Saturday, December 29, 2012

Potica Pudding Muffins: A Festive Solution to Leftovers



How could someone end up with leftover potica?

Good question.

Potica, the famed Slovenian nut roll, is a delicacy.  In America, it is holiday food. So it goes fast.  It also keeps well, especially when it is enriched with sour cream and honey, like my family’s version. And you can always toast it, or give it a shot in the microwave, to revive it.

But sometimes the ends of a loaf really are dry. And sometimes, believe it or not, you can have a little too much potica on hand, when Christmas comes around.

Like when a helpful family member orders the commercial variety. It's good, but not like homemade.  So you freeze it.  But you don’t wrap it as well as you should.  So there you are, a year later, ready to make a new batch for Christmas.  And you discover half a loaf of potica, languishing in the freezer, suffering from freezer burn.  Your husband wants to throw it out.  Oh no.  A sacrilege.



That’s what happened at our house.

But I found the perfect solution to that leftover potica.  Bread pudding.

Why not? We were going to a holiday party-potluck and I needed to bring a dessert.

I love bread pudding. Some people consider it a homely dish and not suitable for entertaining. But I had discovered a number of recipes for individual bread puddings, sometimes called bread pudding muffins, that were festive enough for a party. Several of them were based on rich holiday breads, like coffee cake and Italian pannetone.

Potica would be a perfect subsitute, I thought.

After some adapting and combining, I created a new dish: potica pudding muffins.  Read on!



Potica Pudding Muffins

5-1/2 cups leftover potica, cut into small cubes
12 ounce can evaporated milk
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 T. rum
1-1/2 t. vanilla
1 t. cinnamon
2-3 T. dried cranberries
3 eggs, beaten

Slice potica and cut into small cubes.  Place in a large bowl. Combine the remaining ingredients, except for eggs. Beat well to combine, then add to potica and stir well.   Let sit for an hour.  Taste and adjust sugar and seasonings.  Add beaten eggs and stir.  Let mixture sit in refrigerator for several hours before baking, if desired.

When ready to bake, arrange 12-14 cupcake liners in muffin tins or on a cookie sheet.  (I did it both ways.) Stir batter well before filling.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes, until just firm. Let cool and sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar.  Makes 12-14 individual servings.


The verdict?  Delicious!  Our visiting sons liked it, so I felt on solid ground when I took some to the party.

This recipe would work well with cinnamon bread or a fruit-filled holiday bread like pannetone.  It could be used with any leftover bread, for that matter.  With a plainer bread, you might want to increase the sugar and spices and use cream instead of milk. There are endless possibilities for making this dish more or less rich, for creating different flavors, and for adding nuts or dried fruits, or even chocolate. With a dish as rich as nut-filled potica, though, there is not much to add.

I just might make this for our New Year's Day party!



Sunday, December 23, 2012

Preparing for Christmas Dinner

Kitty with Klobase (photo by Rod Kilpatrick)

For the past year, Tuesday night has meant one thing: a Slovenian dinner.

But this year, Christmas falls on Tuesday, the last one of the year. My husband and I are hosting the family Christmas dinner.

It should be Slovenian Dinner #50.  But an all-ethnic dinner might lead to a family rebellion.  So I'm willing to be flexible.  We'll have just a few key Slovenian elements.

We always have potica at Christmas.  So that's a good start.

A couple of years ago, my brother got the bright idea of ordering klobase, the famed Slovenian smoked sausage, from a butcher shop in our old hometown of  Cleveland.

This year, I decided to try a local source: Jelenich Brothers.  Their klobase is made in San Francisco, by a family whose roots are in the traditional Slovenian community on Potrero Hill.  I have enjoyed it at a number of the Slovenian Hall dinners.

But it was hard to track down, even though I was given some tips by a helpful woman at the Slovenian Hall.  Finally, I found the right address and passed it along to my brother, who lives in the city.  He managed to pick some up for the family Christmas dinner.

(My brother took the photo above. That's his cat, admiring the klobase.)

So for Christmas dinner we'll have klobase and potica.  Scottish shortbread.  Probably my husband's famous nut-coated salmon.  And lots more.  It will be eclectic, but with enough Slovenian touches that it will qualify as Dinner #50 in my year of ethnic cooking.

I've been so busy with holiday recipes for potica and pastries that I've fallen behind in writing up my weekly dinners.  But have no fear:  Dinners #43-50 will be posted sometime in the new year.

