Tuesday, 30 November 2010

First snow at Krumlov

 It's always so joyful to watch the first snow gently cover the familiar outlines of the town. And after some gloomy November days, to welcome back the blue sky that inevitably comes with the snow.
 I especially love the way the snow outlines so sharply every textural detail, the branches, the rough bits of rocks, even adding white hats to all the town statues.

The difference between here and the snow in England that I remember is that as there is so little or no wind in this country, the snow stays on the trees, even on the thinnest of branches, making a beautiful black and white contrast against the blue of the sky. Lovely.

Now I shall get my walking skis out now and go for a walk in the forest - to celebrate this gift from the heavens :-)

Sunday, 28 November 2010


Looking at the Statscounter, I realize that the time has come when hundreds of our readers search for Christmas biscuits and pastries again. So I thought to put more recipes up. If you haven't seen my posts from previous years, do have a look, there are many more delicious traditional Czech Christmas pastries and cookies recipes. Bon apetit! 

 Each of these recipes makes a fairly large quantity of biscuits – use half the ingredients if a smaller quantity is required. 

Please note all these biscuits will need to be stored for a period of time in cool temperatures (5-10C) to allow for the flavours and texture to develop fully 


INGREDIENTS 4 eggs, 6 yolks, 500g caster sugar, 550g flour, 2 tablespoons ground ginger

In a mixer or a mixing bowl, beat the whole eggs, the yolks and the sugar till fluffy. Fold in flour and ginger.
Put the mixture onto a lightly floured board and work gently into a smooth pastry. Roll out gently to about a 5mm thick – do not use much pressure or the resulting biscuits will go hard. Cut out flower (or other) shapes. Put these onto a greased baking tray, or a tray lined with baking paper. Leave to stand for several hours, or overnight.
Put your tray into a fairly hot oven, to allow the biscuits to quickly rise – but then turn the temperature down so they don't turn brown – they should be golden colour.
When totally cooled, brush them over with egg white, and (optional) use the egg white to stick a small piece of candied ginger on the top.
Store in paper shoe box or similar for 3 weeks or longer in a cool place.

for the pastry:
400g flour, 170g icing sugar, 150g unsalted butter, 2 eggs, 4-5 tablespoons soured cream, 2 sachets vanilla sugar, pinch of salt (optional)
for the topping:
160g hazelnuts - ground, 80g marzipan, 4 level tablespoons icing sugar, 2 egg yolks, 2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
Mix all the pastry ingredients together to a smooth consistency, form a ball and leave it in the fridge for an hour or so.
Shred or grate the marzipan, and mix it with the yolks. Add sugar, juice and nuts.
Roll the pastry to 4-5 mm thickness, cut out star shapes, place them on a baking tray lined with baking paper, and brush with egg white. Spoon a small heap of the topping on each star. Optionally, place a whole hazelnut on top.
Bake at around 180C for 15 minutes, leave to cool and store in an airtight container in a cool place for two to three weeks.

2 cups milk, 6 tablespoons honey, 4-5 tablespoons melted butter, 200g caster sugar, 2 eggs.
600g flour, 2 sachets raising powder, 100g ground hazelnuts, 100g ground almonds, 100g ground walnuts, 100g sweet candied fruit (raisins or sultanas, orange and lemon peel, or similar mix), 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1 teaspoon ground cloves., largish pinch of ground star-anise, 2 tablespoons cocoa, grated lemon rind to taste.
Icing: 300g icing sugar, 2 egg whites, 2 teaspoons lemon juice or rum. 
In a pan, gently melt butter, stir in milk, honey and sugar. When cooled down, mix in the eggs.
Put all the dry ingredients onto a floured board, mix through and add the honey-milk mix. Work into a pastry, adding more flour if too sticky.
Form a ball, cover in cling wrap, and leave in the fridge for a minimum of three hours – or overnight.
Next, roll the pastry to about 5mm thick, and cut out shapes. Place your shapes onto a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper. Bake in low to medium oven – check that the honey isn't caramelising or the biscuits will turn bitter.
When cooled, before removing biscuits from the tray, pour a thin layer of sugar icing over the upper part of the biscuits.
Leave in a tissue-paper lined paper box, in a cool place for two to three weeks.

