Saturday, December 24, 2022

Vesel božič iz New Yorka! Merry Christmas from New York! (And a potica update)


Greetings from chilly New York City, where we have gathered with our children to celebrate Christmas. Last year, thanks to Covid, we had to cancel the trip and isolate at home in California. So I am grateful to be here, despite the wind and rain and yesterday's 40 degree temperature drop. We even had a little snow. 

I may not have brought enough warm clothing, but I had plenty of potica stowed in my luggage. Multiple loaves and two different kinds: the tried-and-true family recipe--and my latest experiment.

That new one is actually a double variant. It's a meet-up of dairy-free and the popular Artisan Bread in Five no-knead approach. I tried it for the first time last December, in preparation for the New York trip that never happened. It turned out quite well. Unfortunately. the person for whom it was intended--the girlfriend of the son who lives in New York--never tasted it. 

I posted that recipe earlier this year, here, as No-Knead Artisan-Style Potica. 

This time around, I decided to make one change, to get a little closer my family recipe. Instead of the coconut cream of last year, I used a plant-based sour cream. And I skipped the apricot jam I had added to the filling last year, as a sort of marker for identifying the dairy-free loaves. (Instead, I just shaped the loaves a little differently.) 

I am happy to report that the latest variant was quite a hit with our sons--and the dairy-free girlfriend. My husband had already given his seal of approval, when we tried it at home. Everyone agreed that it was hard to tell the difference between the original family recipe and this one. 

No-knead Artisan-Style Potica (dairy-free)



Thursday, October 20, 2022

Caraway Cheese Tart with Buckwheat Crust (a !0th Anniversary Update)


This original version of this dish was the featured entree for the Week Five Dinner  of my 2012 year of Slovenian cooking. 

It was based on a recipe in Woman's Glory: The Kitchen, the mid-century cookbook published by the Slovenian Union of America that inspired my year-long cooking adventure. At the time, I thought it would be just another American-style French quiche. But it turned out to be something different and more complex: Denser than the usual quiche, and with the flavor of Central Europe, thanks to the caraway seasoning. 

For this 10th anniversary remake, I made a few changes, both planned and unplanned.

The biggest change: I made a buckwheat crust. I also made a little more of it this time and pre-baked it before filling. 

With the filling, the changes were subtle, but they made the dish even tastier. Instead of the original onion and bacon, I used shallot and pancetta, because we had them on hand. Originally, I had substituted fat-free Greek yogurt for sour cream, which made the tart a little dense and chewy. This time, I tried light labne, a cultured Middle Eastern dairy product that is probably the equivalent of light sour cream.

The result:  Even better than the first version, with even more of a Slovenian tang because of the buckwheat! 

Caraway Cheese Tart with Buckwheat Crust

For Filling:

6 thin slices pancetta, chopped
4 tablespoons minced shallot (or onion)
6 eggs
6 tablespoons light labne (or sour cream)
1/2 teaspoon salt
pepper to taste
1 teaspoon caraway seed, divided
1 1/2 cups gruyere cheese, grated

For Crust: 

1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup buckwheat flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup milk

Easy Press-In Buckwheat Crust:  In the bottom of a 10-inch pie or tart pan, mix together the all-purpose flour, buckwheat flour and salt. In a cup, beat the oil and and milk with a fork and stir the mixture into the flour. Mix with fingers into crumbs. Press into pan. Cover with foil or pie weights and pre-bake for 10-15 minutes in a 350 degree oven. Let cool.  

For the filling:  Brown pancetta and shallot (or onion) together, let cool. Beat eggs, labne (or sour cream) and seasonings, using half the caraway seed.  Stir in the cheese and pancetta-onion mixture.  Spread filling in pre-baked crust. Sprinkle with remainder of caraway seeds.  Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes or until firm.

Saturday, August 27, 2022

Beli Kruh (aka white bread), a 10th Anniversary Update success


Back in March, I started to revisit my year of weekly Slovenian dinners. I have now reached the halfway point. Many of those dishes from 2012 were familiar, since they had become favorites over the past decade. Others had fallen by the wayside, so it was a chance to rediscover them.

