As a birthday present to myself, I dragged my less than enthusiastic family to Huerta Los Tamarindos yesterday for a day of cooking. Los Tamarindos is an organic farm, restaurant and cooking school in San Jose Del Cabo, Mexico. We spent the day on the farm touring the fields, learning about organic farming and cooking a Mexican meal with produce picked fresh that morning. I thought it was pretty special.
Los Tamarindos is run by couple Enrique and Lulu, who’ve lived and worked on the farm for over a dozen years. Last year they were featured on the Rick Bayless cooking show on PBS, Mexico- One Plate at a Time.
Enrique spent the day with our group of 18, starting off the morning lecturing about the farm and how the crops are grown, fertilized and sprayed frequently with all natural pesticides such as pepper oil. For the number of people who spend the day tending the garden, there was a surprising amount of weeds.
We spent the next few hours chopping garlic and herbs, slicing vegetables, and watching Enrique cook the meal in the outdoor kitchen. I could tell by their expressions that the kids were thrilled to be put to work. I discovered that my husband has a hidden talent for chopping; it will be put to good use from now on.
The weather was perfect, as is usual here in Los Cabos, and the food was flavored with subtle Mexican spices; when we finally sat down to eat 5 hours after arriving, we gobbled it right up. Our menu was simple:
- Roasted Cherry Tomato Soup
- Green Salad with Candy Cane Beets
- Roasted Vegetables (zucchini, eggplant, carrots, tomatoes)
- Rice and Chicken Mole
- Dulce De Calabaza
I’ll post the recipes for the chicken and dessert next week. The chicken is actually very similar to Chicken Paprikash.
Slovak plum dumplings are a fine late summer dessert made with those slender little Damson plums you sometimes find at the farmer’s market. Choux pastry is stuffed with the grape sized plums, boiled and then served with a dusting of sugary poppy seeds, toasted bread crumbs and melted butter. The dish takes less than 20 minutes to make, start to finish. In Slovakia you’ll find people may eat them as a meal instead of dessert.
- 12 small plums
- 1/4 cup black poppy seeds
- 1/4 cup bread crumbs
- 2 tbsp melted butter
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 1 cup milk
- 2 tbsp butter
- pinch of salt
- 1 cup all purpose flour
- 1 egg
Heat the milk and butter until hot, then sprinkle in the salt and flour, slowly mixing it in until a paste. Remove from heat, then beat in the egg until the dough pulls from the sides of the pot, and is shiny. When cool to the touch, roll out about 12 golf ball sized balls of dough.
Flatten a dough ball and place a plum in the middle of it, then pinch the dough around it and roll it in the palm of your hands to make it round again. You can pit the plums first if you like. Continue with the other plums and dough balls.
Boil a pot of water and place the dumplings in the water, plucking them out when they rise to the top of the pot, within 2-3 minutes.
Roll the dumplings in the melted butter, then in the sugar and bread crumbs. Serve them on a plate and sprinkle with ground poppy seeds (I toasted them first and then used a mortar and pestle to grind them). Slovaks use black poppy seeds, but this time I used white as that’s all I had on hand.
Jan was sound asleep in his bed when the ship he was sailing on began to vibrate violently, jolting him awake. He and the five other men in his berth awoke to find the ship fully lit, and a cold chill enveloping the room. Strangely, the heat was off and the ship was travelling faster than it ever had in the three days since it left port. His room was usually quiet but on this night he could hear a loud commotion in the boiler room. Urgent voices yelled back and forth a midst raucous clanging and banging.
Jan sprang to his feet and made his way to the deck where he joined dozens of other curious passengers and where the awful truth was soon made apparent. Another passenger ship had sunk in the frigid waters, and the Carpathia was hurriedly making its way to the rescue.
It was not unusual for Slovaks such as Jan Bohuš to travel back and forth from North America to the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the early 1900′s. Nearly all of the 550 trans-Atlantic passengers on the Carpathia’s third class roster that night were “birds of passage,” more migrant workers than immigrants who had originally come from impoverished villages in Central Europe to find work in the United States, and who were traveling back home to visit family laden with a few goods and some hard earned cash. Most fully intended to eventually move back to their villages, and to settle down on land bought with money earned in the slave-like conditions of the mines and factories of the States. Most never did.
