architecture · no recipe · on USSR / Russia · travel

Kargopol, a Gem of the Russian North

Kargopol

There are places that hold a special place in your heart even if you only spent a few days there. And not in a small part this is due to the people you meet there. Last July I visited a place like this in Arkhangelsk Region. Kargopol, an ancient northern Russian town located on the Onega River, had never actually been on my travelling list.

Kargopol

But it so happened that through some long (and I really mean that)-distance volunteering work I got attached to this place in such a way that I accepted the invitation and after some 15 rainy hours spent on the St Petersburg-Arkhangelsk train and an extremely bumpy ride (there are hardly any good “local” roads outside St Pete or Moscow) finally got there. Our first day was dedicated to exchanging news and life stories – which resulted in me almost losing my voice for several days.

Kargopol

The following day I actually visited the place I have been volunteering for and had first to overcome my fears about not being able to in fact. One thing to help people in need – coming in person to this place is the other. I was not sure I would be able to let go of all that squeamishness and just be human. It turned out right, although I was pretty drained after this visit and had just a tiny bit of my mental powers to enjoy the historical center of the town with its churches and museums (these are very often two-in-one in Russia).

Kargopol

Kargopol occupies the area where people lived already in the 4th millennium BC, although it is officially considered to be founded in 1380, being the year when it was first mentioned in writing. Its name is a bit of a riddle, containing parts that refer to both its Finno-Ugric past and the later Russification. And while “pol(e)” (field) is pretty obvious, the first part is translated either as a “crow” or a “bear”, depending on the version you stick to.

Kargopol

There’s an earth mound right next to the local bus station from where I took the photo above that testifies to the times when Kargopol was colonized by the people from Novgorod the Great. The town used to be quite an important trading center in the 16th century as it had the right to trade… salt which was quite a luxury back then and not all the cities were granted the right to do so, forcing them to actually come and buy their “white death” (or is it only said about sugar?) in Kargopol.

Kargopol

But with all its rights and privileges, Kargopol was also a place of exile – tsars would send their unwanted relatives or favourites there, while the sign on the house above tells us that a certain Ivan Bolotnikov (known to all us in Russia from the school history books) who was a leader of a popular uprising in 1606-07 was executed here as well. The wooden sign reminds us that the street was previously called Potanikha instead of Bolotnikov Street (renamed in the Soviet era when Bolotnikov Rebellion was especially celebrated). A curious thing to note about this building in the photo is that the double windows are quite lazily insulated with some moss – to keep the warmth in between the frames.

Kargopol

This 18th century bell-tower is there to remind us of a devastating fire that left the entire town in ruins in 1765 and made Catherine the Great (see her letters above the arch) rebuilt it according to a so-called “regular plan” – the one that was later applied to many cities including St Petersburg. This is how Kargopol became one of the first cities in the Russian Empire to follow this new plan.

Kargopol

But its main purpose now is to serve as an observation tower – one of the things I really appreciate, especially when there IS what to see from up there 🙂 One of the (relevantly) recent experiences that I enjoyed was an ex-monastery tower in Staraya Russa. Which makes me think I still have plenty of my travels to tell…

Kargopol

The church with green cupolas is a weird combination of baroque and whitewashed-wall architecture – I would never have thought that it was built in the middle of the 18th century! And this one with the shiny black cupolas was build 200 years earlier, in the mid-16th century, and over the years it has sunk  almost 100 cm into the ground! The crazy buttresses made of stones and planks of wood were added to support the structure after the already mentioned fire of 1765. But the main attraction of this church is actually a collection of the so-called “heavens” or “skies” (nebesa in Russian), painted wooden ceilings characteristic of the Russian North. Gathered all over the region, they are exhibited in this church just propped against the walls.

Kargopol

Walking back from the main square to my friend’s place (after visiting a local history museum also housed in a church), I noticed a house with super dusty windows and some traditional clay Kargopol toys displayed in two of them. These toys might as well be taken for the more popular Dymkovo toys but are less flashy and I would say more authentic in a way. They say that those who used to make them in the old days would do so in the winter as during the rest of the year they were busy cultivating their land and harvesting.

Kargopol

The toy is considered one of the symbols of the town (and the area) and is featured on, for instance, the local foods such as pryanik and kefir. However, there are very few foods made locally here as the agriculture collapsed with the break of the USSR and due to the remoteness of the area aggravated by the lack of proper roads makes it hard for anything to develop here – including tourism. Speaking of which, here’s what you can find here, just a few steps away from the central square:

Kargopol

This delicate intricate beauty in the traditional “uzorochye” (literally “abundance of ornaments”) style is a 17th century church and the one to the right (below) is another church, once adorned with five cupolas but now reduced to just one.

Kargopol

They are both situated on the old market square – here pictured during the annual festival dedicated to the start of the mowing season and the Kupala Night that falls on the 7th of July. I was lucky enough to arrive just in time for the festivities which included a mowing competition among teams representing various villages, a market day and a real Kupala Night with a fire show, khorovod (round dances) and music.

