The Cook in Me: Grandma's Buchta (Coffeecake)©
My Grandma Lasak instilled in me a love of being in the kitchen. As the second of my parents’ four daughters, I was probably a typical middle child, competing for my parents' attention. But when I went to stay with my grandparents (which I did as much as my parents would let me), I was accorded the status of a princess. My Grandparents treated me like I was their only grandchild; this was due to a number of factors that I won't go into here. Suffice it to say that even at a very young age, I knew that they treasured me. When you stepped through their front door, you were greeted by the heavenly aromas of yeast pastries, garlic, chicken or veal roasting in the oven, and my Grandfather's shaving cream. To this day, whenever I smell Barbasol®, I picture my Grandparents' bathroom with Grandpa's shaving strap and straight razor hanging behind the door.
I'm not proud to say that my Grandparents gave me anything I wanted, but that's how I remember it. My Grandma, to me, was everything a grandma was supposed to be. She was soft, and very affectionate, and I knew that I was special in their eyes, (not "Kathy, don't eat the Vaseline special", but unique). I had no doubt that she loved me unconditionally and that whatever I did was all right by her. I followed both my Grandpa and Grandma around the house trying to learn to do everything like they did. Whether it was airing out the bedrooms every morning before remaking the beds (even in the dead of winter,) sweeping the floors, doing the laundry on the old wringer washing machine, ironing the sheets, pillowcases and underwear, or working in the garden, I took it all in.
Grandpa and Grandma had a fixed schedule that was never broken unless they were deathly ill. Wednesday was noodle or strudel making day. Thursday was grocery shopping day. Sunday was church and dinner with my parents and sisters. Monday was always laundry and ironing day. Grandma got up early on Monday morning, like she did every day. She had a lot of work to accomplish before lunchtime. When Grandpa left for work after breakfast, she would begin their dinner, and then she'd begin the laundry. This was no small task because they still had a manual wringer washing machine. I remember she didn't use bleach, but rather bluing that made all their clothes beautifully white. (In case you're wondering, no, she never did use it on her hair like some of her friends did.) Every piece of clothing had to go through the wringer, sometimes two or three times, to get all the water out. They didn't have a dryer, so the clothes went out on the clothesline in the back yard to dry in the spring, summer and fall. In the winter, Grandpa strung clothesline in the basement for Grandma to hang the clothes on. Either way, by 11 a.m., the laundry was finished. She would then either fold the items or sprinkle them with her sprinkling bottle (a warm water filled Coca-Cola® bottle topped by a tight fitting metal cap that had holes poked through it), and place them in a wicker clothes basket until ironing time. Then It was time for completing the final dinner preparations for their noon meal.
Every week day, my Grandfather walked home from the factory where he worked so he could eat the mid-day meal with Grandma. Dinner at Grandpa and Grandma's was a special event for me because they had their big meal mid-day, not in the evening like we did. They had a beautiful garden in their back yard and, among other things, they grew parsley, parsnips, onions of several types, herbs, radishes, and several varieties of lettuces with peculiar names (deer tongue and oak leaf, for example). The lettuces were tender and tasted wonderful, however. They also grew carrots, beets, green beans, turnips, lima beans, peas, tomatoes, peppers (both hot and sweet) and garlic. About 2 weeks after the ground thawed in the spring, Grandpa and Grandma would begin transplanting the seedlings that they had planted in February and March in egg cartons and kept under lights in their basement. Grandpa and Grandma grew lots of garlic. My Grandmother used a lot of garlic in her Moravian/Slavic cooking. But they grew so much garlic that even she couldn't use it all. There were two neighborhood food markets, not chains, within walking distance of their house. I used to go with Grandpa to sell the extra garlic to those markets. He was their largest supplier of garlic in the summer and fall.
