Thursday 4 April 2024

HFM '24: March - "Sappy, Sweet, Syrupy, but not Sugary": Jidáše / jidášky - Czech Easter buns


This post got a bit out of hand. I haven't done the Historical Food Fortnightly in... huh... ten years. WHAT. I've definitely done historical recipes in the meantime, but apparently I haven't managed to do it topically.

Which wasn't just my problem, actually. After years of languishing, the HFF, just like the HSF years ago, has dropped the final F and exchanged it for M: It's the Historical Food Monthly now (link to Facebook group, which seems to be its only official online presence now). More manageable.

So I haven't written anything food-y here in quite a while, and it turns out I have developed a lot more thoughts on the topic since 2014.

Anyway. Sorry for the wordiness. I hate recipe posts with lots of rambly text before the recipe just like any other person, but, well, this isn't necessarily a recipe post. I swear, there's no "I took my kids to school and pondered the meaning of life" here. :D Just quite a lot of explanations of what I did food-wise and Easter-wise, and why I chose this particular food, and what I did to it and why, and thoughts on my process and cookbooks and research, and... yeah, I think that's about it.

The brief for the March challenge was to make something sweetened by something else than sugar. So, as it happens, these are a bit of a cheat, because there is sugar in the dough. Also I ended up actually making them on April 1st. Oops. The intention was to make them on Holy Thursday (March 28), when most traditions say they were eaten for breakfast, preferably before sunrise, so that people would be protected from poison, snakes and wasps (it would not have been breakfast in my case, but I don't subscribe to the accompanying superstition anyway). That did not happen, so I thought Saturday (some mentions of that being traditional as well), but, well, Life Kept Happening.

My original original plan was actually to make something sweetened entirely by honey, most likely gingerbread - I found online a 1920 book all about honey and its uses in the household (that's the name of the book: "Honey and Its Use in the Household", in Czech that is) including tons of various recipes for gingerbread. The problem with those recipes is that the dough usually has to rest for at least a week before being baked, and then very often the gingerbread has to rest, too, to soften and be more easily edible. It's what traditional Czech gingerbread (imprecise word, that) is like. And exploring and sharing that would be pretty great for the HFF, but... But. Between a week of nightshifts and then falling ill for more than two weeks and feeling pretty miserable for at least one (it's just some sort of seasonal cold, not Ye Newe Plague, but it's been pretty clingy) and being still pretty tired even on Easter Sunday*... I ran out of time for that kind of shenanigans.

So because of Real Life, at the last minute I changed gears and made these, which do have sugar in the dough but then are brushed with honey on top.

The name means "Judases" or "Little Judases". Warning: it's morbid. I'm currently unclear on where the heck that tradition and the name comes from to begin with, but, morbidly, they are - at least in the form I made them in, there are many others - supposed to represent the rope Judas hung himself on (which, by the way, only Matthew mentions; the other gospels say nothing on Judas' fate, and Acts says something else. I've just checked.) So, ahem, there's that. But, really, they come in all sorts of shapes including basically hot cross buns so that connection is a bit tenuous anyway, and if you don't want to be morbid, you can totally do something else.


I did opt for this shape because it's pretty simple and I wanted to try it, but next time I'll probably just make round buns the way I always make them, plus cross. I don't really have childhood memories with jidášky (we usually just had mazanec, so that's what I primarily associate with Easter), but I think mom did make them once or twice, and did make basically mini-mazance / hot cross buns: that's what my sister also thought they were supposed to look like. And what I had thought they were supposed to look like once upon a time before the internet introduced me to different versions that almost everyone else seems to be making these days. I'm glad the utter confusion in historical sources helped me clarify my own. :D

My lack of true family tradition of them is, obviously, precisely why I wanted to try my hand at them. One mention I ran into - now I can't remember which one, I haven't been entirely organised with my research here - says "spirals". My main recipe lists "variously twist them" as an option. Primarily it has you rolling the dough out to be about 2 cm thick and, "with a smaller doughnut cutter", cutting out circles (Czech doughnuts without holes, not American doughnuts), and then cutting "a lattice" into them (so not even crosses). I could have done that, but I did not want to do that because that way you end up with dough cabbage**, and then you have to deal with said cabbage.

Some 19th century mentions just say "placky" (something like "flatcakes"), and I even found mentions that poor people just ate regular bread with honey.

