Austrian Nussschnecke – mini versions.

Raised pastry made from scratch used to scare the shit out of me. Only recently I leaped the hurdle and made the first one without the helping hands of my Mom or Grandma. It was a plain pizza yeast dough, so nothing special and not too difficult actually. Even for a yeast-dough-newby like me. So I started experimenting with yeast doughs and tried a few recipes. And in this blogpost I want to share one of the recipes: nut rolls. Or how we call it in Austria: Nussschnecke (Nut Snails. haha). They remind me a lot of cinnamon buns that are so typical for Scandinavia, bun instead of ‘only’ putting cinnamon and sugar into the filling, we add grounded nuts in there.

Food_dessert_nut rolls-17

I have made them several times before, but always in a lazy fashion: with store-bought flaky pastry. I usually make mini versions as they are the perfect snack-size and the big ones – the ones you get at the store or in bakeries – are just too big sometimes. Plus, the minis make a nice sweet party snack, especially during winter when they are fresh out of the oven!

Food_dessert_nut rolls-19

A yeast dough base usually consists of a bit of milk and sugar, a pinch of salt, and wheat flour. Sometimes soft butter and eggs are added – according to my Mom (and she got it from her Mom) eggs are used when you want a ‘finer dough’, so for ‘better’ pastries, for special occasions. So technically, yeast-dough can easily be vegan if plant-based milk and vegan butter are used, and the eggs skipped.

Food_dessert_nut rolls-3

This time I made the dough from scratch – plus I made them plant-based, with a little advise from my mom on how ‘hot’ the milk should be and with our both remembrance of my grandma’s ‘recipe’ for the nut filling. Everything with a nut filling just reminds me of my grandma as she used to make pastries with such a filling on a regular basis when I was younger.

What you need for the dough for 25 Mini-Nussschnecken:

  • 400g wheat flour – but you might need a bit more
  • 1/2 of a yeast dice (instead: 1 package of dry yeast)
  • 150-250ml warm (plant-based) milk
  • 50g sugar
  • 60g soft butter (room temperature!)

What you need for the nut-filling:

  • 200g grounded walnuts
  • 1 tbsp. sugar (add more if you like it sweeter)
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • some milk
  • some butter

What to do:

Sift the flour into a big bowl, crumble the yeast dice into the center of the bowl and add the warm milk and sugar to the top of the yeast. Mix this bit and wait for a couple of minutes, add the butter and salt, mix everything with a spatula until you can knead the dough with your hands (beware, this takes a while). It depends, maybe you need some more milk or more flour until the dough is really smooth and detaches from the bowl. Then put a (clean) kitchen towel over it, and place the bowl somewhere warm for around an hour.

In the meantime you can take care of the filling. In a small pan or pot melt some butter and add the sugar, grounded walnuts and cinnamon, and stir it so it does not burn. After a short time you can add the milk and stir everything for a couple of minutes until it is smoothly combined. Remove it from the heat.

After doubling in size put the dough onto a floured surface and knead it once again before rolling it out into a rectangular shape that is around 2-3mm thick. If you want to make it perfect you can cut the edges with a knife so it is a true rectangle. Spread the nut-filling over the rolled out dough. Roll it up so you have a long cylinder which you can cut into 2-cm-pieces. Place the ‘snails’ with the cut edge upward onto a baking plate and leave enough space between them so they don’t stick together in the end. I also brushed them with plenty of leftover milk so they are extra soft. If you want you can put a towel on top of them and let them rise again for some time, but this is not a must. Bake them for around 20 minutes at 180°C until they are golden. If you want, you can then put a sugar glaze on top of them by mixing a few tablespoons of water with a lot (!) of powdered sugar, and let the Snails cool down – or devour right away. Mine turned out to be better-tasting the day after.

Food_dessert_nut rolls-13

Food_dessert_nut rolls-15

Food_dessert_nut rolls-25

Food_dessert_nut rolls-18

A few things worth knowing when working with yeast:

Fresh yeast or dry yeast. Personally I have never tasted or seen a difference between the two. However, dry yeast is less vulnerable, it does not expire that early, and the process is a bit easier because you can always (correct me if I am wrong) skip the yeast starter and put it straight into the flour without mixing it with warm milk.