Crew members scurried around the ship, preparing rooms for survivors, collecting blankets, preparing soup and hot drinks, and turning the dining rooms into makeshift hospitals. Jan and the other passengers were moved together in a group, away from the hectic activities.
At 4am, the Carpathia’s engines were cut off, and a dead silence descended. Passengers on deck along with the crew strained to see something, anything, in the water around them. Finally a crew member saw a green glow coming from a flare in a lifeboat, and the ship carefully made its way towards the light. Ten minutes later Jan watched as the first survivor was hoisted onto the Carpathia; over the next four and a half hours, 711 more would be pulled aboard.
There wasn’t enough food on board for the Carpathia to continue on its way to Fiume, Hungary (now Rijeka, Croatia) with all the additional passengers, and so the ship turned around and four days later pulled back into the the Hudson River port in NYC.
Jan and the other third class passengers hung out on the ship for the next few days, enjoying three good meals a day in their own private dining room and freshly washed sheets each day; life was better on the ship than on land for most of these passengers. Finally the Carpathia set sail again, and enjoyed an uneventful voyage to Hungary.
Buried in Pauline’s book of cake recipes lies the famous Zacherova Torta, more popularly known as the Sacher Torte, named after its inventor. As with each of Pauline’s cakes, I approached this recipe by first carefully researching its origins.
As best I can tell, the cake originated in 1832 in the Austrian Empire. Prince Klemens Metternich was hosting a dinner for some very important guests. He was a stuffy, sullen old man, worried that his empire was about to collapse, and so in preparation for this elaborate affair the Prince demanded of his pastry chef, “Let there be no shame on me tonight!” As soon as he stated this, his pastry chef, quaking in his boots, fell ill, and promptly placed his 16 year old apprentice, Franz Sacher, in charge. Franz apparently rose to the occasion and whipped up a cake that was a smashing success.
Franz went on to bake for several more decades, constantly revising the cake, baking first in Bratislava, and then in Budapest. His son Eduard joined him and he too continued to work on improving the cake, first at Demel bakery and eventually at his own hotel in Vienna, the Hotel Sacher. His cigar smoking wife, Anna, said to be quite the hotelier, worked hard to promote the cake, making it famous throughout Europe. But by 1930, Anna was dead (lung cancer?) and a few years later the hotel fell into bankruptcy and changed hands. Eduard went back to Demel and began to sell the Sacher Torte from there.
The exact ingredients and cake assembly instructions have never been published. We do know that Demel’s version of the chocolate cake contains two layers of cake, each spread with apricot jam and iced with a chocolate ganache; the hotel’s version has only one layer. In 1938 a lawsuit ensued between the two places that went on for decades over the rights to the cake and its name.
It was around the time of Anna’s demise, however, that the super secret Sacher Torte recipe fell into Pauline’s hands. I was so excited, believing that I alone held the recipe that had been under lock and key in a guarded Viennese vault (I imagine) for more than a century.
Further research turned up another variation of the cake, the Sacher Masoch Torte, made with red current jelly and a marzipan coating. This cake was named after Leopold Von Sacher-Masoch, the 19th century writer of the Austro Hungarian Empire who penned Venus in Furs, a novel based on his real life affair with Baroness Fanny Pistor. They travelled to Venice by train in 1869, she in first class, he in 3rd , Leopold as her willing slave who asked only that she wear furs while treating him very badly. The term “masochist” was later coined after him. (A little more digging turned up the fact that his great, great niece is Marianne Faithful, of Rolling Stones fame. Cake research turns up the most interesting stories).
I then went to YouTube and proceeded to watch the BBC’s master chef, the imitable Mary Berry, expertly whip up her version of the Sacher Torte. Mary explained that the base was a Genovese cake, filled with melted chocolate, whipped egg whites, beaten yolks and ground almonds. Her cake looked chocolatey, rich and mouth wateringly delicious. Mary warned us that this cake was difficult to make, however.
Armed with this information, I finally turned to Pauline’s recipe, ready to whip up the ultra secret Sacher Torte, intrigued to learn the mysterious ingredients and, I confess, to one up Miss Mary Berry.
