradition at Passover. I decided to start with one of the most common sources of natural dye: boiled red onion skins.

The result was the deep russet color eggs you can see in the photo. The decorative white markings are created by binding small leaves or herbs to the eggs before dyeing.

I will be posting details about this method of egg-coloring in a future post. But I wanted to extend Easter greetings before the day is done.

Vesele velikonočne praznike! 

 



Saturday, March 12, 2016

A Pictorial Guide to Potica Dough for Today's Workshop at the Slovenian Hall in San Francisco




Antique Grinder
Mom's Handwritten Recipe






Mixing the eggs, sugar, sour cream, and melted butter



Yes, the yeast is alive!





Dough Hook? Not my style!




Kneading, the old-fashioned way. Without rings!



Dough, divided in quarters, ready to refrigerate
Finished dough.
Grinding nuts, for tomorrow's baking
Today will be a first. Although I have been baking potica for more than forty years, I have never done it in front of an audience. In a few hours, I will be heading into San Francisco to join the other guest bakers at a a day-long potica workshop at The Slovenian Hall, sponsored by the Educational and Dramatic Club Slovenia. I will also be sharing my collection of vintage cookbooks.

I am excited--and a little nervous!

I'll be using my family recipe, which begins with a rich sour cream yeast dough that is refrigerated overnight. So I spent my Friday night preparing the dough. I also pulled out my antique grinder to get a head start on the walnut filling.

Since I won't be demonstrating the actual dough-making today, I decided to post some photos from last night's preparation. I do it the old-fashioned way: proofing the yeast, kneading by hand. For the recipe, go to Potica, A Step-by-Step Guide to Slovenian Nut Roll.

Wish me luck!



Friday, January 22, 2016

Christmas Potica 2015: Reflections and Revelations

Christmas Potica: walnut, almond, and walnut slices
Christmas Potica, 2015


















When it came time to make this year's Christmas potica, I returned to my tried-and-true family recipe.  Along with our traditional walnut-honey filling, I decided to use the new almond filling I'd discovered in a Slovenian cookbook, while I was creating my first gluten-free potica, a week earlier. This would also be a good time to figure out the metric conversions for the almond filling, which I've included in the updated directions below.

Along the way, I had a few new realizations about the old family recipe. Here they are:



1. The dough needs a full eight hours in the refrigerator, even if the rise is minimal.

I was pressed for time this year and decided to make the potica in a single day. An early morning rise of three or four hours should be fine, I thought. Well, not really. The potica rose less and the bread/pastry layers seemed a little denser than usual. No one complained (not even my mother) so perhaps I was the only one who noticed. Our potica is so dense and rich that it might not make much of a difference. But I won't skimp on the rising time again.

2. Grinding the nuts really does makes a better filling. 

To save time, I skipped the old-fashioned hand grinder I bought a couple of years ago and returned to the food processor. As you can tell from the photos above, there were some rather large pieces of nuts in the filling. Yes, it still tasted good, but it's even better when the nuts are ground or at least chopped finely. Next year, I'll return to my antique hand grinder!




3. Don't worry if a loaf splits during baking.

The occasional crack is inevitable with free-form loaves, especially when you use a generous hand with the honey. But it's just a cosmetic problem. The potica still tastes wonderful.



4. My family's rich walnut-honey filling was probably born of frugality.

I have always considered my family's layered filling to have a lush, elegant simplicity. Melted butter, walnuts with sugar and cinnamon, and a final lacing of honey: it reminds me of baklava. Most recipes for nut fillings are quite different. For one thing, many don't use honey at all. And they mix in all sorts of additional ingredients: milk or cream, eggs, sometimes raisins, or even bread crumbs. I have always dismissed these extras as "fillers," designed to stretch the precious nuts and honey. My family's recipe might be a little extravagant, but potica was a special holiday treat, so why not?



But I had it all wrong. Take a look at the two filling recipes below. Each one uses a pound of nuts, which should be enough for two loaves, or half the dough in my family recipe. That tasty new almond filling uses sugar rather than honey, and it includes egg whites, cream and cookie crumbs. That should make more filling than than the simple walnut version, right?

But it was the other way around. I discovered that the thick, delicious almond filling was hard to spread. I had to drop it in clumps onto the dough and then flatten it out. By the time I got to the second almond loaf, there was barely enough left to fill it. So this was definitely not an economical choice.




