Wednesday, December 25, 2013

A Trio of Christmas Sweets: Domestic Friends, Buckwheat Thumbprints, and Potica with the Flavor of Kosovo


This year, I decided to expand the Slovenian holiday offerings.  First, I tried out two new cookie recipes.  Then I took a bolder step: I came up with a new filling variation for our traditional potica.

A week or so before Christmas, I made some tasty domači prijatelj (domestic friends), the Slovenian take on biscotti.  Last week, I tried out an unusual chocolate/buckwheat cookie called ajdovčki (buckwheat thumbprints). They looked pretty, as you can see from the photo, but the taste was definitely odd. (The recipe follows in the next post, so you can decide for yourself!)

Three days ago, I made the Christmas potica.  For two of the loaves, I stuck with my family's traditional walnut-honey filling.  Then I got creative.

I had a moment of inspiration:  Instead of honey, why not try the honey-tahini spread from Kosovo our journalist son had brought us last Christmas?  I quickly dismissed it as a little too off-beat.  But then he made the identical suggestion. Suddenly, it seemed like a great idea: Slovenian potica with the flavor of Kosovo.

That Kosovo potica was the first loaf we cut into.  It was delicious, with a subtle but haunting flavor from the tahini.  I had made a special effort to roll the dough extra-thin this year, so the potica looked better than ever, as you can see from the photos below.

These photos were taken by our older son, a photojournalist in New York.  So this Kosovo potica really was a family affair.

From our kitchen to yours: Merry Christmas! Vesel božič! Gëzuar Krishtlindjet!


Monday, December 16, 2013

Domači Prijatelj ("Domestic Friend"), the Slovenian Answer to Biscotti and Mandelbrot

"The eggs are divorced." "Cut the tonsils." "Murder the eggs." "Sexual cakes are rising." "Domestic friends are done."

Does this sound like mayhem in the kitchen? A surrealistic cartoon?  These are choice excerpts from the Google translation of recipes for domači prijatelj, the Slovenian version of biscotti or mandelbrot.  It is my latest addition to the Slovenian holiday kitchen.

Long before the American biscotti craze, I was introduced to mandelbrot, the Jewish version of the popular sweet. By any name, these are among my favorite cookies: crunchy, not-too-sweet, and open to many creative variations.

So I was excited to discover that Slovenians have their own take on the firm, sliced cookie.  Domači prijatelj is usually translated as "domestic friend" or sometimes as "house friend." To a Slovenian, this has a slightly risqué connotation.  My Slovenian professor friend suggests that "paramour" might be a good English equivalent.

Domači prijatelj do not show up in my 1950s Slovenian American cookbooks. But they seem to be quite popular in Slovenia today, judging by the many recipes available online. A search on the Slovenian cooking website Kulinarika turned up seventeen different recipes. (To see the full list, go here.)

At first, I thought domači prijatelj might be a recent import from Italy, but the sturdy sweet has has been around since at least the late 1800s. Several online sources make reference to a handwritten copy of a recipe from an 1877 Slovenian cookbook. Some Slovenian food bloggers follow another simple old formula, translated as:

For each egg:

70 g sugar 
50 g hazelnuts
90 g flour
lemon zest

These proportions are much like traditional Italian biscotti, heavy on the eggs but with no added fat.  Mandelbrot recipes, which usually include butter or oil, result in a  richer and more tender cookie. 

One major difference with domači prijatelj: they don't tend to receive a second baking in the oven. Most recipes direct the cook to slice the baked loaf and then let the individual pieces air-dry naturally, perhaps in a cool place. Biscotti, of course,  are always given a second baking (the name translates as "twice-cooked"). This is usually the case with mandelbrot, as well.  I did find a couple of  domači prijatelj recipes that specified a second baking, so I felt on solid ground when I opted to add that second step.

One thing biscotti, mandelbrot, and "domestic friends" have in common:  These once-simple sliced cookies have morphed into something far more complex, as contemporary cooks give free rein to their imaginations.  The Kulinarika site includes a few very simple nut-and-raisin combinations, using hazelnuts, walnuts, or almonds. But most recipes go beyond that. The dried fruits include apricots, coconut, prunes, and papaya.  Chocolate is a  popular addition. Flavorings included lemon and orange rind, rum, vanilla, and cinnamon.  The most unexpected twist: yogurt-covered raisins.

The recipe I chose as a guide from Kulinarika is particularly egg-rich and uses no other leavening agents, which is an advantage for those of us who are watching our sodium intake. Here is the Google translation of the recipe I took as a model.  The original metric measures are preserved in the translation.