Kargopol

The competition included mowing a designated plot and building a haystack with a “twist”. There were also traditional chastushki (funny and often ironic short songs that rather resemble short poems) performed by the competitors themselves. And these girls (below) were preparing some treats for the participants.

Kargopol

These ladies just rocked! They were I think the first to finish their “creation” and then they sang just like real stars! Here pictured against the 17th century church with silver cupolas as the background. I really enjoyed the festival, although we missed the first part, the actual mowing, as it started quite early. And I think people around me were enjoying it as well, sincerely, you know, as mowing remains a part of their daily life, actually, since many of the locals live in their own houses in Kargopol or nearby villages.

Kargopol

I was actually also clad in a traditional sarafan that my host made – although contrary to the people participating in the contest I felt very much an impostor 🙂 Moving further towards the “private” residential area of the town where people live in their own (or semi-detached) houses, I came about this apparently old but dying wooden building – this used to be shared by several families.

Kargopol

When everyone was having a nap, I wandered about a bit and was granted with this wonderful view over the town and the Onega River. Kargopol is like this, there are almost no buildings taller than say three floors (they stick to this rule deliberately) and there’s just ONE bus that makes a stop at the local bus station before moving on to the other side of the river when everyone gets off the bus (even if their journey is not over yet) and the driver with the conductor go inside the station building to have some tea. I think that took them about 10 minutes – nobody complained as this is an established “rule”. Not joking!

Kargopol

I enjoyed the view for quite a while, spellbound by the great weather, the atmosphere, the people and the silence which was broken only by a small motor boat moving along the river. There is also lake Lacha nearby, the largest in the region, but we didn’t manage to go there. With all the guests at my hosts’ place and the festival, I only managed to see a tiny bit of the town actually, so many things were left for the next time. I hope to have a walk around it myself too, like I did in that part of the town where my host lives.

Kargopol

That evening there was also the big party, the Kupala Night itself, originally dedicated to the summer solstice (falling on the 24th of June according to the old, Julian calendar) but now mostly celebrating just the summer, I guess. Already on the first day I noticed these wooden figures in the Onega River that were still being constructed. The locals told us these were created for the famous fire show that we were about to witness soon. The figures were also symbolic, some taken from the local fokllore, some representing the traditional Kargopol toys. The big night finally came and I have to admit, I’ve never experienced anything of the kind – the atmosphere of the festival was very far from what I’m used to and I would definitely like to attend it again if I can.

Kargopol

There was also a sort of catwalk with super tall girls demonstrating tradition-inspired costumes, a “skovorodka” (literally “frying pan”) or a dance “floor” with the 1980s music performed live by a biology teacher and his band (well, he’d better stick to biology, if you ask me!), lots of food being cooked and not so much of alcohol around as I would expect (which, I guess, was banned). After that there was some dancing in circles choreographed by a team from Petrozavodsk, which I did join. The culmination of the night was the fire show to the live music by a local musician. Although we were already quite tired and feeling cold, we did watch the first figures to burn (which they did excruciatingly slowly!) and, to tell you the truth, felt some kind of regret that they did burn these structures down.

Kargopol

Next day people from various local communities organized a festival/market showcasing their products and most notably traditions. Of course, there was a much less authentic (and exciting for me) part to this event, though moved away from the main square, where you could get some fast food and completely not local goods and stuff, which people seemed to enjoy a lot, in fact. The thing is, those living in the big cities are spoilt with all the junk stuff to the point they get enough of it, longing for something truly traditional, authentic, ethnic, organic etc etc while in the regions people regard the former as something genuinely entertaining and take the latter for granted.

Kargopol

I guess for me there was much more interest in the traditional part as that is what is missing from my life in the city and I feel only a very distant connection to it. Anyway, pictured below is the same lady who was so active mowing in the early morning, now busy heating water in the samovar. What a stamina she has!

Kargopol

People were selling homemade pies, smoked fish and sweet stuff. But as we ate quite a lot of our own freshly baked sweet and savory pies in the morning (see further), I didn’t sample anything there, just wandered along the aisles, dissuading myself from buying all those baskets, boxes and the like that were on offer.

Kargopol

As I had a train to catch later that day, I couldn’t enjoy the festival and the market as much as I wished to. There was also a singing and dancing competition which I had to ignore in order to see at least some of the things I was indeed interested in. I made some last-minute souvenir shopping, buying a tall box made from birch bark, decorated with the beautiful red and black Mezen patterns, traditional painting style from Arkhangelsk Region.

Kargopol

Earlier that day there was a real treat for me by my host’s sister: she cooked the traditional shangi pies with mashed potatoes (there should have been also some smetana or sour cream on top but the Russian stove my hosts have at home – see above – was piping hot and we had to skip that part) and some qutab-like pies with berries. The funny part about the master-class was when the hosts’ cat (who hissed at me like a real snake and snapped at my face) obviously curious and at the same time pretty nervous with all those people occupying its home (there was quite a few of us there) take a stroll right over the rolled-out circles of dough ready to be filled in and baked. We didn’t mind though 🙂

Kargopol

There was also a very hot banya with veniki (banya whisks from birch branches and leaves) from where I just had to flee as I can hardly stand such heat (and had to stand next to the window for half an hour to come back to life), there was marveling at how little I know about life outside big cities, there was walking with the dog in the nearby forest, there was a ton of new people I met and tons of stories I heard, there was a torrential rain and birds singing in the early morning, there were many things I noticed about myself. And there was some cooking on my part as well, mostly improvising with the ingredients that were available. Here’re some sugar knots and a berry pie in the morning light.