Sometimes the most rewarding recipes were the ones that didn't quite work the first time. This bread recipe was one of them, probably because it had to meet an impossibly high standard: my memories of my grandmother's bread. I was determined to recreate it. She served it every time we visited, when it was still warm from the oven. 

I remembered a high-rising homestyle loaf with a texture that was light and tender, but also hearty. My brother (also a baker) describes a somewhat coarse crumb. My husband wonders if it was cake-like. My grandmother never used recipes. I have no idea how she worked her magic. But I figured there might be a hint in my collection of vintage Slovenian American cookbooks.

The Progressive Slovene Women of America caught my eye with a recipe they called by two names: white bread or beli kruh (which I initially misunderstood as a reference to the bread's beauty rather than its color!).The ingredients were ordinary enough, but the method was more elaborate than similar recipes, because it called for an initial sponge and then three more risings.

The first time I made this recipe, the bread looked beautiful (see below) and the flavor and texture were pretty good. But it was nothing out of the ordinary. Not worth the extra time and effort. So I went on to try other recipes. Potato bread, after my mother recalled that her mother might have used potato water. A special braided bread similar to challah that was lovely, but not like my grandma's delectable everyday bread. 

And then my 2022 Anniversary Update brought me back to the original bread recipe I had tried. And I saw the problem. I had used bread flour, which absorbs more liquid, rather than the standard all purpose flour that mid-century bakers would have used. And I had compounded the problem by either ignoring or misunderstanding the implications of "6 cups sifted flour." By measuring before (or without) sifting, I would have ended up with 20-30 percent more flour than the recipe called for. No wonder I had trouble kneading it all in! 

So made the necessary adjustments and tried to make the bread again, following the recipe closely. And then I made it one more time, just to be sure I had it right.

Prepared correctly, this recipe turned into a winner! It is very close to the bread I remember savoring in my grandparents' small bungalow in Cleveland, all those decades ago. In the recipe that follows, you do not have to sift the flour. But I have tried it both ways, and I think sifting may improve the texture. So why not try it the old-fashioned way, at least once? 

White Bread or Beli Kruh (adapted from The Progressive Slovene Women of America)

1 tablespoon yeast
1 cup lukewarm water
113 g all purpose flour (= 1 cup sifted or about 3/4 cup unsifted)
1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons sugar

678 g all purpose flour (= 6 cups sifted or about 4.5 cups unsifted)
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon melted butter
1 cup lukewarm water
additional flour, as needed

(Note about sifting: It is probably optional if you measure by weight, but I think sifting improves the texture.)

First make the sponge: Combine the first five ingredients. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in size.

Add remaining ingredients to the sponge, using enough additional flour to make a soft dough. Mix well and knead until smooth.

Put dough in an oiled bowl and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size. Punch down and let rise for a second time until doubled. 

Form dough into two loaves and put in oiled bread pans. Let rise for the third time until not quite doubled. (Or make one large loaf and one smaller flatbread, about 1/2 inch thick. Or make two free-form round artisan-style loaves.)

Bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes for a standard loaf, less time for flatbread. Brush with melted butter during baking if you wish. Let cool before eating. Enjoy!

Monday, July 18, 2022

Šmoren, Revisited

Šmoren at home

The second meal I made for my 2012 year of ethnic cooking was a breakfast dish and a new discovery: Šmoren. It sounded like a cross between a big pancake and an omelet that gets chopped and stirred into bits.

That first attempt turned out to be an eggy treat I quite liked, partly because the batter could also be used to make crêpes, otherwise known as palačinke in Slovenia. (Also known in my childhood as jelly rolls.) I went on to try a less eggy recipe. I also came up with a buckwheat version. They were all good. 

In honor of the 10th anniversary of my year-long cooking adventure, I decided to try one more šmoren recipe from a classic cookbook I acquired more recently: Pots and Pans, the SUA's first update to their venerable Woman's Glory. 

That recipe seemed to have less milk than the other versions I had seen. It was the closest yet to a conventional American pancake in taste and texture, which might have been less appealing--except for one thing. It closely resembled the šmoren I had finally tasted on our last trip to Slovenia. 

