Sometime around the end of November, my babička will travel over from Prague to begin holiday baking for me here in London. I cannot dissuade her from setting up an elaborate baking operation in my flat in Notting Hill and beginning to produce a prodigious amount of delicious baked goods for the holidays. She’s convinced that living in London prevents me from celebrating Christmas surrounded by beloved Czech traditions. She is particularly concerned that I will not get to enjoy Czech holiday baked goods of the highest quality and variety. She is a master Czech baker who uses only the highest quality ingredients she buys at The Halusky Shop at 132 Upper Richmond Road West, East Sheen, London SW14 8DS.
“Linecké těsto must only be attempted with Předměřická Hladká Mouka,” she began as she opened the bag of flour. You see, maličká (she still calls me "little one"), these cookies must be light and not too sweet. Sušenky and máslové pečivo must be made with fine wheat flour,” she mused as she began to mix the flour with separated egg whites and egg yolks. “These you can bring to your office for all of advent and make the workers happy for the holidays.”
Every year I try to moderate babička’s enthusiasm, or she will continue baking for two weeks so that “all may enjoy the holiday” as if they were back home in Prague. I have never had any effect on her at all. She simply loves to bake and is truly a master. In fact, starting in November, my friends and colleagues begin to ask me if my babička is coming to London this year to bake for us.
“My babička is an old lady now,” I caution them. “She lives alone in Prague. She perhaps will not be able to make it again this year.” They always smile and go back to what they were doing. They know that as sure as advent precedes Christmas, my babička will be in London to bake. I know it too. I count on it.
Our first chore together upon her arrival each year is to travel out to Upper Richmond Rd. and visit the Sonam Halusky Shop in East Sheen. “They have what I need,” she says every year as we travel together on the train.
“They deliver, you know, babička,” I reminded her.
“Oh, I know, maličká. But then I would not get to see everything available. I will need Polohrubá Mouka this year for the Biskupský Chlebíček I will prepare. I must go and be sure it is available. Only semi-coarse flour will mix well with fruit and nuts. This is very necessary. The Bishop’s bread is simple but special when baked correctly. I will leave you the recipe so that you can bake it for your friends when I am gone.” That was not going to happen, but I appreciated the thought.
In addition to the Bishop’s Bread and the Sušenky, babička created an endless variety of Lis-Tay (Triangle Cookies), Linecké Těsto Dvoubarevné (Czech black and white cookies),Důlkové Koláčky (the Czech version of thumbprint cookies), and Kakaové Kuličky (Cocoa ball cookies). By using only the Předměřická Hladká Mouka imported from the Czech Republic, she says she is able to keep the cookies light regardless of the weight of the other ingredients. I know nothing about baking, but I can testify that my babička makes the best cookies I, or any of my co-workers, have ever tasted.
“Now, maličká, I will share with you my secret for making the world famous Czech Dumplings you are about to enjoy,” she said to me one night after I had returned from work for dinner. “Few bakers know about Hrubá Mouka outside the Czech Republic. Most use what they call All-purpose flour. I tell you now, maličká, there is no such thing as, what they call, all-purpose flour. There is fine flour, semi-coarse, and even coarse, which few chefs and almost no housewives would ever use. Hrubá Mouka, however, is the secret to the great Czech dumplings known all over the world. Now, you will eat, and you will know. Eat! Eat!”
As promised, she left two of her secret recipes with me when she returned to Prague.
Wishing you a happy holiday,
57 grams butter
113 grams icing sugar
57 grams polohrubá mouka
57 grams chocolate chips
57 grams almonds
57 grams chopped figs
28 grams raisins
57 grams candied chopped fruit
5 ml baking powder
Mix together butter, half of the sugar and yolks.
Beat up a snow from the egg whites,
add the other half of the sugar and finish the snow.
Fold together into the egg yolk mixture half of dry ingredients together with the half of the snow
Finish adding rest of the dry ingredients together with the other half of the snow.
Bake in a bread loaf pan.
Butter and flour your baking pan before putting the mixture in.
Fill the pan about 3/4 full as the mixture will rise.
Bake at 180 degrees C. for 45 min. to one hour.
500g “hrubá mouka”
5 ml salt
1 sachet dry yeast
Mix yeast with a little water
Measure water, flour, and salt; beat egg
Add salt and egg to flour
Form a puddle in flour and pour yeast in, cover with a little flour
Wait till flour cracks and you can see the yeast work
Mix in water (slowly) and form a dough
Dough should be rather soft but not too moist
Put wet towel over your bowl and leave the dough alone for one hour
ONE HOUR LATER
Take dough out of bowl and knead it once more, use some more flour if it’s still too sticky
Separate dough in 2-3 parts, form loafs and let them rest for another 20-30 min
Boil water in your largest pot and add some salt
Add loafs to boiling water, cover and decrease heat to simmer (not boil)
Turn once after 10-15 min
Take out after 20-25 min
Cut with thread (use thread not a knife)