Gluten-free Potato Lefse (Bezlepkové zemiakové lokše)

Despite the uber-positive and uplifting post I was going for last week I have to confess the holiday craziness caught up with me after all. I was so determined not to succumb to the shopping/cleaning/wrapping insanity this year and most of all to preserve peace among our little tribe… but unfortunately I only partially succeeded. No, I didn’t join the ranks of last-minute shoppers ramming into each other in the crowded lit up shopping malls, and the Lord knows my bathrooms could still use a good scrub down. But I have to say the peace preservation part proved to be a little tricky. Even without squirreling needless stuff to wrap and with a strong resolve not to run circles with the vacuum there is always lots that still needs to be done this time of year. Add to it loads of mixed Christmas emotions and yearning to hug all the people close to my heart that are far away, and you’ve got a pot that’s ready to boil over any minute.

I think holidays are just hard – for the kids who live for weeks in anticipation of the magical Christmas moment, as well as for mothers who want so desperately to make the magic happen for those around them. (Fathers are somehow exempt from this pre-holiday pressure it seems.) The days leading to Christmas morning feel just like an amusement park train ride. The train, i.e. Mother is slowly and painfully climbing uphill: cooking the elaborate four-course menu (because it’s traditional, and keeping traditions alive is important!); wrapping cookies to share with the neighbors (what, you want to tell me being on good terms with neighbors isn’t?!); mailing out last-minute holiday cards (wishing everybody love and peace she would give her right arm for); plus doing all the ordinary stuff like laundry and bills (because neither can be put on hold and both just keep piling up, as if they didn’t know it’s Christmas time, darn it!). While stirring and whipping, Mother – the huffing and puffing amusement park Locomotive is already thinking about what needs to be scrubbed or washed or folded or mixed in where. And in the back of her mind looms this huge exclamation mark: Whatever spills/burns/doesn’t go according to the plan, please just keep keeping on. And whatever it takes, don’t yell, do you hear me? For Pete’s sake, just don’t start yapping at anybody. You know Christmas is supposed to be magical! Do you want to be the one that kills the Christmas magic? Huh? See, I didn’t think so!

And so the motherly locomotive groans and creaks while inching upward to the top, the high pinnacle all her efforts were oriented to: the festive dinner by the candlelight, happy smiles under the tree, and fleeting moments of sibling harmony. From there it only takes seconds till the train plummets back down to the starting station and Christmas is over. Scraps of wrapping paper are strewn all around the room, the kids can start fighting over the gifts, and Mother can finally pull the emergency brake and put her feet up. I confess I love the post-Christmas time. Since I can never properly judge how much food I’ll need, I always make about five times more we’re able to put away; our refrigerator shelves are subsequently bending under all the stuff, and I don’t have to lift a finger for three days straight. For me Christmas starts on the 25th 😉

Today I present you a snippet of our post-Christmas feast assortment. In Slovakia Christmas celebrations last three days, and on the third day – Feast of St. Stephen – folks traditionally roast a goose and serve it with braised cabbage and either yeast dumplings or these potato flatbreads that are very similar to Scandinavian lefse. I roasted a duck instead of goose, and quite successfully attempted to de-glutenize potato lefse. I already mentioned a couple of times that the dough made with gluten-free flour is usually very hard to roll out, but in this case the potatoes together with a little powdered gelatin helped it to stick together much better. Another big help in the process proved to be cast iron tortilla press. With that little gadget I simply pressed small balls of potato dough between two floured sides of a cut ziploc bag, and voila – in an instant I had these thin and uniform little flatbreads. They are smaller than both the original Scandinavian lefse and their Slovak version, but since I didn’t have to slave over them with a rolling pin and they taste just the same, I don’t care one bit. Lefse are very versatile and can be eaten savory or sweet, and you can also very easily freeze them.

