Néger kocka, cocoa square is one of the real classics from our childhood in Hungary. It is an easy-to-prepare cocoa cake base with a sweet and creamy meringue and a sticky cocoa glaze on top. It is not the cake you can eat without thinking the high calorie intake, but when I am looking out of the window on this sad, rainy and cold day I am sure this is exactly what our souls need in this moment. Or definitely my boyfriend, Áron needs it, who dies for everything which contains chocolate or cocoa. In the last weeks although he liked my blog posts- and the results of them- he always made a small complaining comment that my recipes recently don’t contain any chocolate. (Fortunately! How would taste stuffed peppers in tomato sauce with chocolate? Uh! ) So this recipe is for Áron’s sake and also a little bit for mine because I love taking photos of food with cocoa and chocolate.
Before I tell you more about this cake I would like to give you a short report from our little village in the Hungarian countryside. At the weekend our so called “winter scone” apples, which supposed to get ripe at the end of October according to books and informations found on the internet, decided to fall down. We need to look for crates in a hurry, my nice friend, Kata, the owner of a grocery shop gave me a bunch of them, and I found a few old ones in the attic of our old house as well. One is lined with an old newspaper from the 50’s and I get sticked to it when I read the title: “The way to communism according to Lenin”. I keep the old newspaper, it is already a piece of history.
The rose hip wine seemed go wrong, since mold appeared on the surface, but a friend, Peti- who prepared rose hip wine many times- told me not to worry, it is just normal. Apple wine is sparkling, smells good which is a good sign so we still have a hope for tasting our very first home-made wine soon.
In the coming months I will definitely prepare a lot of things with apples since the ingredient is waiting for me in big bulks. But this néger kocka is something different. It is a sweet indulgence which is impossible to resist. I make my mother’s recipe more exact for you since I don’t want to worry you with instructions like “add as much milk you get a consistency easy to pour” The cocoa glaze gets solid quite quickly so I can already start slicing the cake into small squares by using a knife, dipped into hot water. Then I am going to give a try and eat a piece without getting my fingers and mouth full with meringue and cocoa cream. I tell you it is impossible.
Néger kocka (cocoa square)
4 egg yolks
200 g caster sugar
120 g butter
200 ml milk
30 g Duch cocoa powder
200 g all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
For the meringue
4 egg whites
200 g confectioner’s sugar
For the cocoa glaze
5 tbsp milk
200 g confectioner’s sugar
20 g Duch cocoa powder
100 g butter
Preheat oven to 200 degrees. Beat sugar with butter until foamy, then add egg yolks and cocoa powder. Mix flour and baking powder and alternately add flour and milk to the dough in small portions. I use a 22 x 35 cm large baking pan. Butter the bottom and sides of the pan, and put a piece of baking paper on the bottom just to be sure the cake doesn’t stick to it. Pour the dough into the baking pan, and bake it until a pin comes out clean if you pick the cake. Put the cake on a board or wire and let it cool down. In the meantime bring some water to boil in a pan and take a metal (preferably copper) bowl which fits to the pan. Be careful that the bowl’s bottom doesn’t reach the water. Reduce heat and start beating the egg whites, add sugar and beat it until it forms stiff peaks. Using a spatula spread the egg whites evenly on top of the cake. To make the cocoa glaze bring the milk to boil, add sugar and cocoa powder and cook it for a few minutes until thickens. Let it cool for 5 minutes and stir in the butter. Pour it over the meringue and spread it by using a spatula.
It is raining, it is cold and windy which gives me the sense that I cannot dress myself warm enough. Streets are empty, once in a while someones passes by in hurry while trying to fight with the umbrella and puddles. Although these are not the days when it is easy to find something that brights up my day, but still it can happen that small miracles come surprisingly.
For example when I discover, that Virág is not only a wonderful yoga teacher with whom we have weekly yoga sessions in our village, but also an amazing goat cheese-maker, who knows her goats by name. Tasting her goat milk I discover that it can be delicious without any strong, not appealing flavor- the secret lies within the way animals will be treated. We are standing in the cold wind on her little farm and talking about how significant is that goats can run around freely, eating for whatever they have appetite ranging from nettles to elderberries and other healing plants.
