Saturday, May 15, 2010

White Asparagus and Crayfish Cake with a Strong Polish Twist

The preface to the 1986 New York reprint of the very old “Polish Cookery” by Marja Ochorowicz - Monatowa starts with following words: “Poland, like France, is a country where people really know food. One can stop at a wayside inn in the countryside or at a modest restaurant in a working-class city neighborhood and be served a meal worthy remembering. Good food is a tradition….”

As far as I know, Polish Cookery by Marja Ochorowicz Monatowa, which contains 2200 rustic, peasants and bourgeois recipes, had been edited at the end of the XIXth Century, and was then reprinted several times before the Second World War. In the 1950’s, the book was translated into English and published in the United States. Last summer, I found the 1986 English reprint in a bookstore in Krakow, and I bought it straight away.

I agree that food plays an important role in Polish traditions; one of my friends noticed that the Poles “grignotent” all the time (especially, secretaries in public administration), and tables are weighed down because of the huge amounts of food, especially during celebration days. I would be, however more skeptical about stopping by at a modest restaurant, “just like that”, as written in the book. The reality of restaurants is not that simple and as nice as described in the preface to American edition of this old cook book. That’s why one should be rather cautious about credibility of the words cited above.

Today’s recipe contains crayfish.
In Monatowa’s book one can find tens of recipes with crayfish (soups, butter, sauces, terrines, pâtés and so on). On the contrary, few Polish cookbooks, edited after 1989, mentions crayfish - a popular ingredient in Polish cooking (mostly bourgeois) before the communist era. Probably this is due to the lost of our old culinary culture on the one side; and on the other – probably also due to poorer conditions of soft waters.

I do not eat crayfish often. Frankly, I eat them very rarely, although they are not so difficult to buy (in some grocery stores, both in Paris and in Krakow, one can find cooked crayfish). My first experience with crayfish was at the beginning of the eighties, when I was a kid. On our way back from the Baltic Sea to Kraków, we stopped over in the historical area of Mazury, which is known for its thousand of small and bigger lakes and forests. My parents’ friends owned a little house in a small village, close to a town called Pisz. My two memories from that place: night crayfish catching, and children’s secret visits at the old and abandoned Prussian cemetery.
Well, I do not remember so much from crayfish catching, except for the parents, wearing wellington boots, floundering in water at night. I remember also our parents dropping living creatures into boiling water. I came back to Kraków from that holiday with a small package of red crayfish shells, which I kept in one of my secret boxes for a couple of years, until I grew up a bit and started to collect other “treasures”.

Today’s recipe is my first experiment with a salty cake. Some time ago, I bought a nice, small Hachette book about salty cakes, hoping to bake one soon. I like salty cakes, but I did not know them when I lived in Poland. Not so long ago Polka and Anoushka presented beautiful salty cakes on their blogs, and I realized that my small book is covered with dust (girls, thanks for reminding me).
They are easy to do. Most of recipes use the same basic ingredients: flour, eggs, milk, yeast and cheese. The rest depends on your imagination and taste.
The season for asparagus will be finished soon, so I decided to use white asparagus this time (today’s post is my last one concerning asparagus). I decided to mix them with two other delicate ingredients, meaning crayfish and saffron, and to add a strong rustic touch to the dish, by adding some grated cheese, similar to Oscypek, that I got from Poland. It gave a nice smoked and slightly salty taste to the cake, but did not dominate it. You can use, however, any of your favorite hard cheese.
I used one half spelt flour and one half regular flour; the texture was a bit solid, so next time I will experiment with other types of flour.

White Asparagus and Crayfish Cake with a Strong Polish Twist

Makes one 24 cm long and 7 cm deep mold – serves a small crowd as a snack

250 g white asparagus
120 g crayfish, unshelled (unfortunately, I only could buy cooked crayfish)
60 g grated Oscypek, or any other hard cheese (preferably smoked)
2 pinch saffron stigmas
1 tablespoon parsley, finely chopped
Grated zest of half a lemon (organic)
100 g spelt flour, sifted*
100 g all purpose flour (you can use 200 g all purpose flour instead of spelt flour), sifted
3 egg yolks (you can use egg whites as well)
50 ml milk
60 ml whipping cream
50 ml olive oil
3 g dried yeast
15-20 g butter (for the mold)
Some extra olive oil