So it seems the shape and style varied a lot depending on the region, or maybe even family tradition; so you do you. The main point is that they should be quite small, and go with honey - either they are brushed with it immediately after baking (or even before), or they are spread with butter and honey when cooled down, either cut in half like breadrolls, or maybe even just on top if in a more "flatcake" form.

... phew, that was a lot of options to cover.

Technically, I think I could have used honey in the dough, too, because that may very well have been done by rural people in the 19th century and it's not like I was sticking to one recipe, anyway. But I wasn't really up to trying to calculate a conversion like that, I don't have proof for it, and also, to be honest, the illness still kind of lingers (aaargh!) and I have even better uses to put that honey to.

The Challenge: HFM 2024 #3 Sappy, Sweet, Syrupy, but not Sugary

The Recipe: Combination of "Jidášky" and "České koláče I" from Kniha rozpočtů a kuchařských předpisů všem hospodyním k bezpečné přípravě dobrých, chutných i levných pokrmů by Marie Janků-Sandtnerová ("A Book of Calculations and Cooking Recipes for All Housewives for Safe Preparation of Good, Tasty and Frugal Meals"), 36th-60th unaltered edition (?!) from 1941 - which I own a physical copy of. "České koláče I" for the dough, "Jidášky" for what to do with it.

But for the latter I also referred to "Jidášky - pečivo pašijové" from Úsporná kuchařka ("Frugal Cookbook") by Anuše Kejřová, specifically a 1938 edition I found online, which, it turns out, differs from my 1990 reprint of a 1924 edition that does not have this recipe.

And then I looked through the Digitální knihovna website for other mentions, and found a bunch of 19th century ones that did not give recipes, but described various ways of shaping, treating and serving them, which resulted in the paragraphs above about the various options for shapes. Annoyingly, most of the mentions I found did not say which region which version applied to. In any case, in the end I basically combined all of my sources.

The original ingredients according to Sandtnerová (I cleaned the list up a bit to be clearer on the measurements, it uses dkg and fractions of liter which always confuses me in recipes) are as follows:

500 g flour
salt (just a little bit)
1 cm vanilla pod, "pounded" (huh)
lemon peel
20 g yeast
250 ml milk
100 g butter
70 g sugar
2 egg yolks
Then, possibly more relevant to the koláče recipe, it also has:
20 g for greasing the baking sheet and to brush after baking
1 egg yolk for brushing
10 g of vanilla sugar (and with this one I was unable to discern in the text of the recipe where it was actually supposed to go, but I am including it here because it's relevant to the changes to the recipe I ended up making)

I altered the ingredients a little bit. For that, and the making-of, see How Did You Make It below.

The Date/Year and Region: Czechia, first half of the 20th century. Well, technically they may have a much wider time-spread: allegedly they may go as far back as the Middle Ages, but I did not research that far back, I suspect older recipes will be different, and I did not even find 19th century recipes (just descriptions), so my recipes are from the 1930s and 40s and that's what I can fairly confidently say my version is more or less accurate for.

How Did You Make It: First off, I made a smaller batch. The original recipe says "for 5-10 people", and this is a two-people household. On the other hand, I knew they'd disappear quickly anyway :D, so I did not halve it; I re-calculated for 400 g of flour instead of 500 g, which in my experience is just about right to fit on my very limited number of baking trays, so I ended up with:

400 g flour
56 g of sugar
16 g of yeast
200 ml milk (full-fat)
80 g of butter
I did not try recalculating the egg yolks :D and just used two, and also I did not recalculate the butter for brushing after baking and simply eyeballed it.

I also changed some of the ingredients:

- I'm not sure what sort of lemon peel was intended, but I used dried because that's what I have (they conveniently sell it in the local "bring your own packaging" shop). Instead of "fresh" vanilla, I used a packet of vanilla sugar with real vanilla (and used slightly less regular sugar): I figured that was a pretty good alternative, especially when the original recipe also names vanilla sugar.

- I used active dry yeast (I think that's the type of dry yeast I currently have). I don't really buy fresh anymore, because it tends to result in half a cube of mouldy yeast... So I mixed about 5 g of dry yeast with a teaspoon of sugar and about the same amount of flour, and then a little bit of warm milk, just enough to create a sort of wet paste, and after a while I saw it bubbling a little bit and called it good and used that.