Happy Post-Christmas do nothing, everybody 🙂

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Gluten-free Potato Lefse (Bezlepkové zemiakové lokše)

  • 700-750 g (about 25 oz.) cooked potatoes, cooled down & riced (See Note)
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 200 g (7 oz., 1 ½ cup) all-purpose gluten-free flour
  • 2 teaspoons xanthan gum (if your flour mix contains gums already, reduce the xanthan gum to 1 teaspoon)
  • 1 teaspoon Knox powdered gelatin
  • 1 egg (about ¼ cup), beaten
  • ½ teaspoon salt (if making lefse as a savory side dish, add ¼ teaspoon salt more)

+ 1 gallon size Ziploc bag
– more gluten-free flour for flouring the Ziploc bag
– butter or duck/goose fat to coat the hot lefse

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Method:
  1. Place all the ingredients in a bowl of our stand mixer fitted with a hook. With a mixer on medium speed, combine everything together into a soft dough.
  2. Divide the potato dough into small balls, about 60 g (2 oz.) each. Cut off the top of a large Ziploc bag, and then cut it down the sides to open it up completely.
  3. Making the lefse: Heat up an ungreased non-stick pan over a medium heat. Place the open Ziploc bag into the tortilla press, so that one side covers the top and the other one covers the bottom plate. Flour the plastic lightly with all-purpose flour. Place one ball of potato dough between two layers of plastic and press it down with the handle to make a thin (2 mm) pancake that’s about 8 inches (20 cm) in diameter.
  4. Carefully remove the top layer of plastic, taking care not to tear the lefse. Invert the lefse onto your left hand and peel off the bottom Ziploc layer. Place the lefse on a preheated non-stick pan and cook until browned in specks on the bottom, about 1 – 1½ minutes. Turn over and cook the other side. Remove the lefse on a plate and grease it with a bit of butter/duck fat. Dust off the flour that remained in the pan and continue making the lefse in the same way, laying them on top of each other on a plate.
  5. Serve the lefse rolled up with your favorite jam, sprinkled with powdered sugar, filled with duck liver pate as an appetizer, or as a savory side dish to accompany roasted duck and braised cabbage.
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Note:

Use either russets or yellow potatoes for the dough. The potatoes need to be very cold before ricing – it is best to cook them the night before and chill them in the refrigerator. If you don’t have a potato ricer (I don’t either), you can grate the potatoes on a small-opening side of a box grater. When you mix up the potato dough and roll the balls, it is best to try to work quickly, because the potato dough gets more and more sticky with time and it’s therefore harder to work with.

 

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Braided Christmas Bread (Vianočka)

I just glanced at my calendar and realized that Christmas will be here in less than a week: five days to be exact. Yikes. Normally at this time I’d be running around like a mad woman, taking care of last minute shopping, wrapping gifts with one hand while stirring something on the stove with the other. Oh, and continuously removing dry needles from all around the house. I love to have live tree at Christmas, but I swear the amount of needles it always brings with itself is somehow far greater than the sum of needles on its branches. And they must have feet, too, because they are all over, from the living room through the bathtub to my bed even – like tiny green pointy soldiers trying to take over the world.

This year has been strangely different. I have almost no gifts to wrap, and I haven’t caught the bug that usually sends me into the pre-holiday cleaning frenzy. We don’t have the tree up yet, either – my men decided a small pre-lit tree will do just fine, but none of them is in a hurry to actually take it out and set it up. The way I see it – we might even have one of the big photo light stands that we use when photographing my food take place of the tree this year. It’s been towering in the middle of the living room for months, and if it’s still there on the 24th, I might just hang some ornaments on it and call it good.

But the surprising thing is that none of this bugs me too much – nor the dust bunnies, nor the dirty sinks, not even the lack of a tree. Yes, I’ve been baking for weeks now, but not because of the holidays approaching, or at least not because I need to have fifteen kinds of cookies by Christmas as it used to be the case not too long ago. I’ve been baking – procrastibaking you could say – because it allows me to connect with the traditions I grew up with or people that shared their cherished recipe with me, and that need to connect always grows stronger around the holidays in me. Baking is my Zen, and while I’m rolling out that dough and pressing the cookie cutter into it, I tune out the world around, all is well, and nothing can make me to lose my cool. Well, almost nothing 🙂

