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
One recent day in Dolny Kubin we were pleasantly surprised to be treated to cake for lunch, apparently a common dish for a midday meal in Slovakia. Žemlovka is the Slovak version of french toast, baked into a cake. It’s not too sweet and can be assembled and baked well ahead of serving time. You can serve it hot right out of the oven or cold the next day. The cake can be filled with a variety of fruits such as apple, blueberries or plums. My kids would love it with chocolate instead of fruit, drizzled with warm maple syrup on Christmas morning.
- 4-5 6 inch day old European style white buns
- 4 cups milk or mixture of milk and half and half
- 2 eggs, separated
- 2 cups soft Slovak tvorah cheese, or farmer’s cheese in North America (grudgingly, ricotta might do in a pinch)
- 2 cups fruit or jam
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1/3 cup powdered vanilla sugar
- Preheat the over to 350 degrees
- Grease a deep, large rectangular cake pan
- Break up the bread into 1 to 2 inch chunks and place in a large bowl
- Heat the milk on the stove until hot
- Cool the milk for a few minutes, then beat in 2 egg yolks
- Pour the milk mixture over the bread chunks (no need to soak them)
- Lay half the bread in the pan
- Mix the sugar with the cheese
- Spread the bread with 1/2 the cheese mixture
- Spread most of the fruit over the cheese – peeled and sliced apples or a fruit jam
- Place on the second layer of bread
- Bake for about 40 minutes until it starts to turn golden
- While baking, whip the egg whites to a stiff peak with a bit of sugar
- Remove the cake from the over and spread the whipped egg whites (meringue) on top
- Return to the oven for another 15 -20 minutes until the meringue on top is golden
Days of eating our way through Europe had finally caught up with us. We’d been wined and dined across Slovakia, filling ourselves with Golden Pheasant beer, my great aunt Dada’s apple strudel and plum dumplings, halusky, salty korbáčiky cheese and mile high pieces of zemlovka, a savory cake baked with layers of custard-like french toast, tvorah cheese, meringue and blueberry jam (recipe on its way soon). We’d eaten like royalty and were now suffering the consequences.
Our destination on this warm fall day was the Prague Castle, across the Charles Bridge and up a few hundred steps. The five of us began trudging up the endless steps and I soon lagged behind, a teensy bit out of breath. “Go ahead”, I urged the others as I stopped to
rest take pictures. I claimed the burden of my small black clutch purse was too heavy to carry, blaming the weight on a newly purchased t shirt my husband had jammed into it. I had been feeling a bit peckish, and so grudgingly my betrothed walked back down to me and took the dainty purse as we kidded him about the security of his manhood.
My cousin Martinka encouraged us along by telling us about the magnificent sites to be seen from the top. After an interminable number of minutes of huffing and puffing, we reached the summit. And there at the top of the hill, lined against the wall in all their glowing natural beauty, were 42 young, nubile women dressed in evening gowns, sashes swathed across their chests.
We stood there, breathless, and took in the spectacular views. Of Martinka’s city of course, spread out before us over the stone wall. At least I tried to see Prague, but the view was largely blocked by these young women three feet in front of us who had obviously NOT been eating like royalty lately.
Jozef, our host, took a deep breath and sucked in his gut. Nick, my husband, said to me in a low voice “I cannot believe that I am standing here, right now, carrying your purse.”
I am away in Europe eating through every market and pekarina. Enjoy the daily picture postings here on Pauline’s Cookbook on Facebook.
Living in Leamington her whole adult life, Pauline knew a thing or two about cooking with tomatoes. Leamington is the tomato capital of Canada with the Heinz Ketchup plant dominating the center of town, and miles of field tomatoes grown up and down Seacliff Drive along the lake. Pauline stuffed her tomatoes with rice and ground meat, flavored with ruddy paprika. Or she stuffed peppers and cabbage rolls with a meaty tomato sauce.
I’ve been attempting to make her rich tomato sauce ever since, and I thought I would share some of the secrets I’ve learned, not necessarily from Pauline, but from the Italian tomato farmers in Leamington, my tomato crazy family and from famous chefs.
The Tomato. The type of tomato you use will dictate the type of sauce you will end up with. Carl in Leamington recommends Roma, and I have to agree. The oblong tomatoes are meaty with few seeds, a thin skin, and impart their liquid only once in the pan. At Le Cordon Bleu in Paris we used regular tomatoes, and we briefly boiled them to easily remove the skins. We then seeded and quartered them – far too much work, in my opinion, and too much loss of nutrients. Take the Romas and simply quarter them, removing the small core at the one end if you like. The large chunks will cook down into a thick sauce. Use only tomatoes ripened on the vine. Did you know that the uniform tomatoes you buy at the grocer’s are sprayed with a chemical to turn green tomatoes red?!
The Base. The French and Pauline used chopped onions and garlic sauteed in olive oil until translucent. Giada De Laurentiis uses diced onion, celery and carrots. I actually prefer Giada’s, as it provides a deeper flavor to the sauce, and is healthier. Use home grown or farmer’s market celery and you will notice a tremendous difference in the flavor. The celery is darker than the anemic, flavorless sticks you buy at the store, with a much more peppery, lemongrass flavor that will make the sauce velvety and rich. I also add chopped celery leaves, a part of the stalk rarely used in cooking (it’s also great to use when making your own stock).