6 eggs
300 g sugar
400 g flour
100 g papaya
100 g apricots
100 g walnuts or hazelnuts
100 g raisins

I cut this recipe in half and have made two different versions so far.  I wanted to experiment with different add-ins and baking methods.

In Version #1, I used chopped chocolate, almonds, dried cranberries, and dried apricots. To compensate for the absence of baking powder or soda I followed the example of another recipe and  beat the egg whites separately.  I followed the original recipe suggestion to bake the dough in a flat pan instead of individual rolls, before cutting into slices.   With part of the batch, I skipped the second baking, just as that recipe (and most of the others) directed.  The rest of the batch was twice-baked.

In Version #2, I omitted the dried fruit and increased the chocolate and nuts. This time, I did use a low-sodium leavening agent, plus some additional flavorings.  I shaped the dough in long rolls before slicing and twice-baked the entire batch.

For the recipes and the results, read on!

Domači Prijatelj (Domestic Friend), Version #1

3 eggs
3/4 c. sugar
1-2/3 c. flour (more if needed)
1/2 c. chopped chocolate (mixed bittersweet and milk)
1/2 c. sliced almonds
1/4 c. dried cranberries
1/4 c. dried apricots, diced
a little brandy for soaking the fruit (optional)
1 t. vanilla extract
lemon rind, grated

Domači Prijatelj (Domestic Friend), Version #2

3 eggs
3/4 c. sugar
1-2/3 c. flour (more if needed)
1 t. low sodium baking soda and 1 t. cream of tartar (or use 1 t. regular baking powder)
3/4 c. sliced almonds
3/4 c. chopped chocolate (mixed bittersweet and milk)
1 t. vanilla extract
1 t. almond extract
1 t. cinnamon

The simplest directions for both versions:  Measure the flour and combine with any leavening agents you may be using.  Set aside.  If you are using dried fruit, place it in a small bowl and add a little brandy to moisten. In a large bowl, beat the eggs, sugar, and any flavorings or extracts you are using until the mixture is thick and lemon-colored.  Stir in nuts, chocolate, dried fruit, and any other add-ins you wish.  Stir in the flour until you have a stiff but sticky dough.

There are a couple of variations you can try in mixing the dough.  You can separate the eggs, so that the yolks are beaten with the sugar and then the beaten whites are folded in.  You can add the flour before or after the nuts, fruits, and chocolate.

If you wish, you can chill the dough to make it easier to handle. (Note that low-sodium baking soda or low sodium baking powder lose their leavening power if not used immediately.)

The dough can be baked in a rectangular pan and then sliced and cut.  I prefer to form it into 2 long loaves, by spooning the dough onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet and then easing into shape with floured hands.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes until brown and firm.  Remove from oven and let cool for 10 mintutes.  Cut into 1/2 inch slices.  If you have baked the dough in a pan, you will want to halve the slices.  Now you have one more optional step to consider.

Most of these Slovenian recipes simply let the slices dry out naturally.  Air-dry in a cool place, some say.  But if you like a harder version, you can take the minority view and give the slices another turn in the oven.  Stand the slices up on the cookie sheet and bake them for about 20 more minutes, until brown and firm.  Let cool on a rack.

Enjoy!  Dober Tek!

The result:

Both batches turned out well.  The result is a plain, hard cookie that is closer to biscotti than the richer mandelbrot.

In the photo, the two slices on the right are from Version #1, where I separated the eggs. The two on the left are from Version #2, where I used low-sodium baking soda and cream of tarter. The textures are the same: slightly risen but dense.  It is possible that "regular" baking powder or soda would have resulted in a lighter product, but these were just fine. 

As for the merits of twice-baking: I tried it both ways, and prefer to give the slices a second stint in the oven.   It's a matter of individual taste, but in my house we like our "domestic friends" crunchy and hard :-)

Update: A month later, I gave it one more try and came up with the best version yet. For the lightest texture, do use baking soda or powder, and save the add-ins for last.  To see the full recipe, go here.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Cranberry-Chocolate Chip Mandelbrot for Thanksgiving/Hanukkah

Last week, my husband and I flew to Florida to join his family for Thanksgiving—and for the first day of Hanukkah. We had somehow managed to escape all the buzz about Thanksgivukkah.  We hadn’t yet heard about the "menurkey," a special turkey-shaped menorah created for the occasion.  But my brother-in-law had supplied one for the candle-lighting. And back in New York, our photojournalist son had even been assigned to cover a story in one of the daily papers about the ten-year-old boy who invented the contraption.

