08 December, 2013

"Happy Christmas!" From Europe, With Love: Bonus Recipe 2: Crăciun

I'm not going to beat around the bush here...I am sure that the majority of you either have never heard of Moldova and that even less of you could tell me where to find it on a map.  Whether you fall victim to either one, you should know that some darn fabulous food is made in that country so I couldn't resist including them in my Christmas lineup.

Moldova is a small country in the far south eastern part of Europe.  Their official language is Romanian, some of their most beloved foods are from countries like Ukraine, and their Christmas and New Years celebrations have slowly merged into one HUGE month long celebration.  There is a large Catholic presence in the country which has been responsible for that occurrence.  But, no matter what outside influences have come, they still hold a 6 week vegan fast leading up to Christmas Day.  Two days before Christmas Day the cooking begins...  Pigs in a blanket, beef salad, and walnut and raisin cakes are among some of the most anticipated foods that will hit the table in the next 2 days.  But even more popular is their Christmas treat of Semiluna Cu Nuca.

Semiluna Cu Nuca is a spongy genoise with a small amount of lemon zest to flavor it and before baking it is topped with a healthy layer of walnuts.  Sometimes the way this is flavored varies...some people say add vanilla, some say add coconut to the walnuts.  But the traditional way to prepare it is the most simple, of course.  After baking and cooling you remove the cake from the pan and use a glass or a crescent shaped cookie cutter to cut the "semiluna" shape.  It is their version of a Christmas cookie, though it is no cookie at all.  Semiluna are the one thing that hit the table that make Moldavian children everywhere say "Crăciun Fericit!!"

**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.

Semiluna Cu Nuca
4 eggs, separated
1/8 tsp. salt
sugar (150g)
zest of 1 lemon
oil (150ml)
flour (200g)
2 tsp. baking powder
ground walnuts (100g)
powdered sugar, optional

Preheat oven to 320 F (160 C)

Grease and flour 9 x 13 cake pan.  Set the pan aside.  **I lined the length (long portion) of my cake pan with parchment paper.  Then when the cake was baked, I could easily remove the whole thing at once instead of trying to cut out the shapes in the pan. (see following picture)

Whisk your egg whites in your mixer with a pinch of salt until they start to foam.  Gradually add in the sugar and lemon zest.  Grind your walnuts.

Sift flour and baking powder together and set aside.

Gradually add in oil, egg yolks, and flour mixture.   Pour cake batter into greased and floured cake pan and then sprinkle with the ground walnuts.

Bake for 30 minutes OR until when tested a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Allow the cake to completely cool and then cut the cake into the semiluna shapes with a crescent shaped cutter or a glass.  This is where the process can get complicated if you, like me, don't have a "crescent" cookie cutter in your arsenal of cutters.  I honestly couldn't find one in town.  You'll have to order it online if you truly want one.  But, here is what you can do to accomplish the same thing with minimal waste.  All you will need is a 3 inch round cookie or biscuit cutter...

First remove the cake from the pan if you haven't already (this should only be done when it is completely cooled).  Without overlapping circles but getting them as close together as you can, begin cutting out circles of cake.  You should be able to get 1 dozen 3 inch circles out of the cake.

Once you have them all cut out, slice each circle evenly in half.

Once you have them halved, using the round cutter again, cutting into the half from the FLAT side slice into the halves about a half an inch.  This gives you the "semi luna" shape without the added cost of finding a cutter and, as I said with minimal waste of cake product.

The parts of the cake at the end where you were cutting out the circles can be made into semiluna by simply doing the same sort of technique.  Take the circle cutter and get enough cake into the circle that it appears that you have a quarter moon shape and press down.  I was able to get 6 more semiluna doing this with the portion of the cake that was too short to make 3 more full circles.

Once you have cut out all of the semiluna that you can keep them in an airtight container until you are ready to serve them.

For a little festive “snow capped” look you can sprinkle powdered sugar on top if you like before serving.

These little, puffed slices of lemon cake are simply magical!  As with most of the other recipes that I have tried for this series, I can clearly see how this walnut crowned dessert is a "must have" on the table at Christmas in Moldova.  When my Mister tried this dessert he started listing all of the things he figured it would be good with or "as"...  "You could turn this into a base for a good coffee cake, or the base to anything you want to layer really..."  No kidding??  It made me chuckle a bit.  Of course you *could* do that, but that isn't what this was meant for.  We'll keep it to the purpose intended this time hon...  A festive, fun, and tasty Christmas dessert that helps Moldavians all over the world feel merry.

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