Kolaczki are woven into Chicago food culture so deeply that it took me a while to realize that they were indeed a “foreign” cookie. Kolaczki dough is made with cream cheese, and it is traditionally folded (as below) over a filling of fruit – raspberry, plum or apricot usually – or sweetened cream cheese. Originally, the kolaczki is said to be from Poland (though its exact origin is unknown), and are popularly seen around the holidays. They seem to be just as popular in Cleveland, where we learned that they are known as Kiffles in Hungarian. This type of cookie is found throughout Central and Eastern Europe, with several variations, including a circular shape. Even more confusingly, there are many similarly-named desserts, including the Czech kolache, which is more like a yeast roll, and is most popular in Texas (post forthcoming)! Here is a recipe for apricot-filled kolaczki from American Heritage Cooking, another apricot from Cooking the Globe and one for cream cheese from All Recipes.
Photo by Kurman Communications
January 25th is Burns Night, a yearly celebration of poetry and food to celebrate the beloved Scottish poet Robert Burns (held on his birthday). I covered a complete Burns Supper menu previously, but for this week’s Pastry Post-Doc I will be featuring the best part of any meal – the dessert. One of the tastiest Scottish desserts to grace any Burns Supper table is Cranachan. Cranachan is basically a Scottish trifle made with toasted oats, honey, raspberries, whisky and whipped cream. Simple to make, but very delicious. Here are traditional cranachan recipes from the Telegraph and BBC Good Food. Jamie Oliver has a modern riff on the traditional cranachan with a raspberry cranchan influenced cakee.
Today is Three Kings Day / Epiphany – which officially marks the end of the Christmas holiday season! In addition to Epiphany (Epifania in Italian), the eve of January 6th is also when La Befana arrives in Italy. Similar to St. Nicholas Day in other parts of Europe, La Befana (who takes the appearance of a witch on a broom) leaves presents and candy for good children and coal for bad ones. In honor of La Befana and Epifania, we are heading to Sicily, where the holiday season is celebrated with a myriad of sweets including the fig and raisin-filled cuccidati cookies.
We have made cuccidati before, but we have recently learned that there is a similar holiday dessert that is basically a giant version of a cuccidati – a Buccellato ring cake. To add another layer of potential confusion, it seems that sometimes in Sicily buccellato refers to small-sized ring-shaped fig cookies, too. Now I am not really a huge fig or raisin fan (though M is) and even I like cuccidati cookies (which I guess are the distant ancestor of the Fig Newton). There are tons of cuccidati recipes with slight variations in filling according to region, family and personal taste so I will only include a few: A vintage Milwaukee recipe from 1965, Washington Post, Brown Eyed Baker and Savoring Italy (seen above). If you want to go all out, Cooking with Rosetta has a traditional buccellato recipe, as does L’Italo-Americano (seen below).
We first saw these show-stopping Lithuanian Christmas tree cakes – Šakotis – for sale by the Lithuanian Club of Cleveland at a cultural fair. Though you may see Sakotis for other special celebrations in Lithuania, they are associated with Christmas – especially since they look like Christmas trees! The cake is made by pouring batter over a rotating, horizontal spit over a heat source. The batter is simple – just sugar, eggs, flour and sour cream – and as the batter is poured over the spit, tree-like layers begin to form.
Other cakes made on a spit are found throughout Central and Eastern Europe with different names: like the German Baumkuchen, Polish sękacz, Czech Trdelník and Hungarian Kürtőskalács. Unless you have all this special equipment, you probably won’t be able to make Sakotis at home – but you can buy them straight from the Lithuanian Club of Cleveland online.
It is Christmas season again, and we have cake on the brain! In Nicaragua, Christmas means Pio Quinto cake (which may or may not be named after Pope Pius the 5th). It is similar to tres leches cake, but instead of being soaked in milk, it is soaked in rum! Pio Quinto is topped with a vanilla and cinnamon custard – called atolillo (which can also be served alone) and sprinkled with raisins and other dried fruits. You can find recipes for Pio Quinto from Serious Eats (seen below) and Leaders from the Kitchen.
