Leśny mech – Forest moss

 

A Polish Heritage Day was held in the Leeds Polish Centre on the first Saturday after 3rd May in 2017 & 2018.

The 3rd will take place on Saturday, 4 May 2019.

May 3rd  is Polish Constitution Day – a National Holiday in Poland to celebrate – Konstytucja 3 maja 1791.

This was the first  written constitution in Europe and the second in the World with the American constitution in 1789 being the first. It was very progressive for its time.

There was a hugh table with Polish cakes for sale – I contributed the iced poppy seed cake – makowiec on a glass stand in the middle of the photograph.

One of the ladies brought a cake I had never seen before which she told me was called Leśny mech – which means Forest Moss and it looked amazing as it was bright green!

Others certainly knew this cake and it very quickly disappeared!

I was amazed to find that the cake is made with spinach!

I have tried to find the origins of the cake as it is certainly not one my mother ever mentionned – all that I have found is that it is based on a Turkish cake – called  Ispanakli Kek (Spinach Cake).

Short History of Spinach

Spinacia oleracea is spinach & the plant originated in Persia (modern Iran), ispanakh in Persian &  ispanak in Turkish and szpinak in Polish.

Spinach was found in China by the early years of AD, where it is called Persian vegetable.

There are records of spinach in Spain by the 12th century.

Spinach came to England in the 14th century and was popular because it grew in the spring and helped to break the monotony of the Lenten diet.

Catherine de Medici who was from Florence in the 16th century married into the French royal family. She loved spinach  and the term which is used till this day – à la Florentine, which is used to signify a dish with spinach, was coined in her honour.

Leśny mech

Forest Moss – this cake with its amazing colours is meant to look like the forest floor with red berries growing.

I made this cake with 250g of  baby leaf spinach which gives a light green colour. I have read that if you use full leaf older spinach this gives a darker colour and has more flavour – I have not tried this yet.

I also know that you can use frozen spinach -400g of frozen – squeezed out and patted dry – but I have not tried this.

I used frozen raspberries for the berries – when it is later in the year I will use fresh raspberries or alpine strawberries from the garden or whinberries(bilberries) from the woods. Many people use pomegranate seeds when making this in the winter months.

Ingredients

  • 250g baby leaf spinach
  • 240g of  granulated sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 185 ml sunflower oil (3/4 of  a 250ml cup)
  • 400g plain flour
  • 3 teaspoons of baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla essence

Method

Pre-heat the oven to GM4 – 180°C.

Grease and line the bottom of a loose-bottomed (or spring formed) cake tin – 26cm in diameter.

  • Use a mini-chopper/blender to whizz up the spinach – most likely in batches to get it all done.
  • Mix the flour and baking powder together.
  • Place the eggs, sugar and vanilla essence into a large bowl and use an electric whisk to whisk them together for 4 to 6 minutes till it is pale and fluffy.
  • Gently stir in the spinach.
  • Fold in the flour mixture.
  • Pour the batter into the prepared tin.
  • Bake on a lower shelf of the oven for 40 – 50 minutes.
  • Leave to cool in the tin.

 

  • Lightly shave off any golden brown edges of the cake with a sharp knfe or fine grater.
  • Cut off the top third of the cake and crumble it by hand into a bowl.

Place the bottom piece of the cake onto the serving plate or cake stand.

Optional

A sweet poncz (sweet punch for moistening the cake) can be used on the bottom layer.  You can make one from 60ml of cold weak black tea, the juice of 1 lemon and 1 – 2 tablespoons of icing sugar. Mix the ingredients together and use a pastry brush to spread it on the cake.

Now add a white filling!

Some recipes use whipped double cream, sweetened with icing sugar and set with gelatine. Other recipes make a filling with mascarpone.

I used my own yoghurt cheese – you can use cream cheese.

Filling Ingredients

Approximate amounts

  • 500g yoghurt cheese
  • 2 tablespoons of icing sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla essence or fine grated rind of a lemon
  • optional – a couple of tablespoons of soured cream – depending on the cheese and how soft you want the filling

Method

Mix the ingredients together – adjusting the sweetness and consistency to taste.