This braided egg-enriched bread is traditionally baked back home around Christmas time. It’s similar to brioche or Jewish Challah, and can be braided in many different ways. Unfortunately, I haven’t been gifted with any spatial skills whatsoever and the thought of having to braid nine or ten strands of dough makes my head hurt… so I leave the elaborate preparations for professionals and stick to simple three-braid bread. Vianočka is slightly sweet and mighty tasty with its buttery taste and poppy seed or almond crunch. If you’re lucky and still have some left after a day or two, it’s also said to make a great French toast and wonderful bread pudding. It never lasts more than a couple hours around here, though! This recipe makes two loaves, so I’m hoping to hide one away in the freezer for Christmas morning.

At the height of holiday stress I’d like to wish us all may our Christmas and the days leading to it be peaceful. After all those years of pre-holiday craziness I used to for the most part bring upon me myself, I’m finally starting to really *get* that Christmas isn’t about the spotless house nor the scrumptious goodies… and it’s not about what’s under the tree, either. It’s who’s around it that matters, and if you think about it that way, you probably already have all you need. Enjoy.

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Braided Christmas Bread (Vianočka)

(adapted from Nick Maglieri’s Bread)

 

Sponge:
  • 112g water, lekewarm
  • 14g (0.5 oz.) active dry yeast
  • 100g (3.5 oz.) unbleached bread flour
Dough:
  • 800 g (28 oz.) unbleached bread flour
  • pinch salt
  • 100g (3.5 oz.) unsalted butter, softened
  • 65g (2.5 oz.) light brown sugar
  • 3 large eggs + 1 egg yolk, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon zest
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • all of the sponge
  • 225g milk, lukewarm or room temperature

+ 1/2 cup raisins, soaked in 1/2 cup water & 1/2 cup rum
– 2 egg yolks, mixed with 2 tablespoons water – for egg wash
– poppy seed, slivered almonds, and pearl sugar – for sprinkling the top of the loaves

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Method:
  1. To make the sponge, combine water, yeast and flour in a bowl, and stir with a whisk until no dry flour remains. Cover and set aside in a warm spot for 20 minutes until the sponge has doubled in size.
  2. Place flour, salt, butter, sugar, eggs, egg yolk, lemon zest, and vanilla in the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with a hook. Add in all of the activated sponge, turn the machine on a low speed, and gradually pour in the milk. Knead the dough on a low-medium speed for about 8 minutes until the dough is fairly firm, smooth and elastic (If the dough seems to be too wet, add in a couple of tablespoons flour, one tablespoon at a time; if it is too dry, add in some more milk, one  tablespoon at a time). At the end mix in the rum-soaked raisins, making sure they are evenly distributed in the dough. Transfer the dough into a well-oiled bowl, cover, and let it rise in a warm spot until it doubles in volume, about 45 min. – 1 hour.
  3. Once the dough has doubled, turn it onto a lightly floured board. Divide the dough in half. Working with one half at a time, cut off 1/3 of the dough, then cut that third into thirds again. Take the larger piece of dough (the remaining two-thirds) and cut that into thirds as well. Let the dough rounds rest under a dish towel for about 10 minutes.
  4. Assembling the breads: Start working with the three larger thirds – roll each portion into a rope about 14 – 15” (35 – 38 cm) long. Place the three strands together, pinch them at the top and braid them fairly loosely together, pinching the strands at the bottom end. Set the braid on a large baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
  5. Take the three smaller dough balls and roll each into a strand that’s about 2″ (5 cm) longer than your braided loaf. Braid these three strands together, pinching the ends to seal. With rolling pin or your hand, make a small indentation in the center of the loaf on the baking sheet, and brush the indentation with a little water. Place the smaller braid on top, and tuck its ends underneath. Set aside.
  6. Make the second loaf in the same way, placing it on a second baking sheet with parchment paper.
  7. Cover both loaves and let them rise in a warm spot until they become puffy, about 30 – 45 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350 °F ( 175 °C).
  8. Just before baking, brush the loaves with egg wash (I used two coats to achieve dark golden color), and sprinkle them liberally with poppy seeds/almonds/pearl sugar, if desired.
  9. Bake the breads for about 45 minutes, until they’re golden brown, and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. (Check the loaves after 20 minutes, and if they seem to be browning too quickly, cover them with aluminum foil.)
  10. Cool the loaves on the baking sheets for couple of minutes, and then transfer them onto a wire rack to cool completely.

