Guest Post By Claudia Heilter, former news producer, mother of Arlo, 6 and Lois, 4.
I’ve been wracking my brains on ways to pass along my Hungarian roots to my children. I speak the language but found it a bit too tricky to teach them. My husband doesn’t speak it and my parents live 2,000 miles away in Western Canada. It only dawned on me recently that it might be easier to pass along the family history not through the language, but through the food. Hungarian cuisine is so flavorful that it’s world-renowned. It’s quite kid-friendly too because most of it qualifies as comfort food: goulash soup, paprikas chicken, palacsinta (crepes) and galuska dumplings (instant homemade noodles). The only problem is, I can’t cook. I’ve been a stay-at-home mom for 6 years and the learning curve, for me, has proved too steep. I thrived working in the high-pressure, cut-throat environment of network news. But ask me to follow a simple recipe and it’s like my brain goes cross-eyed.
My kids love the buttery, bite-sized Hungarian cheese biscuits called pogacsa (po-gah-tcha) — a treat my mother makes every time we visit my parents. (You can’t be Hungarian and not have put your personal stamp on a pogacsa recipe.) Arlo and Lois beg their grandmother to send them some instead of having to wait until our bi-annual visits. But by the time the pogacsa would travel the two weeks and go through Customs (if it even got through Customs), they’d undoubtedly be stale. So I thought, Hey! I’ll just make them myself! What a great way to pass along some part of my family history. But as soon as my mother started to explain the measurements in terms of “it needs a little bit of this and a little touch of that” I thought to myself: Doomed. If I can’t work with actual measurements, I certainly wasn’t going to be able to go by feel. Now what? What I would have done in my producer days: Find an expert!
I admit I’m a bit embarrassed to be outsourcing my heritage. My friend and neighbor, Lori Walsh, though not Hungarian, is a gifted baker. And in this case that seems to be the more important criteria. She already bakes bread for us weekly and other yummy snacks and desserts, too, through her business Yum! So why not this? I connected her with my mom (it seemed best to cut out the middleman), and we were in business.
Until the day comes that my mother teaches me her way, delegating this old-world tradition will have to be my modern-day stamp on the pogacsa recipe. In the meantime, there’s a little taste of Hungary, and a lovely (mess-free) reminder of my family, anytime we want.
Agi’s Pogacsa (Cheese Biscuits)
Developed for Claudia by Lori Walsh, Yum! (firstname.lastname@example.org)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon yeast (dry active)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter (cold, cut into small pieces)
1/2 small boiled and mashed baking potato
4 ounces sour cream
1 egg yolk
1 cup cheddar cheese, grated
1. In a large bowl, mix the flour with the salt and yeast
2. Mix the butter into the flour mixture on low speed until butter pieces are about the size of peas. Add the mashed potato to the flour-butter mixture. Mix until combined.
3. Mix the sour cream and egg yolk in a measuring cup until combined. Add to the flour mix and mix and low speed until it comes together.
4. Add the cheese to the dough and mix until combined. With well-floured hands, give it a few kneads.
5. Cover with plastic wrap and let it rest 2 hours.
6. Preheat oven to 400°F.
7. Divide the dough into two pieces. On a well-floured surface, roll out the dough until 1/2-inch thick. Make thin horizontal and vertical cuts about 1/4 inch apart in a cross hatch pattern.
8. Cut out circles using a 1-inch round cookie cutter. (Re-use scraps by re-rolling and cutting.)
9. Bake in middle rack for 20 minutes or until golden brown.
10. Jo Etvagyat!