Sunday, March 25, 2012

Traditional Polish Easter Number Sixty Four

Witamy i Wesolych Swiat!   (Greetings and Happy Holiday)As I approach my 64th Easter, the anticipation of my favorite traditional Polish foods has not wavered one bit!  Easter is one of the two biggest culinary feasts of the year for most Poles.  Curiously, my memories of Easter celebrations go back much farther than Christmas, even though as a child I usually associated Christmas with getting and giving gifts.  But for some reason my lips get smacking more at Easter – perhaps because I have always enjoyed the traditional dishes so much.  This past year we have been travelling up and down the east coast signing our book at many Polish church festivals. We often get big thanks from our new friends for including the heritage recipes in our book. 

About a week before Easter, my assignment always was and still is to dye a batch of hard boiled eggs – five colors with each fizzy tablet dissolved in a coffee mug cup of boiling water with a splash of vinegar.  I keep dunking to get the brightest hue possible.  After they dry we shine them up with a bit of cooking oil. 

Then there's the butter lamb.  Most of the time we could buy one at a Polish deli and it rested in the freezer until the big day.  It always sat on the table next to a chocolate rabbit, and when we got to dessert, I always had to bite off the head to see if it was hollow or solid.  Getting the first bite into that rabbit was a morbid but delicious privilege.  A few years ago Laura found a lamb mold and she has been making her own Easter lambs…but special care must be taken to fill the mold completely, otherwise we would end up with a deformed lamb – not a pretty sight. This year it'll be the white chocolate rabbit.  

A few of the traditions we followed when I was growing up have since become “Americanized”  but we still exchange bits of hardboiled egg and exchange Easter wishes to each other – the same as we do at Christmas with a blessed wafer.  Our menu hasn’t changed much from the early years...things get serious shortly after coming home from church and we're all hungry.  After sharing the egg, we sit down and start with the clear Barszcz (page 29) which is served hot  "on the side" in elegant china cups.  The rest of dinner is served chilled or at room temperature.  There’s always a ham, and several varieties of kielbasa (always from a Polish deli).

There's a big bowl of Polish Vegetable Salad (page 22) and on the side we always have a pale yellow, sour cream and mustard sauce (to kick up the meats, plus Cwikla (page 49)- a relish made of chopped beets and prepared horseradish, which definitely kicked everything up in a big way!  I I’ve always loved big flavors and when my Mom used prepare the Cwikla,

and wasn’t looking, I would sneak in an extra tea spoon of horseradish, but somehow I always got caught because my eyes watered from the “kick”.  Years ago back in Pittsburgh, my Mom always got our ham from the Polish market and I particularly remember that it was a lot leaner and had a milder flavor than American brands.  It was absolutely not salty in the least.  My Mom always said that Polish pigs were fed potatoes which gave them that milder flavor.  I don’t know how true that was but it certainly sounded plausible. These days we go for a honey-glazed spiral sliced variety, just because it’s easier.
Desserts included one or two Mazurkas, a Baba, and occasionally a Polish cheese cake.  Our book contains recipes for most of the traditional foods, tested and adjusted for modern kitchen techniques.  If you get a copy you’ll be all set.  And our new book, Polish Classic Desserts, which we are working on right now, will have many of the classic Easter baked goods.
Here is a Baba recipe that I particularly like because of the rum that flavors the icing. 

1/3 cup margarine, melted
¾ cup sugar
2 eggs
1½ cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
3 tablespoons milk
1 grated orange rind
½ cup raisins (optional)

1 cup sugar
½ cup water
¼ cup orange juice (no pulp)
¼ cup white rum\
2 tablespoons candied orange rind, chopped (optional)
1 tablespoon orange zest (optional)

Batter – Place all the ingredients in a bowl and beat with a mixer for 5 minutes at medium speed.  Bake in a well-buttered 8-inch fluted ring pan at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. 

Icing – Add the sugar to the water in a heavy pan and cook until it becomes a heavy syrup.  Add the orange juice and rum.
Remove the warm cake from the pan onto a serving plate and immediately pour the icing slowly over the top, letting it drip down the sides slightly.  For a splash of color, sprinkle with bits of candied orange rind or orange zest.  Cool thoroughly before cutting.  Smacznego!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Festive Easter Cake

Mazurkas are festive Polish cakes traditionally served at Easter.  They are usually decorated with beautiful Easter-themed designs on top.  And they come in endless flavors, some filled with a fruit spread between layers, some iced with chocolate, some topped with a sweet meringue, some containing dried fruit and nuts in the dough, but they’re all delicious.  The ultimate classic Chocolate Mazurka is in our book, Polish Classic Recipes. 

The great Polish composer Frederick Chopin was born in a small village in the Polish province of Mazury where a local folk dance, the mazurek, had originated.  This dance was very popular throughout Europe in the 19thcentury.  Chopin loved his homeland so much that he incorporated many themes of the mazurek into his compositions.  And so Poles who loved Chopin’s music honored him by naming their favorite Easter cake after his compositions.

Here we are sharing a very delicious and somewhat unique version that is dressed with a stunning topping of figs and walnuts. 

1½ sticks soft butter
2¾ cups sifted flour
2/3 cups confectioners’ sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 egg
1 egg yolk
4 tablespoons sour cream

Cut the butter into the flour using a knife and rub in the butter with your fingertips (or a standing mixer on low) until dough resembles coarse crumbs.  Add sugar and baking powder and mix.  Add the remaining ingredients.  Knead the dough, either by hand with a standing mixer, until it separates from the sides of the bowl and forms a ball.  Refrigerate in a covered bowl for 30 minutes.

Remove dough from the fridge and roll into a 12x15-inch rectangle.  Place in a 12x15-inch pan.  Spread the dough until the bottom of the pan is covered evenly.  Bake in a 375 degree oven for 20 minutes.  Remove from the oven and let cool slightly while you prepare the spread.

1 ¼ cups sugar
½ cup water
½ tablespoon white vinegar
1 ½ cups of walnuts, chopped
½ pound figs, chopped finely
4 ounces candied orange rind, chopped finely

Mix the sugar, water and vinegar and bring to a boil. Simmer for 6 minutes while stirring to thicken.  Mix in the remaining ingredients and simmer for 12 more minutes while stirring.  Let the filling cool down somewhat and spread out evenly over the baked dough.  Cool.

2 cups confectioners’ sugar
4 tablespoons lemon juice

Combine the sugar with lemon juice, mix well and spread thinly over the cake.  Refrigerate for one hour.  Transfer to a cookie sheet or cutting board.  Cut into 2-inch squares.

Yields about 40 squares, depending on size