Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Sweet Omelet Sponge for Father's Day Breakfast

What does this photo look like? A sponge cake? A soufflé? A giant pancake?

This traditional Slovenian dish is called Pohorska omleta--in English, Pohorje omelet. It is a sweet egg-based dish from Pohorje, a mountainous area in the northeastern part of the country. I had seen photos and recipes on a few of the Slovenian government's tourist websites that proudly feature traditional national dishes. Not much to this one, I thought. Just a sweet omelet that is lightened with beaten egg whites. I did wonder about one odd touch: a little flour added to the omelet batter.

It wasn't until last month that my interest in the Porhorje omelet was piqued by the Professor, a Facebook friend in Slovenia. (He's an American who teaches translation at the University of Ljubljana.) He posted a photo and a recipe, and then asked his American friends to weigh in: What would you call this dish in English?

The usual translation is "folded omelet" (aren't they all?) or "biscuit omelet" (like a British cookie?).  Omelet itself seems like an odd name for a dish that Slovenians usually serve for dessert, with a generous garnish of sweetened whipped cream and jam or fruit sauce. Cranberries are a traditional accompaniment. 

This translation challenge turned into a cooking adventure. I decided to whip up a Pohorje omelet for Father's Day breakfast. I wanted to see for myself what this dish ought to be called.

I found plenty of recipes on the web, all variations on the same theme. Separated eggs, small amounts of flour and sugar, and perhaps a bit of vanilla and lemon rind.  Except for the proportions, it sounded just like baking a sponge cake layer.

A number of these recipes specified an identical formula of three's:

3 eggs
3 tablespoons flour
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons melted butter to grease the pan

I liked the ease and simplicity of this formula--although I did increase the measure to 4 of each ingredient, since I thought our visiting son might be joining us. And since this was a breakfast dish, I skipped the whipped cream and used a simple fresh berry mix, sweetened with a little sugar and Amaretto.

Before and after baking, the omelet looked like a familiar sponge cake layer:

It was easy to remove from the pan, top with fruit and fold in half.  The finished product looked pretty. Almost good enough to be on one of those official government websites.

I couldn't wait to cut into the omelet and solve the mystery.

The result? Delicious!

Pohorje omelet turns out be a simple but unusual dish, with an elusive texture that is difficult to categorize. It is more eggy than a sponge cake--but lighter and drier than an omelet, thanks to the beaten whites and the touch of flour. It does resemble a soufflé, but it has more substance--and it won't collapse!  It is definitely a hybrid. An ideal breakfast or brunch dish, especially with fresh fruit. Whipped cream and jam transform it into a fine dessert.

The origins of this lovely dish also seem to be mysterious. One official Slovenian website says it is "an example of the invention of heritage in the period after the end of the Second World War."

"Invention of heritage" sounds like an oxymoron! Cooking expert Janez Bogataj puts a slightly different slant on it: The dish was created by "chefs who were flirting with international cuisine" after the war ended.

But what "international cuisine" could have inspired this dish?  There is nothing quite like it in any sources I have consulted.  I would like to think of this as a uniquely Slovenian twist, somewhere in the border region between several more familiar dishes.

The name? The best I can offer is sweet omelet sponge. Why not make it and decide for yourself?

Pohorje Omelet (Sweet Omelet Sponge)

4 eggs whites
4 egg yolks
4 T. sugar, divided
4 T. flour
1 t. vanilla
lemon rind, grated
4 T. melted butter (or less) for pan

Filling: jam or fresh berries (cranberries are traditional)
Topping: confectioners sugar or sweetened whipped cream

If using fresh fruit, mix and set aside. I used fresh strawberries and blueberries, mixed with a little sugar and amaretto.

Beat egg whites with half the sugar until stiff but not dry. In another bowl, beat yolks, remaining half of sugar, vanilla, and lemon rind until thick. Fold egg whites into yolk mixture. Sprinkle flour on top and fold in, taking care to avoid deflating.

Melt butter in a 10-inch pan. Pour in batter and gently spread. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 10-12 minutes, or until lightly browned and firm to the touch. It will resemble a sponge cake layer.

Let cool slightly, loosen edges, and turn out on a platter, top side down. Spread with jam or fruit filling and carefully fold in half. Sprinkle with confectioners sugar or sweetened whipped cream. Slice into pieces to serve.