In the meantime:

Vesel Božič!  Merry Christmas!  Happy Holidays!

I'm off to make more potica :-)


Friday, December 21, 2012

Potica: A Step-by-Step Guide to Slovenian Nut Roll




















The last time I posted my family's potica recipe, I promised that I would add an expanded version of the instructions, along with step-by-step photos.

Suddenly, the year is drawing to a close. So here it is.

There are at least four generations of potica bakers in my family.  As a child in Cleveland, I used to watch my Slovenian-American grandma roll out the dough on her kitchen table. I learned to make it from my mother.  My sister and I have passed the recipe along to our sons, who have turned out some impressive loaves.

The step-by-step photos are from a potica-making session a few years ago. I had been asked to contribute a potica to the Trgatev, the annual fall grape harvest festival, held at San Francisco's Slovenian Hall.  So I decided to take photos and record some details, to flesh out the recipe.

The potica turned out well, even though it was a little overbaked.  Actually, it was twice baked.  I had stored it in the oven overnight, for safe-keeping, after reminding my husband to be sure he didn't turn on the oven.  You can imagine the rest!

I was tempted to call this recipe Easy Potica, even though that is something of an oxymoron.  The only truly easy potica is the kind you buy.  And yes, I have tasted some very good commercial versions. So far, the one that comes closest to my treasured family potica is made by these folks.  (It must be that Rocky Mountain air!)

Our family's style of potica is closer to pastry than bread.  With the rich honey-nut filling and the thin layers of yeast dough, it tastes like a cross between brioche and baklava.

But it is easier to make than many other potica recipes I have seen.

Here is why:

-The sour cream refrigerator dough is make-ahead, so the recipe is prepared in stages.
-The dough is easier to handle than the usual yeast dough.
-The filling is simple and elemental, with no complicated mixing or cooking.
-The loaves are made individually, which is easier to manage

Another advantage to this recipe: The potica keeps very well, because of the honey and sour cream.

There are many approaches to making potica.  There are also many different filling possibilities, especially in Slovenia.  (Including some unusual savoury versions, with tarragon and even pork cracklings!)

But this is the potica I have eaten every Christmas of my life.  It is also a traditional Easter dish.  So I am partial to it.

Enjoy!  And Happy Holidays, from my kitchen to yours!

And do feel free to join in the lively discussion in the comments below. I would love to know how you found this post, so please let me know!



Update: For a few more thoughts about potica, see my 2014 holiday update.

Gluten-Free? See New for 2015: Gluten-Free Potica with Amazing Almond Filling.

My Latest ThoughtsChristmas Potica 2015: Reflections and Revelations, in which I discover that my family's simple, rich walnut-honey filling is also the most economical!

Vegan? See Vegan Potica : Not Your Babica's Slovenian Nut Roll,  my holiday experiment for 2016.



Christmas 2015


Potica (Slovenian Nut Roll)

Dough

1 cup plus 6 T. butter, melted and cooled (2-3/4 sticks)
1 cup sugar
6 egg yolks
1-1⁄2 cups sour cream
2 packages dry yeast
3/4 cup warm milk
1 t. sugar

6 cups flour, plus more for kneading
1 t. salt

In a large bowl, combine the butter, sugar, egg yolks, and sour cream.  Mix well.

In a small bowl, proof yeast in warm milk and sugar. Add yeast to the first mixture.  Mix well.

Sift flour and salt. Add to the mixture in the large bowl and stir to combine.  You should have a soft, sticky dough.  Turn it out on a floured board and knead until smooth and elastic.  Divide dough into four even balls and flatten them slightly.  Wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight.

Filling

2 pounds (about 6-1/2 cups) finely ground walnuts
1 c. sugar
1 T. cinnamon
dash of salt (optional)

1⁄2 cup melted butter
honey to taste, 1/2 to 1 cup
(Optional: dried cranberries)

To Assemble

It is easiest to use a floured cloth to roll out the dough. I like to cover the kitchen table with a tablecloth and then put a floured pillowcase in the center. The pillowcase provides a good guide for shaping and it can also be used to nudge the roll along.
 
Remove a ball of dough from refrigerator and place it on floured surface. Roll it into a rectangle.  The dough should be thinner than pie crust but thicker than strudel or phyllo. I ended up with a 15 x 26 inch rectangle.