Start to prepare the white asparagus. Break or cut off the wooden dry part of them and throw them away. Peel delicately their stems. Cut the asparagus across into halves. Slice delicately the parts with tips along (they should be about 5 to 6 cm long). Cut the remaining parts across into thin slices.
Steam asparagus for 3 to 4 minutes or cook them for a few minutes in boiling water. Then strain under cold water and put aside.
In a large bowl, combine yeast with flour and pepper.
In a second bowl, pour the egg yolks. Whip them slightly. Add milk, cream and olive oil and mix. Add parsley, saffron and mix.
Add the liquid into the dried mixture and mix until it is homogenous. Add the cheese and mix. Taste. I do not advise to add salt if you are going to use a salty cheese. If you like your dough to grow more, leave it for around one hour, covered with a towel.
Prepare the mold: butter the inside and sift a bit of flour over it.
Divide the mixture into three parts.
Place the first part at the bottom of the mold and spread it equally.
Then place one layer of asparagus slices. Cover with the second layer of the dough but ensure that you do not leave any air bubbles.
Then place crayfish and cover with the third layer of dough. On the top of your cake, place the tips of asparagus and leftovers of crayfish. Cover them with a bit of olive oil, so they will not dry out while baking.
Bake in the oven, preheated to around 170 degrees for about 30 to 40 minutes (cover the mold with aluminum foil, remove it after 20 minutes). The cake is ready when a wooden stick, put into the cake, comes out dry.
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 drop down suddenly. Then remove the cake from the oven.
Once the cake is completely cooled down, remove unmold it.
It will taste best when eaten on the same day.

1 pack of crayfish (cooked): 3,20 €
250 g white asparagus: 1 €
3 eggs (organic): 1,20 €
Saffron (hard to say, I had it in stock)
Other ingredients: around 2 €
Oscypek : 1 €

*I redid the cake on Monday 17th, but this time I used all purpose flour (type 65). It was much lighter in texture, and it nicely grew (before baking, I let it to raise for around 40 minutes).


Paula said...

nikt nie musiałby mnie długo przekonywać do zjedzenia kawałka! :)

kellypea said...

What a lovely site you have here. I'm not familiar with food from Poland at all, but am a very curious cook, so will be reading more to learn. I've only eaten crayfish once or twice, and I do like them, but don't see them where I live that often. Thanks very much for stopping by my site and taking the time to comment. I appreciate it!

tasteofbeirut said...

As soon as i leave you I am going to check the french translation for crayfish; I am pretty sure I have never eaten them! Also I loved your story about going to a Prussian cemetary and collecting crayfish shells; how funny, and yes, typical childhood behavior. That cake looks delicious Magdalena; I too have had some desire to make savory cakes after seeing them in profusion in French books and blogs but so far, niet!

lo said...

Z przyjemnością mi się czytało. Ale ekscytujące musiały być te chwile w dzieciństwie. Raków nie jadłam tyle lat, ze nawet nie jestem w stanie powiedzieć ile. A wytrawne ciasto świetne, doskonała propozycja na piknik. Pozdrawiam.

Usagi said...

Wygląda fantastycznie i pewnie też tak smakuje. W Szczecinie dość ciężko o raki, niestety, aczkolwiek zamierzam poszukać nieco dokładniej.

Karolina said...

Crayfish tails are one of my favourites. Not many people realise that they are sooo Polish and I am so happy that you have promoting them here. :) Even if white asparagus is not my favourite one I would love to grab a piece of this cake. :D

Szalony Kucharz said...

I really need to get my hands on this pre-war cookery book. Got a copy to spare? Compared with today's culinary landscape of Poland (not to mention the communist era of ubiquitous canteens, some of which even passed themselves off as restaurants, serving insipid food) Ochorowicz's praise of our epicurean talents seems like a fairytale: beautiful and unreal. Yet, slowly but surely, we're working hard on reviving the dream, aren't we? ;o)

As for your dish, I happened on a very similar recipe (minus the savory cake) on TV the other day. It was a programme about German cuisine, and this, together with other foods just proves that our (Polish and German) tastes are not that far apart.

As for the flour, I'd use plain wheat flour for this type of cake. French type 55 ("baguette" flour), with a dash of bran maybe, if someone's in a mood for rustic crunch. Spelt is just too... spelty for these rather delicate ingredients, worth of a nobleman. The crayfish and asparagus, I mean.

Another nice one!

citronetvanille said...

