We like to make plans. We plan our future and we think that everything will happen the way we want. We think that our lives are in our hands and that we can decide about everything. We are convinced that we will always be in a good health, and nothing will change for worse. We get frustrated easily if something does not work out.
My mum visited us for Easter. She brought a lot of Polish specialties, and curd cheese - "twaróg" (I can get it in Paris, as well, in stores carrying Polish food and specialties, but this one straight from Poland is better and much cheaper). Some time ago I decided to bake a Kraków – style cheesecake ("sernik krakowski"), although I am not a great amateur of cakes. And probably it is a pity, because in Poland to baking and eating cakes is a great tradition.
My mum left on Friday, the 9th. I opened the box of cheese in the late afternoon. It was still good, but on that day it was already late and I planned to bake the cake on the next morning only.
That Saturday, April 10th, I got up later than usual. It was ten o’clock already; I sat down on our comfortable coach, sipping my (instant) coffee with milk, I turned my PC on, and once I opened the Gazeta Wyborcza web page, as I do every morning, I thought that there was something wrong with me. It could not be possible that the governmental plane carrying the Polish President Lech Kaczyński and his wife died in a plane crash close to Smoleńsk in Russia, just like this. It could not be true that they crashed just before visiting Katyń, to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Soviet massacre.
“The plane carrying the President and his wife crashed” – I screamed at my husband and his shocked face reflected that indeed, something was wrong with me. But second after second, and minute after minute, once we switched the Polish TV on, we realized, that I was fine and that the plane did crash, that not only the President and his wife died, but also dozens of top officials and the crew members, leaving their families in despair and the nation in a shock. It was not only a horrible truth, but a scary ironic snigger of history. Even though I did not vote for him and his right wing and conservative party “Law and Justice”, I was paralyzed by the scope of the tragedy.
I then forgot about the cheese. Being far away from Poland, I spent nearly the whole weekend in front of TV, watching the news.
On Monday, I realized that the cheese was not good anymore. The plan to bake a cheesecake collapsed. Instead, we made 60 pierogis with potatoes and cheese – using by the way – my new pasta machine I got from my aunt as a birthday gift.
And then suddenly my friend called from Warsaw, announcing that she would be visiting Paris the next day. Thanks to her, I was again offered some fresh curd. I baked the cheesecake on Thursday evening. And on Friday, the sky over the Europe closed because of the volcanic cloud…
The President and his wife were buried last Sunday, in a crypt of the Royal Castle in Kraków.
The official national mourning is finished. And a politician from the President’s party, Law and Justice, said today: “We will put sepia billboards with sad eyes and a signature of Jarosław Kaczyński all over Poland (the President’s twin brother) and we will win the Presidential elections from scratch”.
Yes, national mourning is finished.
But last week I had a nice surprise. My recipe for oscypek with lingonberry preserves, presented some time ago on the blog, was awarded by Edyta from EKOQUCHNIA, who organized a slowfoody action on her blog. I won a culinary slow food book. It is a first little success, encouraging for a new blogger. Thanks, Edyta!
Variation on Kraków Style Cheesecake
“Kraków Style Cheesecake” ("sernik krakowski") is a Polish classic. However, recipes vary so much that one genuine recipe does not exist. The traditional Kraków Style Cheesecake should have a square or a rectangular shape with pastry lattice on top. Often, people cover the cake with icing, which I really hate. I was thinking about this cheesecake for a couple of weeks, analyzing recipes that I have at home and those I could find on the web. I wanted my cheesecake to have crispy sweet dough at the bottom; that is why I decided to use my husband’s recipe. I do not like aroma extracts or vanilla sugar, used in many recipes, so I decided to candy orange skin and use a lot of grains from fresh vanilla beans. I resigned from raisins. I thought it would be too much. However, you can use some, if you like.
I reduced the amount of sugar a bit. I finally used 180 grams and when I will make the cake next time, I definitely will use no more than 150 grams. This is, however, a matter of personal taste.
I used fresh, Polish curd cheese, which has a solid texture. You can find this type of cheese in stores carrying Polish and Russian food. In lack of both, you can try to replace this cheese with ricotta, however, both taste and texture will be a bit different.
And I baked my cake in a round mold.
