Thursday, May 21, 2015

Chocolate Domestic Friends (Domači Prijatelj) with a touch of ginger

Chopped chocolate is a one of my favorite additions to domestic friends (domači prijatelj), Slovenia's answer to biscotti. But I had never tried an all-chocolate version. When I discovered a tin of exotic Viennese cocoa in the cupboard, it seemed like the perfect time to experiment.

As a foundation, I used my egg-rich Slovenian Christmas biscotti recipe. I just substituted a little cocoa for part of the flour. For extra zest, I added some chopped candied ginger.

The result? A tasty variation, with a chocolate flavor that is intense and bittersweet. These are definitely cookies for adults!

Recipe follows. Enjoy!

Chocolate Domestic Friends (Domači Prijatelj) with a touch of ginger

3 eggs
140 g white sugar
100 g flour
40 g cocoa*
20 g dried cranberries
60 g candied ginger
120 g pecans or walnuts
1 t vanilla

*Note: You can reduce the cocoa for a milder flavor. Just increase the flour, so that you have 140 g when the flour and cocoa are combined.

Combine flour and cocoa and set aside. Beat eggs, sugar and vanilla until thick. Fold in flour-cocoa mixture. Stir in cranberries, ginger and nuts. Pour the batter into an oiled rectangular pan (about 7 x 9 inches) that has been lined with parchment. Bake at  350 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes, or until firm. Remove from oven and let cool slightly. 

Turn the cooled cake out of the pan. It will resemble a firm sponge cake or genoise. Cut it lengthwise into two pieces, then slice. For the more traditional Slovenian style, cut into slices that are about 1/2 inch thick and let cool on a rack. Or cut into very thin slices (under 1/4 inch) and bake for about ten more minutes or until firm. Let cool. Enjoy!

Thursday, May 7, 2015

An Albanian-American Dinner: Best-ever Moussaka and Authentic Albanian Cake


Moussaka ("Eggplant with Hamburg")
Green Salad
Authentic Albanian Cake
Cviček (Slovenian red wine from Dolenjska)

My first Albanian dinner was a success, so I was eager to expand my horizons. Unfortunately, English language resources for the aspiring Albanian cook are in short supply.

But my resourceful son managed to find a true gem: the Albanian Cookbook (1977, 2000), put together by the Women's Guild of St. Mary's Albanian Orthodox Church in Worcester, Massachusetts.

I was excited when my shiny red copy arrived in the mail. This new edition was a much more polished affair then my vintage Slovenian American cookbooks--and it did a better job of maintaining a clear focus on traditional ethnic food. Not a jello salad in sight!

But one thing was familiar: Multiple versions of the same dish, often with minimal differences in the ingredients or method of preparation. This seems to be part of the inclusive spirit behind these collaborative cookbook projects. Everyone has a voice.

I found seven recipes for moussaka, a layered casserole that is popular throughout the Balkans. Four recipes used the familiar ground beef and eggplant combination, two called for  potatoes instead of eggplant, and one used both. All had variations of a custard topping.

One moussaka recipe stood out because of three unique ingredients: cheese, wine and cinnamon. Was this the Greek influence? Whatever its origins, this take on the dish appealed to me.

After I had assembled the moussaka, I went back to the Albanian Cookbook to search for an easy dessert. In the pastry section, I found the expected variations on baklava and halva, as well as some unfamiliar sweets. Most of these treats were rich and elaborate concoctions.

One dessert caught my eye. It had a straightforward name, Authentic Albanian Cake, and an equally simple method of preparation: Mix up some water, flour, oil, sugar, nuts, cinnamon, and baking powder in a bowl. Bake, sprinkle with sugar, and serve.

No eggs. No butter or milk. No frills. Was this really Albanian? It sounded suspiciously like some American cakes that used to be popular in the past, with names like Wacky Cake or Depression Cake.  But it was easy enough--almost too easy, so I took a little more care with the mixing. I'm not sure it made much difference.