For dinner, they always had salad from the garden, and vegetables, also most likely from their garden. Grandpa and Grandma canned a lot of the produce from their garden, so they even had their garden produce in the winter. They also had meat, generally either chicken or veal with a gravy thickened with either sour cream or heavy cream, and dumplings, potatoes or what my Mother called Rivulets. It was not until I began taking a real interest in other ethnicities' foods that I realized that Rivulets were the same as what the Germans call Späetzle, the Hungarians call Nokedli or Galuska, the Italians call Gnocchi, and the Polish call Halŭski. Because Grandma always made her own noodles, they would almost always begin the meal with a small bowl of soup made from the stock of the meat she was preparing, vegetables and her noodles. The meal almost always ended with a sweet pastry that my Grandma had baked the previous Saturday. This might be a slice of poppy seed Buchta (we pronounced it Bouk-tee), Little Buchta which were stuffed with a plum filling, or Kolache (stuffed with a sweet mixture of dry cottage cheese, egg yolks, sugar and cream or a fruit filling). Probably because I loved the poppy seed filling the best, I remember most often having the Buchta.
After Grandpa returned to work, I would willingly return to the featherbed to take my nap, and Grandma would do the ironing while she watched her stories on television. You have to remember that both my Grandparents were immigrants who didn't speak a lot of English. Television was new to everyone in the early 1950s of course, and they thought it was a wonderful invention. They never really understood the entertainment industry, however. For example, my Grandma would get visibly upset and cry during her stories, murmuring, "those poor, poor people." I couldn't figure out how she got so wrapped up in the actors' crises. It wasn't until many, many years later when my Grandfather went to live with my sister for the final years of his 105-year lifespan, that I learned that he and my Grandma thought the daytime soap operas depicted real-life situations, and that the people in them weren't actors, but real people, and real families, with real-life troubles. Had they only suggested such a concept of "reality television" to television producers back then, they probably would have been millionaires. They were way ahead of the concept's inception.
I never thought to write down my Grandma's recipes. When you're young, you just think your parents and grandparents will live forever, and that you'll enjoy the fruits of their labors ad infinitum. My Grandma passed away when I was only 19 years old, and I remember thinking that those recipes were lost forever. After all, my Mother never made them. My Grandpa tried to mimic some of Grandma's culinary genius, but it just wasn't the same. After I got married and began gaining confidence in the kitchen, I decided I was going to try to duplicate what I remembered of my Grandmother's cooking. Because my Grandma never used any type of standard measurement, or pre-packaged staples, and her cooking was a combination of Moravian and Slavic heritage, I have never been able to find recipes for her dishes. Some are close, but not on the money. That could be because she added her own genius along the way. But I have never tasted Kolache, or Sauerkraut, or Noodles, or Veal Birds like hers. In fact, I've never even seen a recipe for Veal Birds. The closest I've ever come to her Chicken Noodle Soup was on my first trip to Italy at age 48, almost thirty years after my Grandmother's death. The second night we were in Rome, we ate in a Ristorante named Alfredo's where the house specialty was, you guessed it, Fettuccini Alfredo. For my first course I ordered a chicken vegetable soup. When I took my first bite, tears welled up in my eyes. The flavor was the same. The soup had the same taste, but it was without her straight-pin thin noodles. The brain is a wonderful thing to have stored that flavor memory in me for so many years that I could recall its origin with one bite. I had to fight back the tears as I slowly savored the soup. I hoped that the bowl was bottomless and that the soup would go on forever. Alas, it did not. (For you inquiring minds out there, yes, I had the Fettuccini Alfredo as a second course.)
I'm sharing my recipe for Buchta (Coffeecake) with you today. I think this is probably my favorite of all her pastries. It's not difficult at all to make. Although the dough is a just a sweet yeast dough, it took me some time to find a comparable imitation. My sister gave me her recipe for it, but she uses a potato based yeast dough, and my taste buds and memory don't quite equate it to Grandma's. Grandma used to make her own filling from ground poppy seeds, egg yolks, sugar and a little milk. I used to have a poppy seed grinder, but it got lost in one of the fifteen moves I've made since I got married. So I just use the Solo® brand poppy seed filling. I can't tell the difference. If you're not fond of a poppy seed filling, use cinnamon sugar instead. It then becomes just a large cinnamon Coffeecake. I hope you enjoy this taste of my Grandmother's cooking that I so loved. I know she would be pleased!
©2012, 2013 Grandma's Buchta by Kathy Striggow
This article may not be reproduced in whole or in part without the express written permission of the author.