If you live in the freezing Midwest like us, the winter holiday season may not immediately get you thinking of tropical recipes, but the Caribbean has huge tradition of delicious Christmas foods worth sampling. One emblematic Caribbean food that is a holiday staple is the simply named Black Cake (it gets its name from its rich molasses color). The cake itself is filled with figs and dried fruit soaked in wine, rum and is flavored with cloves, nutmeg and allspice. Caribbean Black Cake is a descendant of British plum pudding, and has an special stronghold in Caribbean countries that were former British colonies such as Trinidad and Jamaica. However, you will find it throughout the Caribbean and in most Caribbean-American communities around holiday time with assorted named like Christmas Cake, Black Christmas Cake, West Indian Fruit Cake, Caribbean Christmas Cake, etc. A unique ingredient that is essential to the rich taste of the cake is burnt sugar syrup, or “browning,” that is available in Caribbean markets (or you can make your own). Here is a recipe for Jamaican Black Cake from the Cooking Channel (below), Trinidadian Black Cake from Cooking with Ria and Caribbean Black Fruitcake from Chowhound.
M has a particular affinity for snails, so we were pretty excited that there exists a German cinnamon roll that is named after the swirl on a snail’s shell – Schnecken (German for snail). Schnecken date from the late 19th / early 20th century and are now found in German Jewish expat communities in the US and even as far away as Brazil. Schnecken are similar to the better known rugelach (recipes for both inside), but are instead cut crosswise to reveal the signature snail spiral. These cinnamon rolls are likely predecessors to the popular American cinnamon buns today, and feature a syrup topping with nuts. Here is another recipe for schnecken on Cooks.com (seen below), and a few variations on One Perfect Bite.
This crazy week has left a lot of people, the eaters included, in need of a smile (and some food therapy). And we have found a light-hearted dish that may put a smile on your face: Taiyaki. Taiyaki is a Japanese dessert cake shaped like a fish (“taiyaki” means baked/fried fish in Japanese) and filled with red bean paste. Made with pancake-like batter poured into a fish-shaped mold, taiyaki is commonly sold as a street food or festival snack. This fishy dessert has been around in Japan for at least 100 years, though others argue that its roots can be traced to imagawayaki, a non-fish shaped cake with the same flavors that has been around for centuries. Though taiyaki is largely unknown in the US, it is starting to make some waves at Taiyaki NYC, an ice cream shop where the taiyaki is used as a cone. We’re adding that to our NYC food list! You can make Taiyaki yourself at home if you have the right pan, but what’s the fun in that?
Today is election day in the US, and while the eaters voted early in Ohio last week, it has still been a stressful day watching the news and the polls. I think we, and anyone else who voted, deserves some cake – maybe even some “Election Cake.” Though it has been out of fashion for over a century, Election Cake used to be an election day staple. Election Cake represented the most popular flavors of the time: it is a leavened sourdough cake with molasses, cinnamon, dried fruit and nuts. In the past, when people actually had to travel distance to the polls, election day was something of a celebratory affair. The election cake hails from a time before refrigeration, and when this type of stable cake would be necessary to last through a long day at the polls and the celebration after.
Nourished Kitchen has a great Election Cake recipe (pictured above). But if you want to get a little more historical, here’s a recipe from the Washington Post from 1796. This was long before women could vote, so making these kinds of cakes was one way to participate in the electoral process. Election Cakes are making a comeback thanks in part to Old World Levain Bakery, in Asheville, N.C., who started the “Make America Cake Again” project, encouraging knowledge of historical cakes, and encouraging bakeries to sell Election Cakes and donate the proceeds to the League of Women Voters. You can check out more recipes on the OWL page, and to see if there is a bakery selling Election Cakes near you.
Terang Bulan stand in Indonesia by Roman
If fried dough is one of the most popular pastry genres worldwide, sweet pancakes or crepes must be a close second, and we can’t complain about that. The latest pastry post-doc feature is a sweet pancake from Indonesia, Terang Bulan. Terang Bulan means full moon, and it is named because of its round, moon-like shape. It is basically a thick, puffy pancake, folded over and filled with evaporated milk and other fillings like chocolate, chocolate sprinkles or nuts. Terang Bulan is also popular in other parts of Southeast Asia under different names, like Martabak Manis and Apim Balik. Here is a recipe from Ridha’s Kitchen, Food.com, and a Malaysian version with peanuts from Curious Nut.
