Where to buy ‘A Taste of Slovakia’

Since it was published several months ago, A Taste of Slovakia has landed in a number of selected bookshops and stores around Slovakia, as well as some other parts of the world. I thought you might want to know where the book can be found, so here is a list of places that sell it:

Slovakia

Kníhkupectvá Artforum (Artforum bookshops):
https://www.artforum.sk/katalog/99614/a-taste-of-slovakia

Oxford Bookshop, Laurinská 9, Bratislava

Bratislava flagship restaurant, Námestie SNP 8, Bratislava

Včelco Smolenice shop, Továrenská 10A, Smolenice:
http://www.vcelco.sk/kontakt.php

Podpolianske múzeum Detva

Kníhkupectvo Slobodníková (Slobodníková Bookshop), Tatranská Lomnica

Tatranská informačná kancelária (The High Tatras Information Centre) Starý Smokovec

Knihkupectvo Rajec (Rajec Bookshop), Námestie SNP 2/1, Rajec

Kníhkupectvo Christiania (Christiania Bookshop), Námestie sv. Egídia, Poprad

Leštáchovo kníhkupectvo (Leštách Bookshop), Námestie SNP 4, Zvolen

United Kingdom

The Sonam Halusky Shop, 132 Upper Richmond Road West, London:
https://www.halusky.co.uk/czech-slovak-foods/a-taste-of-slovakia.html#.WW-lj4iGPIU

Australia

The Marie Linke Photography Shoppe:
http://phototreks.net.au/product/a-taste-of-slovakia/

Photo courtesy of Marie Linke (www.phototreks.net.au)

United States of America

National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library, Cedar Rapids, Iowa:
http://www.ncsml.org/product/taste-slovakia-cookbook/

I’ll be adding to the list as/if it grows in the future. If you know about a bookshop or a store that would like to sell the book, or if you wish to have your copy delivered to your postal address, please leave a message at

cookslovak@gmail.com

or in the contact form below:

 

Choosing the right flour

Despite the latest trends and fashions, which have put this ingredient on the list of most evil enemies in our diets, the Slovaks are not ready yet to have flour removed from their kitchens. Very few of them would think of replacing traditional wheat flour with gluten-free substitutes unless gluten is a serious health issue.

We tend to think of flour (múka in Slovak) as powder milled from grains, especially wheat and rye, so anything like banana, rice or tapioca flour raises eyebrows and is looked upon with suspicion. There are a few Slovak websites and food speciality shops that sell them, but they come at monstrous prices, because they have to be imported from far-away countries. Moreover, these gluten-free flours don’t produce the fluffy cakes or crusty breads we love so much.

Wheat and rye, on the other hand, have been grown and cultivated in Slovakia for centuries. Wheat and rye flour are therefore widely used in our traditional cuisine. That said, most Slovaks will only need four main types of wheat flour in their cooking or baking:

Pšeničná múka hladká (Fine Wheat Flour 00 – Extra) is made of soft summer wheat and has a protein content of around 10%. It is white in colour and milled to very fine powder. We use it for baking fine cakes and pastries like sponges and strudels, or to thicken soups, sauces and dips. Pšeničná múka hladká 00 Extra has a low gluten content and is similar (though not identical) in texture to cake or pastry flour. The closest German variety would be Flour Type T405, and it would correspond well to French flour T45.

Pšeničná múka hladká T-650 (Fine Wheat Flour T-650) is also milled to fine powder, but it’s stronger, slightly darker, and has a higher gluten content, which makes this flour suitable for bread baking. Gluten is one of wheat’s proteins that gives dough elasticity, helps it rise and keep its shape. We also use this flour for our traditional honey cookies, or to coat food before frying. Pšeničná múka hladká T-650 is similar to the French T65.

Pšeničná múka polohrubá (Semi-coarse Wheat Flour) is made of soft summer wheat, it is white in colour and milled to a slightly coarser consistency. It has an overall protein content of around 9.3%. We often use it in fruit and chocolate cakes.

Pšeničná múka hrubá (Coarse Wheat Flour) has an overall protein content of around 9.8%. It is popular for noodles and other Slovak home-made pasta. It makes a wonderful Wheat Kasha, traditionally eaten for breakfast. We also use it to dust baking bowls and dishes after greasing them, which helps prevent the baked food from sticking to the dish.

Unlike in other western countries, wheat flour in Slovakia is never sold with a leavening agent. We add baking powder to the flour at the final stage of dough mixing to ensure the best rise.

