Thursday, 21 February 2008

Easter Lamb Cake

Velikonocni beranek - Easter Lambkin Cake

I was given an old Czech pottery cake mould in the form of a rather thin lamb. It's in two parts and sits on hand formed feet, the fingerprints still visible in the clay. The moulds are still sold but the modern lambs are fatter with fewer details in the modelling.
This is a traditional yeasted recipe from Jana, who seems to know by instinct or long experience what to do - there's no advice how long it will take to cook or at what temperature. I used my baking lambkin mould to make a rich sponge cake which worked well and took about 40 minutes. There are three grades of flour in Czech cuisine, the one mentioned is 'half coarse' but our regular soft cake flour will do.

500g 'polohrube' flour
120g butter
120g sugar
pinch salt
30g fresh yeast
500ml warm milk
4 egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla essence
zest of 1/2 lemon
handful raisins
handful slivered or chopped almonds

butter to grease the form
breadcrumbs for lining the form

Mix 1/2 cup of the milk, teaspoonful sugar and the yeast . Leave in a warm place to go frothy.
Pre-heat the oven to a moderate temperature - about 180 C/ gas 4
Beat the butter, sugar and yolks until pale.
Add vanilla, lemon zest and salt.
Beat in the frothy yeast mixture with spoonsful of the flour and as much milk to make a pliable dough. Knead this dough until smooth and glossy.
Lastly add the raisins and almonds.
Thoroughly grease the baking form, dust with the breadcrumbs (or caster sugar and flour) tap the form to loosen any excess .
Place in the dough in the bottom half and allow to rise untilit reaches the top of the form. Place the lid on top
Bake in a moderate oven, and turn the form half-way throughbaking.
When baked gently release from the form, (the steam from the hot cake should help loosen it. If not, going at it with a knife might leave you with something you'd rather the children didn't witness) dust with icing sugar and add raisins for eyes.

Then you have to decide which end to slice from. I haven't worked out what that choice says about a person or whether it has any effect on the year to come.

Dobrou chut'

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

walking to Klet mountain

I was just settling down to do some work this morning, when a friend called, and dragged me out. And was I glad! We went up to the Klet mountain, which is the highest hill overlooking Cesky Krumlov, some 1060m high. The locals all hold it in some reverence, in fact it was already worshiped by the Celts in the past and there are some remnants of their settlements there. Indeed some of the locals who are into pagan stuff go out there walking the ley-lines and talking to menhirs. Nevermind, for me it is a magic mountain too, but it is because I love the sheer beauty of it, and the way it changes with the seasons.

The mountain is part of the Blansky Forest Area of natural beauty, so its forests are still growing the sorts of trees that would have naturally grown there for centuries, especially beaches. They come to their own in the Autumn of course when they positively radiate their golden colours, but even now they are lovely and cathedral-like in their upright majesty.

Not much snow on the ground any more, but the sun was shining and when we got to the top, we had fabulous views which I am so glad to be able to share with you here. Sometimes on days like this, there is a so-called inversion, when it is misty below and bright at higher altitudes, so you see tops of hills sticking through the clouds, but on clear days you can see all the way to the Alps from here. Maybe that's why, already in the early 19th century, a look-out tower was built here, followed a 100 years later by a mountain chalet/restaurant.

But now Klet also hosts a world-class observatory and a rather unfortunate TV/radio tower. Still, the mountain look-out is well beloved by everyone, and those who can't or won't walk up to it can take an ancient chair-lift, so whole families and various groups of oldies will gather here for picnics and a breath of fresh mountain air.

It was a lovely day out, and I just wanted to share it with you.

Sunday, 10 February 2008

Talking of moles

If Pushkin thinks Czecho is a Mole heaven, or haven, it must be true.
I can't help but mention one of the Czechs' national icons, the delightful cartoon character Little Mole, beloved equally by children and adults - the Czechs do have a pronounced childlike streak to their character, by the way. It manifests in their playfulness and humor generally, but has a darker side to it too (viz some Czech politicians)
Anyway, sorry about the detour. Back to the Mole. There are several of his stories out on UTube and I thoroughly recommend them. Look up 'krtek'.

They build things differently here

One of the interesting things about doing up old Czech buildings is how different their construction is. When Pushkin talks of a building made of bricks he is not talking about one like the thin ones we get in England, no the walls are likely to be several bricks thick to keep out the Czech winter. I took this photo of a broken down old farm building near our place. It shows that around our way the walls are made of the local granite (which is only a few feet down where we live), but that the roof vaults are made of a dome of bricks.

More on the forest house

Replying to the Anonymous post, the house is brick-built on some old stone foundations. No-one knows how old it really is. I managed to see some old maps of the area but the oldest is from 1876 - when there is a house marked at the spot. But to be honest what really drew me to the place is its beautiful location, its position backing onto the forest, the 2 acre garden with some fruit trees, and fantastic bird-life. (and lots of mole-life too... I think Czecho must have more moles per metre than any other country :-)) I knew it would take work and money to renovate the house but the location is worth it.

Monday, 4 February 2008

second home adventure

My space on this blog will probably be taken up only by reports of the progress on an adventure I am embarking on right now - the reconstruction of a former forester's house near Cesky Krumlov that I fell in love with, and bought, last Summer.
The house sits in a quiet hamlet at the altitude of 800m, at a ridge with the most amazing views over Sumava mountains, even of the Alps on good clear days, of which there are many. It has a huge garden surrounded by woods, and really I couldn't have hoped for a more romantic, restful spot.

But now the reality is catching up with the romance, so the question is to see how my limited time and money might transform the fairly dilapidated place into the romantic retreat I am hoping to spend increasingly more time in, and, hopefully, move to permanently in my old age :-)

So far, I only had a drainage ditch dug around the whole perimeter, with insulation foil and gravel, but nothing else. However the house, and the barn, will both need complete renovation. At this point the project is being put together by an architect - to submit for a planning permission. The works should start sometime in April - so follow the progress with me if you are as curious as I am about the eventual outcome.