 

Christmas Honey Cake with Caramel Buttercream Frosting (Karamelové medové rezy)

This cake is a “must have Christmas cake” for Mr. Photographer. At least that’s what I was told by his Mother shortly before our first Christmas as newlyweds. As a consequence, not even three months after the wedding I found myself standing in the kitchen with Mom, who took it upon herself to teach me how to make it. I was terrified. I was way too young, haven’t had too much baking experience under my belt yet, and I was convinced she was going to watch me like a hawk and would ultimately deem me totally incompetent and unfit to properly care for her only son. What can I say? Insecure and paranoid young daughters-in-law don’t make it for their mothers-in-law any easier 🙂

I had trouble with everything that night: First I couldn’t roll out the dough, then I couldn’t get it onto the baking sheet. When it finished baking, I handled it too hot and it broke in two, and I had more than a few lumps in the frosting. But at the end both me and my new Mom-in-law made it through, she told me I did great, and Mr. Photographer was happy to have his Christmas cake.

Let me make something clear: Mom is great, and I’m not just saying that because there is a slight chance she might read it. There are tons of in-laws jokes built around the idea that the farther they live and the less you have to see them the better, and I suppose such jokes exist because they mirror the experience of many. I don’t have your typical harsh and less than helpful mother-in-law though. From the get-go she took me as her own, which also means that if she thinks I didn’t do something right or plan on doing something less than smart she has no qualms about telling me that. As a young wife I remember wishing she wouldn’t be quite so open in voicing her opinions and wanting her to keep a little more distance in our relationship. But you know how the saying goes – be careful what you wish for, because you might just get it. These days the distance between us is many times more than what I’d prefer, and I often find myself wishing she’d be just a little bit closer than twelve hour flight away. Over the years I came to appreciate her openness as well – she doesn’t leave me guessing and I know that what she says to me is (mostly) true 🙂

A lot has changed since that first baking session with Mom. I’ve had two babies on my own, and I’m convinced God must definitely have a sense of humor, because he gave me two sons – so that I could one day experience first-hand that being a mother-in-law to the woman your son chose to marry is not exactly an easy task. We still have our differences, Mom and me, but we’ve learned to live with them for the most part. And after surviving teenage years with my older son and being in the middle of said hell with the younger one I only feel grateful to her today. I’m glad she gave birth to Mr. Photographer and that she didn’t kill him when he was fifteen. And I’m also immensely thankful she taught him how to clean the kitchen 🙂

—–

The honey cake I’m presenting to you today is not the exact recipe Mom makes. After Mr. Photographer found out he needs to avoid gluten, we thought he might never taste his favorite cake again. Mom’s recipe calls for four layers of rolled out honey dough, and since gluten-free dough lacks gluten, the very thing that holds the dough together, it is inherently non-stretchy and very hard to roll out. After much thinking, digging and comparing recipes I came up with honey cake that uses batter instead of sheets of dough. The batter is thinner and doesn’t need to be rolled out, and I’m happy to report this recipe works in both gluten-full and gluten-free version. I’d even dare to say it’s better than the original (sorry, Mom!), because this cake is soft right away and there is no need to wait for the cake layers to soften under the frosting. The gluten-free cake turned out to be just a little softer and more porous than its standard gluten counterpart, but since gluten-free dough can often be somewhat dry and crumbly, I’ll take softer and more porous any day! The Caramel Buttercream requires a little planning, because you need to caramelize sweetened condensed milk the night before, but it is worth it, the frosting is finger-licking good!

Beware: This cake is dangerous. It literally melts in your mouth and I guarantee you won’t be able to eat just one slice. I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as we do around here!

