Sunday, December 5, 2021

No-Knead Slovenian Rye Bread, Artisan style

This feels like a good time to share this overdue rye bread recipe. Thanks to my procrastination, it now coincides with an important cooking anniversary. Two years ago at this time, I discovered a popular artisan bread-making method that quickly became a pandemic mainstay and eventually crept into my Slovenian baking, including this recipe.  

It was December 2019, during our last pre-pandemic holiday season. I wandered into a Christmas market sponsored by a local senior center and left with an intriguing cookbook called "Artisan Pizza and Flatbread in Five Minutes a Day." This was my introduction to the popular "Artisan Bread in 5" approach developed by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë François in their ever-expanding collection of cookbooks and websites. Their master recipe for bread is a good place to start for anyone unfamiliar with their approach, which is based on bulk cold fermentation of a very soft dough that does not require kneading. 

The recipe below is something of a hybrid. The foundation is a recipe from the 1950s cookbook published by the Progressive Slovene Women of America, who called it Quick Rye Bread--or rženi kruh na hitro, which translates as "rye bread in a hurry."  

That vintage recipe felt surprisingly contemporary. For one thing, it called for a mix of rye, whole wheat and white flour, with the whole grains predominating. And the proportions in the recipe, including the flour/liquid balance, seemed identical to the new artisan breads I had been making. The only real difference (aside from the use of cake yeast in the older recipe) is that the artisan method recommends refrigerating the dough for at least two hours, and sometimes as long as two weeks, before baking. Along with the convenience of always having a supply of yeast dough on hand, the extended cold storage encourages the development of a more complex, fermented dough that comes to resemble sourdough.

So I decided to apply the artisan method to that older Slovenian American recipe. I refrigerated the dough for the minimum time suggested by the artisan people, because I wanted to have the bread ready by dinnertime. In theory, the dough could have been refrigerated for up to five days. Without whole grains, refrigerated dough can be safely stored for as long as two weeks, according to Hertzberg and François, so long as it is free of eggs or dairy products.

The bread was a success. It was flavorful and a little spongy, with none of the dense heaviness that whole grain breads sometimes have. It also made excellent toast. The next time, I might save half the dough for later to see how the flavor changes with longer storage. A sprinkle of caraway seeds would also add a nice touch.   

No-Knead Slovenian Rye Bread

2 cups milk, warmed 
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon yeast
2 tablespoons sugar (I used brown)
1 and 1/2 teaspoons  salt 
1 cup white flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 cups rye flour 

Combine yeast, salt and sugar in a large bowl or container. Heat milk and butter and cool to lukewarm. Add to the large container and stir well. Combine the flours, add to the liquid ingredients, and stir until blended into a loose dough. Cover loosely and let rise for 2 hours at room temperature. Although the dough can be used at this point, it is easier to handle (and more flavorful) if it is refrigerated for at least 2 hours. When ready to bake, divide the dough into two small oiled loaf pans. (Or, if you prefer, save half the dough for up to five days and bake later.) Let the dough rise until doubled and bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour. Remove from pan(s) and let cool before slicing.

Sunday, October 17, 2021

No More Mushy Buckwheat! (The secret is oven-toasting)

Before moving on to the Slovenian rye bread I promised in my last post, I wanted to present this somewhat overdue public service announcement that kasha lovers will appreciate.

I have discovered the key to perfectly textured buckwheat: Oven-toasting.

Avoiding mushiness is especially important when you are using it in a salad. Like kasha mediterranean, the Slovenian-style adaptation of a popular warm-weather salad that I learned to make from a friend.

Unfortunately, my first pandemic attempt at making this familiar favorite was disappointing, because the kasha was extremely mushy.  I had found an online bulk source and wondered if I should have toasted it in a skillet first, as I had sometimes done in the past.  Or perhaps I needed to use a different  proportion of water. Or a different cooking method.

So I did a little online research before my next attempt and I came up with a method that always seems to work. I also discovered that oven-toasted buckwheat has more uses than I realized. Those crunchy little kernels are almost like popcorn! They can be added to granola or used as an ice cream topping.   

Oven-Toasted Buckwheat

Rinse whole buckwheat kernels well in water and drain. Mix with a little oil (about a tablespoon per cup)  and spread out in a thin layer on a parchment-lined pan with sides. Bake at 350 degrees for a half hour. Let cool. 

To cook:  Use a 2:1 ratio of water to buckwheat. Bring salted water to a boil in a large pot and slowly add toasted buckwheat. Cover and reduce heat to simmer. Let simmer for about 15 minutes and check for doneness. When done, drain off any excess water and let the buckwheat cool uncovered. If using cold (ie, in a salad) remove to a large shallow bowl and spread out to completely cool before adding other ingredients. 

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Quick Little Rye Honey Cakes

This is the longest I have ever gone without posting in this blog. Five months since the last one.

So what's the problem? General pandemic malaise? A dearth of cooking adventures? Not at all.