I love "cakes salés" and this combo with asparagus and crayfish is a great one!

Magdalena said...

Dzieki, ze wpadliscie do mnie:

Lo: rzeczywiscie rodzice dbali, aby wakacje byly pelne wrazen, ze sie tak wyraze. Co roku na kilka tygodni w okolice Tatr, gdzie sie biegalo samopas po stodole i hasalo w stogu siana, doilo krowy i siedzialo nad rzeka Bialka, chodzilo po gorach i lasach, organizowalo ogniska; a oprocz tego, dzieki OWP inne regiony Polski: Raki jadlam wtedy chyba pierwszy raz, wlasnie na poczatku lat osiemdzieisiatych, a potem dlugo, dlugo, dlugo nic. Co do ciasta, to pieke dzisiaj wersje z biala maka. Też pozdrawiam.

Usagi: hej ! milo Cie tutaj widziec . Raki gdzieś powinny być w Szczecinie – w koncu to duze miasto; w Krakowie widziałam w sieciowych superkarketach oraz Almie. Też pozdrawiam.

Paula: mam nadzieje :)

Magdalena said...

Thanks for visiting the blog, again, I appreciate this a lot. Have a nice day/afternoon/evening.

Kucharz, some time ago somebody copied all recipes of Monatowa and they are available somewhere on the web, but I cannot find it now. If I find it, I will get back to you – I don’t know if the book was reprinted after the IIWW. Here you have a link to Amazon with English version:
I am baking the second version of the cake right now, using flour type 65 (I had this at home and I could not go outside today). We’ll see. If I am not happy in 100 % with texture of the cake, I will use flour type 55. Thanks for remarks, as I know that you are much better baker than me!
P.S.I have just checked that my second cake grew much more in comparison with the first one; well, let’s wait another 20 minutes to see the final result.

Kellypea, thanks for visiting; that’s why I decided to write about Polish food – except for Polish people, rather nobody knows Polish food.
Here, it is not a big problem to buy cooked crayfish meat.

Tasteofbeirut: just in case you forgot to check French translation – I buy “chair d’ecrevisse” (in Paris, you can find it easily). At the moment, I have another salty cake in the oven. I was happy with the first one as regards the taste, but it was a bit too solid, as I used spelt flour. This time I added only all purpose flour and we will see the difference in it texture – it already grew a lot.

Karolina, this cake will taste deliciously with green asparagus and crayfish. As I already mentioned, I am baking the second cake, using all purpose flour instead of spelt flour.

Citronetvanille:”cakes sales” are not bad; in general, tasty and very easy to do ! Take care!

Reeni said...

This is such a unique cake to me! I have never eaten crayfish. I do love the flavors and I can bet it's delicious especially with the asparagus.

Mary Bergfeld said...

What a lovely and unique recipe. It is almost like a pate. It is difficult to find crayfish here, but I think I can special order then at the fish market. I hope you are having a wonderful day. Blessings...Mary

Tanantha @ I Just Love My Apron said...

I don't think I've tried salty cake. It's so unique. You just triggered my inner adventure to make this and try it!

Magdalena said...

Cinnamon-Girl, Mary and Tanantha; thanks; crayfish go well with this cake, although I was a bit afraid how they will taste after 30-40 minutes of baking. I redid the cake yesterday, using all purpose flour, and it was lighter in texture, in comparison with spelt flour used last Saturday.

Inspired2cook said...

Your blog is beautiful! I want to devour all of your food!!!

Kristi@Ja Cie Kocham said...

I love your Polish recipes! My Poppy was Polish, and I absolutely cherish his recipes. Your food looks incredible!!


What an interesting idea! I've never heard of this. I'm bookmarking it now!

Magdalena said...

Inspired2cook, Kristi and A Spicy Perspective: thank you so much for your comments on my blog about Polish cooking.
I deeply appreciate that you visited me, and I hope you will cook something Polish-style one day, especially you, Kristie…did your Poppy cooked a lot of Polish food ? Do you have any memories ? Did your grandpa was born on Polish territories ? Can you share some details ? Thanks !

lisa is cooking said...

I'd love to learn more about Polish food. Interesting about crayfish not being mentioned since 1989. This savory cake sounds great with the flavors of crayfish and white asparagus!

Magdalena said...

Lisa, hello :) It was mentioned, but not enough ...!

Unknown said...

wow...that looks sooo good!

Magdalena said...

thanks, Norah !

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