Recipe – Vianočka, a Slovak sweet bread

Back in the first years of the 2000’s, I lived in Slovakia teaching English. I learned a lot about Slovak cuisine and tried my share of baking traditional breads. Since I married a Slovak and we have two Slovak-American children, I prepare Slovak foods that we enjoy here in California. Here’s a bread I bake this time of year.

Vianočka is a common yeast bread in Slovakia. It is a braided bread, slightly sweet, and eaten often at breakfast time. Vianočka is available in just about any grocery store in Slovakia. It is so common in fact, that I’ve never seen or heard of any Slovak baking it at home. Why would you bake a basic bread if you could just pick one up at the local market?

Vianočka is also a good bread to bake for Easter. In Vienna I’ve seen this bread sold at bakeries with a few colored hard-boiled eggs set between the weave of the braids. It’s very festive.

I consulted several recipes and came up with my tried and tested version for authentic vianočka. To me it tastes almost identical to what you can buy in Slovakia. Below is the recipe and my directions:

Ingredients:
1 1/2 cup (.4 liter) milk
2 rounded tablespoons sugar
2 packets (1/4 oz each) of dry yeast or 30 grams cake yeast
4 1/2 cups (600 grams) flour
1/2 cup (120 grams) butter
1 cup (225 grams) sugar
3 egg yolks (keep the whites to brush the dough later)
1/2 cup (120 grams) raisins
1/2 teaspoon salt
grated lemon peel

Directions: Mix the two tablespoons of sugar into lukewarm milk and add the yeast. Let the yeast rise and become active — this takes about 5 to 8 minutes. If you don’t get a good foam, put your cup, with everything in it, in the microwave for 20 seconds to make it warm again.

In a bowl combine the flour, butter, sugar, salt, egg yolks, raisins, and grated lemon peel. Add the yeast mixture to the flour mixture and transfer everything to a floured surface to kneed the dough thoroughly. Gather the dough into a ball and place it back into the mixing bowl, making sure to sprinkle the base so that it doesn’t stick to the bottom. Cover the bowl and set it in a warm dry place for an hour or so, until the dough doubles in size.

Kneed the dough a second time thoroughly until all the air pockets are removed. Separate the dough into eight equal sized parts and let them “rest” for another 15 minutes.

Make a braid with the first four pieces. From three more pieces make another braid that will be set on top of the four-piece braid. Cut the last roll in half, roll them thin, braid them, and place it on top of the three-piece braid (pictures above).

Tuck the sides under and brush the top with egg whites. Bake the bread at 350°F (180°C) for the first half hour and 325°F (160°C) for an additional half hour.

Note 1) To make the crust darker, start baking at 375°F.

Note 2) The recipe yields one large loaf. To make two smaller loaves, separate the dough into 16 pieces.

A Good time

My little guy is 3 and I’m realizing that he’s almost done being a baby. Since he will be my last baby, I’ve been aware and have been appreciative of the things that will soon come to an end, such as:

  • telling me he loves me at least 5 times a day
  • still wanting to climb in my lap when I read a story, as opposed to simply sitting next to me like his older sister does
  • crawling into my side of the bed at 3am or thereafter
  • holding on to his blanket when he’s tired
  • saying “carry me”
  • afternoon naps

toes at restThree years old is a good time. He’s a sweetie and cute, but also funny and kind. His personality is coming through and it’s fun to watch. I’m not in as much as a rush to have him grow up as I was when V was small. For once I want time to go slow.

Three for another 3 years would be nice.

construction birthday cake

 

Valentine sushi

valentine sushi

I hope this will be the last post about sushi for a while. This past week I was tasked with making some snacks/treats for a Valentine party in V’s class. The teacher asked for a kind of veggie tray in a Valentine theme. I really looked for ideas on what kind of vegetable I could cut into hearts and it wasn’t easy. There isn’t much that will cut well with a cookie cutter.

Cucumber works well. Carrots work well too, but they take a bit more effort. I steamed a few large carrots and then cut the whole carrot into the shape of a heart. Then I sliced them in heart-shaped chunks. I got the idea here. Before I cut up the carrots into small pieces I put the large carrot into beet juice so that the outside turned magenta. Then when I cut it up the hearts really stood out.

heart carrots

Since I had so much cucumber on hand, I got the idea of making sushi rolls. It seems like a simple food that kids would enjoy. Cucumber and cream cheese for the filling would be good. I wanted to make them heart shaped but I didn’t have a mold. Instead I had the idea to make the rice red with beet juice.

grated beets

Getting beet juice from grated beets is easy. Boil one grated beat for about 5 minutes in 1/2 cup of water or a little more. Strain the juice into a cup and set aside.

Mix it into the sushi rice when you mix in the vinegar and sugar. Be careful not to put too much juice or you will have mush. The rice turned out to be a dark pink rather than a red but that was fine.

pink sushi rice

After that, make a sushi roll like normal.

sushi pieces

Everything went on to platters with the sushi in the middle.

valentine sushi platter

V was excited about taking it to school the next day and I got great feedback from the teachers. They told me all the kids were excited about the pink sushi. That definitely made it worth my while. For sure I’ll do it again in the future. Our local Daiso Japan store should have sushi molds in the shape of a heart. I’ll have to get that for next year.

Making a rainbow cake

rainbow cake

In V’s class, her teacher approached me about making a cake for St. Patrick’s Day. It’s called a Leprechaun Trap Cake. I had never heard of such a thing but said sure, I’d have a crack at it. She pointed me to the directions she found online and I was amazed. I had never seen such a thing. I had also never seen anything with so much food coloring!

I was actually hesitant to make it, simply because I would be using so much artificial food coloring and I always try to bake with natural ingredients, even to color my cakes, but in the end I decided to go ahead and make the cake anyway.

After I read the blog post on making the trap cake, I did another search for the same cake and found another blogger who made it. She used a different cake recipe. She used a cream-cheese pound cake recipe where as the original blogger used a basic box cake like a Duncan Heinz or Betty Crocker. I liked the idea of the pound cake and was really glad I chose it. The texture came out beautifully and tasted just fine. I’d use a half cup less sugar next time, but all in all it’s a good recipe.

With the batter, the way to proportion it out is to keep 1/3 plain white color and with the rest of the 2/3rds divide that into 6 incremental portions. In other words, in one bowl you’ll have the most batter, probably red, and then slightly less and less over the next 5 bowls, ending in purple.

IM helped me with the preparation since we needed to do it at night when V couldn’t see.

rainbow cake layers

 

Purple was last. There wasn’t very much of it.

rainbow cake layers 2

rainbow cake baked

 

After I baked it (It took 1 hour 45 min to bake!) and I leveled off the top, I cut the purple out entirely. Oh well.

purple rainbow

 

V’s teacher was in alt! She loved it. She said we “hit it out of the park” with this cake. And yes, we frosted it and filled the middle with chocolate gold coins.

I’m not sure I’ll make it again, but it did look pretty cool.

School lunches

V is doing pretty well with taking lunch to school and eating it. As far as I can tell, she eats near everything. I’ve been taking some pictures of before and after, mostly for my own record of what she likes and doesn’t. And for me for when I need ideas of what to make.

I didn’t want to fuss with having a warm lunch. The teacher can microwave it if requested but I though that sounded pretty high maintenance. I wanted to make things she could eat cold/room temperature. The food is outside of the refrigerator for about 2.5 hours. Everything I’ve made has held up just fine. Here have been some:

Chicken nuggets, arborio rice, steamed brocoli and blueberries. She liked it!

Egg salad with crackers and mixed berries. Not so good… .

Halibut, arborio rice, carrots, and strawberries. Very good. She does like fish.

Grilled chicken, wild rice, carrots, and apple slices. I’m surprised she ate the wild rice after telling me in the morning that she didn’t want any black things in her rice. Good job.

 

I bought her a kids version of a camelbak bottle and I fill it with a mixture of water and a little juice 60/40. I thought it was kind of expensive at $13 but she drinks it all and it’s a very durable bottle. It’s easy to drink out of and it doesn’t leak. It’s worth the money.

 

Recipe – The best home-made pop tarts

pop tarts with fruit filling

Makes 12 large pop tarts or 16 smaller ones.

Dough:

  • 1 envelope of dry yeast or 1 tablespoon loose dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup of milk, slightly warmed
  • 1/2 teaspoon of honey or sugar mixed in the milk
  • 2 cups wheat flour
  • 1 cup of all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup wheat germ
  • 1/3 cup flax seed ground
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup milk slightly warmed
  • 2 large tablespoons cream cheese (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup of oil (best is canola oil)

Fillings:

You can use whatever you want as a filling. Personally, jams and jellies are too sweet for me and I prefer fresh fruit or berries with nuts and or honey. If you use nuts, honey as a base is great for getting the nuts to stick to the dough and not slide around. My family’s favorite filling is Nutella with bananas. Read all about the fillings I tried here.

pop tart fillings

Directions:

-In a mug, warm the milk to just above room temperature and stir in the honey or sugar. Add the yeast, briefly mix it, and let it rest for 15 to 20 minutes.