When I arrive home, carrying three different kind of cheese in my bag, I find a bowl of grapes next to our front door, without any message. I will need to find out who was that kind neighbor who surprised us in such a lovely way. In the house our tile stove, which was rebuilt after 40 years this summer is slowly warming up, and it is beautiful to see the flames through the new glass door. Sometimes it stops raining so I can go out and collect walnuts, that started to fall from the tree.
After all,when I find some day-old kifli in our breadbox, I know that this rainy day will end up really being heart-warming and sunny. This is a Hungarian dish, which has many recipes- this is one of them, the way my grandmother prepares it. It is quick, easy and delicious, it is like a bread pudding, but you don’t need to put it into the oven. If you don’t have kifli, you can use brioche as well. In Hungary we often sprinkle it with poppy-seed but I prefer walnuts, especially because I can use ours from our orchard. It is warming up my soul maybe because it remind me my grandmother, whose kitchen was filled up by the scent of vanilla when she was preparing it. We sit down at our dining table next to the tile stove and we agree that life – with rain, coldness, wind but with diós guba is simply beautiful. Continue Reading…
Beetroot is a vegetable which has the ability to awake strong emotions in highly positive or negative way. People normally like it or hate it. As for me, you could have driven me out of the world with beetroot until the moment I tasted my grandmother’s beetroot salad. Once I visited her, she was preparing the salad. “Come on, taste it”- she said and since I love my grandma very much- and since that was about beetroot, it was really the only reason- I tasted it. It was a moment like the one Mr. Ego was going through when he tasted the first bite of ratatouille in the cartoon Ratatouille.
“This is good”- I said to her in amazement. My grandmother was smiling knowing very well that she would never give me anything bad. Quite the opposite in fact. This salad is a vitamin bomb, it strengthens the immune system in the most natural way. This is exactly what I needed now, and it fell into my lap literally, and figuratively speaking.
When I was living in big cities, the first cold days in September always brought me into melancholy. Autumn seemed like nothing more but the end of the apparently best part of the year and the sign for that it is time to get prepared for winter. Slightly unnoticed my attitude to this season definitely changed after we moved to the countryside one year ago, and started our life in our little house close to the nature. I realized that I like autumn, or more than that: I love it! I like the autumn lights, which projects the shadows of our cherry tree on our house in the morning.
In the early hours the hill opposite our house is covered by fog and dotted by the yellow and brown spots of the autumn leaves. Cicadas, that served us relaxing music in summer nights, don’t play any more, and yesterday we started to think about that slowly it is time to heat up our tile stove the first time this season. At the evenings it feels so good having a cup of tea, wrapping myself in a warm blanket and reading a good book. Nature and maybe the whole world around us is slowing down, life has changed but it feels good to live this part of the year as well, not only the never-sleeping, vibrant and exciting summer.
Autumn inspires me to cook in a different way. I am happy about a long cooking process or to switch on the oven, because of the warmth it brings to the house these days without heating yet. Originally I wanted to bake a cake for this blogpost, but when I saw the ripe peppers in our kitchen garden, I quickly changed my mind and decided to cook stuffed peppers with tomato sauce. You can cook the meat balls stuffed into peppers or without, as you want, but peppers give a wonderful flavor to it. It is a perfect dish for cool autumn days: it still reminds you about summer at the same time it warms up your body and soul. I cook it in the way my mother does it, with lots of vegetables- so the sauce will be made not only by using our own peppers but tomatoes and onions from our kitchen garden as well. Continue Reading…
I am sitting at my favorite place, on the stairs at the front door eating cheese wafers we made with my grandmother yesterday and listen to the quiet little noise leaves are making when they arrive at the bottom after falling down slowly from the cherry tree. This idyllic relaxing moment ends when my dog Beeper shows up with her toy in her mouth and asks me to play with her. For this I would really need four hands: two for typing the blog post, another one for grabbing the wafers and another one to throw the toy as far as possible to make her happy. Fortunately some people from the village pass by on the street which attracts little dog’s attention so I can go back to my blog post and wafers. At least for a while.