(For ambitious bakers: To make an extra-tasty potica, try to create even thinner layers. Roll the dough into a rectangle that is a little narrower but considerable longer. To see the difference, you'll find a photo of of an extra-thin potica below.  Or see a more recent potica post, here.)

Spread the dough with 2 T. melted butter and a quarter of the nut/sugar mixture, which should be about 2 cups. Warm the honey in a saucepan of hot water to thin it slightly.  Drizzle the dough with 2-4 T. of honey.  (We use the larger amount!)

Roll up the dough, beginning from the short end.  (I used to roll from the long end, but I now believe rolling from the short end results in a better-shaped loaf.)   After every few turns, prick the dough with a fork to eliminate air bubbles.   Pinch seam and ends closed and fold ends under.  Place seam side down on baking sheet or rectangular pan that has been oiled or lined with parchment paper.

Repeat with remaining balls of dough, for a total of four loaves. 

Let potica rise 1-1/4 hours. (Note: Loaves don’t rise much.) Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. If necessary, bake for 10 minutes more at 325 degrees. Let cool before slicing.  To store, wrap in aluminum foil.  Potica tastes better the next day.  It stores well.  It also freezes well.


Variations: 

To make a less rich dough: Use milk instead of sour cream. (I've never tried this and don't recommend it!)

To omit the honey: Increase the sugar to 1-1/2 cups.  (We only skip the honey by accident!)

To avoid walnuts:  Just substitute pecans.  Tastes good, if less traditional.

To make a delicious almond filling, here's my adaptation from a Slovenian source.

To make a festive cranberry-nut version: Sprinkle the dough with dried cranberries before rolling.

To make a chocolate version:  See the previous post, for putizza di noci.

To make an easy poppy seed potica:  Add 2 beaten egg whites, 1/2 cup ground nuts, the grated rind of a lemon, and 1 T. rum to a 12 ounce can of commercially prepared poppy seed filling.

To do it yourself, use my homemade poppy seed filling.

For potica with the flavor of Kosovo, use tahini-honey spread.

Gluten-free? See my 2015 potica experiment here ( includes a wonderful almond filling).

Vegan? It's not as hard as you think! Go here, for my 2016 adaptation.


Potica Variations: Chocolate, Pecan, and Poppy Seed



Extra-thin, with tahini-honey spread



Step-by-Step, in Photos



mixing butter, sugar, eggs, and sour cream for dough



proofing the yeast
mixing dough before kneading      



dough, after kneading



dough, after refrigerating


filling ingredients

dough, rolled out


dough, spread with butter and walnut-sugar mixture



  

dough, drizzled with honey


potica, before rising (with extra "roll" in between)



potica, after rising


potica, after (over) baking!


potica, sliced



Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Putizza di Noci: Slovenian-Italian-Jewish Fusion = Chocolate Potica!



I did a double-take when I first came across a recipe called Putizza di Noci, or Trieste Yeast Roll, in The Book of Jewish Food, by the noted food writer Claudia Roden, who grew up in Cairo.

Roden described it as a favorite family dessert for Rosh Hashanah, or Jewish New Year. But there was no denying it: This was an Italian version of  Slovenian potica—with a filling of nuts and chocolate.

The source of the recipe, according to Roden, was the family's "Slavic nanny" from Trieste.

This improbable story left me shaking my head. But now, a decade later, it makes more sense.

Trieste, a cosmopolitan city, had been home to Italians, Jews, Slovenians and Croatians. It fell within the borders of Yugoslavia until after World War II, when it became part of Italy. Putizza was—and still is—a famous specialty of Trieste.  It became a Rosh Hashanah tradition in the city's once-sizeable Jewish community.  But the roots of the dish are Slovenian.

I have also learned a little more about the nanny, Maria Koron. She came from a small Slovenian village near Trieste.  It was in a border region known as Gorizia in Italy, Gorica in Slovenia.  I suspect that she has a connection to a poignant story that is only recently becoming more widely known in Slovenia.

Maria was probably one of the so-called Aleksandrinke.  They were young Slovenian women who left their impoverished region to work as maids, nannies, and wet nurses for wealthy families in Cairo and Alexandria.  They faced difficult circumstances, both in Egypt and when they returned home. 

Five or six years ago, I tried to make putizza di noci, using Claudia Roden's recipe.