Assembling the cake.

  • Place bottom layer on a plate or cake stand.
  • Brush on the poncz – optional
  • Spread on the white filling
  • Sprinkle the cake crumbs over the top of the cake to cover filling
  • scatter red berries over the top (do this later if not serving straight away)

To decorate – red colours – raspberries, whinberries (bilberries) alpine strawberries, pomegranate seeds

 

Making this cake gave me a chance to use the beautiful Lead Crystal Cake Stand, which was a present from my cousin in Lanchester. It was just right for this large cake.

Made by Nachtmann in Germany  – Tortenplatte (tort/gateau plate/ stand) – style name – Venus.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Plates used are La Prune by Jet for Ter Steege in The Netherlands.

Cotton napkin with a design of rhubarb was bought from the Hepworth Gallery shop in Wakefield (Sadly – No longer in stock – as I wanted to buy some more!).

Walnut Tort

This is the same  recipe as the  Hazelnut tort only here ground walnuts  are used instead of hazelnuts.

I used the 6 egg recipe and made it in 2 x 18cm sponge cake tins.

A Little Note About Walnuts

Walnuts (Juglans regia) are native to south-east Europe and south-west China. They are the oldest tree food known dating back to 7,000 BC.

There are accounts of their cultivation in Babylon (now Iraq) in 2,000BC.

Juglans regia means means Jupiter’s royal nut.

They are the seed of a drupe (stone fruit) – not a true Botanical nut.

In Polish walnuts are orzechy włoskie –  nuts Italian – so named it is thought as they were brought to Poland by traders from Imperial Rome.

Black walnuts (Juglans nigra) are native to North America.

Ingredients

6 eggs

225g  caster sugar

225g ground walnuts

2 sponge fingers – crushed.

Optional – extra chopped walnuts for sprinkling on the butter cream or grated dark chocolate.

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Method

You will need to grind the walnuts and of course an electric grinder makes this very easy.

It is best to chop the walnuts into small pieces as this will make it easier and grind the walnuts in small batches so as not to over strain the motor.

Pre-heat the oven to GM5 – 190°C.

Grease and line 2 x 18cm in diameter tins.

Crush the sponge fingers and mix them with the ground walnuts.

 

Whisk together the eggs and sugar until they are pale and frothy.

Fold in the walnut mixture.

Divide the mixture between the two tins and bake in the oven for around 20 minutes.

Allow the cakes to cool .

Drizzle each cake with a poncz (sweetened punch). I used 50ml of weak black tea, 1 tablespoon of rum  and 1 tablespoon of  sugar.

 

Sandwich together with a butter cream & cover the top and sides also.

The following flavours are good with walnuts.

I used a rum butter cream made from 80g butter, 1 egg yolk  1 tablespoon of rum and  around 230g of icing sugar.

Cream the butter and the egg yolk and add the rum.  Mix in the icing sugar until you have the desired consistency.

More butter cream would have been better – I was trying to use the minimum this time!

I added chopped nuts to the top and sides (I used a cake stand with a small lip – a totally flat stand would have make it easier to add the nuts to the sides).

 

 

Served on – Tuscan China – Bird of Paradise – Hand Painted – 1930s

An Austrian Influence

A few weeks ago I bought an excellent Austrian cookery book in a charity shop.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I know that there is a lot of overlap & influence between Polish & Austrian Cookery  and have enjoyed looking at this book and comparing my recipes with ones here.

On the back cover it says

The culinary flavour of Austria is a gentle flavour. It knows of the fiery spices of Hungary and the elegance of French cuisine. It derives much of its strength from Moravia and much of its daring from Poland.”

For several of the cakes apricot or redcurrant jam is used to cover the top and sides of the cake before icing it.

For a walnut gateau, similar to my recipe, redcurrant jam is used.

I decided to do a variation of this with my walnut tort and to use raspberry jam.

The 2 cakes were made as above.

A poncz(sweet punch) was used made from 50ml of weak black tea and 1 tablespoon of sugar to drizzle the cakes.