Hmmm. I scanned the recipe and saw that most of the ingredients were the same as Mary’s. Except, there was no chocolate. And Pauline’s recipe had the egg whites whipped with flour and sugar and baked, like an angel food cake. The egg yolks were not folded into the batter but instead were to be cooked with sugar into a custard on the stove, and then spread inside and on top of the cake. She instructed slivered almonds to be sprinkled on top.
This must have been a very early version of the Sacher Torte, I thought, or perhaps it’s yet another variation, perhaps named after a lily white, virginal Slovak cousin of Franz Sacher’s.
Puzzled, I soldiered on with Pauline’s version of the Sacher Torte. I was kind of bummed; all this research on the deliciously dense chocolate cake had me excited. An egg white cake, not so much.
I separated the eggs and proceeded to whip the egg whites into a frenzy (Pauline’s words). As I carefully slid in the sugar and flour however, the egg whites quickly deflated and became a wet mess. Undaunted, I poured it down the drain and pulled out a carton of egg whites from the fridge and started over. This time, the egg whites wouldn’t whip at all. Down the drain these six egg whites went, and again I tried with 6 more, this time being super careful to make sure the bowl and attachment were clean and dry. Whipped again; same result. By now, I was a bit flustered. My egg whites always whipped up easily; what was wrong with me? The entire carton of egg whites was empty, so I turned to my remaining whole eggs. I was determined the egg whites wouldn’t beat me, and I was going to make this cake come hell or high water. Finally, my FOURTH batch of egg whites whipped up nicely, and I folded in the remaining ingredients and baked the damn cake.
I turned next to the egg yolks. Pauline said simply to beat them with fine sugar on the stove until thick, and then to spread it between the cake layers and on top. I figured that egg yolks would curdle easily, so I stirred and stirred the egg yolks on a double boiler. Minutes ticked by, and the eggs just remained there, bright yellow and now frothy, but not thick. One custard recipe said to make sure the temperature didn’t rise about 80 degrees Celsius, and so when it reach that temperature I took it off the stove. Still not thick. I cooled it in the fridge. Still watery. I put it back on the stove and stirred for 10 more minutes. Marginally thicker. Back in the fridge for ½ hr. No change. This time I boldly put the bloody egg yolks directly on the burner and cranked it up high. Finally, after surging past 100 degrees Celsius, the yolks began to thicken and I had custard.
By now, I had been baking for 5 laborious hours, been through 2 dozen eggs and I really didn’t care how the cake turned out. Besides, it wasn’t chocolate, and it certainly wasn’t worth keeping a secret over. Mary won.
Pauline’s Zacherova Torta Recipe:
Mix together well 6 egg-whites with 15 dg (3/4 cup) of sugar, 2 spoonfuls of cream, 15 dg (1 ¼ cups) of flour into a frenzy and bake at 350 degrees F for 35 minutes. Cook 6 egg-yolks with 15 dg ( ¾ cup) of fine sugar, until it thickens; split it in the middle, fill it and also smear it on top, and then sprinkle it with almonds that were cut it into long strips.
Pauline’s husband Jerry was an entrepreneur, always scheming up get rich quick ideas. Some worked; most didn’t. Jerry was tall and handsome with a deep, commanding voice that always intimidated me growing up. A Canadian immigrant from Yugoslavia, he spoke five languages, including English, Russian and his native Slovak, and was quite brilliant, if not completely dependable. He was a gifted engineer, often inventing machines and other gizmos; one year he invented a contraption that dried and seeded peppers to make paprika from (one of his successes), and another time he built commercial meat grinders from scratch. He sold several even though they never did quite work. Jerry was also an excellent salesman.
One December in the late 1940′s, Jerry had another one of his brilliant ideas. He said to his sons, “They celebrate Christmas in Florida, don’t they? Well, I bet they don’t have Christmas trees down there.” The next thing the family knew, Jerry had spent their last dollars purchasing trees from the nearby Kubinec farm, arranged for a train from Windsor, Ontario to Miami, Florida and loaded up three boxcars full of freshly cut Canadian evergreens.