No baking powder is used in our breads. They are either made with yeast or sourdough. One of the most desired Slovak breads is a potato one, which has mashed potato added to the flour.

Rye bread or wheat-rye bread, which is made of wheat and rye flour mixed at different ratios, has been part of our diet from times immemorial.

In the last couple of decades many Slovaks have developed a strong liking for whole wheat or wholemeal food products. Whole wheat and Graham flour, which are both made by grinding the whole wheat without the bran being removed, have become very popular as healthier alternatives of wheat flour. Together with a recently added spelt flour made from a grain related to wheat, as well as various flour mixes for home baking, they are easily available in most shops and supermarkets in Slovakia. Not only do these flours have a higher protein content (above 11%), but they are also richer in vitamins and minerals. I often add them to the white wheat flours when I’m making pizza or other yeast-based doughs.

I have also started using wholemeal flour in halušky (halushki) – traditional Slovak pasta – to increase its nutritional value.

Decorating Easter cookies

As Mother Nature is awakening after a long winter sleep, so is our need for more warmth, sunshine and brighter colours. Not only do they show on the streets, in the parks and more still in the countryside, the spring colours also enter our kitchens, land on our tables and brighten up our food.

I have always wanted to show you the art of traditional honey-cookie decorating in Slovakia, but couldn’t find exactly what I was looking for. Then I came across Alžbeta’s fanpage and I knew she was the right person to tell the story.

Alžbeta is the Slovak name for Elizabeth and her honey cookies are as divine as the name suggests. When I got in touch with her to make an appointment, I didn’t know what a beautiful corner of Slovakia this would take me to. Perhaps that is where Alžbeta finds inspiration for her work?

Alžbeta is a mother of four and a busy housewife, who turns into a cookie fairy in the quiet of night.

She and her family live in Kremnické Bane – a village close to the spot that was declared the geographical centre of Europe back in 1815. The ride through the vast, undulating meadows dotted with fir trees and charming chalets leaves me wondering how many more treasures like these I have not seen yet – despite my extensive travels around the country. I make a promise to return, as there is no time to explore the place now. I have come for honey cookies, and I want to make the most of the visit. A batch of freshly baked cookies is already waiting to get a festive coating.

Alžbeta gets her gear ready. The first step is making the white icing. All you need at this stage is:

  • 1 egg white
  • icing or castor sugar (about 130 g)
  • a bowl and a whisk or fork
  • plastic zip bags (10 x 15 cm)

The exact amount of sugar will depend on how thick you want your icing to be. The more sugar, the thicker icing you get.

Method: 

Now that you’re ready to start decorating, follow these tips from Alžbeta to achieve the best results:

  1. Take the bag with the icing in one hand and twist it slightly with the other one. Press the icing down towards the tip of the bag, and use sharp scissors to cut a hole in it. A small hole is good for criss-cross patterns, ’embroidery’ or ‘painting’, you’ll need a bigger one to cover or fill in larger spaces.
  2. If you don’t use all the icing, zip it up in the bag and store at room temperature for up to 24 hours. Remember to stir it well, or place the icing in a new bag before you use it again later.
  3. For colour patterns, use natural food colourings, which come in the form of powder or gel in Slovakia, and stir them into the white icing evenly. Be careful to let the colour pattern on the cookie(s) dry for at least 24 hours before applying another layer or a different colour.
  4. To create a nice, clean pattern, hold the bag closely above the cookie, move your hand slowly as if drawing, and let the thread of icing fall down while fixing or turning the cookie with the other hand.

I’ll be sharing the recipe for our traditional honey cookies on a different occasion, but the tips & techniques given above can be applied to any cookies, so if you want to channel your creative energy onto your favourite ones, feel free to experiment.

Traditional honey cookies from Slovakia

 Good luck!

Good news!

There’s nothing more rewarding for an author than to see their book on a shelf in a real bookstore. More even, if this is a first-time author who has published the book herself after years of working on it and wondering whether all her efforts ever materialize.

I’m quite good at containing my emotions (either positive or negative), and I’m certainly not the one that would dance with her book around the flat taking selfies and posting them online. I don’t go sneaking around that store checking on the number of sold copies (though gosh, how much I’d want to know), but when I got a phone call last night saying ‘we want more of your book’, it sounded like a song to my ears! And I did feel a surge of happiness welling up inside me, filling my eyes with mist. It’s not that I’m desperate to see my name out there along with other well-established authors. I just feel immense gratitude to those who, by buying the book,  quietly acknowledged its worth and dispelled a clump of uncertainties that had accumulated in my mind over the years.