The cakes were then sandwiched together with a raspberry butter cream using  60g Butter, 180g icing sugar & 2 tablespoons of raspberry jam which were creamed together.

 

Then the  top and sides were covered with raspberry jam, warmed slightly for ease of spreading and then this was allowed to dry.

I then made a lemon icing with the juice of 1 lemon and  icing sugar and used this to cover the top and sizes.

 

 

Served on Royal Grafton – Woodside  –  from the 1950s

However

This did not work too well – the icing I made was too stiff and I disturbed the jam underneath and got a mottled pink and white icing which  then  dripped down onto the base of the cake stand!!

However my friends thought the cake tasted wonderful and loved the combination of  flavours, so I decided to make the icing with the juice of 1 lemon, 1 tablespoon of raspberry jam & icing sugar and see how that worked.

Storage

Do not cover the cake completely or it will go very soggy – cover it with a net or similar which will let the air circulate but keep insects off.

 

Alternative Icing 1

I decided to test out the raspberry icing over a creamed sponge cake – I used 4 eggs and equal amounts of butter, caster sugar and self raising flour and baked them in 2 x 20 cm anodised baking tins.

I sandwiched the cakes together with a layer of jam and the raspberry butter cream as above.

 

I then made a thick icing using the juice of 1 lemon, 1 tablespoon of raspberry jam & icing sugar.

 

Served on Aynsley  –  Las Palmas – 1960s

Alternative Icing 2

This icing was not as tangy as on the original cake so I tested this again with a more pouring, dripping glaze – this time using the juice a lemon, 1 tablespoon of raspberry jam & enough icing sugar to make a more pouring glaze.

I made just one 22cm round walnut cake and cut it in half &  used a poncz(sweet punch) made from 50ml of weak black tea and 1 tablespoon of sugar to drizzle the cake.

 

 

A few thoughts!

With hindsight I would not use one cake again as it was hard to cut it through evenly & there were lots of crumbs – if I only wanted to use 4 eggs,  I would make 2 smaller cakes.

I still have not got the icing quite right – this time there was too much & it was a bit too runny – maybe just the juice of half a lemon would be enough – however the taste was very good.

The cake improved over the next few days as the icing seeped into the cake.

 

 

Served on Colclough – Stardust – from the 1960s.

Storage

As with the cakes above do not cover the cake completely or it will go very soggy – cover it with a net or similar which will let the air circulate but keep insects off.

 

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Hazelnut – Tort

Corylus avellana is the hazelnut, also known as  cobnut or filbert nut.  In Polish it is orzech laskowy  – which translates as nut of the forest and as its name implies hazel trees or bushes grow abundantly in Poland.

Turkey is the largest commercial producer of hazelnuts followed by Italy.

Ferrero SpA  – makers of Ferrero Rocher and Nutella use 25% of the global supply of hazelnuts per annum.

Tort is a layer cake (in England the French word gateaux is used) – the layers of cake being sandwiched together with a butter cream (Sweet whipped cream was hardly known in Poland – with soured cream being the norm).

The word tort is originally from the Latin torta – flat cake or round loaf of bread.

A tort can be round or in a block shape – it often has very decorative piping  – my decorations tend to be more simple!

A tort is often made for celebrations and is often very large – I have recipes which call for a dozen or more eggs!

The following recipe only uses 6 eggs!

This tort recipe uses hazelnuts which have been roasted and then ground.

I often buy my hazelnuts from a  dried fruit & nut stall in Leeds Kirkgate Market.  This the largest covered market in Europe and was founded in 1875 and has around 100,000 visitors per week.

On this stall you can buy : whole hazel nuts, roasted hazel nuts and ground roasted hazel nuts.

I use either roasted hazel nuts and grind them myself or roast the hazel nuts myself and then grind them.

Roasting Hazel Nuts

To roast hazelnuts put the shelled nuts on a baking tray and put them in an oven at GM 5 – 190°C for around 10 to 15 minutes – keep checking as it is easy to burn them.

Once they are done, leave them to cool and then rub off the papery skins between your fingers and discard them.

 

 

I use an electric grinder which is very useful.

