Saturday 14 June 2014

Historical Food Fortnightly 1: Literature - Breadrolls (Mini breadrolls with caraway seeds)

This isn't HSF, this is HFF. People were inspired by the Historical Sew Fortnightly and outbranched with another aspect of reenacting, just like the HSF open to people who don't necessarily have to reenact. I love this.

Research and cook, in this case.

The first challenge was Literature:

1. Literary Foods  June 1 - June 14
Food is described in great detail in much of the literature of the past. Make a dish that has been mentioned in a work of literature, based on historical documentation about that food item. 

So this is mine. I should admit straight up that it's a bit of a joke. I'm Czech, OK? You'll see what that has to do with anything soon.

With the 1848-related things going on in my sewing world, I really wanted to focus on that somehow. My beloved Filosofská historie proved quite devoid of foods, though. The only food mentioned that I could conceive making was a fruit mash / porridge a poor student was eating. Except that... it was made of dried fruit and I don't have that. So the poor student's poorly nutritional food would quickly become an expensive endeavour for this student if I were to buy the ingredients. And that would kind of defeat the purpose of experiencing the food the way it was experienced in the past.

(And anyway, he's the boring student who studies all the time and then enters a convent for easy existence, implied that without ever using what he learned, and doesn't pay for his letters, so, duh.)

I turned to another work of literature. Well, if drama is still literature...

So, as I said, I'm Czech. And that's where the joke starts. For the past nearly 50 years, Czechs have been experiencing parts of their history through a funny lens, provided by Messrs. Smoljak and Svěrák and their fictional creation, Jára Cimrman. It penetrates Czech national consciousness. Me and my sisters practically grew up listening to it as our father repeatedly put on his LP records of the plays. People quote the plays all the time.
You can read translations of some of them here. Or watch one performed by a Nigerian amateur theatre group here and here and here and here. (Later. I'm not sure you'll appreciate how priceless it is when you do not know the original, but, well, it is. The Cimrmanologists also started out as amateurs. Some of them still are.)

That was, trust me, a very brief explanation of where I'm coming from with my literary source. Namely, it's the play Blaník, which plays on the Czech variation on the legend of the king of the hill (in our case, it's St Wenceslas, no less) and the fact that despite all the tragic events in history, nothing ever happened. Sadly, the play itself is not translated, but at least here is an excerpt from the seminary (starting on page 16), which should give you a good idea of the way the Cimrmanologists treat history. :-) As tongue-in-cheek as it is, there are some deep insights there, and that, I think, is part of the reason why so many people love and quote them.

Long story short, in the play a person from the revolutionary year of 1848 comes visiting the knights in Blaník and explains what is going on. And he mentions the celebrations that happened when the emperor promised constitution - that people danced constitutional polka, baked constitutional breadrolls and wore constitutional hats (which have lower crowns than hats that aren't constitutional, you see).

So, when you grow up listening to this stuff, and everyone around you quotes it, of course the first thing you think of when the year 1848 is mentioned is constitutional hats and constitutional breadrolls.


See the fairly low crown? They may be poking fun at it, but they know their stuff.

* * *

I turned to the famous Czech 19th century cookbook by Magdaléna Dobromila Rettigová (who actually lived in Litomyšl where Filosofská historie takes place, and is mentioned in the book, so I'm still keeping that connection). The original was first published in 1826 and immediately became popular and was reprinted for decades and imitated for even longer, so that should cover me.

Well, except that the only versions I could find online were later editions with alterations and additions by Antonie Dušánková (whoever she was; she says in the preface that she was Rettigová's pupil). So the recipe itself could actually be from later on in the 19th century (about 1860s), and I won't know until I get my hands on the most recent edition that seems to have returned to the original text (with language editing). Because the original edition is probably not readily available.

But it's still the safest bet I have. At least, I turned to an earlier edition without the amounts recalculated for a more genuine experience.

* * *

As is often the case with common bakery items (bread, most notably - it's been discussed in the Facebook HFF group, I believe), the cookbook does not really contain the basic recipes. But it did contain a recipe for "little breadrolls to eat with beer, sprinkled with caraway seeds", which seemed close enough to your basic breadroll. And it's nice to see that the Czech liking for caraway seeds is at least this old.

Kmínem sypané rohlíčky k pivu

Do čtyř žejdlíků pěkné mouky rozkrájej 4 loty nového másla, zadělej těsto se dvěma velkýma žejdlíkama vlažné smetany a se 3 lžícemi hustých kvasnic, dej do něho s půl citronu drobně rozkrájenou kůru, půl lotu tlučeného cukru, trochu tlučeného zázvoru, a nech ho trochu skynout; nebo je-li naspěch, tedy těsto hned osol, dej ho na moukou posypaný vál a dělej buď rohlíčky nebo houstičky, klaď je na pomazaný papír na plech, pomaž je vejcem, posyp solí a kmínem, a nech je hezky do zlatova upéct.