My family's walnut-honey recipe, on the other hand, could easily cover the dough, no matter what its size It adapts to whatever thickness--and surface area--the cook creates when she rolls out the dough. When I look back at photos of my potica efforts from earlier years, I can see it clearly. I used to roll a thicker dough, and there was an equally thick layer of filling. In fact, I often had some of the walnut-sugar mix left over. As I have moved toward thinner layers of dough, the layer of filling follows suit.

That, I have discovered, is the magic of this simple, layered honey-nut filling. It is practical, easily adjusted, and, in its own way, frugal. Butter and honey might be expensive for Americans, but those two ingredients were relatively accessible to the largely rural Slovenian population of years past, and they could easily be distributed over the dough in whatever quantity might be needed. The more costly layer, the ground walnuts and white sugar, could be sprinkled on thinly, and even supplemented with a layer of bread or cookie crumbs.



I recently discovered a touching video (by a film student named Bryce O'Boyle) in which a Slovenian American man shows his grandchildren how to make potica. I was surprised and pleased to see that his approach to filling was much like my family's, although in a slightly different order: first, a layer of brown sugar, followed by ground nuts, then a drizzle of honey, and little dabs of butter.

Guess what the film is called?  Poor Man's Potica.

So perhaps that's what my family has been making all these years!





A note on quantities:  Each of the recipes below make enough filling for two loaves, or one-half of my family recipe. (The almond filling might be a little scant :-) Just double the quantities, if you prefer to make one filling for the entire batch.


Almond Filling (mandljev nadev), translated and adapted from Štruklji in Potice by Janez Štrukelj and Andrej Goljat

450 g grated almonds (1 pound)
150 g sugar (1 cup) (I increased to 200 g and used half brown sugar)
100 ml cream, warmed (1/3 cup)
3 egg whites, lightly beaten
vanilla extract (I used a packet of vanilla sugar)
lemon rind, grated
maraschino liqueur (I used Amaretto)
80 g dried plain cookie crumbs (3/4 cup)

Combine almonds and sugar in bowl. Pour in the warm cream and stir to combine. Add the egg whites, vanilla, lemon rind, and liqueur and stir well. Filling will be thick. Drop onto the rolled-out dough and spread out as well as you can. Sprinkle cookie crumbs on top. Roll up from the narrow end.



Walnut Filling

1 pound walnuts, finely ground (3+ cups)
1/2 cup sugar
1+ teaspoon cinnamon
dash of salt (optional)
melted butter, about 1/4 cup
honey, 1/4 to 1/2 cup


Combine walnuts, sugar and cinnamon in bowl. Brush rolled-out dough with melted butter. Sprinkle walnut-sugar mixture evenly over dough. Drizzle with honey. Roll up from narrow end.














Tuesday, December 15, 2015

New for 2015: Gluten-Free Potica--with Amazing Almond Filling!

Gluten-Free Potica, with almond & walnut fillings

Why would anyone attempt to bake a gluten-free potica?

Good question.

It requires a spirit of adventure. A strong incentive, like a family member or friend who is trying to avoid wheat. And the approaching Christmas holidays, which just aren't the same without Slovenia's most famous dish.

That's what brought me to this point. I undertook the challenge with trepidation, because I am new to the world of gluten-free baking. It's been just a couple of months, and so far I have been sticking to the easy adaptations: cookies, sweet breads and cakes that already include naturally gluten-free ingredients--like buckwheat, cornmeal, and ground nuts. I have had good results with most of these experiments. But I had never crossed the last daunting frontier: Yeast breads.

I didn't flatter myself that I would be the first person to attempt a gluten-free potica. But I was surprised to discover a good number of recipes online. Unfortunately, what I saw was not encouraging. The photos didn't look much like potica, at least not the kind I grew up with. Perhaps it really was an impossible challenge.

Then it hit me: I was approaching this all wrong. My family recipe, while not unique, is definitely one of the less common approaches to making potica. Our version is more pastry than bread. The foundation is a rich sour cream yeast dough, left to rise overnight in the refrigerator. The filling is a simple, unbaked layering of butter, walnuts and sugar, and a drizzle of honey. So I began to search online for a gluten-free sweet dough that sounded similar, without worrying about any references to potica.