I served the moussaka with a green salad and a nice bottle of Slovenian cviček, a light red wine that is a specialty of my ancestral region of Dolenjska.

That moussaka was a winner. Perhaps it was the unique combination of flavors. Or the authentic Greek kasseri cheese. Or the fact that I took the time to salt and drain the eggplant and to pre-bake it well. But it was the best moussaka I have ever tasted. It was even better the next day.

As for the cake?

Well, it was a surprise, especially once I cut into it. It looked like one of those trays of dense, filled pastries that are common throughout the Balkans and the Middle East:

During baking, the batter had magically separated into a light cakey layer on the bottom and top, with a dense, paste-like filling in the middle. Perhaps this was intended to be a quick, economical  mock-baklava for a crowd.

The flavor was very mild. My husband liked it. If I were to make this again, I would increase the sugar and nuts. I might also substitute brown sugar for white and almonds for the walnuts.

Recipes for both these intriguing Albanian dishes follow below. Enjoy!

Moussaka (Eggplant with Hamburg)

--from the Albanian Cookbook (2000, 1977) by the Women's Guild of St. Mary's Albanian Orthodox Church, Worcester, Massachusetts

1 pound ground beef
2 medium eggplants
1 medium onion, chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup dry red wine
2 T. tomato paste
cracker crumbs
1 cup kasseri cheese, grated or crumbled
2 eggs, extra large
2 cups milk
salt, pepper, cinnamon
1/2 cup water

To prepare eggplant: Slice eggplant, salt the slices, and let drain for an hour or two to remove the bitter taste. Rinse and pat dry. The eggplant slice can be sautéed in oil (as the original recipe suggests) or my way: brush slices with oil and bake on a cookie sheet until brown. (Turn once during baking.) Set  aside to cool.

To prepare the meat filling: Sauté onions in oil in a large frying pan. Add meat, salt, pepper, and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon to onions and continue to brown. Dilute tomato paste in wine and water, then stir into the meat-onion mixture. Simmer uncovered until most of liquid is absorbed, about 20 minutes.

To assemble: Oil a 9 x 13 inch baking dish and sprinkle with bread or cracker crumbs. Add half the eggplant slices, sprinkle with 1/4 cup cheese, then add the meat. Cover with remaining eggplant slices. Beat eggs, milk, and remaining cheese together and slowly pour over the eggplant, tilting pan so liquid is absorbed Dot with butter and sprinkle with more cinnamon. Bake uncovered in a 350 degree oven for 1 hour.

Authentic Albanian Cake

--from the Albanian Cookbook (1977, 2000), by the Women's Guild of St. Mary's Albanian Orthodox Church, Worcester, Massachusetts

3 cups water
4 cups flour
2 cups oil
1 cup sugar 
1 cup nuts (I used chopped walnuts) 
1 teaspoon cinnamon
4 teaspoons baking powder
Confectioners sugar for topping

(Note: I cut the quantities above in half to make a smaller cake.)

The cookbook offered brief instructions: Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl and pour into an ungreased 11 x 15 inch pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 to 50 minutes or until golden brown. After cooking, sprinkle the cake with sugar and cut into squares.

This sounded like a very large cake, so I divided all quantities in half and used an 8 x 10 inch pan.  I also added a couple of extra steps to the mixing. I combined the flour, cinnamon and baking powder in one bowl and then beat the water, oil, and sugar together in a second bowl. Next, I stirred the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Finally, I folded in the nuts and baked as directed. 

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Buckwheat Palačinke--and Cheese Blintzes, too!

One morning last spring, I had an urge for buckwheat crèpes. Was this part of the Slovenian cooking tradition? I had no idea.

I couldn't find any mention of thin buckwheat pancakes or palačinke in my vintage Slovenian American cookbooks, although I found many white flour versions, along with a recipe for cheese blintzes. When I turned to Kulinarika, the online Slovenian language site, I did find some ajdove palačinke recipes. Most used a combination of white and buckwheat flours.