GRANDMA LASAK'S BUCHTA
- 4-1/2 tsps. Active Dry Yeast (2 packages)
- 1/2 cup Sugar
- 1 cup Water, lukewarm
- 1 cup Butter or Margarine (2 sticks), softened, not melted
- 1 Large Egg, for dough
- 1 cup warm Milk
- 6 cups All purpose Flour, approximately
- 1-1/2 tsps. Salt
- 2-3 Large Eggs, beaten combined with 2 Tbsp. water, eggwash for filling
- 2 cans Solo® brand Poppy Seed Filling, OR approximately 1 cup cinnamon-sugar blend
- Melted Butter for brushing tops of coffeecakes
- Using an electric mixer with a dough hook, combine the yeast, sugar and lukewarm water and mix on low for 2 minutes to dissolve the yeast.
- Add butter, egg and warm milk, increase speed to medium and mix for 2 minutes, scraping sides of bowl with rubber scraper.
- Add 3 cups of the flour and the salt. With the mixer on low, mix until the dough starts to come together.
- Continue gradually adding the remaining flour and when it appears the dough is soft and coming together, increase the mixer speed to medium-high and mix until the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl and crawls up the dough hook.
- Continue mixing on medium high for about 10 minutes (to knead the dough), until the dough is smooth and elastic.
- Shape the dough into a ball and place in large bowl that has been greased with 1 Tbsp. vegetable oil or butter, turning the dough over once so that top of dough ball is greased. Cover loosely with a lightweight, dampened towel or plastic wrap and let the dough rise in a warm place (80 to 85 degrees F.)¹, until doubled--about 1-1/2 to 2 hours. (Dough is doubled when 2 fingers pressed into the center of the dough leaves indentations.)
- Punch down the dough by pushing in the center of the dough with your fist, then folding the edges of the dough into the center.
- Turn dough onto lightly floured surface; knead lightly to make smooth ball.
- Divide the dough into two equal sized balls and cover each with a bowl. Let the dough rest for about 15 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 400° F. Butter the bottom and sides of 2 bundt or angel food cake pans, or spray them with non-stick baking spray.
- On a lightly floured surface with a floured rolling pin, roll one of the balls of dough into a rectangle about 12 in. x 15 in. and 1/2 in. thick. Gently poke your fingers into (not through) the dough to make indentations.
- Brush the egg wash onto the top of the dough. Make sure you extend the egg wash to each end of the rectangle. Liberally spread the poppy seed (or cinnamon sugar) filling over the egg, making sure to cover all the indentations. Use one can of poppy seed filling for each Coffeecake.
- Starting at the long side of the rectangle, roll the dough topped with filling into a log, tucking the ends in tight. Place the log around the center of one of the buttered or sprayed bundt or angel food cake pans and pinch the ends of the dough together to seal the seam.
- Cover the pan with a lightweight dampened towel. Repeat the process with the other dough ball. Place the pans in a warm place for about 45-50 minutes, or until the dough has doubled.
- Gently brush the tops with melted butter.
- Bake the Coffeecakes for about 30-40 minutes, or until the tops are golden brown and they smell like they are done. (You will get to know the smell of yeast dough when it is finished baking).
- Remove from the oven and place on cooling racks. Brush melted butter over the tops.
- Wait for about 10-15 minutes before removing the Coffeecakes from the pans and onto the cooling racks.
- Cool completely before serving or storing. Top with confectioners' sugar before serving.
- Store in tightly sealed containers. You can freeze them for serving at a later date, but they are best served fresh.
¹Before I even pull out my mixer, I begin the preparations for a nice incubator environment for my yeast dough. I heat the oven to 170° F., and as soon as it reaches that temperature, I turn it off. I then stand the door open slightly. I mix together my dough, then check the oven temperature. It should be warm, but not hot, I check the rack where I am putting the dough to raise. It should be warm--NOT hot. I place a doubled kitchen towel on the rack and place the covered bowl on top of the towel. Then I close the door. The dough has a nice, warm little house in which to do its magic. If I already have something in the oven and I'm doing laundry, I place the bowl in the laundry room and close the door. The humidity from the washer and the heat from the dryer make a cozy environment for my dough. (Just don't place the bowl on top of the washer or dryer as it's liable to take a tumble!)
© 2012 Grandma's Buchta by Kathy Striggow