Oy vey.  It was too much for a traditionalist like me.

I did decide to get a little creative with one food I planned to make for the double celebration: mandelbrot, one of my favorites among the traditional Jewish sweets I had discovered when I met my husband. I had in mind a fancy version with bittersweet chocolate chips and all-American Thanksgiving cranberries, in honor of the double holiday. I could easily make the mandelbrot in advance, since the hard, crunchy cookies keep so well and are the ideal size and texture for travel.  I knew my father-in-law would appreciate them—as long as they were hard enough.  (He regularly gives store-bought mandelbrot a third baking in the oven, just to be safe!)

I had one additional challenge: Making a low-sodium mandelbrot. So that meant a few modifications to the standard recipe.  No salt, obviously.  And no baking powder, at least of the conventional variety.  I would have to substitute low-sodium baking powder—or low-sodium baking soda plus cream of tartar.  And that meant the dough needed to be used right away instead of chilling it in the refrigerator, as some cooks suggest.

Over the years, I have experimented with many different approaches to mandelbrot. This time, I decided to adapt a chocolate chip-walnut recipe from the folks at King Arthur Flour. Along with the low-sodium modifications, I added dried cranberries and almond extract.  I also substituted almonds for walnuts and used brown turbinado sugar for the topping instead of coarse white sugar.

A final note for those who follow Jewish dietary laws: Because this recipe uses oil and bittersweet chocolate chips that are dairy-free, it can be enjoyed with that Thanksgiving turkey!

The result was so delicious I wanted to share it.  But I worried that it might not be completely kosher to include it in a blog that is devoted to Slovenian and Balkan cooking.

It seemed strange to me that the ever-practical Slovenians didn’t have a sliced, dry cookie like mandelbrot. So many Europeans have a version: Italian biscotti and cantucci, Jewish mandelbrot and kamishbrot, German zweiback and rusk. But I took another look online and discovered many recipes, all in Slovenian, for a sliced biscuit called domači prijatelj.  The name is translated as “domestic friend.”  (This may or may not have a slightly risqué connotation!)  These Slovenian recipes seem simpler and plainer than mandelbrot, but the pictures show something that could easily pass for mandelbrot or the probable source of them all, biscotti.

Whether you call them mandelbrot, biscotti, or domestic friends, these crunchy slices are delicious for any occasion.

Happy Holidays!

Cranberry-Chocolate Chip Mandelbrot (low-sodium, dairy-free)
   (a close cousin to Slovenian domači prijatelj!)

3 large eggs
1 c. oil
1 c. sugar
1 t. vanilla extract
1 t. almond extract

3-1/2 c. white unbleached flour (I used King Arthur organic white flour)
2 t. low sodium baking soda mixed with 2 t. cream of tartar
(or use 1 t.  baking powder)
11-12 oz. (2 cups, scant) bittersweet or extra-dark chocolate chips (I used Guittard Extra-Dark)
1−1/2 c. sliced almonds
1/2 c. dried cranberries
raw turbinado sugar for topping

In a large bowl, beat eggs, oil, sugar and extracts for about five minutes, until thick and lemon-colored. Combine baking soda and cream of tartar, then mix well with flour in a second bowl.  Add flour mixture to liquid ingredients gradually, first beating and then stirring at the end. (You may not need all the flour.) Fold in the chocolate chips, almonds, and cranberries.  Dough will be sticky.

(If you are using regular baking powder, you may want to refrigerate the dough for several hours or overnight.  But with low sodium leavening ingredients, you need to bake immediately.)

Divide dough into four pieces, lightly flouring your hands if necessary.  Roll each piece into a cylinder and then shape into a flat log that is about 2 by 8 inches.  Place the four logs on two parchment-lined baking sheets.  Sprinkle with sugar.

Bake at 350 degrees for 28 to 30 minutes, until logs are starting to brown. Remove from oven and reduce heat to 300 degrees.

Let cool slightly then cut each log into half-inch slices. Place slices upright on baking sheets and bake for 35 to 45 minutes, turning so cookies bake evenly.  Remove when firm and lightly browned at the edges.  Mandelbrot will become crisper as they cool.  And if they aren’t hard enough, you can always re-bake!

Let cool on the baking sheets.  When cool, store in covered containers.  Makes 40-50, depending on size.