So I went back to my Slovenian American sources to find a good, basic recipe to adapt. Compared to my previous palačinke recipe (a variation on šmoren) these older versions all seemed heavy on flour and light on the eggs. I settled on a recipe from the Progressive Slovene Women of America, which they included in a recipe for blintzes ("sirovi ponvičniki.")

I made just a few changes, in addition to replacing half the white flour with buckwheat. I also skipped the salt and added a little cinnamon and vanilla.

This recipe worked like a charm! Nothing stuck, not even that always-tricky first pancake. Each one looked perfect. They seemed slightly more substantial than usual, perhaps because of the dark buckwheat flour. Or maybe it had something to do with the egg-flour-milk balance. After years of trying to duplicate my mother's beloved "jelly rolls" (the name she always used) I had finally found a reliable recipe--and with a buckwheat tang.

That first morning, my husband and I enjoyed them just as I had as a child, with a selection of toppings: Fresh apples. Greek yogurt. Organic preserves. Honey-tahini spread from Kosovo. If only we'd had some farmer cheese on hand, I might have made cheese blintzes.

My husband must have read my mind, because later that day he picked up some locally made Russian-style farmers' cheese. We still had half the recipe of crèpes left, so I was all set for the next day's breakfast.

I used the filling recipe suggested by the Progressive Slovene Women, with a few modifications. Since farmer cheese is more moist than the dry curd cottage cheese used in their recipe, I skipped the two tablespoons sweet or sour cream. I also omitted the salt and added a touch of sugar, cinnamon and vanilla. I followed the "envelope fold" method I'd learned from my mother, although in Slovenia a simple rolled-up tube shape might be more common.

The result? Delicious!

And I had a bonus: I still had a half recipe of cheese filling left over. A few days later, I used it as the foundation for a much-improved version of curd cheese pancakes, or syrniki. 

Buckwheat Palačinke or Crêpes

1/2 cup white flour
1/2 cup buckwheat flour
2 eggs
1-1/4 cup milk
dash of cinnamon
1/2 t. vanilla

Cheese Filling (to make blintzes)

1 lb. farmer cheese
1 egg
2 T. sugar
1/2 t. vanilla
1/4 t. cinnamon

For the palačinke or crêpes: Mix all ingredients until smooth and refrigerate for an hour. Heat a small or medium skillet with butter or oil. When drops of water dance on the surface, add just enough batter to cover the bottom of the skillet when rotated.  When firm, flip over and cook until done. Store in a warm oven until all the pancakes are made.

Serve with fillings and toppings of your choice. Butter and brown sugar were my childhood favorites. Other good options: Greek yogurt, fresh fruit, jam or preserves, honey.

To make blintzes: Prepare the cheese filling by mixing all ingredients together until smooth. Refrigerate while you make the pancakes. When all the pancakes are cooked, place a generous spoonful of cheese filling in the lower middle of each one and fold up like an envelope. Brown in butter or oil. Or, if you prefer to avoid frying, they can be oven-baked. (Just remember that filling needed to be cooked because of the egg!) Serve with toppings as above.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

At last: Slovenian Syrniki or Curd Cheese Pancakes (with a Passover option)

I first wrote about syrniki, or curd cheese pancakes, in the fall of 2013. I had just discovered them at a local farmers' market, where a Russian Jewish vendor was selling his homemade version. My first attempt at recreating the dish, while tasty, seemed too much like an American-style pancake. Ever since then, I have been trying to perfect my recipe.

In English, syniki are usually referred to as cheese pancakes, but a more accurate description might be cheese patties, croquettes, cutlets ("kotlety") or latkes, the familiar Jewish term. Since so many Eastern European groups have a similar dish, it seemed odd that Slovenians hadn't joined the party. I could have sworn I'd come across a recipe in one of my vintage cookbooks, but it was nowhere to be found.

I set out to figure out a recipe on my own. I was determined to duplicate the thick, mildly sweet patty sold by that Russian vendor.