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As I said in the previous post, A Taste of Slovakia is far more than a cookbook. It blends my love of cooking and writing with a new hobby I took up on the way. It was more out of necessity that I started to take pictures – I couldn’t afford to pay a professional photographer – but as soon as I grasped the basic techniques, I found myself totally immersed in the new challenge.

The Artforum Žilina bookshop is the only one at the moment to be selling the book, but I’m trying to find more outlets to bring it to a wider audience. It’s not easy, as the market for English books in Slovakia is very small and the wholesale terms & conditions are extremely tough for a self-published author, which you’d expect, wouldn’t you? We’ll have to find a way though, and I’m happy to announce I’ve successfully shipped a few copies around Slovakia recently.

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Until I find reliable, trustworthy partners to help me sell the book outside Slovakia, I can ship individual copies by Slovak registered mail at the rates below:

Europe:  18.80 € (including postage & packing)
Rest of World:  25.80 € (including postage & packing)

As I have found out, the more copies in a package, the less the postage is per item. So if you’d like to own one, just click on the ‘Contact’ button in the top right hand corner of this page and send me an e-mail. I’ll deal with the order according to Slovak trade license conditions, and will dispatch the item(s) together with an invoice that can be paid on the arrival of the book(s).

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As you can see on Cookslovak’s facebook page, the first buyers from Slovakia have already taken a few copies of the book as far as the USA. Let’s hope the tastes of Slovakia will travel happily around the world, and inspire a good many of home cooks 😉

A Taste of Slovakia

It was born – at long last! The book I’ve been struggling to publish for so long has finally seen the light of day. How shall I organize its ‘christening’? Will the book appeal to the Slovak public and, most importantly, will it find a way to international audiences it is aimed at? Too many questions to answer for a newcomer like me. It looks like there’s another challenge to take before I can claim myself a published author. Hopefully, I’ll be able to connect to such nice, helpful people outside Slovakia as I have been lucky enough to meet so far.

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As you can see in the slideshow above, A Taste of Slovakia is much more than a list of our traditional recipes. It’s a journey into this small country’s culture, the way of living, the history that is – oh, so very short. And for those who will delve deeper into the text, there is an added bonus …

I’m now trying to find my way through the rigmarole of book-selling and, even more daunting a task, international shipping. As soon as I have good news on this, I’ll be posting it here. I’m really looking forward to making a more tactile connection with food enthusiasts around the world!

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Stay in touch and wish me good luck, my dear reader 🙂

Jarmila

How to make ‘halushki’

When the Communist regime was toppled in Central Europe at the turn of 1980s and 1990s, our borders opened both ways, so we could not only travel to the ‘Western paradise’, but also had the first English-speaking tourists coming to Slovakia (part of Czechoslovakia at the time). When asked about our national dish, we found it quite difficult to explain what Halušky s bryndzou was, so the first English attempts at describing the dish went like this: It’s sort of small potato dumplings covered in bryndza (another very Slovak ingredient) and topped with fried bacon pieces.

With more foreigners sampling the dish and returning to the country (not only for halušky), the Slovak word got its English transcription, and that’s how these small dumplings are now called by their non-Slovak fans. When talking about ‘halushki’, I often refer to them as traditional Slovak pasta, because they’ve been an essential part of our cuisine for centuries. Some people liken them to German spätzle or Hungarian galuska, and indeed they look very similar, which only proves how easily cooking ideas travelled across the borders in the past.  

To make potato halushki, you will need:

  • pasta flour (when in Slovakia, look for hrubá múka, which translates as coarse flour)
  • grated raw potatoes
  • a pinch of salt
  • egg (optional)

For the exact measurements and instructions, go to specific recipes, e.g. Strapatchki

The easiest and quickest way to make those funny little dumplings is to push the potato dough through a halushki-maker, like in the photo below:

Halushki-makers come in different shapes, sizes and materials. I’m sure you can buy one in Hungary, Germany, Austria or even Switzerland. If not, come to Slovakia ;-). Or do it like most Slovaks do when staying abroad. Although this method is more laborious, it’s also more fun. All you need is a knife or a teaspoon, a small wooden board and some skill which, of course, comes with practice. So let’s start:

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Cut the small dumplings with a teaspoon …
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… or with a cutlery knife …
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… straight into the boiling water.

Halushki can serve several purposes. In Slovak cuisine, they may replace noodles in soups, or accompany meat in main dishes, like in the Braised Rabbit Thighs with Halushki. In this case, grated raw potatoes are left out, but the egg is essential, and you can add herbs of your own choice to the dough to give it more flavour or an extra kick.