I have been doing plenty of cooking, both old favorites and new discoveries. I bake almost all our bread. There is always homemade gelato or frozen yogurt in the freezer. I have even drafted a half dozen posts in these last months that are waiting to be published.

I have hesitated because very few of my new recipes qualify as strictly Slovenian. I could argue that they are in the Slovenian spirit. But maybe I'll forget about the excuses and just start sharing some recipes again, beginning with this one.

This is an update on a last-minute Rosh Hashanah sweet I developed two years ago, in the fall of 2019. I called it Honey Cake for the Harried. At the time, I was feeling pressured because we had just gotten through a power outage and were preparing for a trip to Slovenia. (Remember those pre-pandemic days?) I love traditional Jewish honey cake but I needed to find a shortcut.

So I decided to take a chance on that microwave mug cake craze that until then I had dismissed as a silly fad. I added some traditional touches to a very plain honey-flavored mug cake recipe and was pleasantly surprised at the result. A little pale and mild, but a decent substitute for the real thing. 

This year I came back to that recipe and and tinkered a little more: The biggest change: Instead of white flour I used rye, which is very much within the Jewish tradition. (And also pretty Slovenian, I would argue!) I also upped the spices and added some walnuts on top.

The result:  Even better than last year.The flavor and color were richer and deeper, thanks to the rye flour. And the walnuts added a nice traditional touch. 

Next up:  Another rye recipe. And this one is fully Slovenian! 

Quick Little Rye Honey Cakes (made in the microwave)

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons honey
1 large egg
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
3 tablespoons dark brown sugar
5 tablespoons rye flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon each cinnamon and ginger
2 pinches cloves or allspice
pinch of salt
a few broken walnuts for top

In a small dish, melt butter in microwave. Add honey and beat with a fork. Add egg, brown sugar, and vanilla and mix well. Scoop flour into a measuring cup and mix in baking powder and spices. Add dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix until smooth.

Pour batter into two lightly greased ramekins and sprinkle a few walnut pieces on top. Cover with parchment paper. Microwave for 90 seconds and check cakes. If not yet firm, microwave for 10 seconds more and check again. Repeat if necessary. Let cool on a rack and unmold. 

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

A Few New Twists on Onion Skin Eggs for Easter and Passover

Onion skins at last! 

I couldn't believe my luck. Last year, I had to improvise, since we were having our groceries delivered, and there was no way to get a whole bag of onion skins. 

But these year, now that I was vaccinated, I was starting to venture into local grocery stores. And in one small market, just as I walked in I discovered a man unloading a crate of onions, pulling off the skins, and placing the onions in a bin.

He was happy to oblige me with a small bag of the discards.

What a treasure in pandemic times! 

I did my usual thing. I simmered the eggs for about three hours with a bunch of onion skins in water, salt and pepper, a chopped up clove of garlic (a new touch this time), and a little olive oil on top. 

The project was on a smaller scale this year--and it was simplified. Just a half dozen eggs, and without the added decorative touches provided by those little leaves attached to the eggs with nylon. Call in pandemic burnout, but I just didn't have the time or energy.

That clove of garlic wasn't the only change. At my husband's suggestion, after simmering the eggs for about three hours and letting them cool off, I let them sit in the water overnight in the the fridge.The result was the deepest color yet. 

The other change? I found a new use for hard-cooked eggs that are getting a little bit old. But that will have to wait for my next post!  



Sunday, March 28, 2021

New Twists on Old Favorites: Jota with Sweet Potatoes and Balkan Cornbread with a Lift!

Where has the time gone? 

My last post was a Christmas greeting back in December: The familiar gnome with a plate of potica and medenjaki. I had made those tasty spice cookies a little differently this year and had planned to follow up with the recipe. And now it is almost April. Funny how the same thing happened last year, right after our first pandemic Christmas, when I seemed to run out of blogging steam for three months. 

No excuses, except to say that living and cooking through a pandemic is a new experience for all of us. 

Now I have some catching up to do!

So here is a tasty dinner I made in early January. Two dependable favorites with a few new twists that worked out well. 

Jota, Slovenia's traditional bean-and-sauerkraut stew, has become one of our favorite comfort foods, especially after I arrived at my new and improved version. We had almost everything on hand--including some garlic sausage (made with chicken, our preference) and homemade sauerkraut, courtesy of my husband. We were missing just one ingredient: Potatoes. Unless you count sweet potatoes. Which I did.

My husband had his doubts, but those sweet potatoes turned out to be more than just a good substitute. They added a touch of sweetness and color that provided a whole new dimension to the dish. 


I figured my Never- Fail Balkan Cornbread would make a nice accompaniment. It is normally made without leavening, but I wanted to try an intriguing Christmas gift one of our kids had sent: a can of Magic Baking Powder (yes, that is the name!), made in Canada and aluminum-free. I figured a teaspoon couldn't hurt. And why not add a half teaspoon of sweet paprika? We were a little low on yogurt, so I had to stretch it with some milk, which resulted in a looser batter than usual. 

I'll admit it:  I was a little worried about that cornbread. But it turned out to be the lightest and moistest version yet!