Fortunately, I had access to the key ingredient: tart, homestyle farmer cheese or curd cheese. Belfiore, a small local company here in Berkeley, makes a very authentic version of Russian-style farmer cheese. Eastern European and Russian groceries offer even more choices. Here's a sampling:

For my second attempt, I started out with some leftover cheese filling from a tasty Slovenian blintz recipe. That filling, I realized, was very similar to most of the the authentic Russian recipes I'd seen: a single egg for a pound of cheese, along with a little sugar.  I just had to add some flour, along with a few other options I'd come across: a touch of cinnamon and vanilla, some lemon, and a little baking soda for leavening. This recipe came much closer to the farmers' market version.

I continued to experiment and learned that baking soda isn't absolutely necessary. The key is to use just enough egg and flour to serve as a binder for the cheese. The amounts can vary, depending on how much moisture the cheese contains. 

After all this experimenting, I finally found that elusive recipe for Slovenian syniki. It was hiding in the pastry section of my 1950s copy of Woman's Glory.  The ingredient list was essentially what I had figured out on my own, with cottage cheese instead of the more authentic farmer cheese:

1 lb cottage cheese
1 T. sugar
1/4 cup flour 
1 egg
1/4 t salt

The 1950s instructions suggest draining the cottage cheese, forming the mixture into "croquettes," rolling them in flour, and then frying in deep hot fat.

I took a look at the modern online site Kulinarika and found a similar recipe for "srniki" or "palačinke s skuto":

500 g cheese (translated as ricotta)
2 eggs 
2 T. sugar
3 T flour
1 T. baking powder (perhaps it should be teaspoon?)

This modern Slovenian recipe suggests making smaller patties (20-25 in all), coating in flour, pan-frying, and keeping warm in a 200 degree oven.

This week, I came up with my latest version of syrniki. It was a Passover variation, with matzo cake meal substituted for the flour. I thought I'd created something new, but an internet search revealed that Passover cheese latkes have been a Jewish tradition for a long time. This time around, I made one more discovery: The patties are much easier to shape if the batter is chilled.  In fact, this step is essential with the Passover version, since it takes a little longer for the moisture to be absorbed by the matzo meal.

Below is my master recipe, with a few variations noted.

Syrniki, or Curd Cheese Pancakes

1 pound (or 500 g) farmer cheese or curd cheese, preferably Russian-style
1 egg, well beaten
4-6 T flour
2 T sugar
1 t. vanilla (optional)
pinch of cinnamon (optional)
grated lemon rind (optional)
pinch or two of  baking soda dissolved in lemon juice (optional)

To make Passover cheese latkes: Substitute matzo cake meal for flour
Possible cheese substitutes: ricotta or cottage cheese, drained and sieved

Mix all ingredients together well, adding flour until you have a stiff batter. The texture should be closer to a drop biscuit than a conventional pancake batter. If possible, chill the batter for a half hour or more before shaping.

To shape: Drop heaping tablespoons or quarter cup scoops of batter onto a plate that is covered generously with flour or matzo meal. With floured hands, form into patties that are 1/3 to 1/2 inch thick. Coat well with flour. You should have 9-12 patties. If desired, chill.

Fry patties in oil until browned on both sides. Keep warm in oven until serving.

Serve with Greek yogurt or sour cream, fresh fruit, or preserves.


Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Extra-Light Baked Flancati for Pust (the rough puff Mardi Gras version!)

Ten years ago, thanks to some Cajun music friends, I made two belated discoveries: Slovenians have a traditional Carnival celebration called Pust. And San Francisco has a small but active Slovenian community, centered on the old Slovenian Hall in the Potrero Hill neighborhood.

I don't know which one was the bigger surprise.

(To learn more about Pust in Slovenia and San Francisco, see Mardi Gras, Slovenian Style: Blood Sausage, Potica, and Polka, my 2012 post about the holiday.)

Traditional Pust dinner with blood sausage, Slovenian Hall, SF

Now, a decade later, I have become a regular at the Slovenian Hall. Especially since I started taking weekly language classes last year.