The yeast dough was different from my family recipe.  No sour cream and no overnight rising in the refrigerator. I had never heard of a chocolate-nut filling for potica, much less attempted one.  And since it was Rosh Hashanah, I followed her suggestion of making the traditional holiday shape: coiled into a round, and baked in a bundt pan.  This is also the traditional shape in Slovenia, although my family has always favored a simple loaf.

That first attempt was a failure.  Dense and overbaked. Nothing I cared to repeat.

But when Rosh Hashanah came around this year, I decided to make one more attempt at this Slovenian-Jewish-Italian recipe.

I decided to stick with my family's familiar potica dough recipe. After all, there is nothing sacred about that part of Claudia Roden's recipe.  There are many different versions of potica dough.  The critical difference, I figured, was in the filling.   I also decided to use the simple loaf shape, also an option in Roden's recipe.

I made a half recipe of my family’s traditional refrigerator yeast dough, enough for two loaves.  I followed Claudia Roden’s filling recipe, with one change. Instead of the milk or wine her recipe calls for,  I used evaporated milk, because that is all we had on hand.

For the result, read on.




Putizza di Noci

For the dough: Make a half recipe of potica dough, which you can find in the next post, here. Prepare the dough as directed, using half the quantities specified.  Form into two rounds, wrap, and refrigerate overnight.


For the filling:

1 c. evaporated milk
1-1/4 c. sugar
2-1/2 c. finely chopped walnuts
grated zest of 1 lemon
7 oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

Mix milk and sugar in medium sauce pan and bring to a boil.  And the nuts and lemon zest and simmer 10 more minutes, stirring.  Let cool. Filling will be very thick and almost carmelized.

Chop the chocolate finely.  (I used bittersweet chocolate chips, and chopped them in a food processor.)  Set aside.

To assemble:

Roll out each piece of dough as for potica, about 1/8 inch thick.  For detailed directions, go here.

Cover dough surface with filling and spread if possible.  I found the filling too thick to spread completely and had to dab it on.  Sprinkle on chocolate.  Roll up as directed. Pinch the seams, using water to seal.

Place each long roll on a baking sheet that is covered with parchment.  Curve each loaf to fit on pan.

Let rise 1-1/4 hour.  Bake at 350 degrees for 30-45 minutes.  If loaves begin to get too dark, cover with foil after 30 minutes. Let cool before slicing.





We served the putizza as the finale to our Rosh Hashanah dinner.

My mother loved the dinner.  All except for the putizza.  As usual, she didn’t mince words. She didn’t much care for that peculiar chocolate filling.

But I liked it.

My husband loved it. He said it reminded him of a childhood favorite: babka, a traditional Eastern European Jewish yeast pastry with a rich chocolate-nut filling.

He was right. We couldn’t quite figure out what gave the putizza that elusive flavor. Something about the bittersweet chocolate?   Or maybe it was the cooked filling, with the caramel flavor from the evaporated milk.  It was another one of those cooking mysteries, when the flavors of the past are suddenly recreated.

I think putizza will become a yearly tradition at our house, for Rosh Hashanah and maybe even for Christmas.
























Thursday, December 13, 2012

Apple Cranberry Strudel: My First Time




Strudel is one of a handful of classic Slovenian desserts.   Slovenians certainly can’t claim it as unique. If anything, the dish is more closely associated with two neighboring countries, Austria and Hungary.  Many food writers suggest the ultimate origins are in Turkey, where there is a long tradition of pastries made with paper-thin dough.

It is also one of the few ethnic dishes with a family connection. I used to watch my Slovenian American grandmother roll and stretch the dough for apple strudel on the wooden kitchen table in her bungalow in Cleveland. My own mother used to make strudel, she reminds me.  But I had never made it myself.

Growing up, I was never a fan.  As a child, I always preferred cakes to pies and pastries, especially if they contained fruit.  It’s a texture thing, I always explain, when I get funny looks about my still-lingering fruit aversion.

I began to appreciate strudel on our trip to Eastern Europe six years ago.  My husband and I sampled it all along the way: in Vienna, throughout the former Yugoslavia, and finally in Budapest.  It was as common as apple pie in America.  And it was all good.

Then, last Christmas, I made contact with a first cousin I hadn’t seen—or spoken to—in forty years. She turned out to have a part time job in her best friend’s family bakery in Cleveland, where the specialty is Hungarian strudel.  We reminisced about our grandmother’s baking.  My strudel-making cousin confessed that she had never made potica, the famed Slovenian nut roll that is a holiday tradition in my family.  I was touched when she sent me some strudel as a Christmas gift.  I sent her a potica in return.  