Neutralizing the Acidity. Sea salt usually does the trick – a teaspoonful of salt mid way through the cooking will balance out the flavor and make the sauce less bitter. Giada uses a spoonful of sugar which I’ve also tried, but the kids noticed that the sauce tasted sweeter. I’ve also used a couple of tablespoons of butter added near the end to smooth out the flavor of the tomatoes. You need to add one of these ingredients though, or the sauce will be too tart.
Flavor. As I mentioned earlier, the right celery will do wonders to the flavor. I also add a bay leaf to the simmering pot, and about 3 minutes before I serve it, I add a handful of freshly chopped herbs – parsley, basil, thyme, and/or oregano. Salt and pepper too, and sometimes I’ll add a few dashes of balsamic vinegar which makes a nice syrupy addition to the sauce. Another way to enrich the sauce flavor is by adding some roasted tomatoes or red peppers. Rachel Ray throws the butt ends of leftover Parmesan cheese wedges into her sauce, letting it melt in. Also good.
Texture. Pauline and Slovak relatives in Petrovec and Stara Pazova cook the sauce over low heat for hours, constantly stirring until the sauce is smooth in consistency. The result is a silky, smooth sauce but I am too impatient to replicate their method. Giada cooks the sauce for less than 1/2 hour, then blends the sauce in a food processor before serving; at the Le Cordon Bleu we left the sauce chunky. The French cook the sauce at fairly high heat until the tomatoes impart their liquid and the tomatoes break down and start to carmelize, then simmer it for another hour or two, stirring frequently.
Easiest. The easiest home made tomato sauce I’ve ever made is Marcella Hazan’s, the 87 year old queen of Italian cookery. Dump a 28oz can of crushed tomatoes in a sauce pan, flavor with salt and pepper and add a stick of butter and a peeled onion cut in half. Let it cook away for 45 minutes, then remove the onion, stir and serve. You’ll have a rich, silky sauce.
Freezing. You can freeze the tomato sauce once its made for up to 6 months. In the summer when you are overloaded with tomatoes and can’t make the sauce fast enough, try freezing them so that you can make the sauce in the winter. You’ll get the same fresh tomato taste and avoid the out of season winter imitators (which are grown in Florida by immigrants in slave-like conditions anyway. Read Barry Estabrook’s new book called Tomatoland for a shocking lesson in the truth about what it takes to grow those store varieties).
Freezing fresh tomatoes is easy. Wash them and then pop them into a freezer bag, and that’s it. You can try boiling them first for 15 seconds and coring them too. But why bother? When you are ready to use the frozen tomatoes, run them under hot water for a few seconds and the skins will pop right off. As they cook you can chop them up with a wooden spoon, and I pull out the blackened core pieces as the sauce cooks.
Opile Kusky is an alcohol based puff pastry that translates to Drunken Pieces. The finger sized pastry bits are both savory and sweet at the same time, and are probably best served as an amuse-bouche before dinner with a glass of rakia.
In most Slovak families you are welcomed into their homes with a small glass of rakia, a clear homemade alcoholic beverage made from distilled fruit with a whopping 60% alcohol content. Rakia is usually made from plums (slivovica), apples, quince or pears. Most Slovaks will enjoy a shot of rakia before lunch, dinner and with appetizers. A few sips are also fed to children when they complain of stomach aches. Really.
The delicate kusky pastry rises in the oven in folds and then tumbles over, like drunks in public. I’ve come across slight variations of this recipe in other Pivnice families (only Pauline’s included the rum) but the steps are always the same ; Obile Kusky pastry is made in a similar way to the dough for krempita.
The key ingredient is the use of sadlo, which is the fat stuck to the sides of the pig and is covered in a membrane. In English it’s called suet, and you can get it at the butcher if you ask. You will see it also in thick slabs of bacon in Central Europe. I stumbled upon sadlo this past spring at a pig farm, and I froze it for future use in this recipe.
- 4 cups flour
- 2 cups sadlo/suet
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 4 eggs (1 whole, 3 egg yolks), beaten slightly
- 1 whole lemon, squeezed
- a splash or three of rum
- pinch of salt
- 4 tbsp cream
- approx. 1-2 tbsp white wine – as much as the dough will absorb
- 1/4 cup powdered sugar
- 1 package vanilla sugar
- Mix 1/2 the flour with 1/2 the lard into a soft pastry
- Let it rest in fridge, wrapped in plastic
- Mix all remaining ingredients together, except the wine
- Splash in the wine, and gently work in as much as possible into the dough
- Roll into a ball and wrap in plastic, and let it rest in the refridgerator for at least 15 minutes
- Roll out the first dough onto the counter about 8×10 inches
- roll out the second dough slightly smaller, and place it on top of the first piece
- Fold the dough over onto itself with the left side meeting the right side in the middle
- Fold the top and the bottom towards the middle and meet in the center
- Wrap the dough and let it rest in the refridgerator for 15 minutes
- Roll out the dough again, 8×10, being careful not to roll the layers into each other
- Repeat steps 3 through 6 again 2 more times
- Roll out the dough one more time to a thickness of 1/4 inch or so
- Cut the dough into rectangular pieces the size of your finger
- Bake the slices on an ungreased cookie sheet in a preheated oven at 375 degree for 20-30 minutes until they fall over in the oven
- When out of the oven, sprinkle the dough with sifted, powdered sugar and vanilla sugar and serve immediately