My Grandma used to make halushki for a Sunday soup from her chickens’ livers. She mashed them with a fork, added some flour and eggs, a pinch of salt and a few sprigs of chopped parsley and off they went to the boiling water. Well, that was a delicacy, I can tell you!

How to make chocolate icing

OK, you can buy ready-made chocolate icing in most shops and supermarkets. All you need to do is heat the packet together with its contents, then pour it out onto the cake or pastry. Very convenient indeed, but you can’t control what they put in there, so you’ll have to be content with ‘a mix of vegetable oils’ and ’emulgators’ among other ingredients showing on the packet. At least here in Slovakia. I don’t really know anyone who’d use the store-bought stuff to replace fresh, home-made chocolate icing. It’s easy and fun to do, doesn’t take long and, above all, it tastes much better than the mass-produced chocolate mix.

Managing chocolate icing has always been in the forefront of my Mum’s baking. If she didn’t like her icing, she wouldn’t be happy with the cake – no matter how delicious it was. So I learnt to make my own chocolate icing quite early in my baking life, although I’ve never been such a perfectionist as my Mum. I want to share with you today what she taught me, and hope my daughters will pick the advice when they feel like it.

Basically, you only need two ingredients to make chocolate icing – and that is:

  • 100 g chocolate (cooking or dark one)
  • 50 g margarine or shortening

I’ve been using these same measurements for all the desserts so far, whether it be Banana No-bake Minicakes, Creamy Banana No-bake Cake, Dobosh Cookies, or plenty others.  Not only does it yield enough chocolate icing to cover most desserts, but I’m very often left with a surplus. The good thing is that, once made, you can store the chocolate icing in the fridge, and reheat it whenever and whatever you need it for.

The choice of the right ingredients plays a crucial role if you want your cake/cookies look and taste good. For example, we in Slovakia almost always go for a regular cooking chocolate, which is available in all stores around the country. I used it for Banana No-bake Minicakes last Silvester:

No-bake Banana Minicakes
No-bake Banana Minicakes

However, when we were making Dobosh cookies with my daughter recently,  I had no cooking chocolate at home but a Slovak brand of dark chocolate. I was surprised how shiny and deep in colour our cookies came out when dipped in the icing:

They looked almost as immaculate as my Mum’s.

As for the margarine or shortening, again we have a special brand in Slovakia that works very well for icing, so that’s what most Slovak housewives use, including my family. I guess each country has its own selection of margarines and shortenings, so feel free to share your favourite ones in the comments.

Method:

Break the chocolate and the margarine/shortening into a small cooking pot and melt over a medium-low heat. You can do this by placing the pot straight on a cooker plate, or in a steam bath, as seen in the photos below:

Put aside to let cool a little.

Depending on the cake or pastry you want to coat, pour or spoon the icing over the top and smooth to achieve a nice finish.

Pour the hot chocolate icing all over the cake.
Pour the hot chocolate icing all over the cake.

In some cases, the recipe will call for dipping the individual cakes/cookies in the warm chocolate mixture:

And here are a few examples of what it may look like in the end:

What is your experience with chocolate icing and how do you make it?
I’d love to hear your suggestions and ideas.

Detvian Strudel

This past weekend was an eventful one with gorgeous weather, exciting people and most delicious food. All in one place – my native town of Detva and its close vicinity.

The end of May usually brings more sunshine, higher temperatures and a whole lot of outdoor activities. Whether it be walking tours organised by local branches of Slovak Hiking Club, open-air goulash parties in the country, or traditional Maypole dancing, they are all splendid events that deserve a special mention. Before I start blogging about these, I want to put down a few notes to help me remember my culinary experience in the bakery ‘U Boriakov’. It’s where my journey began last weekend.

To be more precise, I’d had to arrive in Detva the evening before in order to be at the place early Friday morning. The ‘U Boriakov’  bakery is a family business that has been up and running for over twenty years now, but the real breakthrough came when they launched the traditional Detvian strudel production a few years ago.

When I showed up at eight on Friday morning, the bakers had already had a few batches of the strudel ready and cooling down in the storeroom. The staff of seven had been working since six – the father and mother both at retirement age yet still active, a son and three daughters plus a friend from the neighbourhood. It was clear they all knew their place in the house-turn-small-factory. A large kitchen that took up most of the ground floor was equipped with two sizeable ovens, which sent an irresistible smell all over the place. I tried hard to focus on the people and the photography to diverse my thoughts from the strudels, but it proved a lost battle. Against my normal routine I hadn’t had breakfast that morning, and my stomach was not at all happy with ‘digital food’. Fortunately, I was saved a few moments later when the bakers decided to have their morning coffee break. The family invited me for a nice cup of tea, which came with a plate full of heavenly strudel and a good-natured conversation. All my senses were utterly pleased, and my stomach more than satisfied.