Kargopol

On the train I met a woman from Moscow who comes to the festival every year. Although she seemed to have traveled all over the area and learnt a lot, she made me think that you can only learn as much about the traditions and the life in the region as you see and are shown, whereas the true life is what you can only experience if you live there yourself. The next morning, I was already in the hustling and bustling, insatiably commercial Moscow – not the best place to go after such a getaway and a soulful, meaningful journey. One to remember, for sure.

Filed under the Russian Travels collection.

G.

bread · sourdough

Black Olive Sourdough Bread

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I’ve been doing some baking according to the recipes recently. Not just what comes to my mind based on the ingredients we have at home. And you know what? It’s not that easy going back to following the instructions and measuring out the ingredients, so I’ve already had some semi-failed attempts, like flat and a bit soggy cakes and  super-spread-out bread (can’t master those recipes with a very wet dough and stretch & fold technique).     

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However this bread with Greek olives turned out nicely, it rose just about fine (with only a little bit of that dense layer at the bottom), and developed a crunchy crust with all those cracks that I like so much in bread. Inside it was very soft and remained so for several days (though was not that suitable for toasting as the olive bits kept falling out).

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Black Olive Sourdough Bread adapted from bewitchingkitchen.com where you will find the original recipe with all the instructions.

My changes:

I fed my sourdough rye starter with rye flower before making this recipe – hence an extra tangy taste and a more brownish colour. Also used plain flour instead of bread flour.

Used less olives and mine were sort of sun-dried, preserved in olives oil with paprika and thyme, made by the talented Irina from Yaroslavl. I also added in some of that olive oil which was not in the ingredient list. I think the olives provide quite a lot of extra salt which I only realised after baking the bread. It was a bit too salty for me as I ate this bread mostly with cheese for breakfast.

The white stuff you can spot at the bottom of the loaf is semolina which I used instead of the rice flour indicated in the original recipe.

black-olive-sourdough-bewitchingkitchen.com-7

Forgot to use a container for the final rise (the usual thing with the recipes – just can not NOT forget something!) so my loaf was sort of free-form. However it turned out ok. I didn’t use Dutch oven / dish with a lid, baking the bread on an inverted rack instead.

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I just love those cracks!

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We’ve already made our early-spring trip to check how things are at our dacha. It’s been already some days since then so I won’t post the pictures with left-over snow here. Just this dry plant against the wall of our house (that needs painting).

dacha-in-april

Adding this recipe to the Sourdough Bread collection.

Liked the idea of using olives in baking bread? Try these Greek Olive Buns or Olive Bread Sticks.

G.

vegetarian

Egyptian Pita with Baked Falafel and Carrot Tomato Soup

Egyptian Pita with Baked Falafel

Raw April has begun with its streams running across the pavement and the crazy sun blinding you after all the winter gloom and the wind blowing in your face trying to get inside your clothes. You can have got snow, rain and sun all squeezed into one hour. Those swings of weather can sometime be pretty tiresome but you won’t fool us, April dear, we know spring is here!

Egyptian Pita with Baked Falafel

When spring turns into summer, there’s already that joy you have in your heart that you don’t really notice it. When summer turns into autumn there’s always so much drama. When autumn turns into winter… Well here in St Petersburg there’s hardly any (even fine) line between them. But when winter turns into spring there’s no drama, there’s plain happiness.

Egyptian Pita with Baked Falafel

Children playing hide-and-seek outside (well, that’ll be the least loud of all their games at the moment), there’s light until almost 8 pm (already in April!) – and that after those long winter months with barely any light at all! Although the change in the nature is gradual process, the difference is so stark here in the North that you inevitably dedicate a post or two to this spring coming every year 🙂 Oh that city of contrasts, our glorious St Petersburg.

Egyptian Pita with Baked Falafel

I haven’t done anything Easter-specific this year, although I am thinking of making some poppy seed roll sometime soon. It’s our family classic for the Easter time. No died eggs either. Instead I’m going to share with you an idea of a well-rounded vegetarian meal – a spicy chunky soup with a whole0wheat pita filled with baked falafel, salad and yogurt. Let’s start with the soup:

Carrot Tomato Soup

A year ago – Avant-Garde Architecture at Narvskaya Zastava

2 years ago – St Petersburg in March

3 years ago – Kaliningrad in Spring: Ships, Sea and Robots (I miss this city!)

4 years ago – Tea Muffins with Blueberry Jam

5 years ago – Crostata and Challah, United

6 years ago – Bring Some Artisan Bread to Your Life

Carrot Tomato Soup

Ingredients:

  • 3 medium carrots – roughly chopped
  • 2 medium onions – roughly chopped
  • 1 clove of garlic, crushed and finely chopped
  • soy sauce
  • 2-3 T tomato puree
  • a handful or two of red lentils, rinsed
  • stalks from coriander, dill and parsley – optional
  • wheat bran
  • dried thyme, basil, dill, marjoram
  • paprika, pepper, curry powder
  • salt, (brown) sugar

Procedure:

First, sautee your carrots and onions in a frying pan with some sunflower oil. I also add all the dry herbs and seasoning (except for the salt) at this stage. When the oil seem to be all gone I add a splash or two of soy sauce and continue cooking the veggies at low heat. Add your minced garlic and continue cooking. When the veggies are almost soft, I add some water (which also helps get all those dried herbs stuck to the bottom get into the soup and infuse it with their flavours while making washing up easier) and the tomato puree. As we don’t like our soups sour, I add a tablespoon of brown sugar to counterbalance the acidity of tomatoes. You’ll get sort of a ‘sauce’.

Meanwhile start heating you water for the soup – I use a medium soup pot, that’s about 2 liters. You can always add more water if you get too thick a soup. We have this thing of keeping the washed & cleaned stalks from fresh coriander, dill and parsley in a container which we put in the fridge for the next soup we’re making. As soon as the water starts boiling, we throw all these stalks in and thus make a sort of a ‘broth’, leaving the water to simmer for a while. We then remove the stalks before adding the rest of the ingredients. You can skip this step or make your broth with any other way you prefer.

Rinse the lentils and add them to the water (do not turn the heat off). Then pour in all the veggies together with the ‘sauce’ and season with salt. Continue cooking for some time. Then fish out most of the carrots, onions and anything that gets into the ladle. Blend the veggies until desired consistency and return into the pot. Reheat the soup a bit and check it for the consistency and salt. The good thing about chunky soups is that you can add more water (if needs be) and then just say you wanted a less thick soup 🙂

Carrot Tomato Soup

Remarks: I tend to leave some carrots and (mostly) onion ‘whole’ for a chunkier texture. Serve with fresh herbs and sour cream.

Result: Hearty, chunky and spicy. Also a tad sweet with all the carrots inside! By the way, the soup does not feel too carrot-y as it is pretty spicy.

And now on to the first Egyptian recipe on my blog – the traditional flatbread Aish Baladi that is made with 100% whole wheat flour. I was looking for a different recipe for pita bread and this seemed to be a nice one. Which it is!

Egyptian Pita with Baked Falafel

Aish means ‘life’ and Baladi is anything ‘of the country’, traditional, rural etc etc. (By the way, a Wikipedia page leads to this very recipe shared by Karen, I found it out when googling what Baladi means 🙂 ). So you can imagine that this is going to be quite a hearty bread indeed!

Egyptian Pita with Baked Falafel

Aish Baladi or Egyptian Flatbread from www.karenskitchenstories.com will make chewy flavourful pita-like bread. Follow the link to get the full recipe with all the instructions.

My changes: Did not make these 100% wholewheat – mixed in some plain all-purpose flour too. I didn’t bake both batches one by one, as the oven was occupied in between, so the other 4 balls of dough were waiting much longer for their turn. Interestingly they were much more pocket-like (not that flat as the first batch) and with a more developed flavour as well. I baked both batches for a bit longer than 8 minutes, flipping them upside down somewhere near the end of the baking time.

Remarks: I bet you won’t make pita out of just plain flour after this recipe anymore! There’s just so much flavour to it, that even if you eat it as part of a composite dish (as in falafel), you cannot miss it, you do pause for a while to contemplate this pita’s taste.  Were pretty fine when I reheated them in the turned down oven (after I baked falafel there) the next day – there was those extra crusty parts to it as well.

Result: Sheer wholewheat joy. These flatbreads have a taste of their own. Can be used for falafels or gyros (I can imagine) or just enjoyed plain. The wheat bran really does make a difference!

Egyptian Pita with Baked Falafel

As for the falafel part of it, I was using a recipe which is no longer online, although it did go wrong at the moment of frying (that’s why I rarely fry anything, I so much prefer baking!) – it just disintegrated into bits of chickpea puree and onions 😉 So instead I added an egg (which was optional) and more wheat bran and baked the lot instead. Today I used up the leftover chickpea puree and made more falafel straight in the oven, without even trying to fry them. I guess for me it’s just the best option. So here’s the baked falafel recipe:

Egyptian Pita with Baked Falafel

Baked Falafel

Ingredients:

  • 250-300 g chickpeas
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • dried oregano, thyme, basil, dill
  • curry powder, paprika
  • salt, pepper
  • 1 egg
  • 1 T tomato puree
  • 2 T wheat bran and / or buckwheat flakes (aka instant buckwheat)
  • wheat bran for rolling in

Procedure:

Soak your chickpeas in water overnight or about 8 hours (I did it during the day, removing their skins all the while). Drain them, add fresh water to cover them and cook over medium heat. Remove all the foam that forms with a spoon and continue cooking until the chickpeas soften. This might take more than an hour and the water might disappear almost entirely. I forgot to add salt but you can add it towards the end. Drain (I retained some of the water) and then blend the chickpeas to the desired consistency. Finely chop the onions and add to the chickpeas. Add the rest of the ingredients and enough wheat bran to get a soft but pretty thick mixture. Place some wheat bran on a plate, take a tablespoon of the mixture and shape it into a sort of a patty, then roll it in the wheat bran. Place your patties apart on a greased baking dish (can use parchment paper instead). Bake in the oven preheated to 190-200 ‘C for about 15 minutes, then flip them over and bake for several minutes more.

Remarks: Baking falafels instead of frying them has several advantages, like using much less oil, being free while the falafels are in the oven, and also making sure they do not disintegrate while cooking in the oil 🙂 I didn’t make all the falafel at once, leaving some chickpea puree for the next day. I guess any bran and flakes will do as long as they soak in some of the juices and help you for the falafels. You can also use flour instead.

Result: Crispy and flavourful, a tad on the dry side (typical for falafel) which can be aided by some yogurt.

To assemble falafel in pita: My version is to cut the pita ‘pocket’ leaving an edge uncut (if you know what I mean), put some yogurt on the bottom, then in any order – falafel, cucumbers, bell pepper, salad leaves and more yogurt.

Egyptian Pita with Baked Falafel

Try other variants of pita and tomato / carrot soup. You might want to try chickpea soup.

These recipes go to the Yeast Bread, Lunch/ Dinner and Country-specific collections.

G.

bread · vegetarian

Cuban Bread or Pan Cubano de Manteca

Cuban Bread or Pan Cubano de Manteca

This is my first Cuban recipe here on this blog – though not the first one that I’ve ever tried. There is not much I can tell you about the Cuban culinary culture but I was quite surprised that they make such whity-white bread there. I was imagining something more yellow, I mean, with corn. But Wikipedia claims this is the traditional Cuban bread made into long loaves for perfect Cuban sandwiches.

Cuban Bread or Pan Cubano de Manteca

And ooops, seems like I accidentally left out that very ingredient which distinguishes Cuban bread from its French or Italian counterparts – some tablespoons of lard! Can’t say it drastically affected these loaves – though the crumb would definitely have been different.

Cuban Bread or Pan Cubano de Manteca

Looks like my vegetarian soul just shuts all the unwanted ingredients out of my attention –  I realized I left it out only when I started writing this post. So my version is thus both for vegetarians and those who try to cut on fat in their cooking.

Cuban Bread or Pan Cubano de Manteca

And although you won’t be able to make the real Cuban sandwiches with these rolls rather than baguettes, I promise whatever shape they are, you will no doubt enjoy them. We didn’t mind at all.

Cuban Bread or Pan Cubano de Manteca

I made my photos on two consecutive days so the cut version is in less bright colours as the day was pretty moody. The weather changes these days as it normally does in this very very early spring when you are not at all sure whether to call it winter or spring already.

Cuban Bread or Pan Cubano de Manteca

Year ago – Spelt Sourdough Baguettes

2 years ago – Spring in St Petersburg. The Beginning (no recipe)

3 years ago – Lappeenranta in (Spring) Details (no recipe)

4 years ago – 2,800 km of Russia Seen from Above (no recipe)

5 years ago – What a Peach! Sunny Cake and a Zesty Cranberry Cake

6 years ago – Double Citrusy Heaven

Cuban Bread or Pan Cubano de Manteca adapted from karenskitchenstories.com will make four cute loaves with crunchy crust and soft but chewy crumb. Here are my remarks and changes to the original recipe which can be found along with all the essential information on the Karen’s Kitchen Stories website.

My changes: I didn’t use bread flour, just regular all purpose flour (not the super refined one though). Yes, absolutely forgot the melted lard (which I wouldn’t use anyway, I would normally substitute it with melted butter or sunflower oil). Made shorter logs (2) and rolls (2) with pointed ends. Mixed this bread by hand – not exactly for 15 minutes, probably, but definitely quite long for my usual lazy baking.

More remarks: Compared to the cute sandwich loaves baked by Karen, mine were smaller and the crumb was less dense and less homogeneous. Mind that this recipe calls for an overnight poolish as well, so plan ahead.

Result: Perfect breakfast bread. Do I need to add anything to that? Ok, it’s crusty and soft at the same time – just as we all like it! Made some (read: many) thick Russian buterbrod  with cheese and some greens.

Cuban Bread or Pan Cubano de Manteca

Not these greens though – they still have some time to live yet. Its is one of the frail parsley I planted back in late autumn. They have been pretty slow to grow but now the sun is making its magic.

Cuban Bread or Pan Cubano de Manteca

You can actually feel how turbulently this bread spent its time in the oven:

Cuban Bread or Pan Cubano de Manteca

These two are the closest I could get to the baguettes, haha 🙂 Well, to tel you the truth I did write the recipe down in my ‘shorthand’ (which quite often means leaving out some crucial ingredients or steps) and then ‘forgot’ about it for several weeks. So by the time I was actually making the bread, I couldn’t really recall which shape they should be. And I was to lazy to check again.

Cuban Bread or Pan Cubano de Manteca

Did you notice these ‘holes’ in the top crust (bottom of this photo)? I find them lovely- whatever sign they might be of some particular technological gaff from my side 🙂

Cuban Bread or Pan Cubano de Manteca

I seem to be mesmerized by these cracks. I know some will say it’s not a good sign when your bread makes these instead of a perfectly straight crack exactly where you slashed the dough… But you know what? Who cares – everybody eats!

Cuban Bread or Pan Cubano de Manteca

And the last crack:

Cuban Bread or Pan Cubano de Manteca

This post goes to the Country-specific and Yeast Bread collections.

Looking for more Cuban bread experience? Try this Cuban sandwich bread which I baked several years ago, though I didn’t make any Cuban sandwiches with it :).

G.

Family recipe · on USSR / Russia · sweet · traditional Russian recipe

Jam Cigars from my Granny’s Recipe Book

Jam Cigars from my Granny's Recipe Book

It’s been a week since my Granny died. A few hours before she actually died while turning my thoughts back to my Babushka I for some reason had a ‘vision’ of those sweet rolled things filled with jelly she used to bake – called sigary, i.e. cigars. I told myself that I would make them too.

Jam Cigars from my Granny's Recipe Book

Although in my mind I confused them with somewhat similar dessert – not with jelly but with nuts, I found a copy of the original recipe in my Mother’s recipe book and – a bit taken aback by the sheer… brevity of its instructions – I however ventured on this experiment.

Jam Cigars from my Granny's Recipe Book

Can we call it a traditional Russian recipe? Probably not. But this is definitely a Soviet recipe. Soviet recipes has at least three features in common. Firstly, they can have very vague ingredient measurements. Like this phrase ‘put as much flour as the dough will take’ which can mean anything from several glasses (Soviet cooks do not use cups) to a kilo or more.

Jam Cigars from my Granny's Recipe Book

Secondly, the procedure itself might be quite elliptical in its explanation. Like… no procedure at all, just the ingredients  or something like ‘bake until done’ without any indication of temperature, time or even any instructions on what to do before baking (how come you don’t know what to do if the recipe’s title is ‘cake’?!).

Jam Cigars from my Granny's Recipe Book

Thirdly, the ingenuity with which a Soviet cook would use the ingredients (the choice of which can be quiet scarce and / or striking to begin with) tells you a lot about the Soviet way of life in general.

Jam Cigars from my Granny's Recipe Book

The recipe in question is at the very bottom of the page, written by my Granny’s hand. Some of the instructions must have been added later, probably when my Granny’s memory started to fade a bit and she had to resort to more detailed recipes. I will share with you my Mother’s take on this recipe combined with my changes, so this is a true family recipe.

Jam Cigars from my Granny's Recipe Book

A year ago – Whole Wheat Biscotti with Chocolate and Pistachios

2 years ago – Finnish Sourdough Flatbread and Cookies with History

3 years ago – German, French and Polish Sourdough Bread

4 years ago – Winter Light and Lemon Cake

5 years ago – Winter’s Here. Time for Spicy Rye Bread

6 years ago – Flammekueche

Sigary or Cigars from my Granny’s recipe book

Ingredients

  • 200 g smetana or 15% fat sour cream
  • 180 g butter, melted*
  • 2-2.5 glasses or about 320-350 g flour
  • jelly / jam / confiture of your choice (tangy ones are best)
  • powdered sugar

Procedure

Melt the butter and add in the smetana. Start adding the flour gradually until you get smooth malleable dough. Optional – place your  dough covered into the fridge for about half an hour. Meanwhile preheat your oven to 190 ‘C**.

Take a piece roughly the size of a big walnut and start rolling it mostly in one direction so that you get a long strip resembling an oval. The thinner you roll your dough the more layers of it you will get in your cigar. Spread your jam over the dough in a thin layer leaving narrow margin on the edges. If your jam has bits of fruit in it, place a small bit in the middle of the strip. Start rolling the strip starting from the top edge (it’s somewhat easier this way) so that you get … well, a cigar. These cigars won’t spread so you can place them pretty closely on the baking mat but mind that the jam will most certainly leek out (I would suggest using silicon rather than paper – to collect all the jam drippings :).

Bake for about 20 minutes or until your cigars are nicely browned. They become crispy and pretty fragile when they cool down. While they are still warm, roll them in powdered sugar. The best here is home-made grounded sugar that will contain some larger bits as well – for a more Soviet-gourmet experience.

Jam Cigars from my Granny's Recipe Book

Remarks

As I was making this recipe I had to stop as I realized I didn’t really know what to do once I mixed all the ingredients. So I put the dough into the fridge, a step which was not in the recipe, until my Mother came back home and explained me the procedure. I guess you can omit it or give your dough a short chill anyway. For this recipe I used two types of homemade (Mother-made) jam – plum jam and apple jam – both with large bits of fruit in them. I had to pick out one piece of fruit per a cigar. You see, the dough itself is quite fragile so you probably won’t be able to put in a chunkier jam. My Granny’s side note says that you can add some sugar to the dough but I wouldn’t do that as the jam provides all the sweetness you need.

* I reduced the amount of butter in this recipe – the original recipe actually called for margarine as it was and still is much cheaper than butter.

** We had to experiment with the oven temperature with the first batch. For some reason my Mother thought that these should be baked at a pretty low temperature, so we started somewhere at 120’C and them moved up to almost 200 as the cigars just wouldn’t brown. We baked our second batch at about 190’C for exactly 21 minutes.

Result

Sweet and tangy, crispy but moist too. Such a treat! One of those things I haven’t tasted for years.

I intend to make more recipes from my Granny’s recipe book. There are those that with just their taste can bring back so many childhood memories.

And no, I do not smoke and in no way do I promote it!

Adding this post to the Sweet recipe collection.

G.

bread · Greek recipe

Greek Bread with Yogurt

Greek Bread with Yogurt

I just adore this little pinnacle on top of the white bread loaf I baked recently – succumbing to a sudden desire to make white bread finally. White-white bread. White as snow which hopefully will not come in an avalanche as it did last November.

Greek Bread with Yogurt

Here it is once more:

Greek Bread with Yogurt

And although I did cheat with this recipe using smetana (Russian 15% fat sour cream) instead of Greek yogurt, it turned out really nice and almost … creamy. It was a challenge not to throw in some extras which I’d normally use (all types of bran, wheat germ, whole seeds, ground seeds etc) but I held on tight.

Greek Bread with Yogurt

1 year ago – Tram to Polytechnic University

2 years ago – Tarascon and Beaucaire, on Bike and on Foot

3 years ago – Enjoying Indian Summer in Imatra, Finland

4 years ago – Two Recipes for Your Loaf Pan

5 years ago – Borodinskiy Rye Bread

6 years ago – I’m Alright! Still Baking =)

Greek Bread with Yogurt or Ψωμί με γιαούρτι adapted from the homely tantekiki.blogspot.com will make super-soft super-white bread perfect for cheese sandwiches or buterbrot. See my remarks in italics.

Ingredients

  • 550 g all-purpose flour
  • 9 g yeast (1 package) – I used active dry yeast
  • 1 1/3 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 300-310 ml lukewarm water
  • 80 g yogurt – I used smetana, aka 15 % fat sour cream but feel free to use (Greek) yogurt
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil (Greek, please!)

Procedure

In a bowl place flour, yeast, sugar, yogurt and olive oil (as I was using active dry yeats, I first activated it in lukewarm water with sugar and salt). Dissolve salt in lukewarm water and then gradually add it to the bowl in three parts, starting to knead. If the dough is too sticky, do not add more flour but oil instead to grease your hands. Knead some more till you get a soft ball of dough. Grease your bowl with oil as well as the dough ball. Cover and leave inside your oven with the light on for 1-2 hours until the dough is fully risen (I just left it in a safe spot of my kitchen).

When the dough doubles, divide it into two equal parts and shape each into oblong loaves (I only made 1 loaf). Place the loaves into appropriate pans lined with parchment paper that you should grease with some oil (which I did not). Cover and leave to rise again for 40-50 minutes more or until they rise and cover 2/3 of the pan. Meanwhile preheat the oven to 170 ‘C.

Make 4-5 diagonal slashes on top of the loaves, spritz with some water and then brush with oil (optional). Place the loaves on the second shelf from the bottom, also placing a baking dish with some water in it on the bottom to create steam (I usually use the metal shelf placed right onto the bottom). Bake for 40-50 minutes or until the loaves are golden brown. Take them out of the oven, leave for 5-10 minutes to cool and then take them out of their pans onto a cooling rack. When the bread is completely cool, you can also slice the loaves and freeze them (I normally freeze whole loaves).

Greek Bread with Yogurt

Here the bread is pictured with some Rossiysky cheese (aka Russian cheese). Which comes in all sort of flavours and shades, can’t really make head or tail of it but can easily identify it if I taste it. Kind of moist and rubbery and usually abhorred by cheese-pampered foreigners.

Greek Bread with Yogurt

Remarks: This bread gets dry pretty fast – as any 100% white yeast bread.

Result: Soft and almost sweet bread from Greece, for a classic Russian breakfast 🙂 Have your black tea ready!

Greek Bread with Yogurt

By the way, King Arthur Flour just published great tips on bread scoring techniques on their blog.

This post goes to the Yeast Bread and Greek recipe collections.

G.

Greek recipe · pies · vegetarian

Cheese Pie with Homemade Phyllo Pastry

Homemade Phyllo aka Filo Dough from foodwishes.blogspot.com

Cheese. Crunchy pastry. Worth some effort that the traditional Greek phyllo pastry requires – as well as worth a short walk to get some Georgian cheese 🙂 It’s a coincidence that I found some flat suluguni cheese in our local ‘farmers” store (they say it is a blini type of suluguni and sell it in disks) – which looks just like the pastry before it’s rolled out into sheets.