When Carnival time rolled around last month, I decided to organize an impromptu celebration for our Slovenian class. Traditional foods for Pust include two sweet treats: krofi, or jelly-filled doughnuts; and flancati (sometimes called pohanje), the beignet-like pastry strips my grandma called angel wings. But I wasn't prepared to do any deep fat frying, even in the interest of preserving ethnic food traditions.

Then I thought of the perfect alternative to fried pastries: my baked flancati recipe, adapted from  a Slovenian American cookbook. It had proven to be a dependable stand-in for the fried version I remembered from childhood, with the same fanciful shapes and heavy coating of powdered sugar.

But I had a small problem, this time around. Since this was a last-minute undertaking, I'd had to skip the the usual overnight refrigeration. After just an hour in the fridge, my flancati dough seemed too soft. In trying to correct this, I ended up with a new twist on baked flancati.

Here's what happened: I knew the pastry would become tough if I tried to knead in more floor. So I decided on a more gentle approach. I rolled out the dough on a well-floured board, folded it in half, and re-rolled it. As I worked, I had a hazy recollection of some baking technique I had read about before, but had never actually tried.

Those last-minute flancati turned out just fine. In fact, they were lighter than usual. Still, I wondered how they would be received in my Slovenian class that evening--especially by my teacher and her husband, who had grown up in Slovenia. What would they think of this American shortcut?

My teacher Mia said the flancati made her feel nostalgic. After I confessed that my flancati were baked rather than fried, her husband assured me that he was very familiar with this style of the traditional pastry.

"We call it 'light' flancati," my teacher's husband said. Then he added, "I know how you made it. You had to keep rolling and folding, right?" His eyes twinkled.

How on earth did this distinguished Silicon Valley engineer know about the fine points of pastry making? One thing seemed clear. I had stumbled onto a legitimate Slovenian flancati variation, and not just some American adaptation. In fact, a little research revealed that my "roll and fold" creation was similar to a well-known technique called rough puff (or blitz puff) pastry.

Traditional puff pastry is a laborious process that can take three days. The butter is rolled into a single flat layer and encased in two layers of dough. Multiple rounds of careful rolling, folding, and chilling follow. The end product is a rich dough with anywhere from seventy to seven hundred layers. During baking, steam from the melting butter creates the "puff" that produces those multiple airy layers. 

In the shortcut "rough puff" version, cubes of butter are combined with flour and formed into a rough dough. The butter chunks are flattened during rolling and re-rolling. The result is a rich, flaky pastry with an impressive rise, even if the layers aren't quite as numerous or discrete.

Unlike puff pastry, flancati dough includes eggs and sour cream. But otherwise, I had unwittingly followed the same approach.

Now that I understood what I had been doing, I was eager to make this rough puff version of flancati again.  I had the chance a few weeks later, for another event at the San Francisco's Slovenian Hall.

This time, I made a few changes to maximize the puff. I was careful to leave the butter in visible chunks when I cut it into the flour. I chilled the dough overnight. And I followed a more deliberate folding and rolling technique, described and illustrated below. To bake, I used a slightly higher oven temperature.

The result was the best flancati yet. Even my grandmother would have approved!

Extra-Light Baked Flancati

2 cups flour
1/2 lb butter, unsalted, cut in chunks
2 egg yolks
1/2 cup sour cream
1 T. rum
1 packet vanilla sugar (or 1 t. vanilla extract and 1 t. sugar)
1 t. grated lemon rind or 1/4 t. nutmeg

Place flour in a medium-sized bowl and cut in butter chunks until they are the size of large peas. In a small bowl, mix egg yolks, sour cream, and flavorings of your choice until well blended. Add to the flour-butter mixture. Combine and mix lightly with your hands until a rough dough forms. Bits of butter should still be visible.

Divide dough into four balls. Flatten into thick squares, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate overnight.