Once I embarked on my year of Slovenian cooking, it seemed clear: strudel was in my future.  Every time I made a savoury dish with store-bought phyllo, like burek or meat pita, I felt a twinge of guilt.   The homemade dough was a challenge that any self-respecting Slovenian cook should take on, at least once.

I just needed to find the right moment.  Like a big  potluck or party, where I could contribute one of the desserts. That way, if it didn’t work out, it wouldn’t have much impact.  And if it did, I would be sharing an elaborate dessert with a big enough audience to make it worthwhile.

The opportunity came in early September, at the neighborhood Labor Day picnic and potluck. Once again, we were hosting the event.  What better time to make a labor-intensive dessert?

My vintage cookbooks all had multiple recipes for strudel.  They offered minimal details, with the unspoken assumption that the reader already had a pretty good idea of how to make strudel.  I found more help in several of my Jewish cookbooks.  The best was In My Mother’s Kitchen, a memoir by noted food writer Mimi Sheraton.  She made the tricky part—the stretching, rolling and shaping—much clearer.

In the end, I struck closely to the apple strudel recipe in my first Slovenian cookbook, Woman’s Glory: The Kitchen.  My one creative touch was to add a sprinkle of cranberries, instead of the option of a handful of raisins or nuts they suggested.

The recipe seemed straightforward.  Or at least the ingredients themselves did.  The filling was simple and elemental, with each component layered separately, an approach that parallels my family potica recipe.  No cooking, or even much mixing, beforehand.  It sounded almost too simple.

The challenge, I assumed, would be in stretching the dough.  I hadn’t quite realized until I did some research that the kneading itself requires a special touch.

The key to kneading is this: strudel dough needs to be worked hard, in order to develop the gluten.  Otherwise, the dough won’t be strong and stretchy enough.  It’s the complete opposite of the usual advice for pastries.  Long kneading is essential.  At least 15 minutes, although Mimi Sheraton suggests a half hour.  She also uses bread flour, because of the higher gluten content.

Then there is a tradition I had never heard of before: Slamming the dough into the counter, sometimes from a height of a few feet. A number of sources allude to this.  Mimi Sheration is quite specific: Slam it 110 times.  Or, as Woman's Glory suggests: Don't be afraid to treat it rough.

I was surprised at the relative ease of stretching the dough.  Yes, there were a few small tears.  But I tried not to worry about them—or about the uneven shape of the finished product. I would be cutting off the edges anyway.

I checked the final dimensions of the rectangle against a detailed blog I found online, which started with a similar quantity of dough.  Oh-oh.  My final rectangle of dough was almost a third smaller (and therefore thicker) than the online version.

But for a first timer, I had done pretty well, I thought.  My strudel looked quite presentable. The proof would be in the eating, of course.

For the outcome, as well as the recipe and step-by-step photos, read on!

(For a more "literary" account of working the dough, take a look at Slam Dance With Strudel, an essay I wrote on my old Red Room blog.)




Apple Cranberry Strudel

Dough

1-1/2 c. bread flour
1/4 t. salt
1 T. oil
5-8 T. warm water

Sift flour and salt.  Make a well in the center and add oil and 5-6 T. water to start.  Mix with a fork and then with hands to make a soft, sticky dough, adding more water of necessary.   Knead on floured board for 15 to 30 minutes.  You might want to consider slamming it onto the kitchen table a few dozen times, in between bouts of kneading.  Or wait until the end, and do it all at once.  At the end of all that kneading and slamming, you should have a nice firm piece of dough.  Form it into a ball, coat with oil, cover and let sit for 30 minutes while you prepare the filling.

Filling

1/2 c. sugar
1 t. cinnamon
8 tart apples (I used Granny Smith)
1 T. lemon juice
5 T. bread crumbs
4 T. butter
1/3 c. dried cranberries (optional)

Peel and slice apples thinly. Mix with lemon juice.  Set aside.
Mix sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl.
Brown bread crumbs in butter in a small skillet.

For assembly:  5 additional T. melted butter, divided

Stretching the dough:

Cover table with a floured tablecloth or sheet.  Roll dough into a 9 x 9 inch rectangle, rolling from the center outward.  Spread with 1 T. melted butter.  Then begin to stretch the dough, using the backs of your hands, walking round and round the table.  If there are small tears or uneven edges, don’t worry too much.  Just do your best to stretch dough as thinly as possible, pulling from the center out to the edges.  Ideally, you should be able to read a newspaper through it.  (I never managed that!)  Aim for a 24 x 36 inch rectangle.  (Mine was more like 18 x 24.) Cut off thick or uneven edges.

