Tag Archives: cream cheese

{10} Kolachky

I realised that my baking this year has been pretty heavy on nuts and spices, so today’s recipe restores a little balance with some fruity flavours.

Here are some delightful little festive bites called kolachky which are a bit like a pastry and a bit like a cookie. They are reminiscent of miniature Danish pastries, except they are made with a cream cheese dough rather than puff pastry. And they are just the right size to have one, then another, then another….you get the picture!


These cookies are one of those recipes that seems to pop up in lots of places. I’ve seen references to kolachky as coming from various places across Eastern Europe such as Poland, the Czech Republic or Hungary. They appear with different fillings, including fruit, poppyseed and cream cheese. And sometimes they are not shaped like little parcels at all, but they are rounds of pastry with a sweet filling. The round version also seems to be quite a big thing in Texas (but hey, everything’s bigger in Texas), apparently due to Czechs moving there and brining their baking traditions with them.

When I first saw pictures of kolachky I assumed that they would be complicated to make. Happily, they are actually really simple. I have used a cream cheese dough, which just involves whipping butter with cream cheese, then mixing in flour with a bit of baking powder. It starts off very soft, but you chill it and it becomes easy to work with. Then it is just a case of cutting out the squares, adding the filling, and baking them. This means that when they bake, the pastry is buttery, flaky and tender.

When I was rolling and shaping, my inclination was to start with big squares of pastry, as they do look like something that belongs to a breakfast spread. But remember these should be more like cookies, so go with small squares. Your mind will be telling you this isn’t right, but trust me! Otherwise you’re going to end up with truly giant kolachky and you will have a low jam-to-pastry ratio, and that would just not do!


I have seen a few different ways to make the filling for these little pastries. Some suggest a filling made from chopped dried apricots and sugar that you cook until it is thick. If that’s what you want to do, go for it. However, I’ve taken a slightly lazier approach and just used jam. Not only is this quick, but it also means you can easily make a few different flavours. I went for apricot, sour cherry and blueberry to get some flavour and colour variety. As you can see there is such a difference between cherry and blueberry!

In the interests of science, also I tried a little experiment. I used some normal jam, as well as a jar of apricot jam that I had made over the summer which had a little too much pectin in it, and as a consequence it had a very firm set to it. As in, a very firm set.


As expected, the normal jam melted and some ran out during baking. Enough stayed in the pastries for this not to be a problem, so it was fine. However, my very firm jam stayed put perfectly. If you make these, don’t stress about seeking out a specialist jam for this, but if you do happen to have a jar of something that has set rather more firmly than expected, this is a good thing to use it in.

When it came to baking these guys, I didn’t bother with a glaze, egg wash or anything like that. However, I did see one suggesting to sprinkle granulated sugar on the tray first. I thought I would give this a try, as there is no sugar in the dough and so it was unlikely they would end up being too sweet. In fact, it worked great, as the base is a little crisp and caramelised. You can by all means skip this, but I like it.

So there you go – delicious little bite-sized pastries. They will last a few days in a sealed container, but I think they are best when still very fresh, so they would be an excellent thing to make in the evening, then bake then in the morning as part of your Christmas breakfast. Because that’s what we will be doing!

To make Kolachky (makes around 30):

For the pastry:

• 200g butter
• 200g cream cheese
• 250g strong white flour
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• pinch of salt

For the filling:

• jam, with a good firm set

1. Make the pastry – cream the butter and cream cheese until smooth. Add the other ingredients and mix to a dough. It will be very soft and quite sticky. Wrap in cling film and form into a flat square. Chill in the fridge overnight.

2. The next day, sprinkle a worktop with flour. Cut the dough into two equal rectangles, and put one back in the fridge. Take the other and roll out to a square 30cm x 30cm. Trim the edges and cut into squares of 7cm x 7cm. You will have 16 squares.

3. Add a teaspoonful of jam in the centre of each square. Gently fold one corner into the middle, then put a little water or milk on the opposite corner, and fold it on top and press lightly.

4. Sprinkle the baking sheet with some granulated sugar. Put the  kolachky on top. I did this in batches of 8.

5. Bake the kolachky for around 10-12 minutes until they look puffed and are starting to go golden. Remove from the oven, let them cool for a few minutes, then transfer to a wire rack and dust lightly with icing sugar.

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Kardemummainen Rahka-Mustikkapiiras (Finnish Blueberry Tart)

Now be honest – have you ever made a recipe from a tea towel? Well, today that is what served as my inspiration for this post. Sometimes it is travel, sometimes it is a mystery ingredient I bought on impulse, but today, it is a tea towel.