We had wandered one day into a food festival in the Ljubljana farmers' market and discovered classic Slovenian dishes being prepared on a large scale. I was fascinated when I saw a young man preparing šmoren in the largest frying pan I had ever seen! When we bought a serving to share, my first thought was that it seemed just like a big chopped up American pancake.  

So maybe this is the authentic Slovenian way. If you would like to try it, just follow the recipe below.  

                                                                         šmoren in Ljubljana

Šmoren  (from Pots and Pans)

4 large eggs, well beaten
1 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup milk
4 tablespoons hot fat (lard preferred) 

Beat eggs, gradually add the flour mixed with dry ingredients. Add milk and beat until smooth.  Heat fat or oil in ten inch skillet. Pour in entire mixture, cover, let fry until edges start to roll. Break into large pieces and turn. Keep turning into all edges are brown. 

The original recipe suggests serving with a salad or topping with pork cracklings or sour cream. I would be inclined to stick with fruit and sweet toppings like honey and jam. I would  also skip the lard and use a smaller quantity of oil or butter for frying. 

Thursday, July 7, 2022

Ten Years Later: Revisiting My Year of Ethnic Cooking

In late March, I had a hankering for stuffed cabbage, the dish that launched My Year of Ethnic Cooking. I began to feel nostalgic. Why not revisit those weekly dinners, recipe by recipe? Then it hit me: There couldn't be a better time, since this is the tenth anniversary of the project I launched in January 2012.

So I dove in with a vengeance. I was enthusiastic--and behind schedule. But I had to find my special notebooks with the handwritten recipes and notes.  Eventually I did--thank goodness! 


I have now completed fifteen weeks of those 2012 dinners, mostly following the same order as my original project. From stuffed cabbage in late March to oven-baked sauerkraut last night, it has been fascinating to retrace my steps, and to recall what it was like to take a deep dive into Slovenian cooking--and into my family history, which was the original purpose, of course.

I have been revisiting these recipes but not necessarily trying to replicate them exactly as written. When I do, sometimes I am reminded how tasty the dish really is. Sometimes I tweak the recipe or try a new version. Or I discover I made a mistake and correct it. 

After a 2+ month break (sorry about that!) I am finally starting to write about what I have been learning.

When there are few if any changes to report, I am adding a short note at the bottom of the original blog 2012 blog post. When a new post is merited, I will be doing that. 

Here are the old favorites I have explored so far:

stuffed cabbage
chicken ajmoht and žganci
caraway cheese wedges
Vipaska corba 
stuffed peppers
mushroom soup
beli kruh and cevapcici
chicken paprikash (planned for tonight)
pasta fižol with bleki
oven-baked sauerkraut  

There is a photo for the first one, stuffed cabbage, above. I tried a new recipe that had a major flaw--too much rice! I won't be sharing that complete recipe. But I did make a few other interesting changes that are worth trying (savoy cabbage, freezing rather than boiling, tomato juice) and am adding an update. 

If you are interested in following along on this new/old food journey, keep your eye out for comments at the bottom of the 2012 posts that start like this: 

2022 10th Anniversary Update 

Dober Tek! 


Thursday, April 14, 2022

Just in Time for Easter: No-Knead Artisan-Style Potica (+ dairy-free, with an apricot twist)

Just in time for Easter, here it is: The long overdue recipe for the new potica variant I baked and froze in December, in anticipation of the out-of-town Christmas gathering that never happened. 

For the past five years, I have supplemented the annual family Christmas potica with a dairy-free alternative. This year was no exception. But the bigger news is that I also figured out a way to successfully apply the no-knead "Artisan Bread in Five" approach to this traditional holiday dish. 

I had tried once before to adapt my standard potica dough (which already calls for overnight refrigeration)  by adding the initial two hour rise at room temperature, as the artisan approach specifies. Unfortunately, that extra step seemed to exhaust the yeast, perhaps because my dough is so dairy- rich. 