Temperature is key! It is important that the milk is not too hot or cold. Yeast needs the ‘perfect’ temperature: too hot would destroy the yeast, and too cold would prolong the fermentation process. The ‘best’ temperature of the milk apparently is around 35°. In general it is advised to use ingredients at room temperature. So take the ingredients out of the fridge or wherever you keep them a good amount of time before using them.

Rising place. The same applies to the temperature for the rising-duration. You could keep the dough in your already warm kitchen. Or if you are not sure if your kitchen is ‘hot enough’, you could preheat the oven to the lowest temperature (which is usually 50°C) and turn it off again so your dough rises in the remaining heat. One option that is used in my home is putting some hot water into the sink and placing the bowl with the dough into the sink.

Yeast starter. Sometimes it is advised to make a yeast starter – the dough is made in a two-step process. In the first step fermentation for a period of time is allowed by mixing warm milk, sugar, and the yeast and keeping it in a warm place for a while. In the second step, the yeast starter is added to the final dough’s ingredients. This is usually done for taste, texture, and chemistry apparently. My grandma used to make a yeast starter for the very special kinds of yeast pastries like Krapfen, another traditional Austrian dessert.

Patience is a virtue. A dice of yeast never acts the same as the dice you’ve used previously. Summer is different from winter. Your oven might be different from mine. You might not have the temperature that you had last time. So what you actually need is: time on your hand to keep an eye on the dough and see whether it is already the way you like it to be or if it needs another 15 minutes. So unfortunately, you can never exactly tell if you need one hour for the whole thing or two ;) But I would say the more often you try the dough the better feeling you get for it (but I guess this is true for every recipe that you get from somewhere?) Or if you do not actually have that much time you just have to accept that your pastry is not going to be the fluffiest on earth. Which is totally fine too if you ask me.

Food_dessert_nut rolls-16

Maslenitsa: Butter Week in Russia.

Last week was Масленица (Maslenitsa), also known as ‘Butter Week’. This is a week at the end of winter in which people celebrate the last week before the ‘Great Fast’ (the fasting period before Eastern). Believers of the orthodox religion fast for 8 weeks before Eastern, and as the dates for Eastern are not always the same, the week of Maslenitsa is always a different one. This year it started on February 20, lasting a full week.

Despite being celebrated as a Christian tradition nowadays, Maslenitsa originates from a Pagan tradition, making it probably the oldest Slavic tradition. The end of winter is being celebrated, and as meat is already ‘forbidden’ in this week because of the fasting period, eggs, milk, cheese, and other dairy products are very important during Maslenitsa, hence the name ‘Butter Week’ or also ‘Crepe week’. One of the most typical types of food for this week are bliny – pancakes made out of butter, eggs and milk.

During Maslenitsa every day has its own meaning and tradition. On Monday, the Welcoming day, people make the straw-stuffed figure of Winter, dressed in old women’s clothing, which is called Maslenitsa. The rest of the week is full of playing games, dressing up in carnival costumes, meeting mother-in-laws, and just eating a lot of pancakes.  However, Sunday is the most important day during Maslenitsa – the Sunday of Forgiveness. People ask each other for forgiveness and burn the previously made straw figure in a bonfire, the ashes are then buried to fertilize the crops. The end of Maslenitsa is the following Monday – the Clean Monday, which is the first day of the Great Lent and the day for cleaning all of the mess from the previous week.

A good Russian friend of mine summarised Maslenitsa in very simple words “Russians cook pancakes and eat it all day long”. I am not religious but as a big fan of pancakes I found this week to be the perfect ‘excuse’ for making some just for me and have a little Maslenitsa myself. Funnily, in the past week I got to enjoy pancakes four times in total unintentionally, so it was a true Pancakes week for me.

maslenitsa_pancakes_neusiedlersee

Pancakes with a great view!!

Pancakes are also very common for Austria, but we make them thinner and call them ‘Palatschinken’. When I was younger my grandma used to make them quite often, filled with a thin layer of any jam that we had at home and sprinkled with powdered sugar.