 

 

 

Ingredients

6 eggs

225g  caster sugar

225g roasted & ground hazelnuts

2 sponge fingers – crushed

Method

Pre-heat the oven to GM5 – 190°C

Grease and line a 23cm x 32cm baking tray.

 

 

 

 

Mix together the ground hazelnuts and crushed sponge fingers.

 

 

 

 

Whisk together the eggs and caster sugar until they are pale and fluffy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fold in the nut mixture.

Pour the mixture onto the baking tray and bake for  around 20 minutes until it is golden on top.

 

 

Take out and leave it to cool on a cooling tray.

Measure the length of the cake and cut it into 3 equal pieces.

 

 

 

 

A poncz (sweet punch for moistening the cake) is used on each layer.

I used one made from 150ml of weak black tea, 45 ml of rum and 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar.

Rum Butter Cream

Ingredients

120g butter

2 egg yolks

2 tablespoons of rum

300g icing sugar ( approximate amount)

Method

Cream together the butter and egg yolks.

Add the rum and cream again.

Mix in the icing sugar till you have a smooth butter cream

 

 

Using a spatulas layer up the cake first with poncz on each layer and then the butter cream.

Cover the top and sides with the butter cream.

Make fancy patterns with spatulas (or you can do fancy piping if you wish).

 

 

Little spatulas for decorating with icing.

 

 

 

Tea plates are Silver Rose by Duchess from the 1950s & 1960s.

The cake slice is Water Garden by Portmeirion.

Round Tort

The same quantities and method as above can be used for two 18m diameter cake tins.

Here the poncz was made from 150ml weak black tea and 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar & coffee butter cream was used.

Coffee Butter Cream

Ingredients

90g butter

1 egg yolk

3 tablespoons of very strong coffee

250g of icing sugar (approximate amount)

 

 

 

Method

Cream the butter and egg yolk.

Add the coffee and cream again.

Mix in the icing sugar until you have a thick butter cream.

 

 

 

 

Use the poncz to moisten the cake & layer up and coat with the icing.

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Very useful cake lifter – from Lakeland Plastics – for moving the cake

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Another cake lifter

 

 

 

Tea set is by Spencer Stevenson Co Ltd, who manufactured in England  between 1948 and 1960.  The design name is not known.

Green Teapot is Café Culture by Maxwell Williams.

Other Cake Sizes

3 eggs with 110g of roasted hazel nuts & 110g of caster sugar for 1 – 18cm diameter cake tin.

4 eggs with 150g of roasted hazelnuts & 150g of caster sugar for 1  – 22cm diameter cake tin.

 

Polish Cakes

 

 

Cakes & Pastries

There seems to be is no end to the variety of cakes in Poland: yeast cakes, tort(layer cake), poppy seed cakes, apple cakes, cheesecakes, cakes with berries, honey cakes, cakes with nuts and many more. I could write a book just on cakes alone, even on just one type of cake.

The influence of France, Austria and Hungary can be seen or rather tasted in some of the cakes and pastries. This has come about through royal alliances in the past with foreign princesses bringing their chefs to Poland.

There are special cakes for different days of the year especially  Easter and Christmas Eve.

A Few Notes on Ingredients

I have adapted some recipes, as did my mother, to take into consideration the availability of ingredients here in England.

Cream in Poland is smetana – soured cream, and before its general availability in England we would use single or double cream with lemon juice added to it.

As in many countries in Europe, there is not any self-raising flour in Poland. There are different flours for bread making and there is a special plain flour for cake making to which you have to add baking powder. Many recipes use potato flour and sometimes cornflour.

Sugar in Poland is from sugar beet and is white sugar so there is not a tradition of cakes with brown sugar or syrup or treacle. Strangely enough the sugar is granulated or icing there is not any caster sugar.

Butter in Poland is unsalted and this although is better for baking and certainly for making butter cream, I do not find it makes enough of a difference to go out and get this type specially, salted will do if that is what you have.

Tort is usually layered up with rich butter cream or similar.

Chocolate is usually dark chocolate.

I  am going to start with a Traditional Poppy Seed Cake recipe.