I ended up in a surprising place: watching a Martha Stewart video,  as she prepared a gluten-free treat called Yeasted Coffee Cake.

Martha's coffee cake had a familiar look: a yeast dough with sour cream, rolled out thinly and covered with a dried fruit and nut filling, then rolled and twisted. Except for the streusel topping, it sounded like one of the many Eastern European sweet breads that resemble potica. It also reminded me of Jewish babka. Martha mentioned that it was a treat her mother would have loved. Then it clicked: Her mother was Polish. Suddenly, this recipe had some credibility. And it did look delicious.

There were a few things missing from Martha Stewart's recipe. No discussion of the challenges of working with gluten-free yeast dough. No instructions about how to choose the right kind of gluten-free flour. It seemed almost too good to be true. Perhaps it was, judging from the sole comment: An angry reader had made two attempts at the recipe and ended up with an inedible lump that didn't rise at all.

But I decided to forge ahead.

I divided the dough in half, so I would have two small loaves to work on. Good thing, because the dough, which has a tendency to crack, is tough to work with at first. I spread the first roll with my family's traditional walnut filling, shaped the loaf into a free-form shape--and proceeded to overbake it. It emerged from the oven looking gnarled and knobby. When I took it out of the pan, it was so brittle that it cracked in two. I was convinced that it would be inedible.

gluten-free potica, before baking
gluten-free potica, after baking



















For the second, I resolve to lower the temperature and fit the roll firmly into a small loaf pan. I also put together a new almond filling I found in a Slovenian cookbook I'd bought last year. Naturally, I sampled it before baking. It was delicious! At least one good thing would come out of this crazy experiment.


gluten-free potica, spread with almond filling


But guess what?

When I sliced into the loaves, they looked just like my family potica, with nice thin circles of dough and filling. The flavor was really good. The texture was not bad at all. It was dense, not too much rise. Very much like the potica I have eaten every Christmas of my life.

Our son thought it was one of my better potica efforts.

I consider this a work in progress.  But if you care to give it a try--why not?

Good luck!


PS.  For a refresher on how to make the non-gluten variety, see my post from several years ago:  Potica: Step-by-Step Guide to Slovenian Nut Roll.

gluten-free potica, with almond filling (top) and walnut filling (bottom)


Gluten-Free Potica


Potica Dough   (adapted from Martha Stewart's Gluten-Free Yeasted Coffee Cake)

2 packages active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water mixed with 1 teaspoon sugar  
1-1/2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
6 tablespoons sugar (I used organic cane sugar)
2 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/3 cup sour cream
1-2/3 cups gluten-free all purpose flour (see note below)
1 cup gluten-free bread flour (see note below)
1 teaspoon salt


Note: The original recipe doesn't offer any guidance about how to choose the right flour. There are plenty of make-your-own formulas online--and a growing number of commercially prepared gluten-free blends. I used two different products made by Bob's Red Mill: "1 to 1 Baking Flour" (for the all purpose flour) and "Bread Mix" (minus the enclosed yeast packet). Just be sure that your flour mix includes xanthan gum, an ingredient that makes up for some of the missing "stretch" that gluten provides.


For the dough: Mix the yeast, warm water, and sugar and set aside to proof. In a large bowl beat butter and sugar until smooth, then add egg yolks and beat until fluffy. Mix in vinegar and vanilla. Blend in sour cream. Finally, add the yeast mixture and blend well. In another bowl, whisk together the two flours and salt. Gradually add these dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, using the mixer at first and continuing by hand if necessary until dough forms a ball. Knead dough for 5 minutes (or less) until smooth.

Rising: The original recipe directs you to form dough into a ball and place in a bowl that has been sprinkled with flour. Cover and let rise in a warm place for 3 to 4 hours, until doubled--or simply refrigerate overnight. I ended up doing an unplanned hybrid. I started to let the dough rise in a warm place, but after an hour or so realized that I would not have time to complete the potica that day. So I punched the dough down and refrigerated it overnight. This slow rise refrigerator method is the one we use in my family recipe--minus that original rising. I believe the dough is probably easier to handle with this method and it is what I'll do in the future.