300g flour, 150g icing sugar, 150g ground hazelnuts, 150g butter, 150g grated bitter chocolate, 2 eggs, 1tbsp orange peel, large pinch cinnamon.
Filling: cranberry or apricot jam – or Nutella
Topping: melted chocolate
Mix sugar and eggs, add the flour, nuts, and butter. Add lemon rind and cinnamon, turn onto a floured board and work into a smooth pastry while adding the chocolate flakes. Form a ball, wrap it in cling-film and leave in the fringe for an hour or so.
Roll the pastry out quite thin – 3mm, and cut out heart shapes. Place these onto a baking tray lined with baking paper, and bake in a moderate oven (170C approx) for about 10-15 minutes.
When cool, spread half of the hearts with the jam or nutella, put the other hearts on top like sandwich, and pour on melted chocolate.
These biscuits need to be stored in an airtight container in a cool place for a week.

400g skinned ground almonds, 160g icing sugar, 80g melted white chocolate, 40g powdered milk, 2 egg-whites, 4-5 drops of almond essence, icing.
Mix the sugar with the egg-whites, add almonds, powdered milk, melted chocolate and almond essence. Put the mixture between two greaseproof paper sheets or foil, and roll to about 3mm thick.
Gently peel off the top paper and cut shapes from the rolled-out pastry. Leave these to dry for at least three hours.
When dry, use your imagination in decorating – white icing with coloured balls, or just plain roasted almond flakes...

300g ground almonds, 200g ground walnuts, 160g icing sugar, 150g ground butter biscuits, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 6 tablespoons brandy or rum, optional pinch cinnamon.
Icing: melted dark chocolate, half a date for each biscuit
In a mixing bowl mix all the pastry ingredients. Roll out between two sheets of greaseproof paper or foil., to about 3mm thick.
Gently peel off the top paper, cut out diamond shapes and leave them to dry out till the next day.
Decorate with a date covered with melted dark chocolate.
Leave in an airtight container for a week or so.
500g dates, 200g marzipan, 80g cooking chocolate, tablespoon butter.
Cut each date lengthwise, remove stone and replace with a piece of marzipan. Dip into melted chocolate and leave on a wire-mash stand to harden. Store in fridge.
500g mixed peel, 500g mixed nuts, 500g sugar (or less if peel is very sweet), 600g flour, 1/2l whipping cream
Melted dark chocolate as icing.
Chop the candied fruit and nuts and mix them with the sugar and the flour. Bring the cream to boil and remove from heat straight away. Pour the cream into the mix, and let it stand to cool.
moroccan grillage
Place small heaps of the mixture onto a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper, and bake in a cool oven (max 150C) till orange-brown. As soon as the colour changes, remove from the oven and tray while still on the paper, and leave to cool. Then pour melted chocolate on the top.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

History of ponds and pond-making

To finish off the pond-making strand, just a few additions.
First I want to go back very briefly to the time before Jakub Krcin and his contemporaries - see blog below - to the time of the Husite wars (largely peasant Protestants versus establishment Catholics, in the 15th century). The Husite's main centre was the South Bohemian town Tabor, and many of their campaigns were therefore fought in South Bohemia. The fact that they knew the landscape and understood its characteristics aided their strategy many times over. So for example the battle by the Sudomerice pond is famous because the Husites, dressed in peasant clothes and with light weapons, lured the heavy, suit-of-armour clad opposing army into the adjoining marshes, where the metal knights, even their horses, stuck in deep mud and so the Husites practically massacred the lot.

But back to pond-building itself. Thed Golden Age of pond-building and carp-farming ended by the 30 year war (17thC) when many ponds were turned over to farming, mainly for sugar beet and for sheep grazing. It was essential to farm more sheep apparently, because much wool was needed for soldiers' uniforms, and the decline continued well into the 19th century with the Industrial revolution, and so by 1886 an official count lists only 51 000 hectares of ponds. But the decline continued even beyond that, especially during the Communist times when large-scale, Soviet type agricultural methods were quite unsuitably used here: small fields were joined into vast, combine-harvester- friendly tracts of monocultures, which involved further drying out of peatlands and marshes, and diverting natural brooks and streams for underground amelioration. This helped produce more grain and sweetcorn, but changed the natural aesthetics and ecology of the region. Now, after many centuries, there are moves to restore some of the worst excesses of this agricultural method, some ponds are being re-filled, some amelioration has naturally stopped working and brooks are finding their way up onto the surface again. But we have no equivalent of the enlightened aristocrats of the Middle ages and Renaissance with their largesse and their long-term vision of carefully managed estates - after Communism came Market capitalism, and so much of the lanscape is being robbed of its produce without much thought to replenishment and the continuity of generations - be it forests, ponds or decisions as to what to best farm in this particular climate or conditions. Some hope for continuity rests on the regional Agricultural college whose Fisheries faculty is now joined with a research institute for ecology and countryside management. We hope they can have at least some good influence, this beautiful countryside deserves it.