So this time, I decided go straight to the source. I found a number of variants of brioche dough in the large collection of cookbooks and websites devoted to this popular approach to yeast breads. The most promising was a relatively light brioche dough from Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day. Authors Hertzberg and François suggest using it to make a rolled pastry bread with an apple-nut filling they call Apple Strudel Bread (which sounds very potica-like!) 

I used their brioche recipe as a foundation, with some significant adaptations: I skipped the whole grains in favor of all-purpose flour, and I used sugar rather than honey. I ended up using a slightly higher proportion of eggs, since I made a half recipe. As you will see in the recipe below, the dairy substitutes I used happened to be coconut-based. 

In keeping with my usual practice, I added a little twist to the filling. After drizzling honey on the walnut-sugar layer, I added some dollops of apricot jam.

For whatever reason, this combination was a winner. Although the dough was slightly less rich than the family version, the end product was much the same. It tasted delicious--and it was better the next day. And better still after freezing. In some respects, it was even superior to the traditional batch this year. And it was definitely easier, since no kneading was required!  


No-Knead Artisan-Style Potica (the dairy-free version)


3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 1/4 teaspoons yeast
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons coconut cream or dairy-free sour cream, lukewarm
6 tablespoon vegan spread, melted and cooled
6 tablespoons sugar
3 large eggs

For Filling

3+ cups finely ground walnuts, combined with:
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

4 tablespoons melted non-dairy vegan spread
4 tablespoons honey, or to taste
(optional: apricot jam)

(Note: For more background on the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day approach, go here.  And for my master recipe, see Potica, A Step-by-Step Guide to Slovenian Nut Roll.) 

Combine flour, yeast, and salt in a large bowl or plastic dough container and whisk together. In separate bowl, beat the remaining ingredients together and stir into the dry ingredients, mixing well with a spoon. Cover loosely and let rest for 2 hours and then refrigerate for at least 2 hours, preferably overnight.

Remove dough from fridge, divide in two parts, and form each into a ball. Refrigerate the one you are not using. Roll first portion out thinly into a 15-26 inch rectangle. Spread with melted non-dairy spread. Sprinkle with half the nut mixture. Drizzle with honey. Top with dollops of apricot jam, if desired. Roll up from the short end and seal. Repeat with second portion of dough. Let loaves rise for 90 minutes. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Let cool well before slicing. Makes 2 loaves. 

Sunday, April 3, 2022

Traditional Potica for Pust (with a few twists!)


I felt fortunate indeed to attend not one but two in-person Pust celebrations this year. The first one was a small at-home gathering I hosted for a couple of friends (and spouses) from Slovenian class. My contribution was the Mardi Gras King Cake "pustica" hybrid I had created for my husband's recent birthday. 

The second was a large outdoor gathering sponsored by the Slovenian Hall in San Francisco. It was a festive affair at a lovely private home in the Oakland Hills, with live music (we were happy to join in) and plenty of food. For that one I contributed the last of the Christmas potica I had stored in the freezer, after the planned trip to gather with family in New York never materialized, thanks to Covid. 

In December, I had baked two varieties of my mostly-traditional holiday potica. My standard walnut-honey potica followed the family recipe with just one small change. I used my KitchenAid stand mixer to make the dough and had not been completely happy with the results. The dough rose even less than usual and the layers seemed a little dense and damp after baking. But the potica seemed to have improved after freezing. I was particularly happy with the way the final loaf (on the left in the top photo, and also below) had turned out. On a whim, I had decided to bake the last loaf in the batch as a double roll in a bread pan, instead of doing my usual free form single roll.

The second version  (in the top right photo) was definitely an innovation. It was my first successful attempt at using the artisan-style method of cold bulk fermentation to make potica. It was dairy-free. And I added a little apricot to the walnut filling. Recipe to follow! 

Monday, February 28, 2022

New Orleans King Cake + Potica Filling = Pustica, or Mardi Gras Potica!


What happens when a dedicated potica baker decides to make her first-ever New Orleans Mardi Gras king cake for her husband's birthday? And then he suggests that she take advantage of the leftover walnut potica filling in the freezer.  