To Assemble:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

You will be rolling up the strudel from the short end of the rectangle.
Cover half the dough with the filling ingredients, in the following order.  Leave a  2 inch border on the edges.
—Apples
—Browned bread crumbs
—Sugar-cinnamon mixture
—Cranberries

Fold the dough border at the short end over the bottom edge of the filling.  Carefully roll up the dough, using the floured cloth to nudge it along.  When the dough is rolled half way, so the the filling has been completely encased, spread remaining half of uncovered dough with 4 T. melted butter. Fold in the side edges, then roll up the remainder.
Place the strudel roll, seam side down, into a large rectangular pan that has been lined with parchment paper.  Curve into a horseshoe shape.  Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour.  Brush with butter and let cool.

Sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving, if desired.


The verdict:  This turned me into a strudel lover!  It was delicious.  Far beyond what I expected. The apple filling was perfect. Not too sweet and full of flavor. The tangy red cranberries provided a lovely  counterpoint to the apples.  The crust, while not quite like store-bought phyllo, was still thin and crisp.

I can't wait to try this again.




Dough


Filling Ingredients


Rolled Out


Stretching the Dough; Ghost Hand


Dough, Stretched


Filling, Ready to Roll

Before Baking


After Baking

Ready to Eat


Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Caraway-Buckwheat Shortbread: Slovenian Scottish Fusion



In my family, we have two treasured Christmas baking traditions: Slovenian potica and Scottish shortbread.

These were both straight out of the "grandma-who-doesn't use-a-recipe" tradition.  But that is where the parallel ended.  My Slovenian American grandma was a wonderful cook and baker.  My Scottish-born grandma, my father's mother, was not.

As a result, my family shortbread tradition is both traditional and idiosyncratic.  The ingredients are classic : sugar, butter, and flour, with a touch of salt.  But the method is not.

My grandmother believed in long kneading.   My father staunchly upheld this tradition. The idea was to work in as much flour as possible.  The goal was not tenderness.  He wanted to produce a hard, dry cube of shortbread.   He dismissed anything tender or crumbly as Lorna Doones.   In other words, ersatz shortbread cookies for Americans.

Our family shortbread is mildly sweet, with a rich, buttery taste.  But it also includes a fair amount of flour.  I have been surprised to discover that so many American recipes are extremely buttery.

I have now discovered why.

I have just learned a fascinating bit of shortbread lore. The classic Scottish shortbread recipe has a 1:2:3 or 1:2:4 ratio of sugar, butter, and flour.  A touch of salt is optional.

But here is the catch. The ratio refers to British-style measures, which are all by weight, and not by volume.

So traditional Scottish shortbread does NOT mean a cup of butter to a cup-and-a-half or even two cups of flour.   Scots are frugal people, for heaven's sake!   This, on the other hand, would be a traditional recipe:

2 ounces (1/4 cup) sugar
4 ounces (1/2 cup) butter
8 ounces (2 cups) flour

Last year,  I wrote a long essay about my family's shortbread traditions.  The recipe is here, if you would care to take a look.  It turns out to be very close to the 1:2:3 or 1:2:4 proportion. 

Our family tradition is very strict when it comes to shortbread.  We stick with the basics. So my husband was shocked when I told him about my plans to attempt a Scottish-Slovenian fusion.

Here is how it happened: We were invited to a dinner party.  It was early December, and I hadn't yet done any holiday baking.  Normally, I would have made a batch of shortbread by now, since it stores so well.  So this seemed like the perfect opportunity.  Some shortbread for the party and some to keep for later.

But I also wanted to make a dish that would incorporate some Slovenian traditions, or at least Slovenian flavors.  I couldn't figure out a way to use paprika in shortbread.  But I immediately thought about caraway seeds and buckwheat flour, two staples in my ethnic kitchen.

Caraway seed, I knew, is used in some traditional Scottish shortbread recipes. I had never heard of buckwheat flour. But small quantities of oat, corn, or rice flour are often added, to provide crispness.

I did an Internet search and found a number of recipes for buckwheat shortbread.  Probably not traditionally Scottish, but it sounded like an option that might work.