Years later I have already found my own ‘perfect’ recipe how I like pancakes the best. I usually always have ripe bananas at home, as well as almond milk and oats. So it happens to be a vegan recipe that is very simple, you don’t have to weigh anything. Of course you can also use an egg instead of the banana but I just prefer the sweet taste that the banana gives the pancakes.

The recipe is very simple:

  • 1 mug of oats
  • 1 mug of almond or oat milk
  • 1 ripe banana
  • a pinch of of salt, cinnamon and grated nutmeg

Put everything in a blender until you have a nice smooth dough. Heat some vegetable or coconut oil in a pan to medium heat. With a ladle scoop some of the dough into the pan to make some nice golden brown pancakes.

I usually just put maple sirup, sliced bananas, or any other fruits that I have at home (especially berries are very delicious with it), or also just jam on top of the pancakes to make them even tastier.

maslenitsa_pancakes_ready

It is a super easy, very delicious and not time consuming recipe! Perfect for a little Maslenitsa celebration ;)

Traditional Russian: Syrniki.

During my first ever visit to Russia back in high school my friend and I were staying with an old babushka (ба́бушка; grandma). She was one of those typical Russian grannies who cook everything for you and don’t want you go starving even though she and you are barely able to communicate with each other. We were very lucky with our host and she made us a few traditional Russian dishes. So I got to try a type of pancake that is eaten usually for breakfast: сы́рники – Syrniki. This dish turned out to be my all-time favourite sweet dish of Russian cuisine and since then I have made it several times at home for friends and family.

Apparently, Syrniki became well-liked by the population as the recipe requires only simple ingredients which was perfect for poor villages. It turned into a special treat across Russia and other Eastern European countries such as the Ukraine, Belorussia, or the Baltic states.

The name derives from the Russian word for cheese (‘Syr’), but the base of the dish is not an ordinary but quark cheese (curd). The advantage of this soft, white and unaged cheese is that it has a much lower fat content than other types of cheeses. In former times, quark cheese used to be called ‘Syr’ in Russian, but was replaced by the word творог (tvorog), and сыр is now used for hard yellow cheese. But enough about the history of the dish, let’s move on to the recipe!

What you need:

  • 1 big egg (or 2 small ones)
  • 250 g quark cheese (cottage cheese can also be used)
  • 2 tbsp. sugar (or more if you like it sweeter)
  • 1 tsp. vanilla sugar
  • 50-80 g flour
  • a pinch of salt
  • some vegetable oil and butter, for frying
  • some raisins

syrniki_ingredients

What to do:

Thoroughly mix the curd, egg, sugar and salt in a bowl. Sift the flour into the dough and mix well to get a homogeneous mass. If you want you can add a few raisins to the dough, this adds a little flavour to the Syrniki later.

It could be that the dough is a bit too liquid then you can just add a bit more flour to it. In the end the dough should not be too firm but also not too liquid. I know this description is not perfect but it’s just a trial and error situation ;) You just need to be able to form small round balls with a spoon which you later roll in a bit of flour and then fry in the oil-butter mixture in a pan.

Make sure that the oil is not too hot as you don’t want to burn your syrniki. Leave them in the pan for around 4 minutes until they are golden yellow, turn them, and leave them for another 3-4 minutes. Put them on paper towels to get rid of the excess oil.

syrniki_pan

syrniki_finished

I like to serve my syrniki usually with bananas and honey sprinkled on top, but you can also just sprinkle it with sugar, serve it with nutella, ice cream or jam. In Russia it is very common to eat it with Смета́на (Smetana), a type of sour cream. Enjoy!

Baking something traditional: Marble Gugelhupf.

When I was growing up Sunday used to be the day when my whole family was at home and we could have lunch together as well as the traditional afternoon coffee with cake. Pretty early on my mom entrusted me with the task to bake the cake. I believe that this was the starting point for my love of baking and that had me buy a few too many baking books.

Years went by, the dynamics of my family changed as we kids moved out, I moved abroad for a while. This lead to rare Sunday meetings in my family and less cakes of course. However, this Sunday both my sister (+ her hubby) and I were at my parents’ and I decided that it was about time for me to bake something.