His son Milan, no older than 8 or 9 at the time, and Jerry then jumped into the old Buick and raced down to Florida to meet the train. Along the way they stopped in Georgia at a roadside stand and bought a box of oranges and a pecan pie. Milan soon ate nearly every orange in the box until he could eat no more, and to this day he cannot stand the sight of an orange. (However, he says pecan pie is still his favorite).
Milan and Jerry greeted the train’s arrival a few days later, dollar signs dancing in their heads. With great anticipation they swung open the doors to the first boxcar. Inside were crisp, brown Christmas trees; Jerry had neglected to refrigerate the cars, and nearly all of the trees were now suited for not much more than kindle. Shoulders sunk, they dragged themselves back to the car, dejected.
After a few moments of gloomy silence, Jerry perked up and started the car. He drove around until he found an empty lot beside a seedy real estate office and negotiated a deal with the rather shady manager. Renting a truck, father and son soon hauled the crispy trees from train to lot, placing the driest trees in the middle, and the greenest evergreens around in front. And then Jerry left little Milan there alone to sell the trees, and off he went.
A little while later, Milan had to relieve himself and decided to go to the real estate office to find a toilet, leaving the trees unattended. He entered the building, and not seeing anyone in the office, timidly walked towards a door where a leather jacket hung, thinking it was the bathroom. Pushing the door open a bit, instead he found another office with a large desk, and upon the desk, the secretary. She was lying there, buck naked. Above her stood the sleazy manager, pants down, lust filling his eyes. Milan stared, motionless, and they both turned and stared back. No one moved for what seemed like an eternity. Finally, glaring, the manager hitched up his pants and took a step towards the door; Milan took a few steps back and then ran as fast as he could. It was a quick immersion in sex education.
Jerry finally returned a few hours later, and was chagrined to find that few trees had been sold. With their meager earnings in hand, they abandoned the trees, jumped in the car and drove off. The two soon arrived at the airport where they parked the car and Jerry strode purposely into the terminal, Milan following quickly behind, wondering what was going on.
Moments later they were boarding a helicopter and heading off to Cuba where they would spend the next two weeks. In typical form, Jerry had decided that since they were all the way down to Miami, they might as well make the best of the situation, and since he had always wanted to see Cuba, now seemed as good a time as any. On the first evening of their arrival in Cuba, Jerry headed out on the town for the evening (as he would do every night for the entire trip) leaving young Milan scared and alone in the dumpy hotel room, and saying, as his hand turned the knob on the door, that as long as Milan kept the door locked, he’d be safe.
Milan doesn’t remember much more of the trip except for how tasty the roasted, pulled pork sandwiches were. The rest of the family, stuck back home in Canada for the holidays, remembers a very cold Christmas with no presents and little money. But the story does get a good laugh today.
If you’ve been to Prague, you’ve probably seen Trdelnik rotating over an open fire in the main square near the famous clock tower. Tredelnik is not Czech, however, but Slovak in origin. The earliest recipe for the sweet pastry was found dating back to 1783 in the western Slovak city of Skalica by Hungarian count, poet and chef, Jozefa Gvadániho. By the late 19th century its production had been commercialized and Tredelnik began to appear for sale at fairs and festivals across the Austro Hungarian Empire.
Trdelnik is a flaky dessert rolled in nuts and roasted over an open fire. It’s crunchy on the outside and soft in the inside, with a distinct smoky flavor. You could make it yourself on the BBQ if you have a rotisserie attachment for chicken.
- 1 kg flour
- 1 package yeast
- 5 large eggs
- 2 egg whites
- 1/4 cup milk
- pinch of salt
- pinch of nutmeg
- pinch of lemon zest
- 1/2 cup chopped walnuts or almonds or bits of dried apricot
- vegetable oil
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 package vanilla sugar
- 1/4 cup powdered sugar
- Proof the yeast in warmed milk and a 1/4 tsp sugar
- Mix into the yeast the flour, sugar, eggs, salt and other spices
- Work into a fine dough and then left at room temperature to rest for 1/2 hr with a cloth over it
- Divide the dough into 6 pieces weighing 250g to 500g
- Roll out each piece into a long log about 1 inch round, and then wind the dough around a 2 inch diameter wooden bob
- Brush with beaten egg white and then roll in the nuts
- Roast over an open fire, continuously rotating the bob until toasted golden brown
- Allow to cool a bit, then sprinkle on the vanilla sugar, castor sugar and dust with powdered sugar
This is one very old family recipe that I have finally tackled on my own, and I am so excited to say that I did it. I actually did it! I made apple strudel with my own home made near paper thin phyllo pastry. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so triumphant baking something before. Pauline and I used to make it centuries ago at her dining room table, stretching and stretching the dough until it reached across the table end to end. It was so thin you could read a newspaper through it.
