Today’s recipe challenge from Pauline’s own cookbook is Syrovy Lepnik, containing a few simple ingredients – flour, egg yolks, lemon, butter and cheese. But her recipe is exasperatingly short on process, and a search through cookbooks and the Internet has found nothing quite like Pauline’s recipe. I’ve translated syrovy to cheese, but, what the heck is “lepnik”?
Some of her pastry ingredients are found in rich shortcrusts – pastry usually made with an egg yolk and sugar. For this savory recipe, however, Pauline ups the egg yolks, adds a strong zing of lemon and omits the sugar. Using her ingredients and measures, I’ve decided to follow the traditional rich shortcrust method to make and form her crust.
Pauline’s recipe calls for simply spreading cheese on the crust and baking it. Since she’s from Pivnica, I am assuming it’s a soft, creamy cheese with a consistency of sheep’s cheese, like Tvaroha, which my relatives in Pazova introduced me to last spring. Vojvodina’s cheese stores had displays-full of flavorful creamy sheep, goat and cow cheeses like this, and not many hard cheeses at all.
I’ve decided to make the recipe with a slightly more interesting filling – call it a Slovak cheescake, if you will, with carmelized onions, pureed cauliflower and a custard thrown in with the cheese. You can find a similar one at the New York French restaurant, Balthazar, called the Goat Cheese Tart. The cauliflower cuts the saltiness of the cheese and adds a nice nutty flavor to the dish. I must say, I impressed myself immensely on the first take of this recipe; usually I have to try it two or three times to get it right.
- 2 sticks (1 cup) butter (250g), cold
- 2 1/4 cups flour (300g)
- 4 egg yolks
- pinch of salt
- grated peel from 1/2 lemon
- juice from 1/2 lemon
- 2 cups cheese
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup soft cheese, like Tvaroha or Bryndza (here in the US, I use a similar Israeli feta cheese by Pastures of Eden, found at Trader Joe’s)
- 1 cup cream cheese
- 1/2 head cauliflower
- 2 sweet onions, sliced thinly
- sprig of fresh thyme
- white pepper
- bay leaf
- In a standing mixer, add the flour, salt and lemon peel, and mix briefly
- Mix the egg yolks with the lemon juice, then add in to the flour, mixing until incorporated
- Cut the butter into 1/2 inch slices, and quickly mix into the flour until it resembles coarse cornmeal
- With your hands, gently gather the flour mixture into a dough, and form into a ball.
- Flatten the ball into a smooth disk, and cover with plastic wrap and refridgerate for at least an hour
- Roll out into a circle about 1/4 inch thick, and place into a tart pan with fluted edges
- Press into the tin, and trim the edges
- Prick the dough and line it with beans to weigh it down, then bake for 15-20 minutes at 350 degrees
- For Pauline’s recipe, spread the bottom of the pastry with 2 cups of creamy cheese and bake for another 10-15 minutes
- For my version, carmelize the onions in the olive oil (takes about 45 minutes, on low), with the sprig of thyme and bay leaf
- Discard the herbs, and spread the onion on the bottom of the cooled tart
- Boil the cauliflower florets for 10 minutes, then puree
- Mix together the cheeses with the cauliflower puree, eggs and pepper and pour onto the onion mix
- Bake for 20 minutes