It was much easier afterwards to follow the baking process, ask the right questions, and admire the bakers’ inimitable dexterity.

Although the ground poppy seed strudel is by far the most popular, they also do other fillings like nuts, apples, curds as well as combinations of these, which are often enriched with cherries or other seasonal fruit. There’s a special filling for the wedding strudel that is in great demand too.

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In the final stage of strudel making, the bakers lift the large cotton sheet the dough has rested so far, and they roll it in by pulling and moving the sheet simultaneously. The long strudel is then divided into equal parts by a special measuring device designed and made by the father. After that, the strudels are transferred onto a baking tray, brushed with melted butter all over their tops, and baked.

When they come out of the oven, they look like this:

Detvian Strudel

Or like this:

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Mouth-watering, isn’t it? Well, it’s no surprise that Detvian Strudel got a ‘Regional Product of Podpolanie’ award for the second consecutive year. It’s a highly respected label that honours quality, traditional production and the use of local labour, as well as regional resources and ingredients.

If you want to experience the strudel making yourself, just send me a message and I’ll try to arrange a visit for you.

How to make yeast-leavened dough

Mastering yeast-leavened dough is nuts and bolts of Slovak cuisine. We use yeast in all our breads and plenty of cakes, whether it be sweet or savoury. It’s an essential ingredient for much-loved doughnuts, as well as our bread-like dumplings, which are served either on their own or to go with meat.

When talking about yeast, I almost exclusively mean fresh yeast. It is cheap and easy to get in all Slovak groceries and supermarkets. I guess the same results can be achieved with the instant or dried alternative, but fresh yeast is much more preferred in my country.

I learned to make yeast-leavened dough quite a few years ago from my Mum, and hopefully I’ll be able to pass the knowledge not only to my daughters.

Here’s what fresh yeast looks like:

Fresh yeast is sold in cubes of 42 g in Slovakia
Fresh yeast is sold in blocks of 42 g in Slovakia

To make a nice, frothy dough, you need:

  • warm milk
  • a pinch of sugar
  • a pinch of salt
  • flour (in most recipes I combine plain wheat with wholemeal)
  • some oil
  • a little patience

The exact measurements will depend on the kind of dough you are making. Some recipes call for a thicker dough, others will require a looser one, so always follow the recipe for the amounts of ingredients. Once you get more skilled, you’ll be able to make your dough by eye.

As far as I know, Slovak housewives use warm milk to dissolve yeast, although I have seen a few food blogs in English that suggest warm water. I remember trying the water when I was younger, but the dough didn’t have the same feel and taste, so I have stuck with milk since then and never revisited the other option.

I pour the milk in a heatproof mug and warm it on a cooker over a low heat. Then I transfer a third or half of the warm milk (depending on the amount of the yeast used) to a small glass and crumble the yeast into it.

It’s important to keep the right milk-yeast ratio at this stage. If you use too much milk, you’ll drown the yeast and the fermentation will take much longer to start, if at all. To facilitate the fermentation process, I always add a pinch of sugar and a pinch of plain wheat flour to the warm milk. I stir the yeast well until it dissolves. Then I cover the glass and leave it in a warm place. Depending on the room temperature, the yeast will take 2 – 7 minutes to rise.

To make the dough, put the flour in a large mixing bowl and add a pinch of salt. Remember to stir it well into the flour so that the yeast doesn’t get in direct contact with the salt. Pour in the fermented yeast, as well as the remaining warm/lukewarm milk. A tablespoon or two of oil will add elasticity and shine to your dough. When all the ingredients are in there, combine them well to obtain a smooth dough. Add some warm water, if needed, to achieve the right consistency of the dough, as specified by the recipe.

I know there are all sorts of machines to help knead the dough, but I still prefer to do it the old-fashioned way. First, I like the feeling of dough moving in between my fingers. Second, it helps me better assess its consistency.

The only time I use my hand mixer is when I’m making a loose dough for dolki. When I am happy with the result, I cover the dough with a dish-towel and leave it in a warm place for about an hour.

Yeast Leavened Dough

By that time, the dough will have doubled in volume, and can be used to make shishki , steamed dumplings, and a wealth of cakes. Give it a try and drop me a line to say how it goes with your dough. Good luck and happy kneading!