To roll out:  Place dough on floured board or cloth (my preference) and let rest for five minutes--or longer, if taken from the fridge. The original recipe calls for rolling the dough into a single 18 inch square with a thickness of 1/8 inch. I prefer to make two smaller loaves, so I cut the dough into two pieces and rolled each one into a 9 by 18 inch rectangle.  

To fill: Spread dough with filling of choice. I offer two suggestions below. The simple walnut-honey filling is my tried-and-true family favorite. The almond filling is my great new discovery from a  cookbook I bought in a Slovenian bookstore last year. Each one makes enough filling for the quantity of dough in this recipe--one large or two small loaves. If, like me, you want to try both fillings, just cut the quantities below in half.

To shape: After filling, carefully roll up from the short end, so that the finished loaf will be the size of your bread pan. (Since gluten-free dough often seems to spread and crack, it is probably best to avoid free-form loaves.)  Oil bread pan(s) and line with parchment paper. Carefully place loaf inside, seam side down. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour. Don't be concerned if the filled potica doesn't rise much.

To bake: The original directions call for baking a single large loaf at 375 degrees for 55 minutes. I found this temperature to be too high, so I reduced it to 350 degrees.  If you make two smaller loaves, as I did, start watching after 30 minutes.

Be careful when you remove loaves from pan. Let cool before cutting into thin slices.

Good luck!





Almond Filling (mandljev nadev), translated and adapted from Štruklji in Potice by Janez Štrukelj and Andrej Goljat

450 g grated almonds (I used ground toasted almonds with the skins left on)
150 g sugar (I increased to 200 g and used half brown sugar)
100 ml cream, warmed
3 egg whites (lightly beaten)
vanilla extract (I used a packet of vanilla sugar)
lemon rind, grated
maraschino liqueur (I used Amaretto)
80 g dried plain cookie crumbs (I used my homemade gluten-free cookies)

Combine almonds and sugar in bowl. Pour in the warm cream and stir to combine. Add the egg whites, vanilla, lemon rind, and liqueur and stir well. Filling will be thick. Drop onto the rolled-out dough and spread out as well as you can. Sprinkle cookie crumbs on top. Roll up from the narrow end.


Walnut Filling (from my family recipe, go here for details)

1 pound walnuts, finely ground (about 3 cups)
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
dash of salt (optional)
melted butter, about 1/4 cup
honey, 1/4 to 1/2 cup


Combine walnuts, sugar and cinnamon in bowl. Brush rolled-out dough with melted butter. Sprinkle walnut- sugar mixture evenly over dough. Drizzle with honey. Roll up from narrow end. 







Sunday, December 6, 2015

Walnut Syrup Cake (Orehove rezine)




Just in time for the holidays, I have discovered a wonderful new addition to the Slovenian dessert menu: walnut syrup cake, or orehove rezine ("walnut slices").

I've had my eye on this recipe for some time. I found it in my favorite modern cookbook, The Food and Cooking of Slovenia, by Janez Bogataj. The source is impeccable, but I hesitated to make it, because the recipe struck me as unusual. And I'd never seen it anywhere else, so I wondered if this was really a traditional Slovenian dish.

The cake includes chopped walnuts, white and whole wheat flour--and uncooked polenta. (See Note below.) After baking, it is soaked in syrup. There is honey and cinnamon in the cake, plus honey in the syrup. I couldn't quite imagine how all these ingredients would come together. 

Finally, a few weeks ago, I took the plunge. I shouldn't have worried. This unusual sweet is amazing.

To call this a "walnut slice" doesn't do it justice. This is a rich, moist dessert that straddles the line between decadent and wholesome. It looks like a dense cake or torte but it tastes like a less cloying version of baklava. And it keeps beautifully. 

As it turns out, the recipe can be found in many places on the Internet, usually without attribution. One Slovenian blogger who grew up in Maribor, in the northeastern part of the country, confesses that she had never heard of this dish before, but perhaps that is because it is traditional to the northwest!

The directions below closely follow Janez Bogataj's recipe in the English language version of The Food and Cooking of Slovenia.

Enjoy!


Note: In a recipe like this, "polenta" refers to the uncooked product--in other words, a medium grind of yellow cornmeal. For further discussion, see my previous cornbread post, or check out this link.