Cheese wafer is our childhood classic and favorite snack which is my grandmother’s speciality since she was the only one who had the cast-iron wafer-maker which is necessary to make them. It was made specially for her in a small manufactory in Veszprém, in my home town. Its grips are made from wood, the iron became already black because of lots of years of usage which is not surprising: it is already 60 years old. It served many family occasions, evening snacks and the arrivals of the grandchildren.
Although I don’t have a wafer- maker yet, I would like to learn how to make it, if only because of the nostalgic feeling it awakes in me when I see these golden brown cheesy wafers. Continue Reading…
Falling leaves and the sunshines that come in a special low angle give us an unmistakable sign that autumn has arrived. In the countryside the way you perceive time is different, you notice the change of season through observing the cycles of the garden which is like a living calendar. It is almost unbelievable that already a year has passed by since we arrived with our boxes, hopes and enthusiasm to that time utterly empty little house in the countryside.
Since than this house became a home that we tried to fill up with as much happy memories, laughters and talks as possible during a year. We learnt a lot about the garden and the one most important is how much we still don’t know about it. I have filled up the air of the kitchen countless times with the scent of the meals I was preparing. I have lighted up the flame of the stove, opened the door of the oven hundreds of times in order to get my family and friends happy and well-fed around the dining table.
One of the most important thing I learnt during this one year is that what a treasure lies in simpleness and the return to simple life. I touch with love our old dining table, which has scratches, spots and even some cracks. I like the concrete floor in the pantry which became already shiny throughout the years. It is such a nice feeling to discover old glass coffee cups in the attic, or the wooden-handled knife which is surprisingly sharp although nobody sharpened it since decades. We are happy for every little step we take in order to preserve the house and the orchard for many many more years.
We could celebrate the past one year, but instead I would like to celebrate the actual day, the Today with all the beauties it will bring, if it is today a basket full of pears that I collected under the tree. In the spirit of simpleness I will bake “mákos kifli”, Hungarian crescent cookies filled with poppy-seed cream according to my mother’s recipe. It is so delicious that you would think you need to spend a lot of time preparing it. The dough doesn’t contain any sugar and it is fluffy like puff pastry but there is no need to fold the dough any times. I can prepare double portion and put one portion of dough and filling into the freezer. So when we suddenly feel a strong desire for freshly baked “kifli” we only need to wait until it defrosts and I can start rolling out the dough.
There are many things to do in the orchard: raking leaves, weeding out kitchen garden, it is time to plant strawberries and we have to collect fruits that have fallen down.
Fortunately we can always sneak to the kitchen for a crescent cookie…or for another one and another one…
“ Mákos kifli” – Hungarian crescent cookies filled with poppy-seed cream
300 g all-purpose flour
60 g cake and pastry flour
250 g butter or margarine
1 pinch of salt
200 ml sour cream
1 package of vanilla sugar
For the filling:
150 g grounded poppy-seed
100 g caster sugar
150 ml milk
1 package of vanilla sugar
25 g semolina
Mix flours with salt and butter, add sour cream and egg, knead it to a soft dough, roll it into a plastic foil and let it rest in the fridge for a couple of hours or even better for a complete night. For the filling bring milk to boil, add poppy-seed and semolina than finally sugar and vanilla sugar. Stir it well and let it cool down. On a lightly floured surface roll out the dough to 0,5 cm thick and cut it into 6 x 6 cm rectangular. Divide filling among the rectangulars than roll them up, push them a bit so the dough sticks together and place them on a baking pan lined with parchment paper. Important is that the folding is on the bottom so they won’t open while baking and leave some space between them because they will grow a bit. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees and bake them until golden brown. Mix confectioner’s sugar and vanilla sugar and while the cookies are still hot, roll them into the mixture.