Okay, so mine today wasn’t that thin, but it was close. And it didn’t exactly reach across the table end to end, but it did stretch quite far. For a first solo try I didn’t do too badly. When I attended a baking course at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris a couple of years ago, the French chef marveled at the women of Eastern and Central Europe who still made the pastry by hand, a dying art, he said. Well, I’m here to keep it going.
I apprenticed a couple of weeks ago with Dada, Pauline’s cousin, in Dolny Kubin, Slovakia and learned a few tricks. First, you need an old table cloth that is only ever used to make the strudel. Dada’s is worn and pilled, which she informed me with a straight face that it adds texture to the strudel. When she was done making her pastry, the tablecloth was spotless. Mine was filled with crumbs and grease spots. Adds texture, I told myself.
Dada uses apples that grow on trees in her front yard. Decades ago her house was moved from the forest where her mother grew up in it, and moved into the town of Dolny Kubin where she lives with her apple trees and 2 huge, ferocious sounding German Shepherd dogs. Left over apple cores are dried and used to make tea. The dough that is clipped from the edges is used to make dumplings with in garlic soup.
Ingredients – Filling
- Peel and core 8-9 crispy apples (Granny Smith, Honey Crisp or Macintosh are good choices); sprinkle with lemon juice to keep from turning brown
- 1 tbsp cinnamon
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1/3 cup bread crumbs (I used a slice of whole grain bread, crumbled and toasted)
- 1/2 stick butter, melted
- 1-2 tbsp lemon juice
- 2 cups flour, such as King Arthur Unbleached Pastry Flour, which is the silky smoothness you need (I used all purpose)
- 2/3 cup water
- 1 egg
- pinch of salt
- 1 tbsp lard, melted (I used pork fat)
- juice from 1/2 lemon
- Take a medium pot and turn it upside down on a burner set to low to heat it up inside
- Place the flour on a cutting board, sprinkle with salt and make a well in the center
- Crack an egg into the center, and pour in the water, fat and squeeze in the lemon
- Mix with a fork until blended, and then turn onto a floured board to knead until soft and smooth and no longer sticky, about 1-3 minutes
- Flatten the mound of dough and place on the cutting board, and place the hot pot on top of it, covering it. Leave for 1/2 hr.
- Take the warmed dough and place on a clean tablecloth on a small, cleared table sprinkled with flour
- Roll out the dough until about 18×18 inches, then start to stretch it out in the middle by placing your hands underneath the dough and pulling gently
- Working around the table, keep pulling the dough longer and longer. Don’t worry about the shape, and don’t rip the dough, at least not in the middle
- When the dough is see through (takes about 5 minutes of stretching), take some scissors and snip off the thick dough around the edges
- Preheat the over to 350 degrees
- Scatter 1/4 cup melted butter across the pastry
- Scatter about the bread crumbs, then the sugar and cinnamon
- Slice the apples about 1/4 inch and scatter across the pastry (I messed up and spread apple chunks. Oh, well.)
- Sprinkle again with 1/4 cup melted butter and squeeze on the 1/2 lemon juice
- Taking the edge of the tablecloth on one side, and gently roll the dough over itself forming a log
- Brush the first roll with melted butter and roll again, buttering the next roll and so on to the end
- Carefully transfer the log onto a greased cookie sheet and brush with melted butter
- Slide into the oven and bake for 15 minutes
- Brush the log with a mix of melted butter and hot milk and return to the oven and bake for another 15 minutes until golden brown
- Remove from the over and douse with one final butter/milk blend
- Cover with a cloth and let it sit for 15 minutes
- Slice into 1 inch slices, sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve