Tag Archives: slovakian food

{6} Zázvorníky (Slovak Ginger Cookies)

Last year I had great success with walnut cookies from Slovakia that looked like walnuts. So I was naturally delighted to find another Slovakian recipe, this time for ginger cookies. And guess what? They’re shaped to look like root ginger. Pretty clever, yes?

I loved the look of these cookies as they combine three things I really like in baking – an interesting shape, lots of warming ginger, and I get to use baker’s ammonia (aka my favourite novelty raising agent). Fun times!

Baker’s ammonia is an uncommon ingredient today, but is has a long history that pre-dates baking powder (indeed, baking powder was invented only as recently as 1843 by Alfred Bird when he was looking for a leavener that was both egg and yeast-free). Baker’s ammonia was originally derived from the ground-up antlers of red deer, hence its other name “salt of hartshorn”, but it is now made chemically.

In its pure state, it has a really pungent smell of ammonia and you can’t eat it, but the benefit of baker’s ammonia is that it gives cookies great lift and crispness as it breaks down completely during baking to create gas. This does mean when you open the oven door you are treated to a really pungent waft of ammonia. The cookies themselves are completely ammonia-free, but it is important that anything you make with baker’s ammonia is fairly thin so that they can expand and that stinky gas can escape. For this reason it is not used as a raising agent in cakes. And be warned – you can’t try the cookie dough that has baker’s ammonia in it!

You can see in the picture below what effect baker’s ammonia has. The cookies will double or triple in height during baking creating a lightness that baking powder can’t beat.

You might look at this recipe and wonder if two tablespoons of ginger is really right? Yes it is. The flavour is ginger, and only ginger (with the addition of a dash of vanilla, which the Flavour Thesaurus tells me is a good pairing). So if you’re making a cookie which is all about ginger, then you really want to make sure that there is enough in there to really pack a punch. After baking the flavour really is delicious – they’re fairly sweet, but after a moment the warmth of the ginger tempers that. Heck, you might even want to add a third tablespoon of ginger is you want them really fiery. And if you wanted to make them even more special, dipping the bases into dark chocolate would be fabulous, as you’ll have the awesome ginger-chocolate combination along with the crunchy biscuit.

There is also a special cutter for making zázvorníky. I’ve seen people describe it as looking like a piece of ginger root, and that is enough for me. If walnut cookies are shaped like walnuts, it is just a matter of logic that ginger cookies should look like ginger. But it does feel like we are starting to veer into Doctor Seuss territory where cookies must only ever be shaped like the thing they are flavoured with.

Sadly, I could not find a zázvorníky cutter anywhere, so I had to improvise. I had three options. First, I could have gone online and ordered a bespoke cookie cutter based on my design which would be 3D printed. This was my original plan, but I’ve been warned on more than one occasion that I have too much kitchen equipment already. Second, you could just freestyle them with a knife and perhaps a paper template, which I think could be very meditative but would also take a bucket load of patience.

Which brings me to the third option: I improvised by cutting the rolled dough into rectangles (2x8cm), then I used a large round piping nozzle to cut half-circles along the sides. This proved to be really easy and effective, plus I got a bit of credit for not buying another single-use item. Win-win!

These cookies need to rest overnight, and in the morning you get to bake them with the joy of your kitchen already being clean. The drying is essential – it means they keep their shape, and the lift from the ammonia is directed down so that the gain a lot of height. As a result, I think they do sort of look like ginger rhizomes after baking. What do you think?

I really enjoyed these. They’re fairly easy to make, and the shape is unique and fun, and they really taste great. A clear yes from me.

To make Zázvorníky (makes 50)

• 250g plain flour, plus 50-75g extra as needed
• 2 tablespoons ground ginger
• 1/2 teaspoons baker’s ammonia
• pinch of salt
• 250g icing sugar
• 2 large eggs, at room temperature
• 4 tablespoons melted butter, cooled
• 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Put 250g flour, ginger, baking ammonia and salt into a bowl. Mix well and set aside.

2. In a separate bowl, add the eggs and icing sugar. Beat with an electric whisk until pale and fluffy, around 5 minutes. The mixture is done when a lifted beater leaves a “ribbon” on the mixture.

3. Add the cooled melted butter (and vanilla if using) and fold gently. Finally, add the flour mixture and mix well until if forms a firm dough. You may need to add more plain flour – add 25g at a time until you have a firm dough. I added an extra 50g in total.

4. Roll out the dough to about 1/2 cm thickness. Cut out whatever shapes take your fancy, and transfer to a baking sheet. You can make different shapes, but try to keep the same sizes on each sheet so that they bake evenly. I cut rectangles of 2×8 cm, then used a large piping nozzle to cut semi-circles along the edges.

5. Leave the cookies to rest, uncovered, overnight so that the tops dry out.

6. The next day, preheat the oven to 170°C (340°F). Bake the cookies for 10-12 minutes. They are done when they are puffed up and lightly golden. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

Note – store in an airtight container. Cookies made with baker’s ammonia can soften over time, but you can restore their crunch by putting them in a low oven for a few minutes to dry them out a little.

Leave a comment

Filed under Christmas, Recipe, Sweet Things

{9} Oriešky

When it comes to Christmas cookies, I have something of a penchant for acquiring yet more niche kitchen equipment.

So you can imagine that I was pretty happy to find jolly little oriešky from Slovakia which are baked to look like walnuts using special little moulds, and traditionally filled with a walnut cream. So yes, I’m now the proud owner of ten tiny walnut moulds.

Similar cookies pop up in a few countries across Europe, ranging from what you might think of as traditional cookie doughs to those made with a batter and thus somewhat closer in texture to wafers. If you are truly committed you can even go all out and invest in a little Russian walnut-making iron, similar to something you would use for making waffles. While I could justify buying a small set of walnut moulds, even I had to draw the line at an electric walnut maker. Sadly.

Finding a recipe that I liked the look of was tricky. I hunted high and low for one that would, firstly, not make about 400 cookies, and second, that I would actually like. There were a fair few recipes that I read and was not convinced by. The lack of pictures always makes me suspicious as to whether something has actually been tested. I did use one recipe which looked good, but the cookies ended up being so fragile that I baked two batches, saw most of them collapse in my hands, and I gave up. The failed cookies and the unbaked dough went in the bin.

Was I to be doomed to failure? No! I had a think about what I needed this recipe to do, and decided to adapt a recipe for Dutch speculaas cookies. I removed the spices and added a dash of cocoa powder and some ground walnuts. My little flash of inspiration worked like a dream. The dough is easy to make, easy to work with, very forgiving in terms of being handled, pressed into shape, trimmed and re-rolled, and the baked cookies are great.

The cookies keep their shape, go perfectly crisp during baking, and pop out of the moulds easily with just a sharp tap on the tray (full disclosure – my moulds are non-stick, and I’ve not tested this recipe with plain metal moulds). They also have the benefit of being a rich, deep nutty shade, so they do kind of look like walnuts. All this means they are easy to assemble, and after filling and some resting time, the cookie becomes a little softer and the whole thing is a little nugget of deliciousness.

In terms of actually shaping the cookies, it’s surprisingly easy. You pinch off a little ball of dough, then press it hard into the mould. And you really want to press – I don’t think there was more than a couple of millimeters of dough in there. At first I thought that there was not going to be enough, but have faith (and do a test bake) but they will puff up during baking. Thin dough means they will be crisp, and it also means that you’ll have a dimple afterwards that makes filling them quite easy. If the dough is too thick, the cookie will just expand and you’re going to suffer from a low filling-to-cookie ratio. No-one wants that.

If you are not in the market for investing in walnut moulds, then a small madeleine mould would work well. Otherwise you  could just roll out this dough and cut out circles to make sandwich cookies. But then they don’t look like nuts. And, well, if you’re going to all this effort, surely you want the whimsical sight of a bowl of edible walnut shells?

For the filling, you have options. I actually made two different ones – a whipped buttercream custard filling made with ground walnuts, and a whipped dulce de leche buttercream for some caramel goodness.

The walnut filling is based on a basic custard thickened with flour. While it might look complex, it’s a pretty easy method, and you get a lovely light smooth buttercream with a good walnut flavour to it. Just be warned that the amount would get will easily fill all 50 cookies, but I just could not make a quantity smaller than the one below without getting into silly micro-measurements. That said, the filling is delicious, so you can easily use it in other things. In fact, I made little sandwich cookies with some of my remaining paciencias and the walnut filling, and they were spec-ta-cu-lar. The dulce de leche filling is just caramel whipped with butter, so easier to make and if you’ve got extra caramel left over, that really is a nice problem to have.

Finally, for fun, I filled a few with some Nutella. They were just glorious. So if you are feeling lazy but still demand results, that’s defiantly the way go.

If you do decide to have a go at making oriešky, I recommend some trial-and-error testing. It seems obvious, but different moulds are different sizes, and will need different baking times. You’ll also want to check that you’re making them thin enough. It is really worth doing a rest run with just one and seeing how long it needs to bake. I often do this on a recipe that is very new to me or where I think the timings indicated might be off. Better to ruin one cookie than a whole batch.

One other thing to know – this will require a serious time commitment. Making the cookies is easy, but unless you’ve got lots of moulds, you’re doing this in a series of batches. The recipe makes 50 sandwich cookies, which needs 100 shells. I had just 10 moulds, so I had to bake 10 batches in total. I ended up spending a very, very long time filling, removing, and re-filling them…thank goodness they slipped right out and didn’t also need washing between each use too! But they look great, taste wonderful and they were fun to do. Because if your baking isn’t taking hours, does it even count as lockdown baking?

To make Oriešky (makes around 50)

For the shells:

• 95g butter
• 55g white caster sugar
• 55g soft brown sugar
• 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• 25ml buttermilk
• 200g plain flour
• 50g ground walnuts
• 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
• 1 teaspoon cocoa powder

1. Preheat the oven to 175°C (350°F). Arrange the moulds on a baking sheet.

2. Put the butter in a bowl, and beat until soft. Add the sugar, salt, vanilla and buttermilk, then beat until creamy. Combine the flour, baking soda, cocoa powder and ground walnuts. Add to the main bowl and mix everything until you have a soft dough that comes away from the bowl.

3. Pinch off some dough and press into the mould. You want it to be pretty thin – 2-3mm at most. Trim off any excess with a sharp knife. Bake the cookies for around 8 minutes until the dough looks puffed and set, and they are a rich brown colour. Remove from the oven, allow cool for a moment, then remove from the moulds (I flipped them over and gave a sharp tap – the cookie popped out). Repeat until all the dough is used up.

4. Time to fill the cookies. Take a shell, fill it generously with the filling of your choice, then add another shell on top. Transfer the cookies to an airtight container, and leave to rest in the fridge overnight. Remove from the bridge 15 minutes before serving.

To make walnut cream filling

• 15g plain flour
• 100g white sugar
• 25g walnuts
• 120ml milk
• pinch of salt
• 110g unsalted butter
• 1 teaspoon rum
• 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Put the walnuts and milk into a small saucepan. Use an immersion blender to blitz until smooth.

2. Add the flour, sugar and salt. Mix well. Place over a medium heat and cook until the sugar has dissolved. Keep cooking for around 2 minutes, stirring constantly, until the mixture starts to thicken and looks slightly translucent.

3. Transfer the thickened mixture to a plate, cover with cling film and press it down on the surface. Leave to cool completely.

4. Put the butter in a bowl. Beat until light and fluffy. Start to add spoonfuls of the pudding mixture and beat well after each addition. Finally add the rum and vanilla. You’re done.

To make dulce de leche filling

• 100g butter
• 120g dulce de leche
• large pinch of salt

1. Put the butter in a bowl. Beat until light and fluffy.

2. Add the dulce de leche and salt and beat well. If the mixture seems too wet, add a little more butter and beat well to incorporate. You’re done.

To fill with Nutella

1. Open a jar of Nutella!


Filed under Christmas, Recipe, Sweet Things