-In an electric mixer bowl fitted with a bread dough hook, measure out the flours, wheat germ, flax seed, sugar and salt, and then briefly mix it dry before adding the wet ingredients. Add the milk, yeast mixture, cream cheese, and the oil and mix for about 10 minutes or until the sides of the bowl are clean.

-Lightly dust the dough with flour in the bowl and leave it in a warm dry place for an hour or two, covered with a cloth.

-After the dough has risen, dust your working area with flour and cut the dough into four pieces. Roll your first piece out into a rectangular shape approximately 1/4 inch thick.

-Using a knife or cutting tool, cut your dough like this:

grid

 

 

-Put your filling on the bottom squares and use the top squares to cover. Use a fork to seal the edges.

-Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes.

nectarine-filled pop tarts

In search of the best home-made pop tarts

The concept of pop tarts is a nice one. It’s a crust on the outside with a sweet filling, most often a fruit filling, inside. In reality, store bought pop tarts are usually too sweet, bland (aside from the sugar), contain almost no real fruit, and have little to no protein.

Strawberry-Pop-Tarts

My mom never bought pop tarts for us when I was little, thank goodness, but the idea is something that has appealed to me, both as a kid and as an adult.

Over the last two years or so, I’ve been looking for a good recipe for making home-made pop tarts. I’ve been searching for and trying different recipes I’ve found online but have been only disappointed. I tried this recipe but the butter content was too high and when I ate one I got a stomach ache — something that rarely happens. In the comment reviews I read for that recipe someone suggested halving the butter and adding a flax seed-water mix. I liked the idea of adding flax seed. And why not add some wheat germ too.

If I could make a pop tart I’d want it to be healthful, filling, non greasy, and just sweet enough without being sugary. I’d want the crust to be more of a pastry-bread consistency rather than a greasy pie crust.

So I’ve decided to put together my own recipe based on my experiences with cookies, breads, and cake recipes, and what I think would taste good as a pop-tart. A couple of weeks ago I took four recipes — two for pop tarts I found online, one for a sweet bread, and one for a cookie dough — printed them out and got to work creating the best combination. Since I wanted the highest protein content possible, I went with whole-wheat flour, flax seed, and wheat germ. I added some sugar to the dough to make it slightly sweet but stayed away from butter and instead went with a small amount of canola oil.

pop tart dough

After I created the crust, I thought about fillings. I wanted to try mixed berries, apples with honey and crushed walnuts, and a Nutella-banana combination.

pop tart fillings

I thought about brushing on an egg wash on top and then sprinkling a bit of cinnamon-sugar, but I decided that since these are meant to be held in a hand (by little kids who may or may not be eating one in the car on the way to school), I wanted them dry and not dropping sprinkles all over the place.

baked pop tart

I made the dough, rolled it out and filled them. After they baked I noticed they were very large so made a note for the next time to make them smaller. The taste? Delicious. The crust portion was made using mainly a sweet bread recipe. I used yeast so the crust puffed slightly.

The family tried all three fillings and the absolute hands-down winner was the Nutella-banana.

nutella banana pop tart

I think I’ve succeeded in making something that is filling and nutritious enough that you wont feel guilty by eating one. And taking one in the car works pretty well, for mom or child.

Another day I made them again and tried nectarines with walnuts and honey as a filling.

nectarine walnut honey pop tart

The plan is to make enough to be able to keep some in the freezer and warm them up as needed. I have frozen pancakes, frozen waffles, why not frozen pop tarts?

The recipe will follow.

Recipe: Chocolate bran muffins

chocolate bran muffins

Yesterday V asked me if she could eat sprinkles. I told her no, sprinkles were for decorating cakes or cupcakes, so she asked me if we could make cupcakes.

Sigh. I’ve been trying really hard to watch what I eat to lose my pregnancy weight, but what can you do when your kid wants to make cupcakes with you? And not just any cupcakes, but ones that can hold sprinkles, which must mean chocolate frosting on the top.

So I went online and found a recipe for cocoa bran muffins that looked very good. These were nice because the recipe called for bran, wheat germ, and whole wheat flour, and then honey for the sweetener. It also called for a small spoon of raspberry jam in the middle of the muffin. I thought that was a nice touch.