Walnut Syrup Cake (Orehove rezine)
                                                                  --from Janez Bogataj

1-1/2 cups (175 g) walnuts, toasted
10 tbsp (150 g) butter, softened
2/3 cup (150 g) light brown sugar
4 tbsp (60 ml) set honey
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup (50 g) white flour
1/2 cup (50 g) whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon (I used 2 tsp)
pinch of salt
1/2 cup, generous (65 g) polenta (or medium grind yellow cornmeal)
5 tbsp (75 ml) milk

(for syrup)
1/2 cup (90 g) golden caster sugar
4 tbsp (60 ml) set honey
1/2 cup (120 ml) water


Notes on ingredients: Set honey is referred to as spun, creamed, or whipped honey in the US. Regular honey can be used, although it is probably harder to blend. For golden caster sugar, I substituted raw cane sugar, which also has a slight caramel flavor.
 





First, prepare the walnuts: Spread out on a baking sheet and bake for 8-10 minutes at 350 degrees F (180 C) until toasted. Let cool, then chop roughly and set aside.


For cake: Sift together the white and whole wheat flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Set aside. In a large bowl beat butter, sugar, and honey until fluffy. Beat in eggs gradually, then add vanilla. Sprinkle the dry ingredients over the wet ingredients and fold in. When partially combined, add the nuts, polenta and milk, and fold in.

Spoon batter into an 8-inch round cake pan (or spring form pan) that has been greased and lined with parchment paper. Bake at 350 degrees F (180 C) for 45-50 minutes, until firm and light brown.

While cake is baking, prepare syrup: Combine sugar, honey, and water in a pan. Heat gently until sugar dissolves then simmer for 5 minutes. Turn off heat.

When cake is done, let cool slightly. (If desired, remove from pan and place carefully in a pretty serving dish with sides.) Pour warm syrup slowly over the top, so that it is absorbed evenly. Let cool. To serve, cut into thin slices.














Friday, November 20, 2015

Never-Fail Balkan Cornbread

    

                               

Maize or corn made its way from the New World to Europe about four hundred years ago. It was enough time for Balkan cooks to develop their own special take on cornbread. There are many regional variations, but they share a few features that set them apart from the typical American cornbread.

A Balkan cornbread is usually dairy-rich. Along with eggs and milk, a typical recipe might include yogurt, kefir, cottage cheese, or feta. Fresh from the oven, it is a rich, moist treat, a cross between bread and pudding that can serve as the main course. Unfortunately, Balkan cornbreads often lose their charm--or at least their moistness--once they cool off.

I have been looking for the perfect Balkan cornbread for several years now. Along the way, I have tried a few recipes for Serbian proja or projara, perhaps the best known variant. I once made a flavorful but dense cornmeal leek pie from an Albanian American cookbook. I haven't yet tried cornmeal zlevanka, a sweet dish made in Croatia and Slovenia, because it sounds more like a dessert.

Early in the fall, I found yet another recipe for Serbian proja or projara. It was on a charming blog called Paris on the Edge. The blogger, Allison, is an American artist living in Paris. The recipe comes from her Serbian friend Sonja.



Polenta, flour, eggs, oil, yogurt, sparkling water, and feta cheese. On the face of it, there was nothing unique about this recipe, except that it specified instant polenta. I'd never heard of it. Was it the same as the standard polenta I often prepared? Was it the same as cornmeal?

A little reading brought some much-needed clarity: Polenta is just another name for cornmeal, which can be purchased in different grinds. Instant polenta (which looks like a medium grind cornmeal) has been pre-cooked.

(Here's a helpful pictorial guide to the the difference between cornmeal and polenta.)

My local market was out of instant polenta, so I had to improvise with a mixture of what I had in my pantry: a bag of coarse cornmeal and another of corn flour (fine cornmeal.) I used Greek yogurt (mixed with a little kefir) instead of plain yogurt. And, in the spirit of that Albanian leek pie, I added some fresh vegetables: parsley and corn.  Oh, and black pepper for extra zest.

Despite all the modifications, my first attempt at the new projara recipe was wonderful.  Moist and flavorful. It reheated beautifully in the microwave the next day.

I have used that same basic recipe three more times. Each time, it is a little different. I have made it with and without corn kernels. I've used gluten-free flour. For my most recent attempt, I finally got hold of some instant polenta. It didn't make any difference that I could see.

