04 December, 2013

"Happy Christmas!" From Europe, With Love: Bonus Recipe 1: Коледа

I happen to know two people who lived in Bulgaria for a time.  They both served missions for our church, one served for 18 months and the other friend served for 24 months.  So it came as no surprise, when I surveyed folks on Facebook as to what countries I should include if I was able to get to the bonus recipe portion of the Christmas series, that both of them asked for me to include the country of Bulgaria.

Bulgaria is a sweet little country that doesn't seem to get a lot of time in the media for whatever reason.  But what I know of them is that it is a country filled with honest, hard working, kind, and modest people.  They love their God, they love their country, and they love food.  Their Christmas traditions are quite interesting and they start with a 40 day Advent fast.  Wowza!  Now that takes some dedication!  

They break their fast on Christmas Eve, sitting down to a vegetarian meal that usually consists of an odd number of dishes.  Walnuts are a focal point at this time in Bulgaria.  Folks crack a walnut to predict their success or failure in the coming year.  They also bake a coin into their Christmas loaf of bread and the story goes that whomever finds the coin will have good fortune in the coming year.  After dinner on Christmas Eve the table is not cleared until the next morning in order to provide a good meal for any spirits of the family's ancestors that may stop by in the night to visit the family on the night before Christmas.

One of the only dishes I've heard tell that is served at Christmastime in Bulgaria is a cake.  Torta Garaj...aka Garash Cake.  It is quite a simple recipe, and very little "flair" is ever added.  It is a simple cake of egg whites, sugar, flour, and chopped walnuts that is baked and cut into very thin layers then a chocolate frosting goes between each layer, the top and the sides of the cake.  After that sets a bit, a rich chocolate ganache is poured over the top and it is simply garnished with walnuts.

There are a few tools that you may want to have to make assembling this cake a tad easier.  If you don't have them in the house, do your best.  I am not sure that every Bulgarian kitchen has these tools either.  So...make of that sentence what you will and plan accordingly.

What you see there is a cake lifter, a cake knife, and a layer cake slicing guard.  I have had most of these things for quite a while.  I had to look for the cake slicing guard withOUT the cake lifter though.  That was rough, but I already had a lifter so I didn't want a second.  Moving on...

The recipes I have seen are quite easy to manage, no matter your level of kitchen expertise.  I am sure this cake will have everyone at the table going back for more and it isn't likely any will be saved for the visiting spirits later.  If you ever want to make get a Bulgarian to say "Весела Коледа", give them a slice of this cake.  You may get a hug as well!

**The U.S. measurements appear first followed by the European weights in parenthesis, unless only U.S. measurements were given.  I weighed the amounts out first, then measured them with U.S. measuring cups and spoons.  You can thank me later.

Torta Garash/Гараш Tорта (Garash Cake)
8 egg whites
3/4 c. + 1/8 c. + 1/4 tsp. powdered sugar (0.200kg)
2 c. + 1 tsp. of ground walnuts (0.200kg)
1/8 c. + 1/2 T. + 1/4 tsp. self rising flour (0.25kg)
one recipe of cream filling
one recipe of chocolate ganache
chopped walnuts to garnish

Preheat oven to 320 F (160 C)

Whisk egg whites on high in your stand mixer or in a medium sized bowl.  Add sugar gradually until your whites have formed into stiff peaks.  In a separate bowl combine walnuts and flour.  Adding small amounts at a time, fold the nut/flour mixture into the egg whites until well incorporated.

Put a round of parchment paper into an 8 inch round 3 inch deep cake pan.  Spray the sides with cake release, butter and flour the sides, or use a parchment paper ring so the cake doesn't stick to the pan.  OR...if you happen to have 5 cake pans of the same size laying around your house, equally distribute the cake batter into the five greased and parchment lined pans.  Then you can avoid the very large pain in your behind of having to slice the 2.25 inch high cake into 5 equal layers. 

Bake for 60-70 minutes OR until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean.  Set on a cooling rack and allow it to cool at least 30 minutes before removing the cake from the pan.

Allow the cake to cool completely before wrapping the cake slicing guard around the cake.  If you attempt to slice this cake into layers before it is completely cool it will turn into a giant mess of crumbs on your counter.  You've been warned.  "Completely cool" can take between 1 and 3 hours depending on the temperature of your kitchen.  I advise you not to place this in the fridge to cool.

While the cake is cooling make the cream filling and get the ganache ready as well. 

Cream Filling
2 c. + scant 1/2 c. chocolate (0.450kg)
1/2 + 1/8 c. caster sugar (0.150kg)
2 T. rum, apricot brandy, or apricot preserves
200 mL liquid measure of heavy cream (0.200 liters)

In a medium sized, heavy bottomed sauce pan combine cream and sugar and cook until the sugar is completely dissolved, allow it to come to a NON rolling boil, but don't stir it; you will have a syrup like consistency.  Remove from the heat and add in the chocolate.  Stir until the chocolate is completely melted and you have a nice, smooth consistency.  When the mixture is completely mixed add in your choice of flavoring (rum, apricot brandy or apricot preserves).  Once the mixture seems to be well incorporated pour into a glass bowl.  In another larger glass bowl, make an ice water bath for the bowl that has the filling mixture in it.  Place the bowl with the filling on top of the ice bath and stir the filling until it becomes fluffy, or as close to a cake frosting as you believe it will get.  Set aside to firm up a bit.  This may be an okay time to place it in the refrigerator for 20 minutes or so.  This will also keep the ganache from melting the the filling when you pour it on the cake.

Ganache Topping
100 mL in liquid measurer of heavy cream (0.100 liters)
2 6 oz bars of dark chocolate (0.150kg)
1 T. shortening

Melt together the chocolate, cream, and shortening in a double boiler and set aside until you're ready to cover the filled and frosted cake with the ganache.

After the ganache is on, garnish (ONLY the outside edge of the cake) with chopped walnuts.  Wait until the ganache is set before serving.  30 minutes ought to do it.

I most likely don't have to tell you that this is about as close to a walnut/Death By Chocolate perfect combination that I have made in all of my life.  One bite and I was in love...  The Bulgarians sure know how to make Christmas merry....and very sweet!!  I can see why this cake is such a big deal to serve at Christmastime.  It is every thing that speaks of the love in the time of making it and giving your family the very best of what you have to offer in the kitchen.  I'm so (I can't stress the "so" enough!) glad that I decided to do this country for my bonus recipes.  I hope you try this cake...  Please, just try this cake!  I promise you'll fall in love like I did and perhaps find yourself with a new Christmas favorite that people ask for every year.  

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