Tuesday, February 3, 2015

A Taste of Europe - Slovenia (Braided Heart Bread)

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A Taste of Europe - Slovenian Braided Heart Bread @ kympossibleblog.blogspot.com

Our "Taste of Europe" project is back in action for 2015, and one of the things we thought would be interesting was trying breads representative of the different regions of Europe. I found an intriguing recipe for a bread called Pleteno Srce (which I don't begin to know how to pronounce!) from Slovenia and tried it on the weekend.
A Taste of Europe - Slovenian Braided Heart Bread @ kympossibleblog.blogspot.com
Slovenia is in the western Balkans. The Balkan peninsula is the mountainous region in the eastern part of Europe, jutting down into the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea. Greece is at the southern tip of the peninsula but is not considered one of the nine Balkan nations. The mountainous area once isolated the tribes that migrated into the area, so that they developed separate cultural identities. There are two dozen different nationalities represented in the nine current countries of the Balkans. This background helps us understand why there has been such conflict in that region of the world.

The Slovenes once belonged to the Austrian Empire so their culture is more like that of the Western world; they use the Roman alphabet; and the Catholic religion is dominant. Slovenia was the first Yugoslavian republic to demand independence, and has since been a leader in free-market economics in eastern Europe. The country enjoys one of the highest per capita GDP in Eastern Europe. Slovenia has only a tiny portion of coastline on the Adriatic Sea, and only one commercial seaport. The Karst region of the country has the largest caverns in Europe, which makes it a popular tourist destination. Another tourist attraction is Lipica, the town for which Lippizaner horses are named, and where these dancing horses are still trained. (And I associated Lippizaners with Austria - didn't you?)

Folk tradition in Slovenia holds that St Valentine is one of the saints of spring, so Valentine's Day is considered the first day of spring, and is when work begins in vineyards and fields. It's also thought of as the day when birds propose to each other or marry. 

A Taste of Europe - Slovenian Braided Heart Bread @ kympossibleblog.blogspot.com
One of my go-to sources for international foods and recipes, Global Table Adventure, featured a beautiful braided heart wedding bread from Slovenia, along with a recipe, so with Valentine's Day coming up, we decided to give it a try. You can see Sasha Martin's original recipe (and her much prettier finished bread) at her Global Table Adventure blog. These edible pieces of art are special gifts at weddings and showers in Slovenia. You may also want to check out her list of Romantic Recipes from Around the World. Or head over to Amazon and pre-order her book, Life From Scratch: A Memoir of Food, Family, and Forgiveness, which also contains some of her international recipes.

This is our attempt at the decorative touches on the bread. These small pieces are made from a dough that is pretty much flour and water, so while they can be pretty, they don't taste like much, so my advice would be to make them quite a bit smaller than ours. We worked on these while the main bread dough was rising.

A Taste of Europe - Slovenian Braided Heart Bread @ kympossibleblog.blogspot.com

Here is our braided heart bread. The dough is separated into three pieces after rising, sort of into half and then a much smaller piece reserved. The two large pieces are cut into thirds, and then braided into two "commas" and joined into a heart. The smaller piece of dough is also braided into a thinner rope that is laid across the top of the heart. If I was going to make this again, I don't think I'd bother with that smaller braid, just to simplify a bit.
A Taste of Europe - Slovenian Braided Heart Bread @ kympossibleblog.blogspot.com

Then the whole thing is covered with an egg wash and the decorative pieces "glued" on with the egg wash. See how our butterflies and flowers are big and chunky? Easy for us to shape, but didn't make for good eating. ;-)
A Taste of Europe - Slovenian Braided Heart Bread @ kympossibleblog.blogspot.com

I thought the finished product was very pretty though, and I regretted having to slice it up so we could eat it! We did not eat the decorative parts though - they are just for looks. I suggest eating it while it's still warm, or toasting the slices. It's good with butter and a bit of jam.
A Taste of Europe - Slovenian Braided Heart Bread @ kympossibleblog.blogspot.com
Braided Heart Bread
For the heart:
5 cups cake flour
1 cup warm milk
2 tsp yeast
2 eggs
1/4 cup softened butter
1 tbsp rum or 1 1/2 tsp rum flavoring
pinch of salt

Mix all the ingredients together into a soft, but not sticky dough. Cover and let it rise until doubled, about 1-1/2 to 2 hours. Meanwhile, mix together the dough for the decorations (1 cup cake flour, 1 tsp egg white, enough water to form a soft playdough-like dough), and shape into flowers, hearts, wedding rings, or whatever, and set aside. After the dough has risen, divide into three pieces - two that are almost half the dough, and one small piece. Divide each of the pieces into three roped and braid. Shape the two large braids into the two sides of a heart, and place the small braid across the top. Brush with an egg wash (1 egg slightly beaten with 1 tbsp milk) and stick the decorations on top. Don't use the egg wash on the decorations, so that their color contrasts with the bread when baked. Allow to rise another half hour. Bake on a preheated stone at 375* for 25-30 minutes.

Homeschool Coffee Break: European Bread Basket @ kympossibleblog.blogspot.com

This post is linked at Try a New Recipe Tuesday, hosted by Lisa at Home to 4 Kiddos

It's a heart-shaped bread, so I've also included this post in the round-up of Valentine's Day Resources at the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog (this link will be live Wednesday, February 4th).
Valentine's Day Resources

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Gentle Joy said...

Wow - that looks so pretty! Nicely browned and it looks delicious! :)

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