Every week when I prepare my new blog post I get inspiration from somewhere regarding the subject of the post. Sometimes our orchard gives ingredients, sometimes a dish comes up in a conversation with somebody or I just get hungry for something. However, this week inspiration to cook fresh Hungarian home-made pasta with cottage cheese and bacon came unexpectedly and surprisingly in form of a box of fresh pasta. My mother called me and asked whether we would like to have some pasta with cottage cheese. Of course we wanted to. My sister and I were so lucky that we could eat fresh pasta in our whole childhood. My poor mother who always had an 8-hour or even 12-hour job tried to prepare this dish once with a pasta from the supermarket. We were so spoiled by her home-made pasta that we immediately noticed the difference and started to complain. “Mom, it is not the one we are used too…”
So my Mum kneaded, rolled and cut the fresh pasta in the last 30 years. I was watching her while she dropped the pasta to the boiling water and I was waiting impatiently for it to get ready, because I wanted to taste it right away, without any topping.
And now a box of cooked pasta is waiting for me in the fridge (it even tastes good when heated up afterwards) while I start kneading another dough, to be able to tell you the exact amount of water needed, since my mother told me to “add as much as the flour takes up”. I change the method according to modern age so the kitchen machine kneads the dough instead of me, and I roll it out with a pasta machine.
I bring some fresh sour cream and cottage cheese from my neighbor, Ani, and buy some delicious smoked bacon at the nearby butcher which I dice and fry so it will be crunchy.
I am standing in front of the pot of boiling water and waiting impatiently that pasta comes up to the surface. Then right away, I start to eat it with a wooden spoon. I must say, there is nothing better than fresh pasta. No question about it.
Hungarian home-made fresh pasta with cottage cheese and bacon
250 g all-purpose flour
50 g cake and pastry flour
approximately 100 ml water
sunflower or olive oil
50 g diced bacon
200 ml sour cream
250 g cottage cheese
Mix flour, eggs and water by adding water gradually because amount of water can depend on the flours. (I needed exactly 100 ml) Knead it to a flexible and soft dough then roll it out with a pasta machine. My machine has 7 grade, I rolled first on 7th, 6th and then finally 5th) Sprinkle a kitchen towel with flour and lay the pasta on it and let the sheets try for 30 minutes- 1 hour. Cut sheets lengthwise put two on each other and cut them julienne with a knife. Use your fingers to separate the ones stick together. Dice bacon and fry it in a pan. Boil some water, add salt and some drops of oil. Cook pasta in bunches in boiling water until it comes up to the surface. Use a small sieve to remove pasta and pour cold water on it to stop cooking process. Move sieve to remove any excess water and put pasta into another pot, mix with the oil so they don’t stick to each other. Season with some salt. For cottage cheese pasta add some cottage cheese and sour cream to it and top with the fried bacon cubes.
This year we don’t have so much plums in our orchard, there was a lot of rain which didn’t help the ripening process. The ones who use pesticides face the same problem this year as the ones who don’t: plums fall from trees moldy and wormy. Anyway, our orchard remains organic. Our plum tree is old, this year we didn’t have time to prune it. Part of the tree trunk is rotting, branches grow in a chaotic way and the tree itself is way to high. Still, it serves us with enough plums for me to experiment with the first plum syrup in my life, I can give some for my grandmother and still have enough for cakes and pies. In my childhood we didn’t use plums for cakes, more for jams, so instead of looking for a family recipe, I open the old cookbook from the 1930’s which I found in an antique shop last year. Its pages are yellowed, have spots and the scent of time and past cookings. Since plum was apparently neglected in our kitchen, i find a good opportunity to change this by baking a wonderful plum pie as written in the book. Although it had been 80 years ago when this book was published, the recipe is easy to follow and understand. Or at least it seems. Continue Reading…
Preparing a blackberry cake is nice, but using wild black blackberries is something special. I could have gone to the market to buy some fresh berries but using the wild ones is much more exciting and adventurous not to mention the difference in taste. In my family we don’t have any recipe with blackberries so I decide to take my mother’s sponge cake recipe and top it with my own fruity cream so I can be faithful to the original concept of this blog. I must say this combination doesn’t disappoint me. Quite the opposite. Continue Reading…