In fairness, this is not just any random tea towel. I got them as a gift from my friend Anne who was on holiday in Helsinki and St Petersburg over the summer. The theme is blueberries – one featuring two big black bears who have come across a woody glade filled with fruit, and the other has a rather full bear (complete with a blue tongue) and a recipe for a blueberry and sour cream tart – the Rahka-Mustikkapiiras in the title of this post.

These tea towels are from a Finnish company called Finlayson, a textile maker founded by a Scottish engineer called James Finlayson in 1820, who decided to set up a cotton mill in Tampere on Finland’s west coast. I like the idea of a brave pioneer decided to set out and live in one of the few places that is colder and darker than his native Scotland…but I’ve experienced the mosquitoes in Finland, so I’m sure they served as a reminder of the Scottish midges to cure any homesickness.

teatowel1

teatowel2

Now, before I could even dream of using these cloths to dry things, I just had to try this recipe. The problem was that it is in Finnish, a language that I have no real idea about. A few trips to Finland have left me with the most limited of limited vocabulary extending as far as (and I am not making this up): yksi (one), kaksi (two), moi (hi), tervetuloa (welcome), kipis (cheers), glöggi (mulled wine), kiitos (thank you) and joulupukki (literally “Christmas Goat” but now closer to Father Christmas). So if I met two festive boks in the street, I would be able to count them, welcome them, toast with a glass of mulled wine and say thanks, which is clearly a very useful life skill indeed.

So…I had a recipe in a language I had not a hope of understanding. I could have looked online for a similar recipe and made that instead, but that felt a bit like cheating. Instead, I typed each and every strange word into a translation website, and got a rough approximation of a recipe. At least I knew what the ingredients were, how much I needed, and roughly what I should be doing with them. I say “roughly” because the method was a bit rough and ready. But still, this felt like quite an achievement!

So what is this mysterious tart? It is rather like a simple blueberry cheesecake with a cardamom-flavoured biscuit crust. During baking, the berries release some of their juice, and the surface of the tart takes on a lovely mottled purple pattern. The whole thing probably took me about 20 minutes to make, so it really is a very, very easy recipe to have a go at.

finnishblueberrytart

Traditionally this tart is made with a thick yoghurt-like fermented milk called viili. Lacking easy access to Finnish produce in London, I just swapped it out for some tangy cream cheese, but I think you could equally easily use yoghurt, or crème fraîche.

So – how was the recipe? I had to admit, I had a couple of wobbles and made a few changes to the flavours. First off, my translation of the recipe suggested that I melt the butter, then pour into the rest of the pastry ingredients. My head was telling me that this would produce an oily pastry, and I was right. However, it was fairly easy to press into place and the end result was fine. However, if I was making this again, I would use softened butter (rather than melted) and cream everything together, which would also make the dough easier to work with. The recipe also calls for a teaspoon of ground cardamom, but I found that this was a bit too much when the tart was at room temperature. I would go for half a teaspoon for a milder flavour, but bizarrely, the flavour was less intense when the tart was chilled. I’ve suggested half a teaspoon below, but if you love the flavour of cardamom, then go crazy. In terms of the filling, I added more berries than the recipe called for (who doesn’t love more berries?), and used only half of the suggested teaspoon of vanilla extract. This final change was a good call, so that there was a hint of flavour rather than anything too overpowering.

All in all – this was a success. The tart is easy, looks great and it does plug into those fashionable Nordic flavours of blueberries and cardamom. This is lovely with a cup of coffee as the days of autumn get increasingly nippy. Maybe we should all be using tea towels to inspire our baking once in a while?

To make Finnish Blueberry Tart

Pastry

• 100g butter, softened
• 50ml sugar
• 1 egg, beaten
• 200g plain flour
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• 1/2
teaspoon ground cardamom

Filling

• 400g blueberries (fresh or frozen)
• 50ml milk
• 200ml sour cream or 200g cream cheese (full fat versions!)
• 50g sugar
• 1 egg
• 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F).

2. Make the pastry – cream everything into a smooth dough. Press over the bottom and sides of pie dish – don’t worry about it being a little rough, the rustic look is part of the charm.

3. Sprinkle the blueberries into the pie dish. Mix the milk, sour cream/cream cheese, sugar, egg and vanilla until smooth. Pour slowly over the berries.

4. Bake for 30 minutes or until the filling is set (it should wobble, but not look runny). Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Serve cold.

Worth making? Yes! Who knew a tea towel recipe could be so good?

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Ashtalieh (Lebanese Cream Pudding)

There is a piece of dinner party wisdom which says you should not cook something you have never tried before, in case it all goes wrong and your guests hate you.

