Friday, December 19, 2008

My First Blog Post!

Sretna Slava!






It is fitting to me that my first blog is about the most important of Serbian traditions, Slava. Slava is unique to Serbian people. Instead of celebrating birthdays or name days, every Serbian family has a patron saint that they believe protects and guides them, and they in turn celebrate his life on his birthday. Slava came to being when our ancestors became Christians in the 9th Century. Tribes or families replaced the pagan gods with a Christian patron saint. The date of their baptism determined the patron saint. Historically, Slava gave hope and courage to the Serbian people during their long-suffering and turbulent history.

My family Slava is Saint Nicholas, or Sveti Nikola. Sveti Nikola is celebrated by many Serbs all over the world today, December 19. Sveti Nikola is well known for his many miracles and generosity, especially to children. The tradition of gift-giving at Christmas is a result of his, and the Three Wise Men's, benevolence. He is known in other parts of the world as Santa Claus, Sinterklaas and San Nicola, to name a few.





Now some of you may argue that St. Nicholas is celebrated on December 6 every year. That is correct, if your religious calendar is determined by the Gregorian Calendar (decreed by Pope Gregory in the 16th Century). The Eastern Orthodox Church's liturgical calendar follows the original Julian Calendar, approved by none other than Julius Caesar himself. The thirteen day lag affects the date of our Christmas as well, but we'll discuss that on January 7th!


It is a great time of excitement for us as Slava approaches. My family, with my parents as hosts, prepares a feast including zito (koljivo), a mixture of wheat berries, walnuts, sugar, vanilla and sometimes dried fruit and honey. Zito is symbolic of death and resurrection and is prepared at every commemorative event. The Slavski Kolac is a bread decorated with a wreath, the cross, wheat, grapes, the Serbian seal and a dove, symbolic of Jesus Christ, health, growth, harmony and prosperity. Traditionally, the priest comes to the home and leads the family and friends in a short ceremony. At one point, he cuts the underside of the bread in the shape of a cross and sprinkles it with wine, a symbol of Christ's precious blood. After the solemn portion of the evening comes the joy and merriment as we eat, drink and dance to variations of the Kolo.


Now, I understand that the average American has no reason to make this bread with all of its embellishments! Just ignore the decorative aspects and bake the dough in a couple of large bread pans or shape it in a round country-style loaf on a sheet pan. Your kitchen will be filled with the warmth of a village bakery! "No kneading", you say! The act of kneading dough, my friends, is very therapeutic (and cheap!). All it takes is a little practice. And...you won't want to miss this bread fresh out of the oven with some rich salty butter. Irresistible!


Here is my version of the Slavski Kolac I baked yesterday. It is based on a recipe from From Our Mother's Kitchen, published by the St. Elijah Serbian Sisters Circle in Merrillville, Indiana.


Slavski Kolac (Slava Bread)

You will need:

3 envelopes dry active yeast (3/4 oz. total)
1 teaspoon sugar
3 cups water
3 tablespoons margarine (never on my list of baking ingredients, but in this case, a necessity. Saint Nicholas Slava falls during the Nativity Fast, during which no animal products are to be consumed).
4 tablespoons sugar
3 teaspoons salt
8 - 9 cups all-purpose flour
Olive oil

This is how you make it:
Pour 1/2 cup water and 1 teaspoon sugar into a large bowl (preferably from a mixer). Sprinkle yeast on top and allow to proof (become active) for a few minutes.

The proofed yeast



In the meantime, mix 3 cups water, margarine, 4 tablespoons sugar and salt in a glass measuring cup. Microwave until margarine is melted and the mixture measures about 115F.

With the paddle attachment on the mixer on low speed (or by hand) add about half of the flour to yeast, then quickly add half of the water, more flour, the rest of the water, and end with the flour. Mix until all ingredients are combined and you have a sticky mass.


Dump the mass on a well-floured surface and knead for about 5-10 minutes, adding extra flour as needed to keep the dough from sticking. The dough should stay soft and smooth and slightly sticky.

Knead me!



Grease a large bowl with olive oil. Place dough in bowl and flip it over so it is completely covered with oil. Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and allow it to double in size in a warm area of your kitchen. This will take between one and two hours, depending on the yeast you used (it will rise faster with Rapid Rise Yeast).