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Christmas Honey Cake with Caramel Buttercream Frosting

Cake:
  • 600 g (21 oz.) unbleached all-purpose flour (for gluten-free version see Note)
  • 1 tablespoon baking soda
  • 300 g (10.5 oz.) unsalted butter
  • 200 g (7 oz.) powdered sugar
  • 4 tablespoons honey
  • 4 eggs
  • 100 – 150 ml (3.5 – 5 oz.) milk as needed to reach nice spreadable consistency of the batter
Caramel Buttercream Frosting:
  • 1 can (14 oz., 396 g) sweetened condensed milk
  • 6 tablespoons white sugar
  • 350 ml (11.5 oz.) milk, divided
  • 1 package KRAFT Jell-O Vanilla cook and serve pudding
  • 230 g (8 oz., 2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
Chocolate Glaze:
  • 4 oz. (113 g) Baker’s semi-sweet chocolate, broken into pieces
  • 4 oz. (113 g) unsalted butter
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Method:
  1. For the frosting, caramelize the sweetened condensed milk the night before by simply simmering the can in water for two hours in a covered pot. After two hours remove the can from water, let it cool and unopened place it in the fridge till the next day. Do not open the can while it’s hot! The next day proceed with making the recipe.
  2. To make the cake layers, place butter, powdered sugar, and honey in a small saucepan. Put the filled saucepan in a large pot and add enough boiling-hot water to reach halfway up the side of the smaller saucepan. Melt the butter/honey/sugar mixture over the water bath and set aside to cool slightly.
  3. Take four sheets of parchment paper, big enough to fit into a big baking sheet, and with pencil, trace 9 x 13 inch (22 x 33 cm) rectangle on each of them. Set aside. Preheat the oven to 350 °F (175 °C).
  4. Place flour and 1 tablespoon baking soda in a bowl of your stand mixe fitted with beater blade. With the mixer on, one by one add the eggs, mixing constantly. Lastly, add the lukewarm butter/honey/sugar mixture. Whisk the batter on a high speed, adding as much milk as to achieve a pancake consistency. Divide the batter into four equal portions.
  5. Turn one sheet of prepared parchment paper over so you’re not putting batter on the pencil markings, and with a spatula, spread one portion of the batter on the paper, covering the entire traced rectangle. Make the remaining cake layers the same way. (I usually bake one while preparing the next one.)
  6. Place the batter on the parchment onto the baking sheet and bake for about 6 minutes only – the layers are thin, so it goes quickly. Watch the cake closely, it’s ready when the edges begin to brown and the top is pale golden. Do not overbake. Let the cake cool on the parchment paper. Bake the rest of the cake layers the same way.
  7. While the cakes are cooling, prepare the Caramel frosting:  Combine 6 tablespoons sugar with 2 tablespoons water in a deep saucepan. Let the sugar mixture cook until the water evaporates and the sugar turns golden brown in color and caramelizes. Do not stir, just gently shake the pan from time to time. Take the saucepan off the flame and add 250 ml milk to the liquid caramel. The caramel will sizzle and will crystallize. Melt it again in the milk over a low heat, stirring.
  8. Mix the Jell-O Vanilla Pudding with remaining 100 ml milk until smooth. Add the mixture to the hot caramel milk and cook, stirring constantly, until very thick. Let cool to room temperature. Take the can of caramelized condensed milk out of the refrigerator and let it come to room temp as well.
  9. When the pudding is cool, whip the butter until fluffy. With the mixer still going, by tablespoons add the pudding and the caramelized sweetened condensed milk, mixing well after each addition as to not curdle the frosting. Divide the frosting into four equal parts.
  10. Assembling the cake: Place one honey cake layer on a big cutting board, and spread it with one part of the frosting. Continue layering cake and frosting, ending with the buttercream on top. Transfer the cake into the fridge to firm up the frosting before putting the chocolate glaze on top. (I chilled for about 1 hour, but you can chill the cake for several hours, up to overnight.)
  11. For the Chocolate Glaze, combine the chocolate with butter over a water bath until smooth and pourable. Let the glaze cool slightly, and then pour the glaze over the cake, spreading it nicely with a spatula. Return the cake to the refrigerator to firm up the chocolate layer.
  12. Cut off the edges of the cake, cut the cake into small squares, and serve. The cake will keep for 1-2 days in the refrigerator and it is also possible to freeze it.
Note:

To make the cake gluten-free, I subbed the all-purpose flour with gluten-free flour mix. I used Namaste Perfect Flour Blend, but I imagine any good quality flour mix would work. Please check if your blend contains either xanthan or guar gum, and if not, add roughly 1 teaspoon of xanthan/guar gum per cup (130 g, 4.5 oz.) of flour. The gluten-free batter was different than the standard gluten cake – surprisingly it was thicker and not as spreadable, but since I knew that gluten-free flour is lighter thanks to the starches I was hesitant to add more milk than the recipe calls for. As a result, spreading the batter onto the paper was a little harder; I ended up dipping the spatula in water to help spreading the batter onto the paper, just like I do when baking pizza dough. The gluten-free cakes also baked a little slower and it took them about a minute – minute and a half longer to reach the nice golden color – I suppose that would depend on the grains/starches used in your mix. And lastly, the gluten-free cake layers were rising  unevenly in the oven, forming big bubbles in the cake :-). I was convinced the cake was doomed, but I pricked the bubbles with a fork when taking the cakes from the oven, and after they cooled they looked pretty good, so all was well in the end :-). The gluten-free baking is always an adventure!

Generous Christmas Cake (Štedrý koláč, Skladaník)

This weekend folks in many parts of Europe celebrate St. Nicholas’ day. According to the all-knowing Wikipedia, St. Nicholas was a Greek bishop from Myra in today’s Turkey, and a great Christian saint. Because of many miracles attributed to his intercession he was also known as Nikolaos the Wonderworker. Growing up we used to shine our boots on St. Nicholas eve and place them by the window in hopes that St. Nicholas would leave small presents in them for us to awake to. It was without a doubt the only day out of the year when we willingly polished our shoes, which was without a doubt a miracle in itself! St. Nicholas checked his good and naughty list and rewarded each of us accordingly. As it was, the gift distribution in each boot was pretty much equal among me and my sisters and I bet all the other kids in the neighborhood: a couple of mandarin oranges, peanuts, some chocolate, and a wilted potato plus a scrap of coal to remind us to do better and try to stay out of trouble next year. I’m not sure why a tater was used as a “reward” for naughty kids (you can go ahead and punish me with potatoes every day!), but the coal was a symbol of hell in which we were to burn one day if we wouldn’t mend our ways. Just one example of the kind of positive reinforcement we grew up with! 🙂

St. Nicholas day marked the beginning of the Christmas season for us. In the coming days moms and grandmas broke out their rolling pins and cookie cutters and in kitchens and pantries started piling up all kinds of traditional cookies and sweets, often made according to generations’ old recipes. This cake is one of such Christmas desserts. There are a couple of things Slovak Christmas baking can’t be done without, namely honey, walnuts, and poppy seed, and in this cake you’ll find them all. It’s a sweet yeast cake, in which thin layers of dough alternate with layers of moist nut, poppy seed and prune filling. It is the kind of cake our grandmas used to make – simple yet scrumptious, full of perfectly balanced flavors. Making this cake takes some time, but the method is pretty straightforward: While the dough is rising, you make three kinds of sweet filling (some recipes call for a fourth additional layer of sweet farmers’ cheese), and then just roll out the dough thinly and layer it with the fillings. Finish with a coat of egg wash and bake the cake until baked through and the top is nice golden brown. Immediately after you take it out of the oven, brush it with some melted butter to keep it soft, cover it with clean towel and let it cool. I added some rum-soaked raisins to the poppy seed filling, and just the smell of vanilla, lemon peel, cloves, and cinnamon coming from the oven was enough to get me into Christmas mood!

Sometimes, cakes are not mere treats: Just like the shiny boots lined up for St. Nicholas, they can be mementos of childhood and markers of heritage, and as such, their tradition should be kept alive as long as possible! I hope you’ll give this cake a try when you’ll be in a mood for something a little different this Christmas season!

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Generous Christmas Cake (Vianočný štedrý koláč)

(adapted from http://www.mealujemto.sk)

 Dough:
  • 600 g (21 oz.) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 300 g (10.5 oz.) powdered sugar
  • 90 g (3 oz.) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 egg yolks
  • pinch salt
  • 300 ml (10 oz.) whole milk, lukewarm
  • 2 ½ teaspoon dry active yeast
  • pinch sugar
  • ½ teaspoon fresh lemon zest
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
 Poppy Seed Filling:
  • 200 g (7 oz.) ground poppy seeds
  • 100 g (3.5 oz.) white sugar
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • ½ teaspoon fresh lemon zest
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ cup milk
  • handful of raisins
  • ¼ cup spiced rum
  • ¼ cup water
Prune Filling:
  • 2 cups dried prunes
  • enough water to process the prunes to thick consistency
  • ½ teaspoon fresh lemon zest
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
Walnut Filling:
  • 200 g (7 oz.) ground walnuts
  • 100 g (3.5 oz.) white sugar
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • ½ teaspoon fresh lemon zest
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ cup milk

+ 1 egg yolk mixed with 1 tablespoon water – for egg wash
3 tablespoons melted butter – for brushing the top of the hot cake

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Method:
  1. Mix the dough: Combine 4 oz. lukewarm milk with pinch of sugar and yeast; let stand for 10 minutes to activate the yeast.
  2. Meanwhile, place all the remaining ingredients for the dough except milk in the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with a hook. When the yeast mixture looks bubbly, add it to the bowl and start mixing the dough on medium speed, gradually adding the remaining milk. Knead the dough until soft, smooth, and elastic, about 10 minutes. If the dough seems too dry, add couple tablespoons milk as needed.
  3. Transfer the dough into a well oiled bowl, cover, and let it rise in a warm spot until doubled in volume, about 45 min. – 1 hour.
  4. Prepare the fillings: To make the poppy seed filling, combine water and spiced rum in a small bowl. Add raisins, set aside, and soak until the raisins are plump. In a small saucepan, combine poppy seeds, sugar, honey, lemon zest, vanilla, and cinnamon. Warm up the mixture over a low heat, adding as much milk as to make a smooth, easily spreadable filling. Add in the rum-soaked raisins. Transfer the poppy seed filling into a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside.
  5. Prepare the walnut filling the same way as the poppy seed filling; set aside until needed.
  6.  Make the prune filling: Process all the ingredients in a high-speed blender until smooth; set aside.
  7. Assembling the cake: Line the bottom of a big and deep rectangular baking pan with parchment paper and butter the sides. (My pan is approx. 40 x 30 cm, a little less than the half-sheet pan). Preheat the oven to 350 °F (175 °C). When the dough is risen, punch it down and divide it into four equal parts. Keeping the rest of the dough covered, roll out one fourth of the dough into a thin 3 mm rectangle that fits your baking pan. Sprinkle a little flour on the surface and the rolling pin to prevent the dough from sticking if needed; I found it wasn’t necessary. Transfer the rolled out rectangle into the pan lined with parchment. Dock the dough with a fork and spread it with the poppy seed filling.
  8. Roll out the second portion of the dough and place it carefully on top of the poppy seed filling. Dock the dough with a fork and cover it with the prune filling.
  9. Roll out the third quarter of the dough, place it on top of the prune filling, dock it again with a fork and cover it with walnut filling.
  10. Roll out the last portion of the dough and place it on top. Dock it with the fork and brush it liberally with the egg wash.
  11. Bake the cake in the preheated oven for 40 – 50 min. until it’s baked through and the top is nice golden brown. Immediately after taking it out of the oven, brush the top with melted butter to keep the cake soft. Cover it with a clean dishtowel and let cool. Cut the cake into squares and serve.