Caraway sprinkled little breadrolls to go with beer
Into four pints of nice flour cut 4 lots of new butter, make a dough with two large pints of warm cream and 3 spoons of thick yeast, put into it finely chopped zest of half a lemon, half a lot of pound sugar, a little pound ginger, and leave it rise a bit or, if you are in a hurry, then salt the dough immediately, put it on flour covered rolling board and make either rolls or buns/twists (actually, they're braided), lay them on greased paper on a baking pan, smear with egg, sprinkle with salt and caraway and let bake until nicely golden.

I had to turn to Wikipedia to figure out the amounts - apparently, "žejdlík" (a measure of volume, approximately the same as "pint") was around 0,48 l (either a bit over or a bit below that figure, so I settled on that), and "lot" (a measure of weight) was 16,06 g.

What then immediately caught my attention in the recipe was that a) there was actual cream used, not milk or even water; b) conversely, there was only a small amount of butter; c) it was a large amount of dough: an 1,92 l worth of flour is quite a lot for this small household (though I guess perfectly reasonable for larger ones).

Playing with the amounts and math, though, I actually arrived at very pleasant round numbers for a smaller batch - where a cup is 250 ml:

3 cups flour

25 g butter

1,5 cup cream
1 level teaspoon powdered sugar
half a packet of yeast (21 g) - this was an approximation, but it worked out well
grated lemon zest
whole caraway seeds
1 beaten egg for smearing (I had a lot left, which goes into frying or so)

Without further ado, here's what I did:

The Challenge: # 1 Literary Foods

The Recipe: As detailled above - "Kmínem sypané rohlíčky k pivu". From Magdaléna Dobromila Rettigová's Domácí kuchařka, 10th edition, 1868, edited by Antonie Dušánková. Online for example here (in Czech, of course) as number 37.

The Date/Year and Region: Bohemia, vaguely mid-19th century.

How Did You Make It: First flour + chopped butter + other dry ingredients in a bowl (except that I forgot the lemon zest, so I added that later). I used "hladká" flour, which is the finely milled all-purpose variety / pastry flour and my interpretation of what the "nice" flour in the recipe means.
Mixed yeast + sugar in a glass.

I used powdered sugar, because the recipe seems to call for it, but frankly, you can use whichever sugar you want. I just usually use 2 teaspoons rather than 1 with crystal sugar (and now that I've used powdered, I see why - it's not so tightly packed).
Mix it thoroughly until soft or even runny; especially if you let it sit for a while in room temperature, it starts to melt on its own.

This was probably a bit of a stretch of "thick yeast". But it's the way I always prepare my yeast starter, and the way it's described in the recipe does not make sense to me; it sees to be leaving something out (as in, the writer assumes you know how to make dough with yeast).
I think I'm indebted for this method to Jana Florentýna Zatloukalová, although I'm not sure in which of her many books and recipes I encountered it.

It really works beautifully; as I left it sit for a while while I was preparing other ingredients, it already started bubbling on its own. (This effect, of course, requires warm room temperature, but it's a good credit to the fact that with just a bit of careful handling, the yeast does all the heavy lifting.)

Warmed the cream (I used the 12% fat cooking variety), poured some into the yeast mixture and poured that into the dry ingredients; used remaining cream to pour the glass clean, mixed it all.

It's a rather gooey and uneven substance at this point, especially as the chopped butter isn't evenly distributed yet and only starts slowly melting with the warm cream. It gets better.

Kneaded thoroughly (here I added the lemon zest and here was, I think, where the original recipe calls for adding the zest, ginger and salt - but I would not do it, it's hard to mix in evenly that way). Let rise.

Then roll out on floured surface. Leavened dough is a bit of a beast to roll out, because it has a life of its own (it literally does). But this one was actually quite well-behaved, so I managed this nice even shape:

Cut into triangles / trapezoids. (I used a pizza roller.)

Form breadrolls. (Start with the wide perpendicular parellel side of the trapezoid, roll towards the narrower. Two tricks: stretch it out from the middle as you roll it so it doesn't get too thick and rolls nicely; lay them down with the loose end on the bottom).

Preheat the oven. I have a hot air oven, so I went with my experience and my mother's notes on that, and preheated at approx. 225 °C.
Lay on baking sheets covered with baking paper, smear with beaten egg, sprinkle with caraway seeds. (I left out the salt, because I don't have nice rock salt, only a minutely ground type.)