There must be something magical about the proportions of cornmeal, flour, eggs, oil, and liquid. Or maybe it's the mineral water. This recipe is forgiving and always delicious and moist. At least so far.

But don't take my word for it. Try it yourself!





Never-Fail Balkan Cornbread (adapted from Allison's proja recipe at Paris on the Edge.)

3/4 c (120 g) polenta or cornmeal (see Note 1 below)
1/3 cup (30 g) white flour (or use a gluten-free blend!)
1/2-1 t. salt
black pepper to taste (optional)
3 eggs
1/2 cup (100 ml) vegetable oil
3/4 cup plus 1-1/2 T (200 ml) sparkling water
3/4 cup (190 g) plain yogurt (see Note 2 below)
1 cup feta cheese (110 g), cut into "thimble sized cubes"
chopped fresh parsley (optional)
1/2 cup corn kernels, fresh or frozen (optional)



Oil or butter an 8-inch cast iron skillet or round cake pan, or a rectangular ceramic dish. Sprinkle with a little cornmeal.

Combine cornmeal, flour, salt, and pepper in a large bowl. In a medium bowl, mix eggs, oil and sparkling water. Add these wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir well. Add yogurt and stir. Mix in feta cheese cubes and optional parsley and corn. Pour batter into the prepared pan.

Bake at 350 degrees for 50 to 60 minutes until golden brown. Serve warm.

                                                                      


Note 1: Although the original recipe calls for instant polenta, the dish works with either type of polenta (instant or regular) and any kind of corn meal, although a coarse grind might be a little crunchy. I like to use a combination of medium and fine grind cornmeal (called "corn flour" in the US.)

Note 2: Plain yogurt is probably the best choice. I have also used Greek yogurt thinned with kefir or milk.

Special Diets: I have made a delicious gluten-free, low FODMAP version with gluten-free flour and Greek yogurt thinned with almond milk. (And I am happy to have this recipe included in Gluten-Free Fridays at Vegetarian Mamma!)





Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Cooking in Translation: A 1903 Recipe for Piškotni Zvitki (aka Jelly Roll Slices!)






















Last winter, I found a treasure in a box of old books that had just been culled from the library at San Francisco's Slovenian Hall. I spotted a thick volume with an old-fashioned marbelized cover:



Carefully, I opened the fragile, yellowing pages. A pressed flower and a few old mass cards fell out. It was like walking through a door to the past.





c
















I had just discovered an original copy of a classic Slovenian cookbook called Dobra Kuharica  ("Good Cook"), published in 1903 in Ljubljana. The author, Minka Govekar-Vasič, was a formidable women whose accomplishments extended far beyond the kitchen. She was a doctor's daughter who became a prominent writer, translator, and women's rights activist. With Dobra Kuharica, she established standards for measurements and terminology that became the foundation for modern Slovenian cooking.

I gave myself an assignment: I would translate a recipe from Dobra Kuharica, prepare the dish, and share the results with my Slovenian class. I began to search for a a short, simple recipe for a bread or sweet.

I settled on a sweet called piškotni zvitki--in English, biscuit or cookie rolls. It looked like a simple enough dish: egg whites, egg yolks, sugar and flour. I imagined it might be similar to another old-fashioned Slovenian treat I had discovered in the last few years, a biscotti-like sweet called domači prijatelj. I did a rough translation and plunged in.

The dish turned out to be a sort of sponge cake that was supposed to be baked in a layer and then spread with something that eluded translation. Tomato paste? Nut paste? After some last minute e-mail consultations with Mia, my Slovenian language teacher, and a few exchanges with some Slovenian Facebook friends,  a consensus emerged: the mystery term was an older word, possibly German-derived or a dialect, that meant jam or fruit paste. I decided to use my favorite: apricot jam.

Unfortunately, I had one other translation problem. I thought the sponge cake layers were to be covered with a filling and then pressed together. By the time my Facebook friend Tina set me straight ("You do realize you need to roll the cake, right?") it was too late. The batter was already in the oven, in two round cake pans. So the first version of the dish, the one I presented to my Slovenian class that night, looked like the picture below.  But it tasted just fine, even if it wasn't quite the fancy presentation that Minka Vasič intended.