I used the recipe in the link above as a foundation and came up with the recipe that follows.

before baking


after baking



Caraway Buckwheat Shortbread

1/2 c. baker’s sugar (superfine sugar)
1 cup (1/2 lb.) butter      
1/2 cup buckwheat flour (can substitute other flours: oat, rice, corn, or wheat)
3 cups unbleached white flour
1/4 t. salt (optional, and not needed if butter is salted)            
1/2 t. caraway seeds, plus more to sprinkle on top


Sift flours, caraway seeds and salt, if using. Set aside.

Cream butter by hand on a board or covered surface. Add sugar and knead till smooth and no grains remain.  Knead in flour mixture, slowly.  Knead for at least 15 minutes, adding more flour until no more can be absorbed and the dough is smooth.   (I had about 1/2 cup flour remaining.)

Pat into an ungreased pan, to a thickness of about 1/2 inch.  (I used a 10 inch round fluted Le Creuset pan.)

Sprinkle with 1/2 t. more caraway seeds.  Prick the dough with a  fork.  Dough can be chilled before baking.

I used a slightly different baking method this time. A number of recipes suggest longer cooking at a lower temperature, after an initial start at a higher temperature.  This worked out well. 

Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes, then lower to 250 degrees.  Bake for 1 hour in all.   The dough should brown only minimally.  If shortbread seems too soft, lower heat and put back into oven.

An important note about the color: Some brands of buckwheat flour, including the one I used, are very dark when uncooked.  So don't be surprised if the shortbread becomes lighter with baking.  (See the before and after pictures above.)

Cut into squares before cooling.

If you like a hard shortbread, as we do, you can bake for even longer, at 200 degrees. Or, to be safe, you can put the shortbread into the 200 degree oven briefly,  then turn off the heat and leave the oven door propped open. The shortbread can be left to dry out in this way for many hours.

shortbread dough, shaped like a heart!


The verdict:  Tasty, with an elusive, earthy flavor.  Nice and crisp. 

The shortbread was well-received at the dinner party.  Of course, someone did ask: So why is it green?

It’s not exactly green.  More like a grey-brown, instead of the pale gold of traditional shortbread. But that's the price of innovation.

I haven't quite decided whether to share this one with the rest of my family at Christmas.  But it is a unusual and flavorful variation.



Holiday Treats from My Slovenian Kitchen



Suddenly it is December.

Where did the year go?

And now it's time for holiday baking.  Thanks to my year of Slovenian cooking, I have already been practicing the two big holiday favorites in my family: Potica (of course!) and a Slovenian-inspired twist on Scottish shortbread.

But I have also discovered some new favorites that are perfect for family gatherings and holiday entertaining.

Below is a round-up of the desserts, pastries, and sweet breakfast treats that have come out of my Slovenian American kitchen in the past year.  An even dozen.  The first eight are traditional favorites. The last five are Slovenian-inspired originals. 

Most of these dishes were made for special occasions.  Thanksgiving and Christmas. Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. The Fourth of July. Labor Day.  Slovenian Hall events.  Family visits and birthdays.  Times that are both celebratory and bittersweet.

Links are included for the recipes that are already posted.  The others will be up in the next couple of weeks.  Photos for all these dishes follow below.

Happy holidays and dober tek, from my kitchen to yours!
Flancati, Baked (Angel Wings)
Palačinke (Crepes)
Prekmurska Gibanica (Strudel Pie)
Ice Cream with Pumpkin Seed Oil and Nut Brittle
Buckwheat Breakfast Crumbles (an original twist on a traditional favorite)
Caraway-Buckwheat Shortbread (original, Scottish-Slovenian fusion)
Chocolate-Rosemary Biscotti (original, Slovenian-inspired)
Potica Pudding-Muffins (original, Slovenian-inspired)
Pumpkin Pie with Pumpkin Seed Oil (original, Slovenian-inspired)






Apple Cranberry Strudel



Walnut Potica and Scottish Shortbread



Baked Flancati or Angel Wings




Putizza di Noci



Prekmurska Gibanica



Apple Šmoren with Brandied Cranberries


Palačinke with Šmoren


Pumpkin Pie with Pumpkin Seed Oil



Chocolate-Rosemary Biscotti

Ice Cream with Pumpkin Seed Oil and Nut Brittle



Caraway-Buckwheat Shortbread


Buckwheat Breakfast Crumbles