Alright, perhaps a little dramatic, but you get the idea and the theory behind it (*). Well, last New Year, I threw this concept to the wind, and made Ashtalieh as a dessert. It’s a smooth, creamy pudding, covered in softened nuts and a fragrant sugar syrup. I figured that my guests were sufficiently worldly to want to try anything, I was good at reading recipes and had an idea how they would work, and finally, this just sounded very, very delicious. That, and I had a couple of other desserts to serve, just in case it did go wrong.

Well, predictably enough, the curse of the “don’t get too bold and try something without testing first” fairy did actually strike in the end. Not so much a mistake or a disaster, but something unexpected did happen. I had used mastic gum in the recipe. It’s a marvellous fragrant, fresh-smelling resin from the Greek island of Chios, and I love it, but the amount I used (which, incidentally, was less than the amount the original recipe specified) was just too much. There was a too-strong pine taste in the cream pudding. Now, by the time I added nuts and the sweet syrup, it was actually quite nice, with the mastic gum providing an aroma rather than being the dominant flavour, and it was really quite delicious. Delicious, but it was drenched in syrup, which usually makes anything taste good. As I liked the pudding in general, I made a mental note about how to improve it next time I made it (i.e. bye-bye mastic).

And today, I unveil my version. The only tweak is an extra smidgen of sugar in the pudding and a complete lack of mastic gum. Result? Creamy, just a little aromatic, rich and luxurious. Mastic gum, it’s nothing personal, but you deserve to be the star of the show, so I will leave you to sparkle in loukoumi instead (**). I promise to do a post using mastic gum at some point, just not today.

Finally possessing the best possible recipe, there are two ways you can present this to eager diners. Either you can pour into a large dish, and serve it in squares covered in nuts and drizzled with syrup. Nice and easy. Or, you can be a masochist like me, and try pouring into individual moulds. This undoubtedly looks very pretty, and it allowed me to try our the new silicone canelé mould that I bought last time I was in Brussels, but I have learned that it really is a bit impractical to try turning out individual puddings from a tray that holds 12 in one go. So what have we learned? That we need to invest in some individual moulds.

Anyway, after a bit of delicate manoeuvring and one pudding flying in the wrong direction and impaling itself on the stove, the puddings did turn out. And they are so cool! They have that very sexy wobble you get from proper jelly, but as they are not thickened with gelatine, they are veggie friendly. They also melt seductively on the tongue, and you get fabulous flavours, textures and aromas from the cream, nuts, sugar, orange blossom and rose water.

To serve 6 people:

For the cream pudding:

• 500ml milk
• 2 tablespoons white sugar
• 2 1/2 tablespoons cornflour
• 1 tablespoon plain flour
• 170g cream cheese
• 1/2 teaspoon orange blossom water

• 1/2 teaspoons rose water (***)
• 25g blanched almonds, soaked overnight in cold water
• 25 g pine nuts,
soaked overnight in cold water
• 25g unsalted pistachios, roughly chopped
• sugar syrup (see below)

Put the milk, sugar, cornflour, flour and half of the cream cheese in a saucepan. Heat gently, stirring all the time with a whisk, until the sugar dissolves.

Bring the mixture to the boil, then simmer until the mixture thickens.

Add the orange blossom water and rose water, then keep simmering for another 5 minutes, stirring all the time.

Pour the mixture into a shallow serving dish, and allow to cool. Once cold, spread with the remainder of the cream cheese. Alternatively: divide the mixture between individual silicone moulds. In this case, you don’t need the remaining cream cheese.

To serve: cover each portion with two tablespoons of sugar syrup. Sprinkle over some almonds, pine nuts and chopped pistachios.

For the sugar syrup:

In a saucepan, heat 250g white sugar with 125ml of water and a teaspoon of lemon juice. Once the sugar dissolves, bring to the boil and simmer for two minutes. Finally, add a teaspoon of orange blossom water and a teaspoon of rose water. Stir well and leave to cool.

Worth making? Absolutely. This is one of my favourite new dessert recipes from those that I have tried recently. It’s easy to make, and the ingredient are the sort of thing you have in the store cupboard, but they combine to make something that, in my view, is really quite special.

(*) Not sure that this idea really is so good after all. Taking it to its logical extreme, we would never try anything new, ever, and how much more boring would that make life? Exactly.

(**) Which in Britain we call Turkish delight. Except the Greek version is called loukoumi, and as mastic gum can only come from Greece, I’ll use loukoumi here.

(***) By “rose water” I mean the lighty scented water. DO NOT replace this with a teaspoon of the strong rose extract. You will be overpowered and feel like you are eating perfume. If you do have the strong stuff, use 1-2 drops instead.

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