Here's what happened last year at our house: We seem to have created the world's first Mardi Gras Potica! One of my friends from Slovenian language class even gave it a new name: Pustica! (To learn more about Pust, the Slovenian version of Mardi Gras, you can read my Mardi Gras, Slovenian Style post, from the early days of this blog.)

For many years in my family, we have celebrated a cluster of February birthdays with Mardi Gras king cakes from Louisiana. Last year, because of pandemic shipping challenges, I decided it was time to try a homemade version. I never intended to do something transgressive, although it did occur to me that poticas and king cakes both use what is technically a brioche dough. Once I decided to use the same walnut-sugar cinnamon filling we use in my family's version of potica, I imagined that this homemade king cake might taste a bit like Slovenia's most famous dish.

But I never imagined how closely that slice of king cake would resemble potica. A rather strange and gaudy potica, with those bands of gold, green, and purple sugar. And with thicker layers of dough than I would normally make. And who ever heard of a potica with confectioners' sugar icing?

with marzipan filling 
with walnut filling 

But it was good, no doubt about it. So good that I repeated it again this year. This time, at my husband's urging, I tried a marzipan filling. Although it tasted wonderful, it was too thick to spread easily, so for now I would recommend the tried-and-true walnut version. 

One other twist to this unplanned hybrid: For the dough,  I wanted to use the artisan bread approach I discovered just before lockdown and have been using ever since. I was happy to discover that a blogger named Cynthia had already adapted a challah recipe from the newest edition of  "Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day" to prepare a very authentic-looking king cake.

For details, see the recipe below. Or use your own favorite potica recipe and see what happens if you add all those special New Orleans touches. And don't forgot to add that little figure of a baby. Whoever finds it is supposed to bring the king cake to the next party!

New Orleans King Cake + Potica Filling: Pustica! 

The artisan-style dough I used is adapted from a king cake recipe in Cynthia's blog What a Girl Eats.  She describes it as an adaptation of one of the brioche varieties (actually a challah recipe) in the new edition of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. The walnut-honey filling is from my family's potica recipe

1 cup milk, lukewarm
1 package yeast
1-1/2 teaspoons salt  
2 large eggs, beaten
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup butter, melted
3-1/2 cups all purpose flour 

2 cups finely ground walnuts
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoons cinnamon
pinch of salt 
2 tablespoons melted butter
2-3 tablespoons honey

confectioners' sugar
warm water 

purple, green and gold sugar
King Cake baby (or substitute an almond) 

For the dough: Combine all ingredients except flour in a large bowl or lidded container and mix until well blended. Gradually add flour, mixing by hand until dough forms a soft ball. (Note that dough is not kneaded in this "artisan" approach.) Cover loosely and let rise for 2 hours or until dough doubles in size and then flattens out. Dough can be used right away but will be better if refrigerated for a few hours (or as long as 5 days) before rolling out and filling.

To roll out: Roll the chilled dough into a 1/4 inch thick rectangle. If you use all the dough, you will have a 12 x 18 inch rectangle--and a very large king cake. The first time I made this, I set aside about a quarter of the dough and rolled the rest into a 9 x 12 inch rectangle. (The remaining dough can be used to make small brioche rolls.) 

To fill and shape: Follow the method described in my family potica recipe: Combine the walnuts, sugar, and cinnamon. Brush the rectangle of dough with melted butter. Sprinkle the walnut mixture on the dough and drizzle with a little honey. Roll up the dough from one of the long sides of the rectangle. Shape the long roll into a circle and join the ends together. Place the round (seam side down) on a greased or parchment-lined baking sheet. Cover and let rise for 45 minutes. Bake at 375 degrees for 35 minutes. Let cool.

To decorate: When cake is completely cool. spread/drizzle it with a thin confectioners sugar icing and decorate with alternating bands of green, gold and purple sugar. (You can purchase sanding sugar in Mardi Gras colors or make your own with food coloring.)   

For the final traditional touch: After baking, slip a small plastic or ceramic figure of a baby into the cake. Whoever finds the baby is supposed to supply the king cake for the next Mardi Gras party!