Baked for 10 minutes (in the hot air oven). Until golden. They puffed up beautifully.

Time to Complete: I forgot to keep track (also, leavened dough is very friendly to doing other things along the way). About an hour in all the preparation, I think, then about 1,5-2 hours raising, baked for ten minutes = about 3 hours, half of which time you can do other things.
Research did not take too long; once I knew I wanted to use Rettigová and settled on breadrolls, it was quick. The calculating of the amounts took the longest. And then the writing of this post.

Total Cost: Oops... I forget to keep track of this as well. Butter was about 33 CZK per 250 g piece, so it was about 3,30 CZK for butter, about 16 CZK for cream, 1 kg flour is about 15 CZK... 1 egg is about 3,30 CZK, 2 CZK for that half-packet of yeast... and after that, I'm lost, because it's long term storage things. Around 40 CZK for my smaller batch.
Overall, not too shabby: I'd probably pay more for a similar amount in a bakery, which would have doubtful ingredients (as in, who uses cream for baking these days?!).

How Successful Was It?: Mostly successful (they raised wonderfully, and tasted great if not even a bit better the next morning, which many breadrolls don't), except that "a little" is a very unscientific amount and I put in too little. It definitely could have used more salt (perhaps in the dough, perhaps the left out salt on top). And probably more ginger, too, for it to play any role in the taste. And they could use more caraway, too, but that largely depends on how much you manage to hit them with. :P

How Accurate Is It?: Made a smaller batch. Used dry lemon zest (because that's what I currently have; "homemade"). Used modern utensils - plastic bowl, electronic measuring scales (no other way to figure out those small amounts in this kitchen!), microwave for warming up the cream, electric oven. Modern baking paper, too (but I would have gone with greased paper if I had paper that looked suitable for greasing and baking!). I fiddled with the process, too, because it wasn't quite clear, so I went with what made sense to me. As mentioned, I left out the salt on top, too.

Basically, rather modern tools with fairly accurate ingredients and a process somewhat adapted to the cook's own experience and needs, which I'm willing to bet 19th century cooks did as well.

I did not try them with beer. Today, when I ate the last one, I thought, bummer, I'm missing out on an aspect of the research. I mentioned they were meant to go with beer, and father said he had eaten them with beer yesterday. So I asked him how they were with beer, and he said "Good." Mission accomplished. 

* * *

P.S. Forgot to include this - I took a photo of how much 25 g of butter is.


  1. Hani, hezky se mi četl tvůj příspěvek. Filosofská historie bylo mé snad nejmilejší romantické čtení v deseti letech (později jsem přibrala Jane Austin a Brontëovy) a Cimrmany žiju od puberty dodnes, přičemž Blaník patří k mým nejoblíbenějším. Dokonce se v určitém osobně těžkém období stal mou ukolébavkou - stačilo slyšet "Nad řekou Blanicí tyčí se hora..." a už jsem spala. Někdy zkusím tvé rohlíčky, vypadají velmi lákavě. Hodně pohody.

    1. Díky. :-) Já se k Filosofské historii asi dostala o trochu později, protože jsme ji původně neměli doma. ale vracím se k ní docela často. :-)
      Blaník je myslím taky jedna z mých nejoblíbenějších cimrmanovských her... mám ráda všechny ty historické vtipy, souboj na meče... a moje asi úplně nejoblíbenější cimrmanovská hláška je ze scénáře Blaníku: "Ona umí mizet! Zmiz!" - Jeskyňka normálně odejde. ;-)

      Recept vřele doporučuju. S dostatečným množstvím soli - myslím, že jsem tam dala asi tak lžičku, a chtělo by to víc.

  2. Yum! I'm mostly not doing the HFF because I already have too much on my plate (no pun intended) with the HSF, and Mr D is a very boring eater so anything I make would have to be eaten by me alone.

    I love your source, and am very impressed with your modern translation of the recipe - not to mention your rolls look beautiful! I may have to try the recipe!

    1. Try it, they're yummy and soft! Just, as I mentioned, use more salt... I think I put in about 1 tsp, and it needs more.

      Boring eater... that must be frustrating...
      I think just like with the HSF, I'll just do what I feel inspired to do and will have time to do... But the good thing about this, for me, is that I need to cook anyway, so basically all I'm doing is make something I haven't made before and have fun with what could be a chore!

      I was quite surprised that the amounts could be re-calculated to such nice numbers (and phew, even though I forgot most of my mathematical knowledge, I think by now, after all the photo-resizing on the blog, cross-multiplication comes to me more naturally than it did at school :D). And in a way, I started easy: I've already made a lot of leavened dough.

  3. This is so interesting and the rolls look so good!