Following the recipe, I mixed the flour with the other dry ingredients (minus what I used for my yeast starter), then warmed up the milk (using a little bit for the yeast starter first), melted the 80 g of butter in it, then mixed the two egg yolks in it.

Then I used my now tried-and-true method of mixing the wet ingredients into the dry ones gradually. I plopped in the yeast starter, washed out its bowl with some of the milk mixture - about a third - and added that, then mixed it. Another third of the milk mixture, mix. Add the rest, mix. This way, I don't have to knead too much; it comes together quite quickly and I can then work it by hand instead of pouring all liquids in at once and then faffing about with the wooden spoon and tiring myself out while waiting for the dough to finally stop sticking to it. (Honestly I don't know why so many Czech leavened dough recipes tell you to do that; this way is much better.)

Unlike Sandtnerová's recipe, I did not sprinkle flour on the finished dough before raising; I just put a teatowel on top of the bowl and let it rest in the kitchen. Kejřová does not mention flouring it.

Then I divided it into 16 pieces, and rolled (well... partially just stretched) each piece into a long thin strand - ideally: Kejřová says "about a finger thin and about 25 cm long", but mine ended up... varied. Some were just about right, some were bigger. I think a larger number of pieces might have resulted in a better size, but 16 is way easier to do. :D If you do a full batch, maybe 24 pieces would work?


Based on all my sources, I opted to create simple "rope" twists, to place them on the baking trays to rest a bit, and then to brush them with the egg-yolk. I thinned down my yolk a bit, too, with milk. It was pretty thick and I did not want to fight with it and wanted to be sure it would be enough for all of the pieces. And I was glad I did. I did brush them fairly generously, but I'm not entirely sure how one un-thinned egg yolk was supposed to be enough for a whole full batch.

If I remember correctly, I baked them at 190-200 degrees Celsius (my oven isn't very precise) for about fifteen to twenty minutes. I put both trays in at the same time which... was a mistake: the upper batch got quite dark, and the bottom batch needed more time. I grew up with a convection oven in which you can bake more trays at once. I keep forgetting that my current regular oven isn't well-suited to that. :D

And then I brushed them with watered-down honey immediately after baking. Half of them. I brushed my half very generously with about two spoons of honey mixed with one spoon of water, and my sister's half with melted butter because she asked for no honey. (She likes sweet bakes like this very, very mildly sweet.)

And that was that. Done! Enjoy!

Time to Complete:
Hmm... I think it took me maybe 20-25 minutes to make the dough (I'm a bit unsure on this), then about an hour for it to rise, then about 20 minutes to make the shapes, about 20 minutes rest on the baking trays, and about 20 minutes to make. Let's say 2,5 hours?

Total Cost:
Ahem. I don't knooow. I honestly don't remember how much the various ingredients were, especially since some of them had been sitting in the pantry for a while; and then with some of them (honey, the lemon peel...) I only used a little. I'm really not up to approximating it. Let's say it's not a super-expensive recipe, but with the honey and butter and vanilla it's also a slightly fancier one.

How Successful Was It?:
Most excellent, will do again. With the wall of text all around this statement, I need to stress it again: they were delicious and very more-ish. And even with the honey, not too sweet.

How Accurate Is It?:
Well, I documented most of my changes to the recipe(s) above. While I used dry lemon peel and vanilla sugar instead of vanilla + sugar, I think those are both plausible changes and overall it's not bad at all on the ingredient front. The most inaccurate ingredient is the active dry yeast: it was invented in 1943 in the USA, so it doesn't seem very likely to have been available in Czechia at the time. My father, born in the mid-1950s, remembers his mother buying pressed yeast by weight.

When it comes to technique, I wasn't accurate to any one recipe, but I think overall it's also quite plausible. One major modern convenience I used was baking paper instead of greasing (Sandtnerová) or greasing-and-flouring (Kejřová) the baking trays. And one last change I did not squeeze into the above paragraphs is that Kejřová says to brush them with watered-down honey before baking, as an alternative to the egg yolk. I opted instead to do both, egg yolk first, honey after baking. I did not find a historical recipe saying exactly that, but some modern ones and family traditions do say that, and it seemed to me safer to not put the sticky sweet substance into the oven. Considering I nearly burned the top layer, I think that was a wise decision. :D

Last notes and what I learned:

My honey was runny, which is perfect for brushing, obviously. If your honey isn't runny (has crystalised), you can just melt it gently in a water bath, or in the microwave. If your honey is of the honey paste kind, it probably won't be great for this recipe, even melted.

