Mir Božiji, Hristos se rodi! The peace of God, Christ is born! That is the greeting you will hear on January 7 across Serbia, other parts of former Yugoslavia and Russia. Eastern Orthodox Christians remain the last holdouts against change of the theological calendar from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar. Therefore, Christmas (Božić) comes two weeks after the rest of Christianity celebrates the birth of Christ. Kids being kids, celebrating Christmas twice has never been a problem for our children who are products of an American father and a Serbian mother!
So when everyone else is back to a normal schedule and on their first diet of the New Year, my parents are in full swing smoking meat and preparing the sour cabbage that has been fermenting for weeks for the sarme (cabbage rolls). They also roast pork, and Mama makes a delicious Russian salad with chopped ham and vegetables .
My job for Božić is to not forget to include the lucky coin in the česnica before I bake it! The kids especially look forward to pulling their piece of bread from the česnica to see if it contains the lucky coin. And this year I tried my hand at walnut and poppy seed strudels. They are traditionally baked during the holidays and consist of a rich and buttery yeast dough with a sweet filling of nuts or poppy seeds. Known as štrudle (pl.) in Serbia, these are also known as Beigli in Hungary, Potica in Slovenia, Povitica in Croatia, and Makowiec in Poland. I am very pleased at how they turned out, having done a lot of research in books and on the web and finally combining several different recipes to create my own. These strudels are very moist and can be eaten at any time of day.
Poppy seed and Walnut strudels. Makes 4 12” rolls (2 walnut and 2 poppy seed)
For the dough:
1 1/2 teaspoons instant or rapid-rise yeast
5 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading
1 1/2 cups milk
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks, 8 ozs) unsalted butter, cut into 1” pieces
6 egg yolks (the egg whites will be used in the walnut filling)
For the walnut filling:
1 1/2 pounds walnuts
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
pinch of salt
1/4 cup (1/2 stick, 2 ozs) unsalted butter, cut into 1” pieces
1/2 cup milk
6 egg whites
For the poppy seed filling:
2 cans poppy seed cake and pastry filling (I use Solo brand). Open them and you’re ready to go!
To make the dough and strudels:
In a large mixing bowl, combine yeast and flour. Using a paddle attachment, blend the two ingredients at low speed. Set aside.
Measure milk, sugar, salt and butter in a microwaveable measuring cup. Heat in microwave at 30 second intervals until the butter is melted and the mixture measures between 110F – 120F. On low speed, pour the milk and egg yolks into the flour mixture. Beat until the mixture has formed a sticky mass and the ingredients have blended, about 2 minutes. Turn the dough out onto a heavily floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes. Lightly oil a large bowl; place the dough in the bowl and turn to coat with oil. Cover with a damp cloth and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 1 hour. Because the dough is very rich with eggs and butter, it may even take up to 1 1/2 hours.
Line a large 12” x 18” baking sheet with a silpat or parchment paper (grease parchment with oil). Turn the dough onto a generously floured surface. Pat it down with your hands into a large rectangle (photo left).
Cut the dough into two equal pieces. Set one aside. ***Roll one piece of dough to 1/4-inch thickness or 24” x 16”. Spread with walnut filling up to about 1 inch of the edges (top right photo).
Fold the 1-inch edges over the filling at both short sides (see pictures above). Starting with one long side, roll the dough tightly to the other end, like a jelly roll. Cut the roll into two equal 12” strudels. Pinch the exposed ends to seal the filling inside. Place each roll on the prepared baking sheet so that the long seams are on the bottom and the rolls fit crosswise on the sheets. Space the rolls out (you will have 4) so there will be space in between rolls for them to rise.
Now take the dough that has been set aside and roll it out the same way (instructions start here ***). Fill it with poppy seed filling. Roll up as instructed above, cut into two and place on baking pan. You should now have 4 rolls.
Cut a piece of wax paper large enough to cover the strudels. Spray or grease one side with oil. Cover the strudels and allow to rise until doubled in volume. Gently spread the tops with a little of the beaten egg whites left over from the walnut filling. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Bake at 350 degrees for about 60 minutes, or until the tops are golden brown. Cool completely. Slice into thin sections and using a sieve, dust with confectioner’s sugar.
To make the walnut filling:
Grind walnuts, sugar, cinnamon and salt in a food processor until finely ground. Pour the mixture into a medium saucepan. Add the butter and milk. Over medium heat, stir the mixture constantly until the butter has melted and the mixture is starting to dry. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
Beat the egg whites until they are stiff. When the walnut mixture has cooled, add about 2/3 of the egg whites to it and fold gently with a spatula until completely combined (you will use the rest of the whites to spread the tops of the strudels before you bake them). Use this filling as stated above.
I have submitted this recipe to Susan’s Yeastspotting roundup. Check her site for more delicious yeast-driven recipes.
To my Eastern Orthodox family and friends: Želim vam Sretan BoŽić i najlepšu i uspešnu 2010!