When double in size, 'pour' the dough onto your well-floured surface and re-knead, adding more flour, a little at a time. It will be very soft, so knead it until it is no longer very sticky. Shape it in a round flattish ball and cut it into quarters. Grease a 9 or 10-inch baking pan with high sides (mine is 4 inches high) with olive oil. With greased hands, take one of the quarters of dough and shape it into a ball. Place it next to the side in the pan. Repeat with two more quarters and nestle them in with the first ball. You should have three balls, side by side. Cover the pan with a kitchen towel and allow it to rise until it almost reaches the top of the pan (about 30-40 minutes). Preheat the oven to 400F, with rack towards the bottom third.


Waiting for the wreath and other accoutrements.




In the meantime, make the embellishments for the top of the Slavski Kolac, with the remaining quarter of dough. You will make a braid for the wreath, a dove, a cluster of grapes, a cross, and the Serbian Seal. Add more flour to the dough to make it easier to shape and knead for a few minutes. Cut three pieces for the braid and roll each one in the palms of your hands until you get a long string, about 18 inches long. Place side by side on the counter and pinch the three ends together. Braid the dough to the ends. Even off the ends. Use remaining dough for the cross, etc.

When the dough has risen, carefully place the braid along the circumference of the dough/pan. The dough for the cross goes in the middle. Please refer to the photographs for the placement of the rest of the decorative elements. Bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes. If the bread is well-browned at this point, cover it loosely with foil. Reduce the oven to 350F and continue to bake for about 35 - 45 minutes more. When done, place pan on rack to cool for 15 minutes. Remove bread from pan display proudly!


Crusty and delicious!



To my friends from the former Yugoslavia: I apologize for the absence of diacritic marks on some of the letters. I'll figure out how to include them soon so that my future posts are much easier to read!

And to my friends and family who encouraged me to start blogging, thanks for your patience while I figure out how to steer this beast!

Prijatno!

16 comments:

  1. Love it! This looks great!! Can't wait to try this recipe, literally.
    Natalie

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  2. Love it! The blog looks great! Can't wait to try this kolač, literally.

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  3. Marija,
    Hvala vam! Bas mi je milo da je vas komentar prvi!

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  4. Ah, beautiful, and so worth the wait. I may try to bake this one day soon. Instead of wreaths and seals, I may just use decorate with Dallas Cowboy symbols, like the star, unless they don't make it to the playoffs. Then, I will just decorate it with this and that. This was truly an enjoyable and genuine blog!

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  5. I love your blog already! I am so proud of you for going for it.. I have a feeling you'll have many readers :)

    Your Slavski Kolac is simply gorgeous, I don't think I've ever seen such a pretty bread before! And I really enjoyed reading about your family's Slava.. thank you!

    Hugs!
    xoxo
    Lisa

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  6. Great blog Dragana!
    The pictures are fine, and I love the sharing of culture!
    Keep up the good work...

    Buon Natale!
    Bruno

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  7. great post

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  8. Beautiful!!!

    I would like to learn how to prepare Slavsko Zito.

    Can you tell us more about that?

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  9. Maya,
    Thanks for your compliment. Please contact me by my e-mail: tgh3@sbcglobal.net. I can send you the recipe for Zito.

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  10. Divim ti se da jos uvijek Slavis slavu !!
    Moj muz isto slavi i ja zajedno s njim!!
    http://ruza123-cooking.blogspot.com/2010/01/za-ljubav-moga-muza.html

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  11. Dragana, thank you for this post, my family also celebrates Sveti Nikola, my mother struggles with fasting kolace every year. I used your recipe adding a little lemon juice and lemon zest for my cousin's funeral and parastos now occuring during this lenten period and the kolace turned out great. Do you have a recipe for non-lenten kolace? I too would like your recipe for zito... Thank you again!! Kathy

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  12. Anonymous,
    Please contact me via my e-mail: tgh3@sbcglobal.net and we can discuss the zito recipe and any other recipes you are intersted in. Zdravo, Dragana.

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  13. Dragana, your blog is wonderful! My great aunts and my Baba used to make their Kolac in special pans. They said that they were specifically Kolac pans. There is only one left in our family now, and my cousin said that it's about 50 years old and has no clue where to get another. Do you have any suggestions on finding one or what kind of pan to use? Thanks!

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  14. Maggie,
    The pan I use is a regular 9" round pan with 4" high sides. I came across is years ago at a local hardware/kitchen/stationary/garden store in Houston called Bering's. There is an old sticker on it that says "Rowoco". I am not aware of pan specifically used for kolac as I did not grow up in Serbia so I just use this pan instead. Let me know if you find more information about it. Thanks!

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  15. Maggie, I use an angel food pan and then take the bottom out and replace with the bottom of a springform pan (the kind you use for cheesecakes) Works great and then is easy to get out of the pan without any of the decorations falling off. Kathy

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