Overall, I think this exercise was also, for me, a good proof of how I have become more experienced and better organised with following recipes / planning my cooking (if I try), compared to the days when I started doing the HFF. I was still pretty scatterbrained from the illness, but I was able to prepare most of my ingredients in advance and flow smoothly from one task to another, without getting much confused and panicky and losing time along the way. Aside from that one moment when I went "oh, bother, my milk is pretty hot already, I need to use non-buttery warm milk for the yeast starter but I also need to melt butter in the rest of it because I have already turned down the flame because it's pretty hot already." That resulted in me blowing on teaspoons of milk to cool it quickly so that I would not kill my yeast but still had milk hot enough to melt butter in. It worked out fine. :D People posessed of a microwave oven will likely not have this problem.

Last note along the lines of being organised in the kitchen is that the remaining egg whites went into a soup the next day. The egg whites are something you do have to find a use for.

As said waaay above, I did learn more about the various versions and traditions of jidáše / jidášky, although less than I would have liked. I did not learn which version comes from where, and why some 19th century mentions said they were something done specifically in towns when it seems from other mentions they totally were being made in villages as well, and whether that may have something to do with the different versions and regions. And what the heck exactly was Čeněk Zíbrt talking about in the late 19th century when he said recipes for them can be found in Old Czech cookbooks? Mr Zíbrt, could you tell me where? I'm not going to stress any of it, though; it's not my primary area of interest. If I ever have time and opportunity to learn more, I will be happy to, but I don't want to get lost in this rabbit hole right now.

I also learned that brushing rich, heavy leavened dough like koláče immediately after baking with melted butter or some sort of liquid helps keep it nice and soft. More precisely, I had already known that, but due to the craziness of recent years this was the first time I actually got around to doing it. And also I had never before seen mention of doing that with water (well, watered down honey in my case, so that may play a role), only milk or rum, but it seems it might actually also work. So that's one for the mental notebook.

Also also: Kejřová puts poppy seeds on top and Sandtnerová almonds, which I think is the first time I have ever heard of doing that (though now that I google pictures, I can see some - mainly poppy seed). I left them out, also because, somewhat annoyingly, Sandtnerová's recipe for jidášky redirects you to the dough recipe for koláče that does not use almonds, and she does not have a separate ingredient list for jidáše so the info of what else you need for that particular recipe is buried in the text. I wonder if those toppings are traditional (for somewhere), or 20th century "improvements". I wonder the same about the vanilla - Sandtnerová uses it, Kejřová doesn't.

The search for recipes was also, for me, a bit of a further proof of what I already suspected, that is, that while we tend to think of Rettigová's 1820s-1840s cookbook (which I've used before) as THE basis of traditional Czech cuisine, it actually does not have a lot of the recipes we now think of as typically, traditionally Czech, and Sandtnerová a hundred years later does. Rettigová is definitely where the modern Czech cookbook tradition begins, but hers is mainly the aspirational cuisine of relatively rich bourgeoise families of the Biedermeier, and I think a lot of what we think of as typically Czech originates in more rural traditions. If you want the sort of thing thought of as typical Czech cuisine nowadays, forget Rettigová***, "Sandtnerka" (first published in 1924, then many many many times more) is the golden standard.

Which is why I consider my copy one of my greatest treasures, even when it is, as we say in Czech, "a salad edition". ****

* Part of the reason there wasn't an Easter Sunday post this year, either. It was exacerbated by Easter Sunday being the same day time changed from winter to summer time. Extra awful this year, that. I went to church late, and arrived even later because not that far from there I had to sit down on a bench and sit there for about twenty minutes, bird-watching, because my legs had gone wobbly. And quite honestly I think after so many years of this blog's existence I have kind of run out of ways to write a generic Easter post. Easter is still happening, and it's still great, but I think I'm giving up on that self-imposed duty and I'll just write things around Easter from now on.

 ** AKA offcuts / remnants, a historical tailoring term. Its application to dough originates with Bernadette Banner and her years ago attempt at Victorian gingerbread. Sadly, it seems in her more recent switch to  professionalism she has removed that video from public listing, so you cannot bask in its beautiful nerdiness anymore. :-(

*** No shade on Rettigová. She definitely has some bangers that don't deserve to be forgotten.

**** Loose leaves, kwim?