Marmorgugelhupf

Gugelhupf – also Gugelhopf or Kugelhopf – is a very traditional cake in Austria (but also popular in other regions in Europe) that is baked in the very distinctive circular Bundt mold. It is not exactly known where the name derives from, but the dictionary says that Gugel comes from the Latin word cucullus (meaning hood, boonet) and Hupf is ‘to hop, jump’ and refers to the rising of the dough.

Legend has it that Marie Antoinette, archduchess of Austria and Queen of France (the last one before the French Revolution though…), brought the cake from the alpine country to France. Also, during the Biedermeier period the Gugelhupf became very popular in the Habsburg rich. It was welcomed by the emperor Franz Joseph I. for breakfast and became a status symbol in the bourgeois circles.

gugelhupf_finished

There is not one definite recipe when it comes to Gugelhupf as it very much depends on the region, the occasion, and ability of the baker. It can be a yeast dough with raisins or a sponge mixture, ranging from very easy to very elaborate. The cake can be covered in chocolate (for birthdays), or just powdered with sugar.

One version that spices the traditional, easy (and sometimes boring) recipe a bit up is by transferring it into a Marmorgugelhupf – a marble cake – which is made by adding cocoa to some part of the dough. Not only does it add a different taste to the cake but enhances the appearance of the cake with the marbling.

What you need:

  • 4 eggs
  • 250 g powdered sugar
  • 250 g flour
  • 1/2 package (8g) baking powder
  • 10 tbsp. oil
  • 7 tbsp. water
  • 2 tbsp. cocoa powder

What to do:

First you need to separate the egg yolks from the whites. Mix the yolk, sugar, water and oil until you have a fluffy dough. Preheat the oven to 180°C and grease the mold. Then you have to beat the egg whites until stiff. Carefully fold in the stiff egg  whites and flour + baking powder into the dough. Put half or 2/3 of the dough into the mold, mix cocoa powder into the rest of the dough and put it into the mold on top of the first part. Bake the cake for around 45 minutes and then check to see if it is already done (by making the cake test with a thin skewer). Let the cake cool, turn it out on a plate and powder it with sugar. It is ready to be served – enjoy!

gugelhupf_cake_finished

gugelhupf_cake_finished_piece_

A few simple tricks:

Don’t be too hasty or impatient. Mixing yolk, sugar and so on to a fluffy dough takes some time. Sometimes mixing it for a longer period can help you making a fluffy and light cake.

Sift flour. In order to get a more even or a better result it helps when you sift the flour – especially when you add baking powder to the mix. It breaks up any lumps in the flour, is easier to mix into other ingredients, and helps to combine dry ingredients (such as baking powder) more evenly.

Milk can help. If the dough is too firm and not smooth enough you can always add a bit of milk (at room temperature) or milk substitutes. This increases the moisture and tenderness of the cake. But only add some at a time. Wait until you have mixed it long enough to see if it helped or if you need more.

Ovens differ. Not every oven is the same, so don’t strictly follow the heating and duration instructions. Some ovens take longer, some are faster. I followed a recipe in which it said that I should have it in there for 60 minutes, but it only took the cake around 45 minutes to be done.

gugelhupf_finished_coffee

Traditional Austrian desserts

I have to admit that I am not the biggest fan of Austrian food. Too fatty, too meaty. But I love Austrian desserts. Applestrudel, Kaiserschmarrn, Sachertorte – I’m in. However, when I am in Austria I hardly ever eat it at restaurants (as I don’t go to typical Austrian cafés or restaurants to eat sweets there). So when I was at home with my parents I used our kitchen equipment and my mom’s knowledge of traditional food/sweets to make them myself.