When ready to bake, remove one piece of dough at a time from refrigerator.  Let soften until it can be rolled out.

On a floured board, roll out dough into an 8 or 9 inch square--or, if you prefer, a rectangle of similar dimensions.

Fold the dough into overlapping thirds, as though you are folding a letter to place in an envelope.

Flatten slightly with a rolling pin and roll out until you have another rectangle. The pieces of butter will be visible.

Once again, fold into thirds and turn the "letter" a quarter turn to the right.

Roll it out again into a rectangle, fold into thirds, make a quarter turn to the right. For the third and final time, roll out the folded "letter" into a rectangle.

At this point, you will have created twenty-seven layers of dough!

Cut the rectangle into sixteen pieces. Make a slit in the center of each small rectangle. Pull opposite corners part way through the slit. Or pull an entire side through the slit. For more detailed instructions about shaping (with photos), see my original baked flancati post

Place flancati on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining three pieces of dough. You will need two baking sheets.

Bake at 375 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes, until medium brown.

Remove to racks and sprinkle with confectioner's sugar while still warm.


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Interview on Radio Slovenia International (on February 25th)

Homemade Potica

Last week, I made a short, unexpected trip back to Slovenia. By telephone.

It happened right here in California, at a B & B in Half Moon Bay, where my husband and I had gone for an overnight getaway. After breakfast the next morning, I did a phone interview with the American-born host of a public radio show in Slovenia.

Michael Manske does a weekly show called "Slovenian Roots" on Radio Slovenia International (Radio Si.) In this series, he interviews descendants of Slovenians from around the world.  He found me through my own Slovenian Roots Quest blog and invited me to share my experiences with his listeners.

The live broadcast of this short interview will be tomorrow morning, Wednesday 25 February, at 11:18 CET. (That's 2 AM Pacific time!) If you care to tune in, the Radio Slovenia International website offers live-streaming audio that is simple to access. By next week, my interview should be included in the show's podcast archives, here.

My grandparents, Mary Adamic and Louis Kozlevcar (Cleveland, ca. 1920)

"What did you talk about?" someone asked me. Well, I haven't yet heard the interview, so I am working from memory. But here are my impressions:

Michael is a very skilled interviewer. We covered a lot of ground in a very short time. I spoke mostly about my family history and how close I came to losing my Slovenian heritage, because my mother and her siblings wanted to forget a difficult past. I talked about my belated discovery of the Slovenian Hall in San Francisco--and Mia Rode's wonderful language classes. Michael asked if anything surprised me during my trip to Slovenia this past summer. He inquired about the secret to good potica. We managed to talk about almost everything, except for my fascination with the controversial writer Louis Adamic, who is said to be my grandmother's cousin.

Hvala lepa, Michael! I am honored to be on public radio in Slovenia.

Update: The podcast is now up!  Go here for the direct link. The nine-minute interview included even more than I remembered, including the pivotal role of the Cajun accordion in bringing me back to my own roots.

My mother, with her mother and siblings (Cleveland, late 1920s)

A little more about Michael Manske:  He is married to a Slovenian woman and has lived in Slovenia since 2001. He is well known for his long-running (and very funny) "How to Become a Slovene" series, which can be heard on the Radio Slovenia website and on YouTube.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Slovenian Braided Bread, or Bosman

Slovenian Braided Bread, or Bosman

I love hearing from readers.

Last month, a charming woman named Sara sent me a question about a traditional Slovenian bread she learned to make from her mother, called menihi or monk's bread. She included a photo of a gorgeous, braided loaf that reminded me of challah, the popular Jewish Sabbath bread. Had I ever heard of it?

The name didn't ring a bell, but I had seen images of Slovenian breads that sounded similar. I started to search.  No monk's bread, but I did find references to several other festive, decorated breads on the Slovenian government's official Travel Guide. The closest was the photo of an impressive-looking bread called bosman, described as:

"...a richly decorated ceremonial bread, which used to be a compulsory gift to brides, as well as newborns and children being christened. It is decorated with several lines of plaited dough and various dough ornaments, as well as paper flowers."

I found a recipe for bosman, or plaited bread, in Janez Bogataj's The Food and Cooking of Slovenia. The dough was very much like Sara's monk's bread, and both seemed similar to the egg-rich challah recipes I had made in the past. 

Most Central and Eastern European cuisines do seem to have a tradition of making light, braided yeast breads for holidays and other celebrations. These treasured dishes are a reminder that white flour was once a precious commodity that ordinary people enjoyed only on special occasions. 

Bogataj's dough recipe turned out to be surprisingly easy. No initial sponge or even proofing of the yeast.  He specified "easy blend" yeast, which I took to mean standard dry yeast. (After the fact, I discovered that this means "rapid rise" or "instant" yeast, which is best for this rapid mix method.)

The challenge came in the shaping. Bogataj provided elaborate instructions for a dramatic nine-strand, three-tiered loaf, topped with little dough figures of birds, flowers, butterflies, balls, and mini-braids! Fortunately, he did offer another option: a simple, three-strand plait.

I hesitated to make a single loaf of bread that used seven cups of flour, so I decided to cut down his original recipe to two-thirds. I also corrected a couple of the metric conversions. Otherwise, I followed his original recipe. 

For the recipe and the result, read on.

Slovenian Braided Bread, or Bosman

Slovenian Braided Bread, or Bosman

(adapted from Janez Bogataj's "Bosman Plaited Bread" in The Food and Cooking of Slovenia.)

4-2/3 cups (about) white bread flour (530 g)
2/3 t. salt
1 envelope "easy blend" (rapid rise) dried yeast
2/3 cup + 1 T. warm water (200 ml)
2 T. honey
2 eggs, beaten
4 T butter, softened*

For glaze: 1 egg yolk beaten with 1 T. cold water

*Note: Oil is often preferred in traditional challah recipes, so that those who follow Jewish dietary laws can serve it with both meat and dairy meals. Feel free to substitute!

Sift flour and salt into a large mixing bowl and stir in the dry yeast. Make a well in the center and add the remaining ingredients. Mix together to make a soft dough, then knead on a floured board for about ten minutes until dough is smooth and elastic.

Place dough in a clean bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in size. (The rising took me one hour, although the original recipe suggested two.)  Punch down and let rest for ten minutes before shaping.

The full ceremonial version of this bread involves multiple braided layers, one on top of the other, with little decorative bits on tip. Three braids is simplest. I decided to compromise. I made a slightly fancy four-strand braid, which results in a nice compact loaf.

To make a four-strand loaf similar to the one in the photos, divide the dough into four equal balls. (Use a scale, if you like.)  Roll each piece into a twelve inch rope or sausage shape. Press strands together at one end and then begin to braid, starting with the outside strand on the far right, then moving to the outside strand on the far left, and then back again. This alternating, side-to-side braiding pattern is "under two, back over one."

For a good illustration of the four-strand pattern, see this blog post about challah, the Jewish version of a similar bread. The web is full of guides to even more complex patterns.  And remember: there is nothing wrong with a simple three-strand braid!

four-strand bosman braid, before baking

Transfer the loaf to a baking sheet that is greased or lined with parchment paper.  Cover with oiled plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 C).  Before baking, glaze the loaf with the egg wash. Bake for about 45 minutes, until loaf is golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom.

bosman, after baking

The result? This was was one of the easiest and most successful challah-type breads I have ever made. It was rich without being cloying and just slightly sweet. The texture was light but not too airy.

Even in these reduced quantities, I ended up with rather large loaf. But we made good use of it. The first couple of nights, it was the perfect dinner companion to my homemade cevapčiči. After that, it became breakfast fare. Bosman makes wonderful toast! On the weekend, my husband made French toast. He turned the last bits into croutons for salad. So nothing went to waste.

This bread is definitely a keeper!

breakfast toast

bosman with čevapčiči

French toast