V and I made the “cup cakes”, I frosted them, and then she put on the sprinkles. They came out really well! The muffin part is not sweet at all and so the bit of raspberry really adds something. And these definitely needed the chocolate frosting.

chocolate bran muffins 2

And I’ve figured out the frosting part so that it’s super easy. One heaping tablespoon powdered sugar, one heaping tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder, and a bit of milk to mix it all. That’s it. It was just enough to spread over my 12 muffins.

While the kids slept this morning I had these for breakfast (at 8:30am T just fell asleep for his first AM nap, and V was sleeping in). I had no guilt about eating two of these. They’re not overly sweet, stuffed full of bran, and lightly covered with chocolate frosting and sprinkles. Yum!

breakfast chocolate bran muffins

Chocolate bran muffins

  • 1/3 cup plain yogurt
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 eggs, beaten
  • 2/3 cup honey
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups natural bran (oat bran or wheat bran)
  • 1/2 cup wheat germ
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/3 cup raspberry preserves, divided
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F and grease muffin tins.
  2. In a large bowl, mix the yogurt with the milk. Mix in the beaten egg, honey and vanilla.
  3. Add the bran and wheat germ, mix and let stand for several minutes to absorb the liquids.
  4. Into another bowl, sift the flour, baking soda, salt and cocoa powder. Stir together well.
  5. Add to the wet mixture and stir only until combined.
  6. Drop mixture into muffin tins until 1/3 full.
  7. Add 1 heaping teaspoon raspberry preserves to the middle of each muffin tin.
  8. Top with remaining muffin batter until each tin is 3/4 full.
  9. Place the muffin tins on a baking sheet and bake 15-20 minutes, until muffins have a firm feel and slightly springs back when lightly touched.
  10. Let cool 5 minutes in the tins, then turn out and let cool completely on a wire rack.

Time for making popsicles

V loves to eat ice. I don’t like to give her ice cubes in her water or juice because they are large and I’m worried she’s going to choke on one. I’ve had popsicle molds in my cabinet for a couple of years and thought I’d make some using apple juice. V loves it!

This is a stock photo from Amazon. These are so much prettier than what frozen apple juice looks like.

She ate all but one this afternoon. It’s a good thing they’re small. But it looks like I’ll be making a lot of these this summer.

Recipe – Revamped sugar cookie

In our family we love making cookie-cutter cookies at grandma’s house. We’ve done it a couple of times when V and her cousins get together on family visits, and it’s been a success. At Thanksgiving time I prepared a gingerbread cookie dough that is very good, but I also wanted to have a sugar cookie recipe to try out.

The thing with sugar cookies is that they are sweet. Add to that the icing that goes on top and you’ve practically got a piece of candy. I wanted a sugar cookie that was lighter and less sweet. A reduced-sugar sugar cookie? Why not. With the icing on top, who’s going to really notice that the cookie is less sweet.

I found a recipe from Cooks Illustrated for a “holiday cookie” made with cream cheese. I liked that idea. So I took the recipe and made a few alterations, mainly less sugar of course, and then less butter, more cream cheese and milk. The cookies came out just fine. They were easy to roll out and cut, and the taste was good. I liked them and will use this recipe again.

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup sugar  
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, (1 stick) cut into eight 1/2-inch pieces, at cool room temperature (about 65 degrees)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract 
 3

10

tablespoons cream cheese, at room temperature

tablespoons milk

1. In bowl of standing mixer fitted with flat beater, mix flour, sugar, and salt on low speed until combined, about 5 seconds. With mixer running on low, add butter 1 piece at a time; continue to mix until mixture looks crumbly and slightly wet, about 1 minute longer. Add vanilla, cream cheese and milk, and mix on low until dough just begins to form large clumps, about 30 seconds.

2. Remove bowl from mixer; knead dough by hand in bowl for 2 to 3 turns to form large cohesive mass. Turn out dough onto countertop; divide in half, pat into two 4-inch disks, wrap each in plastic, and refrigerate until they begin to firm up, 20 to 30 minutes. (Can be refrigerated up to 3 days or frozen up to 2 weeks; defrost in refrigerator before using.)

3. Adjust oven rack to middle position; heat oven to 375 degrees. Roll out 1 dough disk to even 1/8-inch thickness between 2 large sheets parchment paper; slide rolled dough on parchment onto baking sheet and chill until firm, about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, repeat with second disk.

4. Working with first portion of rolled dough, cut into desired shapes using cookie cutter(s) and place shapes on parchment-lined baking sheet, spacing them about 1 1/2 inches apart. Bake until light golden brown, about 10 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway through baking time. Repeat with second portion of rolled dough. (Dough scraps can be patted together, chilled, and re-rolled once.) Cool cookies on wire rack to room temperature.