Kaiserschmarrn
All you need for our former emperor (Kaiser in German) Franz Joseph I’s favourite sweet dish (hence the name) are eggs, milk, flour, raisins and a pinch of sugar. First you separate the egg yolks from the whites. Mix yolks, milk, flour and a pinch of (vanilla) sugar until it is a smooth dough. Then beat the egg whites till stiff and carefully fold the beaten egg white in. Add the raisins and you’re done! Now you need a frying pan, a bit of oil and make ‘pancakes’. After you’ve flipped the pancake for the first time, instead of leaving it like that you split it with two forks into pieces. Sprinkle it with powdered sugar and there you go – the Kaiserschmarrn is ready to be eaten up. Usually we eat it with stewed plums, but I’m not the biggest fan of it so I just made some applesauce.

traditional_kaiserschmarrn_ingredients

traditional_kaiserschmarrn_pan

traditional_kaiserschmarrn_finished

Bauernkrapfen
Bauernkrapfen are made out of a sweet yeast dough that is very traditional in parts of Austria (and apparently also in southern parts of Germany). The dough is shaped in a way that it is thicker on the edges and thin in the middle. I still don’t exactly know how to make the dough – only technically as I’ve only watched my mom doing so. But I know how to form the round buns (we even have a special verb for this) and how to make the typical shape afterwards. The frying part is also special, but I’m not going into this. ;) After they are fried we let them cool down for a bit and then eat them with powdered sugar or jam. Delicious!

traditional_krapfen_buns

traditional_krapfen_finished

Sachertorte
Some time ago I came across this recipe from the lovely Eva of Electric Blue Food. So instead of posting her recipe you can just have a look at her page – it’s definitely worth a try! I wasn’t able to master the recipe as well as she did, but I also changed a few bits as I was lacking a few ingredients and had to substitute them with the things I had at home. Nonetheless, it made a delicious birthday cake for my Mom :)

traditional_cake_mixer

traditional_cake_tin

traditional_cake_finished_glaze

Processed with Snapseed.

Admittedly, Austrian traditional sweets are very fatty and sugary but my mouth is already watering just from writing this post! Too bad that I have to wait a few months before I’m able to eat it again… :D

By the way – I decided to have a facebook page dedicated to this blog – go and check it out and maybe like it? pretty please :) –> just follow this link and do me the favour, yes? :)

Baking something traditional: Linzer Torte.

With more time on my hand I was inspired to bake a very special cake which in my memory I have only made once in my life before. This cake is a traditional cake from Upper Austria (the region where I originally come from), typical for ‘my’ hometown (or the next big town to my parent’s house – also the town where I went to high school). It is possible to buy this cake in local bakeries but also at the supermarket – and relatively cheap and delicious, which makes it a perfect hospitality present.

The cake’s name is derived from the third biggest city (population) of Austria – Linz ;) According to several sources the Linzer Torte is the oldest cake that is named after a city, with original recipes (there are 4 slightly different ones) dating back to the 17th century. Yet it is unknown who named or invented the cake. A mystery probably never to be solved.

I followed a recipe that I found in an old cook book that my Mom got when she was still in school. There were four different recipes in there, and of course I had to follow the one that is called ‘original’, which unfortunately was also the one with the highest amount of butter -.-

Ingredients
Butter (200g), sugar (180g), grated roasted almonds (150g), flour (250g), eggs (1 egg and 1 yolk), cinnamon (a pinch), and a bit of lemon zest. I also added a pinch of vanilla sugar and a little bit of baking powder, and forgot the lemon zest :D

IMG_3617

How to make it:
You basically mix all the ingredients and create a shortcrust pastry. Then, after formed into a big ball, 3/4 of the dough needs to be rolled and be put onto the base of a spring form cake tin (which doesn’t need greasing). Then spread a layer of red currant jam on top of the dough. With the remaining quarter of the dough several small rolls for the lattice and one bigger for the edge need to be shaped. After doing so, the edge can be sprinkled with flaked almonds. Done. Well, you need to put it in a pre-heated oven (180°C) and bake it for around 45 minutes. The older the cake the better it is, which of course doesn’t mean that you should keep it forever, but it tastes the best after 1-2 days :)

IMG_3612

IMG_3609

IMG_3613

IMG_3624

IMG_3625

IMG_3632

IMG_3657

So if you ever want to try something that is typical for Linz, try this! Very delicious and easy to make. Next time I will opt for a recipe with less butter probably, though :D