The most favorite dessert amongst Shuster family members is probably Krempita, a delicate creamy concoction made by Pauline for special occasions. In order to achieve the right taste and flaky crust, no shortcuts (like using store bought puff pastry) should be taken.
Krempita is a Serbian name that literally translates to “cream pie.” It consists of two layers of flaky pastry filled with a vanilla custard and sprinkled with a dusting of icing sugar. The French version has three pastry layers, an almond flavored custard and sometimes a ribbon of raspberry jam; the top is decorated by a vanilla and chocolate or pink icing or fondant with a distinct jagged pattern.
We had been having trouble perfecting the pastry recipe that Pauline’s son wrote down while watching her make it over 30 years ago; it would turn out hard and tasteless, or other times, too buttery. I turned to Zelka in Australia, whose mother had the same Pivnica recipe and similar results. Zelka provided another recipe for the pastry that turned out perfect (below). In Australia Krempita are called Custard Slices or more often, Snot Blocks. I am pretty sure a male came up with this name.
The custard is simple to make and doesn’t take long. The pastry is another story. It takes about 2 hours to make, start to finish – it’s not difficult if you carefully follow the recipe, but it is time consuming. Keep the butter cold, and don’t let the butter dough become incorporated into the other dough – the layers of butter are what will make the pastry flaky. Plan on serving the Krempita the day you make it, otherwise the custard makes the bottom layer of pastry soggy.
Ingredients for dough 1:
- 1 and 1/4 cups plain flour
- 2 egg yolks
- pinch of salt and a pinch of sugar
- 1 tablespoon vinegar
- a bit of warm water as needed
Ingredients for dough 2:
- 2 cups butter
- 2/3 cup flour
- 4 1/4 cups whole milk
- 8 eggs, separated
- 2 tsp vanilla
- 6 tbsp flour
- 8 tbsp sugar, plus 4 more
- icing sugar for dusting in top
Method for dough 1:
Into the sifted flour, place the egg yolks, salt, sugar, white vinegar and a touch of water and knead the dough; it will be a bit hard and it will seem like a small amount of dough. Allow it to rest a little and then roll it out into a small rectangle. While it is resting prepare the 2nd dough.
Method for dough 2:
Onto a kneading board, sift the flour. Place the butter into the flour (make sure the butter is not straight out of the fridge, but is still cool). Combine the 2 ingredients together so there are not lumps of either flour or butter but a smooth texture. Form it into a block shape, wrap in plastic and place in the fridge for 30 minutes.
Method to make the pastry:
Place the block of butter dough onto half of the rolled out egg dough and fold the other half of the egg dough over the block of butter. Press down the edges of the egg pastry and then roll it out into a larger rectangle. The fold the left end into the centre and the right end into the centre. Fold the top end into the centre and then the bottom end into the centre. You will have a block again and allow this to rest for 30 minutes, wrapped in the fridge. Then roll out the pastry again into a rectangle and fold it four times again, from left into centre, then right into centre, top into centre and bottom into centre, rest it again for 30 minutes in the fridge, wrapped, and repeat this process one more time. The third time roll the pastry out to the size you need, making sure you get two sheets the same size from the one pastry. The two pastry sheets need to be slightly larger than the tray as it will shrink slightly. Place each pastry onto a tray that has no edges and prick the top of both pastries with a fork all over. Bake in a hot oven about 400 degrees for 10-15 minutes or so and when almost done reduce the heat to 300 degrees for a little longer until the sheets are golden but not burnt or dark in color.
Place the krem filling over one pastry and then top with the other. To cheat with the cutting technique, the Pivnica ladies would cut the base pastry before they put the cream fill onto it and also would cut the top pastry in the same manner. When they placed the krem on top, they would then assemble the top pastry over the krem and when it came to cutting the krempita, the pastry was pre-cut and it was easy to slice through the creamy custard krem. Dust the top layer with sifted icing sugar or mix the icing sugar with a few drops of water and drizzle it on the pastry.