Terang Bulan by Abby
Halloween and Dia de Los Muertos are right around the corner – but so is Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, which falls on October 30 this year. Diwali is absolutely awash with sweet treats (some of which we have covered before), collectively called Mithai, and the proper Diwali table is full with as many sweet treats as possible. One popular genre of Indian sweets is called laddoo/laddu, which are basically round truffles that come in a myriad of flavors. Today, I’m going to be sharing one of our favorite and simplest recipes for coconut laddo, which are super easy to make. Check out recipes from Veg recipes of India, Cooking and Me and Rak’s Kitchen (seen below). These laddoos also remind us of Brazilian beijinhos, one of the most popular sweets across the country. Seems like condensed milk and coconut have fans on pretty much every corner of the earth!
Thanksgiving is a big deal here in the US (obviously), but Canada has its own Thanksgiving, which also is held to give thanks for the harvest and other positive events of the year. Though Canadian Thanksgiving, which falls on the second Monday in October, is perhaps less bombastic than American Thanksgiving, there are plenty of Canadian recipes you can try (yes, poutine). On the dessert front, we have unearthed a popular Canadian dessert that is new to us, and brilliant in its simplicity: Sugar Pie / Tarte au sucre. A typical Quebecois recipe, a classic sugar pie consists of not much more than eggs, sugar and vanilla. Sugar pie variants are also found in Indiana, where it is called a “Sugar Cream Pie” (it is also related to the classic Amish Shoofly Pie). So I guess this is the perfect pie for both US and Canadian Thanksgivings. Aside from the crust, the recipe couldn’t be simpler, check out Canadian versions from Food.com and Canadian Living.
October 4 is the date of two very important food holidays: National Taco Day and National Cinnamon Bun Day. We have a lot of coverage on tacos on the blog, but we thought we would supplement our cinnamon bun coverage! The holiday, like most other food holidays, is an invented one, but since its introduction in 1999 it really has taken off in Sweden. Swedes really love cinnamon buns (Kanelbullens in Swedish), in fact, as of 2010, they ate 310 a year! The love for cinnamon buns is shared across Scandinavia (we sampled some in Denmark). Swedish cinnamon buns are indeed relatives of the Cinnabon-style American Cinnamon rolls, but are flavored with cardamon, and topped with pearl sugar instead of icing (to be honest I like the Swedish kind a lot better!). Plus, Cinnamon buns are not just for breakfast, they are perfect for an afternoon coffee break or “Fika.” Here are recipes for classic Swedish Cinnamon buns from Kokblog, Swedishfood, Salt & Wind, and What’s Gaby Cooking. If you want a little twist, Nami Nami has a recipe for a Finnish Cinnamon Bun variety.
Swedish Cinnamon Buns by Kajak
It’s finally fall! For us that mostly means it is pie season! Though you can find pie-type desserts in many countries, we are always surprised to find it in unusual places. For example, we recently saw apple pie being served in Ollantaytambo and Aguas Calientes in the Peruvian Andes. And now we think we have found it in an even more unusual location: Namibia. Moose MacGregor’s Desert Bakery is located in the tiny town of Solitaire in the middle of the Namib desert. So how did it get there? The outpost was opened 20+ years ago by Scotsman Percy Cross MacGregor, and the pie is an old family recipe for German Apfelstrudel (similar recipe here). Moose’s also offers other baked goods like cookies, brownies and muffins to hungry travelers. In Solitaire, which is on the way to Swakopmund and Sossusvlei, there is Moose’s Bakery, a gas station, and a general store, and not much else, but it is worthy stop for any traveler in the area (check out a video from 2012). Unfortunately, Moose passed away in 2014, but the bakery is still running as he left it.
Looking to make something sweet for your sweetheart? Why not a courting cake – a Northern English confection made with a dense sponge cake with a layer of berries and cream. Until I watched the BBC’s Great British Bake-Off (anyone else love that show?) I had no idea what a courting cake was. Turns out making the cake is a symbolic Northern English tradition where a girl would bake a cake for her beau after they had begun “courting” to show both her affection and skill in the kitchen. Nowadays, I imagine that any partner could make the courting cake for their significant other. The courting cake also experienced a bit of a revival due to the fact that Prince William and Princess Kate received one on a visit to Lancashire! You can try your hand at courting cake with recipes from Epicurious, Food.com and Northern Soul (plus a mini version), though I imagine it is especially nice in the height of summer when strawberries are fresh.
It’s almost time for the Mid-Autumn Festival in China and Vietnam (September 15 this year), which means one thing – mooncakes (yue bing)! Mooncakes are round, molded pastry cakes with dense fillings, and have been eaten in conjunction with the Mid-Autumn Festival since the Ming Dynasty. Mooncakes, as befits their name, are said to represent the moon, and are traditionally imprinted with the Chinese characters for longevity or harmony. Mooncakes are made with pastry crust and are traditionally filled with red bean or lotus paste with whole egg yolks, but the fillings vary wildly, depending on location. You can buy pre-made mooncakes with countless crust and filling types at most Asian grocery stores or bakeries (and even more elaborate varieties if you are in Hong Kong), but you can also make them on your own! Andew Gooi has a lovely video of how mooncakes are made, which you can see below.
Mooncakes are traditionally shaped with wooden molds, but you can also find some plastic or silicone (round or square) online. Making mooncakes is a multi-step process and may require some special ingredients from a well-stocked Asian grocery, like golden syrup, which you can also make on your own. China Sichuan Food and House of Annie have recipes for a traditional Cantonese version with egg yolk and red bean filling. Serious Eats has a recipe without the egg yolk. If you are feeling lost, Omnivore’s Cookbook has an extremely comprehensive recipe and step-by-step guide for the mooncake newbie newbie. If you are in the mood for something avant-garde, Christine has a recipe for for the more modern green tea custard or pandan snow skin mooncakes.
Ube is having a moment in US food culture. The sweet purple yam flavor seems to be popping up all over in the US, in cakes, ice creams and donuts, mirroring its popularity in the Philippines, where it is incorporated into any sweet treat you can imagine. Ube is truly, shockingly purple, so you definitely won’t be able to miss it. We first had ube-flavored desserts at Village Creamery in the Chicago burbs, and we were hooked. Ube is a traditional flavor in the Philippines, and one of the most popular uses for it is in Ube Macapuno cake (ube = purple yam, macapuno = preserved coconut), a light and fluffy frosted cake with tons of bright-purple goodness. It is getting easier to find ube itself in the US, and you can also find ube powder in some well-stocked Asian groceries. Macapuno, preserved coconut, may be a little harder to find, but the Phil-Am Foods site has both ube powder and macapuno for sale online. Bake Happy has a recipe utilizing Ube Powder (seen below) and Bakanista has a recipe for a cake made with fresh ube (in some places you can even enhance your recipes with McCormick Ube Essence).
We’ve made it to Friday – time to celebrate with donuts! This week we are featuring Vietnamese hollow donuts – Bánh Tiêu. Banh Tieu are crunchy, hollow donuts covered in sesame seeds, with a light texture. The technique is a bit harder to master than an American donut, but if you have already attempted deep-frying you have a leg up. I am a Food Blog and Vicky Pham have good recipes for Banh Tieu to try at home. Banh Tieu are found throughout Vietnam as street food, and you can also find them at some Vietnamese markets or restaurants in the US and Canada, especially on the West Coast.
For the final country represented on the Olympic Refugee Team – Ethiopia – we decided to dig a little deeper into the county’s cuisine. Now we adore Ethiopian food, but we were wondering about traditional Ethiopian desserts (since we have never encountered any!). Turns out, we weren’t missing a hidden dessert culture – the whole concept of dessert is pretty much an imported one. However, with the influx of sugar into Ethiopia in the 20th century, desserts started cropping up. One of the most popular desserts now in Ethiopian is the pasti, a sweet, fried dough dessert influenced by Italian food, sold in small shops called Pasti Bet (pasti houses). Here is a simple video recipe for pasti from How to Cook Ethiopian, with the video in Amharic and English text below. Pasti is even popular enough to have an Ethiopian R&B song about it!