Loaf 6: pagach from Slovakia (and some Slovak pastries)

The pagach I made didn’t turn out too well. Pagach is a rich flatbread stuffed with sauerkraut (or potato), and I can imagine what it should have tasted like: an interesting interplay of sweetish bread with the sour cabbage, served dripping with butter and sprinked with sugar.

Unfortunately mine was far to dry and dense. I should have trusted my instincts when the dough seemed too stiff.

slovak pagach

However, this is not the end of it, because the recipe book I made the pagach from is a very interesting one. It was a cookbook compiled in the 1950s by Slovak immigrants to the US. Recipes were submitted by the members of the First Catholic Slovak Ladies Association. It seems to have become a quiet classic among Slovak-heritage Americans.

Oh Comely magazine (my day job) featured this cookbook in the latest issue, and I had to make some koláče pastries from the book fit for photographing. These are deliciously flaky with a filling of ground nuts or your favourite jam.

This recipe makes rather a lot. Mine started off looking like this:

Slovak cookies 1 - pile on board

And ended up like this, when I’d folded about sixty of them, and was desperate to get the last batch done and go to bed:

Slovak cookies 1 - failed

With my English baking experience, the method felt like a baffling synthesis of pastry-making and bread-making. It’s got yeast and flour in, and yet so much butter and sugar that it feels more like pastry. To knead vigorously or massage delicately? I tried to steer a middle ground, combining thoroughly and handling to the minimum, and they tasted just fine.

Better than fine, actually, delicious. These are chewy and substantial without being heavy. There’s a touch of the savoury to them that made a pleasant change from my close-to-deadline diet of cookies.

Slovak cookies 2 - row

Ingredients

for the first dough:
225g plain flour
1/2tsp salt
1tbsp sugar
2 egg yolks, unbeaten
1 package instant dried yeast
120ml lukewarm milk

for the second dough:
225g plain flour
225g butter, at room temperature
icing sugar, to help with rolling

for the filling:
340g ground almonds
4 egg whites
225g sugar
1tsp vanilla

1. For the first dough, sift together the flour, salt and sugar. Add the yolks, yeast and milk and stir well. The dough will be quite dry and stiff to handle.

2. For the second dough, sift the flour into the butter and mix until you have a smooth dough. (If you’re tempted to rub the butter into the flour as if it’s crumble topping–don’t! You want a smooth dough, not a lumpy one.)

3. Mix both the doughs together thoroughly, kneading if necessary.

4. Cover the mixture and leave to rise for two hours. Punch the dough down, and leave it to rise, covered, for a further two hours. Both times, the dough will swell gently, not dramatically.

5. Mix together the ingredients for the filling. Save the extra egg yolks for brushing the pastries later.

6. Roll the dough out on a surface sprinkled with icing sugar, until it’s about half a centimetre thick.

7. Cut the dough into about thirty small squares. Put a blob of filling in the centre of each square and bring together two opposite corners so that they overlap by a few centimetres. The pastries tend to unfurl while cooking, so overlap more than you think you need to.

8. Place on ungreased baking paper a little apart. Beat the leftover egg yolk and brush the pastries with it. Alternatively, sprinkle with icing sugar.

9. Bake at 180°C in a pre-heated oven for about 30 minutes, or until golden brown on top.

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