Homemade Phyllo aka Filo Dough from foodwishes.blogspot.com

I have been meaning to use this recipe for the Greek phyllo pastry since I saw the video on the Food Wishes blog (the videos are always enjoyable – even from the language side of it – fellow linguists will understand:) some time ago. And finally I did dare to make a cheese pie with it – a sort of tiropita.

Homemade Phyllo aka Filo Dough from foodwishes.blogspot.com

I have to admit this recipe is not a very quick one but you’ll see the difference and you’ll like the result for sure. And moreover there’s the video so you just have no excuses not to make this phyllo pastry and use it for savoury or sweet pies like bougatsa or baklava (there’s another video on how to make baklava). Careful though – baklava is super nutritious and addictive!

Homemade Phyllo aka Filo Dough from foodwishes.blogspot.com

Don’t get intimidated with the seemingly complicated recipe procedure – Chef John’s instructions will guide you through it and after several it-will-never-work-out-well moments you will master this pastry that they use in so many pies in Greece. Oh, Greece is the heaven for pie fans!

Homemade Phyllo aka Filo Dough from foodwishes.blogspot.com

1 year ago – Official St Petersburg or Along Bolshaya Morskaya

2 years ago – Pear Croustade and Pane Tipo Altamura

3 years ago – From Sunny Greece to Autumn Leaves in St Pete

4 years ago – Plum Cakes from Italy and Austria

5 years ago – Shangi, Pies from the North and Urals

6 years ago – Ode to My Baboushka

Cheese Pie with Homemade Phyllo Pastry adapted from the hilarious foodwishes.blogspot.com will make an almost authentic Greek pie… well, at least you can imagine it is! Go to the link above to watch video instructions for the pastry (attention: requires some time and effort!). See my remarks in italics.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading
  • 5 teaspoons olive oil – for some reason I thought it was 5 TABLEspoons 🙂
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine salt
  • 2 teaspoons white wine vinegar – our 10-year old vinegar from France gave too much of flavour
  • 3/4 cups warm water

filling:

  • about 300 g rubbery cheese, ideally – suluguni, if not – haloumi, grated / mashed
  • about 300 soft fresh cheese in light brine, ideally Feta, Imeretian or Adygea cheese, grated / mashed
  • salt with dried herbs, pepper

starch mixture:

  • 1/2 cup cornstarch – I had only potato starch
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Procedure:

Make the pastry: Place the flour in a bowl, make a well in the center and pour in the oil, vinegar and the warm water plus the salt. Mix these ingredients with your fingers (not with someone’s else of course) in the bowl, then place on the surface and kneed into a smooth and soft ball, about 5 min. Roll the ball into a log and then back into a ball for several times. Wrap and leave to rest for at least 1 h at room temp.

Divide the dough into balls of 20 g (mine were about walnut size), cover the ones you are not using. Take 5 balls and roll each of these balls into a small disc, dust each of them really well (!) with the starch mixture and stack all 5 together. Then roll the stack out to about double the size, separate the discs (this will come with practice…), dust each disc again, re-stack them together in any order you like and roll out again into a sheet of pastry – the thinner the better.

Place one sheet of pastry between 2 sheets of parchment (reuse them in baking later), roll into a log (do not press), wrap in plastic (I placed them in a plastic bag) and leave in fridge / freezer if not using straight away.

When assembling your pie, use several sheets for the bottom layer and some more for the top layer (or even in-between layers, as in baklava). Drip olive oil over each 2nd sheet of pastry and do not forget to pre-cut the pie (do not cut through). Bake at 350’C for about 1 h (I did not have that much time so I switched the fan on at 180’C and reduced baking time to 30 min).

Homemade Phyllo aka Filo Dough from foodwishes.blogspot.com

Remarks: Chef John says the recipe will make enough for about twenty sheets of pastry but I got 3 sheets with 5 layers + 1 sheet with 3 layers which was enough for a rather large though flat pie. I didn’t roll my pastry out too thin though. And yes, re-separating the discs of pastry is the most challenging part of the process, I only got the trick after rolling out and re-separating two stacks.  After all, phyllo means a leaf (or a sheet in this case)… Another remark, the cornstarch mixture makes a bit too much for this amount of pastry – I used the leftovers in a cake. Also, I used quite a small baking sheet so had to make rather thick borders – better avoid it, the pastry get too tough at the edges.

Result: Crusty-crunchy flat cheese pie. Do you need any more comments to persuade you to make it here and now? That’s what you are striving for – the crunchy outer layers of the pastry:

Homemade Phyllo aka Filo Dough from foodwishes.blogspot.com

…and these layers that separate from each other on their own once baked:

Homemade Phyllo aka Filo Dough from foodwishes.blogspot.com

…which are not that easy to separate before baking 🙂 Here is one of the stacks before rolling out:

Homemade Phyllo aka Filo Dough

and before re-separating the discs:

Homemade Phyllo aka Filo Dough

I was a bit late to photograph the entire pie – this is what was left next morning:

Homemade Phyllo aka Filo Dough from foodwishes.blogspot.com

And yes, my blog has just turned 6!

This post goes to the Lunch / Dinner and Greek recipe collections where you will find many more Greek – and not only – pies.

G.