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

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.

Birthday cake decorations

Remember my idea to do something with the number 3 illustration I found?

I thought I could do this in chocolate. I printed it out in black and white and traced it using some colored icing. Here’s what mine came out like.

The first picture is with the dark chocolate first. The second and third pictures are with the colored icing. For the icing I used white chocolate colored with turmeric powder for the yellow, and with beet juice for the red. The colors were nice. I did these on wax paper so they peeled right off and went on easily onto the cake. I used the yellow one. It was 4 inches tall.

For the butterflies, I found a template online. I traced the outline in dark chocolate, and then did the filling in color. I put sprinkles on the yellow wings. I forgot to take a close up of the yellow butterflies, but you get the idea. I made red ones also, but didn’t use them since the yellow color went better with the pink frosting (also dyed with beet juice).

Here’s a picture of the red wings.

I’ll have to write more information about the tool I used, but I’m out of time now… .

Recipe – Chocolate cake

This is a pretty nice recipe because it’s simple (I usually have all the ingredients in my pantry, and you can mix it all by hand) and yet has such a rich taste of chocolate.

  • 3 cups flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 cups hot water
  • 3/4 cup oil
  • 2 tbsp white vinegar
  • 1 tbsp instant coffee
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract

Butter two 8 inch cake pans.

Blend the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl.

In a large cup combine the water, oil, coffee, and vanilla. Add to the dry ingredients and whisk until combined.

Bake at 350F for 35 to 45 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

I really don’t have a specific recipe for chocolate frosting. I make it by combining cocoa powder (maybe a cup), with powdered sugar (maybe 2 cups?), and then adding whole milk and blending until all the dry ingredients are incorporated into a creamy mix. I add about a tablespoon of melted butter to make it shiny and smooth. I keep adding sugar until I like the taste — not too bitter. That’s it.