Finally, as you can see, my cake rather is a variation of the traditional Kraków Style Cheesecake, instead of the original one.
I gave one half of the cake to our favorite butcher, Monsieur Bajon. I cannot wait to find out whether he liked it or not and I will visit him again soon.
Makes 1 round mold 6 cm high of 22 cm diameter
1. Sweet dough
100 g powdered sugar, sifted
125 g butter
250 g flour
In a mixing bowl, place butter, sugar and salt. Mix with a wooden spatula until the butter gets white.
Add the egg and mix furthermore until the mixture gets whiter by adding air into it.
Add the flour and do not over mix. By over mixing the flour, the dough will shrink while baking.
Empty the bowl on a table and work with your hands to complete the mixing of the dough. Form a ball and let the dough rest in the refrigerator for a few hours.
This recipe makes more dough than needed for the cheesecake. You can easily freeze the remaining part and use for another cake or a sweet tart.
2. Candied orange skin
1 medium orange, carefully washed and dried
50 g granulated sugar
Peel the skin of the orange with a peeler. Remove the white part of the skin by scratching it with the blade of a small kitchen knife.
Use a sharp knife to cut the skin into a fine julienne.
In a small saucepan, put the sugar and barely cover it with a bit of cold water.
Cook sugar until the “thread” stage (the syrup drips from a spoon, forms thin threads in water) - about 110° Celsius.
Add the orange skin into the syrup and cook slowly for about 5 minutes.
Remove skin from syrup and place it in a container to cool down.
3. Cheese filling
720 g fresh fat or medium fat curd cheese (sold in stores carrying Polish or Russian food; eventually to be replaced with ricotta)
180 g powdered sugar, sifted; plus some extra for the finishing
4 eggs – separately whites and yolks
2 table spoons potato flour, sifted
2 vanilla beans
80 g soft butter
100 ml whipping cream
Candied orange skin from 1 medium orange
Start from preparation of vanilla beans and orange.
On a cutting board, cut vanilla beans along and remove grains with a sharp, small kitchen knife. Put them aside. Throw the beans away or use for another purpose.
On a cutting board, place ½ of the orange skin and chop it as finely as possible. Should it be too sticky, dissolve in a bit of water and dry out before chopping. You should obtain your orange crumbs ready.
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees.
Remove the sweet dough from the fridge. Cut it into halves. Using a rolling pin, roll out the dough in a circle. It should be about 24 cm in diameter and around 7-8 mm thick. Place it on a baking sheet.
Wrap the remaining dough and freeze it (you can use it for another cake).
Using a fork, prick the surface of the dough and bake for about 8 minutes. Remove from the oven and right away, before it gets hard, cut the dough circle to the exact size of your mold.
Start preparing the cheese mixture.
In old recipes it is advised to grind the cheese using a meat grinder. The texture of the cheese is quite consistent and before mixing it with other ingredients it should be worked into a homogenous mixture. I do not have a grinder in Paris. I simply used a food processor using the kneading hook attachment, which easily changes the block of curd into a smooth mixture. You can try to do this with a potato masher or even a fork, but you probably will not get the same texture.
In a bowl, or in a food processor, mix butter with egg yolks, until the mixture is homogenous and smooth. Add vanilla and crumbs of candid orange skin, mixing all the time. Then little by little, add powdered sugar and potato flour. Mix until the sugar is completely absorbed by butter and egg yolks. Add cream and mix everything. At the end, add – little by little – the cheese and mix until the mixture is completely smooth. Put aside. In a separate bowl, whip the egg whites until stiff (add a bit of sugar about half way). Then fold the egg whites delicately into the cheese “appareil” one third at a time.
Preheat the oven to 170 degrees.
Place the sweet dough at the bottom of the mold and pour the cheese mixture over it. Make sure that the surface is even. Bake between 30 to 40 minutes. The cake is ready once the blade of a knife or a wooden stick remains dry after its insertion into the cake. The cake will grow during baking. Switch the oven off, open the oven door a bit, and leave the cake inside for another 10 to 15 minutes so its surface will not suddenly drop. Then remove the cake from the oven.
Once the cake is completely cooled down, remove the cake from the mold. Sprinkle the surface with some extra powdered sugar, and decorate with the remaining orange skin.