Burek: stories from Croatia, Turkey, and my English kitchen

I’ve always loved burek. It was my favourite lunch treat at school. I used to have cheese burek with plain, and my best friend with strawberry yoghurt. We’d sit in the parks near our school and look at the sea. Surprised that a kid from Croatia lunches on what is by all accounts a Middle Eastern treat? Don’t be. Burek is firmly part of the eating tradition in the countries of the former Yugoslavia, a legacy of the Ottoman Empire. DSC_6413

DSC_6408   If you are yet to be introduced to this deliciousness, burek is layers of thin thin pastry, filo-like but somewhat thicker, stuffed with a variety of fillings. Cheese, meat, spinach, potatoes – these are just some of the examples. In our parts, there is even a sweet version stuffed with grated apples, probably a playful offspring of the Ottoman burek and the Central European apple strudel. To a Croatian, a burek is any of the afore-mentioned; to a Bosnian, burek is only the one made with meat, all others are simply pies (pite, or pita singular). Here bureks normally come in coils, or layered in trays (tepsije – probably from the Turkish tepsi). In Turkey, burek or börek comes in all shapes (cigars, triangles, coils, envelopes, layered larger pies, etc.), and is both baked and boiled. It is made with the thin yufka dough, or even with puff pastry.

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Semlor – Swedish sweet buns

Semla

For the last 6 years I’ve been hearing about semlor, cardamom-scented, almond-stuffed Swedish sweet buns. Semlor is plural, and semla singular. My husband goes to Sweden regularly, and usually in March. This normally involves a lot of semlor! I’ve been wanting to try them myself so much. When I visited Stockholm in autumn, they were not available, and I was gutted. There really is no other way – I shall have to make them myself, I realised. So when semlor came up as the topic of this month’s kuVarijacije, I simply had to take part!

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The Cake

The cake

For many years now, this cake has accompanied every celebration in my family home. A sponge cake, one half made with ground walnuts, the other left plain, with a filling of rum, vanilla and lemon. It is only fit that it follows my third blogiversary. 🙂 I’m sure my mum would approve.

Sorry about the atrocious photos. They were taken with very little light coming from a very weak tungsten bulb, handheld.

Mum's torte

Mum’s Walnut

Cake

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SOURCE:  Mum, recipe adapted from the one she got off a family friend

PREPARATION TIME: about 1 h

COOKING TIME: about 30 min for the filling, and 1 h for baking

CUISINE: Croatian

SERVES: A crowd!

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INGREDIENTS:

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PLAIN SPONGE

6 medium eggs

6 tbsp of sugar, heaped

10 g vanilla sugar, or 1 tsp of good quality vanilla extract

6 tbsp plain flour, heaped

6.5 g baking powder

a pinch of bicarbonate soda

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WALNUT SPONGE:

6 medium eggs

6 tbsp of sugar, heaped

10 g vanilla sugar, or 1 tsp of good quality vanilla extract

7 tbsp finely ground walnuts, heaped

2 tbsp plain flour, heaped

6.5 g baking powder

a pinch of bicarbonate soda

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FILLING:

7 dl milk (full fat, or semi-skimmed)

3 tbsp corn flour, heaped

3 tbsp flour, heaped

250 g butter, at room temperature

300 g icing sugar

20 g vanilla sugar, or 2 tsp of good quality vanilla extract

Juice of 2 lemons

2 tbsp rum, or to taste

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TO DECORATE:

About 20 – 30 whole walnut halves

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METHOD:

Note: It’s a good idea to start with the filling, so it has time to cool while you prepare the sponge cake.

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I. FILLING

1. Stir in the corn flour and plain flour into the milk, until smooth, and with no lumps.

2. Put the milk to boil, stirring constantly, avoiding lumps to form. When it thickens, leave to cool. (It’s supposed to be fairly thick, barely leaving the spoon when you tap it.)

3. Meanwhile, beat the icing sugar, butter, vanilla and lemon with an electric whisk until smooth. Add rum to taste, and possibly more lemon if you like it more lemony.

4. Combine the butter and milk mixtures, and mix well together.

5. Leave to cool again. (Mum says this makes it easier to spread later on.)

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II. SPONGE

Note: both the walnut and the plain sponge are made in the same way. Ground walnuts are added at the same time as the flour.

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1. Preheat the oven to 180 C, and grease and flour a 25 cm tin, or two. Sift the flour and baking powder and bicarbonate soda together.

2. Place the eggs, sugar and vanilla into a mixing bowl, and beat with an electric whisk until the volume doubles in size, and when you lift the mixer out of the bowl, the egg mixture that drops from it traces a ribbon on its surface.

3. Add the flour to make the plain sponge, or flour and walnuts for the walnut sponge. Fold in with the mixer turned off, and then switch the mixer back on and mix briefly, until combined.

4. Pour the mixture in to the prepared baking tin, and bake until the cake is risen, and a toothpick or skewer inserted inside it come out clean. This should take about 20 – 30 min.

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Repeat the process to make the walnut sponge, using flour and walnuts in place of flour only.

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III. ASSEMBLING THE TORTE

1. When the sponge cakes have cooled, cut them both in half, and then spread the filling on top, alternating the the brown and yellow cakes. Decorate with the remaining walnut halves, and chill.

This cake gets better with keeping, and can ‘survive’ in the fridge for about 4 – 5 days, provided it’s not eaten before that!

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Notes:

Instead of walnuts, you could use almonds or hazelnuts, but we usually use walnuts. I think the original cake might have had 1 chocolate layer, 1 walnut, one hazelnut and one plain.

The cake

Photos updated 7 May 2014.

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More sweet Croatian recipes on this blog:

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Orahnjaca (Walnut roll)

Orahnjaca or orehnjaca (pronounced ‘orahnyacha’ and ‘orehnyacha’ respectively, and with an audible ‘h’ sound, like the ‘h’ in ‘hotel’) is roll with a yeasted dough and walnut filling. I used to think it was Croatian, but it looks like I was wrong, and the similar cake is popular all over Eastern Europe.

This is my mum’s recipe. Like a lot of good things, it takes a bit of time and attention, but it’s well worth it.

One word of warning though. We don’t really cook on a small scale here, and in this case, without thinking about dividing it into portions. The recipe below yields 2 large rolls (about 36 cm long, 7 cm tall, and 10 cm wide). When the cake is baked, it is cooled (barely!) and then eaten by the whole family throughout the day, or for a few days if you’re lucky and if everyone is not at home, until it runs out. It’s not really a dessert as such, though I wouldn’t stop you if you wanted to serve it as such. I’d just say it’s better after lunch, than dinner, if the dinner is your main, big, meal.  You could think of it more as a piece of cake to eat with your morning coffee, or during the day. But whatever you do, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it!

 

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Orahnjaca (Walnut roll)

 

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SOURCE:  Mum’s recipe

PREPARATION TIME: 2 h (includes 1.30 h resting time)

COOKING TIME: about 1 h

CUISINE: Croatian

SERVES: Loads!

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DOUGH:

400 g plain flour

7 g powdered yeast

80 g butter, melted

2 large eggs

80 g sugar

2 dl warm milk

1 lemon – zest only

a little salt

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GLAZING – optional

1 egg yolk, beaten

10 g vanilla sugar

some lemon juice

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FILLING:

300 g ground walnuts

70 g sugar

1 dl boiling hot milk

2 tbsp dark rum

20 g vanilla sugar

a little lemon juice

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METHOD:

I. DOUGH

  • Warm the sifted flour slightly in the oven (on low heat). Mix in the powdered yeast and salt, and then add all the other ingredients. Stir to combine and make a soft dough.
  • Set aside until doubled in size. Mum’s special tip: Place the bowl with the dough over a bowl of warm water. That should speed it up, and it will take about an hour.

II. FILLING

  • Put the ground walnuts into a bowl and pour the hot milk over. Add all the other ingredients, and stir to combine. Set aside to cool.

III. PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER

  • When the dough has risen, divide it in half, and then roll each piece to 6 mm thickness. Divide the now cool filling in two, and spread over the dough. Roll each piece, and place onto the baking tray, leaving a large gap between the two rolls (they spread when they bake).
  • Leave to rise for 30 min.
  • Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 200 C, and butter and flour a large baking tray. Mum’s is 36 x 36 cm.
  • Before placing the rolls into the oven, you can glaze them with beaten egg yolk and lemon, and sprinkle with vanilla sugar, if you want. This is what mum does.
  • Bake the rolls for about 1 hour, or until done. Test with a skewer or a toothpick. If it comes out clean, the cake is done. Enjoy!

   

I’m submitting this to Ajme koliko nas je blogging event, hosted by Jasenka. The theme for the event is nuts.

 

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More sweet Croatian recipes on this blog:

  • Fritule (aromatic bite-sized dough balls, flavoured with lemon zest, orange zest, grape brandy (loza in Croatian) and/or dark rum, and sprinkled with icing sugar)

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Tahini and Blood Oranges Brownies on International Women’s Day

Firstly, I would like to wish you a happy International Women’s Day! I must admit I felt a sense of joy this morning, as I was exchanging text message greetings with my friends in Croatia. A feeling of sisterhood, if you like! 🙂

This day used to be widely celebrated in Croatia, in the days of communism, so yes, probably all over the former Yugoslavia. The 8 of March. Everybody knew the date, everybody knew what it was. I remember there being shows put on for mums in my primary school, and I remember shopping for presents for my mum and gifting her. One year when I was 7, I had to dress as a peacock and perform in my primary school, in front of all the mums, teachers and other kids. The costume painstakingly sown together by my mum, of course.

The fact that the day was widely celebrated doesn’t, unfortunately, mean there is no discrimination of women in my home country. Croatia is still in large parts a patriarchal society, it pains me to say. Now that we’re a Catholic country, we no longer celebrate the 8th of March. There’s Mother’s Day (in May?), but Women’s Day is not celebrated in the same way.

I remember a particular scene from Ugo Betti’s poignant play ‘Il delitto all’isola delle capre’ (‘The Crime on the Goats’ Island’) where a daughter tells her mother how perfect she thought she was, how strong, standing there proud and tall, with the sun rays in her hair. (It sounds much better in Italian, I promise, though I can’t remember the exact quote now.) And the mother responds by asking whether she ever wondered how she really felt, what she really thought, standing there, proud and tall, with the sun rays in her hair. Mothers are women, too, no? People. Humans. Not defined by this one thing only.

So happy Women’s Day! And if you’re a woman, don’t let anyone anywhere ever tell you that you are inferior to a man because you’re a woman.

Tahini brownies

As soon as I saw tahini brownies over at Joumana’s, I just had to make them! And I did, within minutes of seeing the recipe. This is probably the fastest I’ve ever made a recipe after seeing it! Seen, made, eaten, photographed. A personal record. 😀

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While photographing these brownies, I discovered that my under cupboard lights are perfect for food photography, soft and warm. It was like having a mini-studio! These were also the first food photos I shot in the fully manual mode, so a little milestone for me! Previously, I used aperture priority control, but this is much better! That’s my red splash back that you can see in the background in the photo below.

brownies 2

And what were they like? Perfect! Fudgy and crumbly, with a haunting nutty sesame flavour. The recipe calls for orange juice, and I used the juice of blood oranges, which have an ever-so slightly bitter, berry like flavour, less acidic than regular oranges. It worked a treat, and the end result had a fairly complex, bewitching flavour and gorgeously soft and fudgy texture. And did you know they are vegan?!

 

Tahini & Blood Orange Brownies

 

SOURCE: Maryline via Joumana

PREPARATION TIME: about 10 – 15 min

COOKING TIME: 20 min

CUISINE: Unknown

SERVES: 6 – 8

 

INGREDIENTS:

  • 100 g of good quality dark chocolate, preferably 70% cocoa
  • 150 g of tahini (don’t forget to stir the jar before pouring)
  • 150 g of plain flour
  • 1 heaped tsp of baking powder
  • 120 – 150 g of icing sugar (150 makes it fairly sweet, it’s up to you!)
  • 150 g of freshly squeezed juice of blood oranges, around 3 medium but juicy oranges. (Joumana says you can also use a combination of rum and orange juice)
  • Pinch of salt (optional, but I like adding it to cakes)
  • Baking parchment for lining the tin (Joumana recommends it, and I agree. The brownies are very sticky!)

 

METHOD:

  1. Preheat your oven to 180 C, cut the baking parchment to fit your tin. I used a round, 25 cm tin.
  2. Break the chocolate into small, even pieces and put it in a large pyrex bow. Melt the chocolate in the microwave, or over a bowl  of hot water. Either way, use low heat.
  3. Mix in the tahini and orange juice, add the icing sugar, and combine thoroughly.
  4. Sift in the flour and baking powder over the mixture and fold thoroughly.
  5. Line your baking tin with parchment, and pour the batter, spreading it as evenly as possible with a spatula. Bake the brownies for 20 min. Serve warm or cold, and enjoy!

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NOTES: They are gorgeous! Possibly even better than my previous Spedilicious Brownies!

Next time, I’ll use less sugar, as 150 g was a bit too sweet for me. Also, I’ll try using different nut butters. Almond springs to mind! Hey, we can even try using white chocolate instead! How about white chocolate, almond butter and lemon juice (diluted with water), with pistachios? The creative possibilities are endless!

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I know there’s not much difference between the these two photos, but I just couldn’t decide which one I prefer. What you think?

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