Traveling the world through cuisine

Holiday Baking at Home

Last year's Christmas treats

I’ll admit, I was never deep into baking when I was younger. Granted I like eating baked items, but when it came to making them, I usually stuck to box mixes. It wasn’t until I met Zuzana that I found myself more daring to try baking from scratch.

Every holiday season now, we spend the weekend before Christmas preparing many treats for our friends and family. I’ll forewarn that this will be a running theme on this site. I already started this with Melomakarona. Now I’m going to show you today two treats Zuzana’s mother taught us last year, and next year you’ll see what we made this year.

The very first time I tried Griláž (“gril-lahsh”), it was love at first bite. I now more jokingly call this sweet treat “crack” mainly because of how addicting it can get. One of those goodies you can’t stop eating at one piece. It’s layers of crispy wafers with a sweet filling made of walnuts, raisins, and sugar.

It’s a must for me to make every year now. Here’s how you do it:

Griláž

Griláž

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup of crystal sugar
  • 1 stick of butter, sliced into smaller pieces
  • 1/2 cup of powdered sugar
  • 1/2 cup of chopped walnuts
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup of raisins
  • 5 sheets of wafers (roughly 8-12 square inches)

Instructions

Making the filling:

  1. Pour the crystal sugar into a medium-sized saucepan.
  2. Place the pan on the stove over medium-low heat.
  3. Stir and watch the sugar until it melts (caramelizes) into a nice amber-colored liquid.
  4. Switch the heat to low and add in the butter. Continue stirring.
  5. When the butter melts into the sugar, Stir in the powdered sugar.
  6. Mix in the walnuts, eggs, and raisins.
  7. Stir and continue heating on low for 7-8 more minutes.
  8. Remove the mixture from the heat and set aside.

Assembling the Griláž:

  1. Place one of the wafers on a small cutting board or plate where it lays flat.
  2. Using a spatula or spoon, spread about 1/3 of the mixture on the wafer.
  3. Place another sheet of wafer on top and spread another third of the mixture on.
  4. Continue with another sheet of wafer and the last third of the mixture.
  5. Finish with the last layer of wafer on top.

The final steps:

  1. Using another board or a flat plate, place it on top of the finished griláž.
  2. Weigh down the board, pan or plate with some canned items or other weights at your disposal.
  3. Place the griláž with plates and weights into the refrigerator overnight.
  4. Slowly slice your chilled griláž the next day with a sharp knife.

Quick Notes

Watch the sugar as you caramelize it. Just as easily as you can melt it, you can also burn it. If you do, try again.

Make sure your walnuts are in small pieces. If the need arises, pulse them in a food processor until they are small enough to your liking.

If your mixture in the pan starts to harden as you’re assembling the griláž, just place it back on low heat to soften.

When spreading, try to get as close to the edges as possible, but you don’t need to go all the way. Zuzana usually slices off the ends so the remaining pieces are fully filled.

If your mixture layers look thin, don’t worry. The end goal is to make several layers.

You don’t need loads of weight on the final griláž. Two cans of soup or vegetables will be the right amount of weight.

Variations

I’ve seen some who will process the walnuts down to an almost powdery texture, and the raisins to a mush. The goal is to make a more fluid filling, which isn’t a bad idea.

While a traditional griláž contains walnuts and raisins, you could try other nuts such as almonds or hazelnuts, and even different dried fruit if you wish. You could even play with cocoa powder if you want a more chocolatey taste.

The other treat I have for you today is ideal for those who don’t like things too sweet. It seems like any and every culture who celebrates Christmas has their own idea on fruitcake, and the Slovaks are no different. I know, you’re probably cringing at the idea of a fruitcake, but even I became a fan of Biskupský Chlebí?ek (“Bis-coop-ski Kleb-eek”), otherwise known as Bishop’s Bread.

What separates Bishop’s Bread from the normal fruitcake you might end up re-gifting is the texture. Instead of the usual jellied vibe of a normal fruitcake, Bishop’s Bread reminded me more of a pound cake, only more firm. I loved it. It’s the ideal treat with a cup of coffee anytime over the season, and I think you will consume this fruitcake.

Bishop's Bread

Bishop's Bread

Ingredients

  • Butter and flour for greasing a pan
  • 1/2 stick of butter
  • 1/2 cup of bread flour
  • 1/4 cup of candied fruit
  • 6 egg whites
  • 1/2 cup of sugar
  • 1/2 cup of shredded coconut
  • 1/4 cup of bittersweet chocolate, chopped into small bits
  • 1/4 cup of chopped walnuts

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°.
  2. Grease a loaf pan with the butter and flour you set aside for this task.
  3. Using a small saucepan on the stove, melt the butter on low heat until it’s a liquid. Set aside and it allow it to cool down a bit.
  4. In one bowl, mix the candied fruits with the flour. Set aside.
  5. In a mixing bowl, whip the egg whites with the sugar until they thicken together.
  6. Stir the melted butter into the egg white/sugar mixture.
  7. Add in the flour/candied fruit combination, stirring gently.
  8. Mix the coconut in, stirring gently.
  9. Add in the chocolate and walnuts, mixing gently until blended.
  10. Pour the batter into your greased/floured loaf pan.
  11. Bake in the oven for 45 minutes to an hour.
  12. Remove from the oven when the top is golden brown and the bread passes a toothpick test.
  13. Allow the bread to cool before serving.

Quick Notes

You should be able to find candied fruit in the baking aisle of your grocer.

The best way to get your chocolate right is to buy a bar of bittersweet chocolate, break it up into chunks, and then pulse the chunks in your food processor until they are tiny bits.

When you cool the melted butter, you don’t need to cool it to room temperature, just make sure it’s not piping hot.

Be sure to mix your batter gently once you add the flour in. Your goal is blended, but not smooth. Plus it will help the ingredients stay spread around when you bake, as opposed to sinking to the bottom.

If you don’t know the toothpick test, then you simply stab a toothpick into the hot bread. If you pull it out and it’s clean, then your bread is baked. If it has liquid batter, then keep baking.

Well, this about wraps things up for 2013. We’ll be back in January with a new year of food, travel, culture, and fun. Until then, we wish you a Happy Holidays and a wonderful New Year.

Tags: Slovak, Polish, Christmas, dessert, sweets

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