The second time, I decided to make the cake the proper way, for an event at the Slovenian Hall. I baked the cake in a flat rectangular pan and managed to roll it up with only a few small cracks. It looked quite elegant and it tasted lovely. But there was no getting around it: This was a familiar dessert. Americans call it a jelly roll. British cooks refer to it as a Swiss roll--or, if presented in layers, a Victoria sponge or sandwich.

But I do like this Slovenian dish, even if it isn't quite the exotic ethnic specialty I had expected. For one thing, it provides a glimpse into a segment of society in turn-of-the-century Slovenia that I knew little about: the educated urban elite, whose experience was so different from the village life of my own immigrant ancestors.

There is also a subtle but important difference in the Slovenian take on this dessert. In every other jelly roll recipe I have seen, the cake is rolled up loosely in a towel and cooled. Then it is unrolled, filled, and re-rolled. No wonder the cake often cracks! In the Slovenian recipe, the fruit filling is spread on the baked cake layer, returned briefly to the oven, and then rolled up while it is still warm. The warm, moist layer is easy to shape and it seems to seal itself. It is a far more efficient way of preparing this lovely dessert.

But why take my word for it? Try the recipe below and see for yourself!





Piškotni zvitki 
                                     --from Dobra Kuharica (1903) by Minka Vasičeva

Mešaj 14 dek sladkorja s petimi rumenjakič potem prideni sneg petih beljakov in 12 dek moke, razmaži testo za pol prsta debelo po namazani ploči ter ga speci. Ko je pecivo dovolj pečeno, ga obrni, namaži ga z gorko mezgo (zolznom) in ga deni nazaj v pečico, da se segreje. Potem ga zvij trdo skupaj kakor gibanico ter ga zreži na prst široke zvitke.



Cookie (or Biscuit) Rolls

Mix 140 g of sugar with five egg yolks then five well-whipped egg whites and 120 g of flour. Spread dough half a finger thick on a greased baking pan and bake. When the cake is baked enough, turn it over, spread with warm jam, and put it back in the oven to warm up. Then roll up firmly like a gibanica and cut into finger-wide rolls.      
                                              --translation by Blair Kilpatrick






Measurement notes:

1 dek (also written dag) means dekagram and equals 10 g by weight.
140 g sugar is between  2/3 and 3/4 cup
120 g flour is 1 cup



Additional notes on preparation:


The original directions are brief. If you are unsure about how to make a basic sponge cake, any good general cookbook will explain in more detail. I like to add a little of the sugar to the egg whites, to increase the volume. Because no extra leavening is used, be careful when you fold the whites into the yolk-sugar mixture. Sprinkle the flour on top and and then carefully fold  it in. Be gentle when you spread the batter in the pan. Bake the cake in a parchment-lined 10 x 15 inch jelly roll pan for about 10 to 15 minutes at 350 degrees, or until lightly browned.

When the cake is done, remove from the oven, turn it over, and spread with the jam or fruit filling of your choice. (I like apricot jam.) Return to the oven and bake for about 5 more minutes, then remove it.

The cake is rolled up while it is still warm. Roll it firmly, using the paper to help nudge it into shape. You will find that it can be molded into a compact shape, because it is moist and still warm. Wrap lightly in waxed paper and refrigerate for several hours or more before serving.

To serve, sprinkle with powdered sugar and cut into slices.






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Some new cooking vocabulary I learned:


Nouns *
zvitki, plural of zvitek = scroll or roll
piškot = cookie or biscuit
testo = dough, pastry
mezgo = spread, paste, or puree (fruit, jam, tomato paste, etc)
zolznom = an older term for mezgo, possibly German-derived or dialect, understood as jam or jelly
pol prsta = half a finger
ploče= metal baking sheet or dish (from pločevina = sheet metal)

* Note: For simplicity's sake, the nouns are listed in the form in which they appear in the recipe. Yes, I am sidestepping the tricky problem of gender and cases in the Slovene language. For more on that, see Tina's comment :-)

Verbs
mešati = to stir
namazati = to spread, to smear, to grease
razmazati = to smear, to smudge
dajati =  to give, to put
segrevati se = to warm up *
narezati = to slice
zarezati = to cut into
zvijati =  to roll or coil
obrniti se =  to turn around, turn over, flip over *

* Note: Yes, strictly speaking, in Slovenia cakes seem to flip themselves over :-) See Tina's comment below, about these reflexive verbs.