March recipes: Sweet somethings

Round & About

We’re sharing a taste of The Sweet Polish Kitchen: A celebration of home baking & nostalgic treats by Ren Behan.

Wuzetka – chocolate cream sponge

The wuzetka cake originates from Warsaw, and it was said to have first been baked in a bakery along a road named the ‘W-Z route’ in Warsaw shortly after the Second World War (the road connected the eastern parts of the city to the western, the Wschód-Zachód areas, hence ‘W-Z’). It is a classic chocolate sponge cake, baked in a square tin, filled with cream (the line in the middle of the road) and topped with a cherry. If you are baking this for adults or a party, you can add a little cherry vodka to your soak.

Serves nine

• 120ml vegetable oil or mild olive oil & extra for greasing
• 200g soft light brown sugar
• Two eggs
• 1 tsp vanilla bean extract
• 240g sour cream
• 200g self-raising flour
• 75g cocoa powder
• 1 tsp baking powder
• 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
• 240ml fresh hot black tea

For the soak:
• 50ml cherry vodka or fruit tea

Optional jam layer:
• 250g cherry jam or plum jam

For the cream filling:
• 250g mascarpone cheese, at room temperature
• 800ml double cream
• 3 tbsp icing sugar

For the chocolate glaze:
• 2 tbsp butter
• 100g quality dark chocolate
• 100g icing sugar
• 1 tbsp runny honey
• 2 tbsp boiling water

To serve:
• Whipped cream for piping
• Fresh or canned cherries

Preheat your oven to 180°C/160°C Fan/Gas Mark 4/350°F. Grease and line two 20 x 20cm/8 x 8in square baking tins with baking paper.

In a stand mixer, beat the oil and sugar until it starts to thicken. Add the eggs, one by one, and the vanilla bean extract. Stir in the sour cream. Next, sift in the self-raising flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda and stir until there are no lumps. Finally, pour in the hot tea and mix again thoroughly.

Divide the batter evenly between the tins and tap them gently on a work surface. Bake for 30–35 minutes until an inserted skewer comes out clean. Cool slightly in the tins, then carefully turn out onto a wire rack and leave the sponges to cool completely.

To assemble, place one layer of sponge into the bottom of a lined tin and brush liberally with the soak. If using jam, spread a layer evenly over the soaked base. For the cream filling, whisk the mascarpone, then add the cream and icing sugar and whisk until the mixture becomes firm. Spread the cream over the base and flatten slightly with a spatula. Place the second layer of sponge on top and place the tin in the refrigerator, ideally overnight.

When you are ready to serve, make the chocolate glaze by melting the glaze ingredients together in a non-stick pan over a medium heat until thick and glossy, then leave to cool slightly.

Remove the cake from the fridge and carefully take it out of the tin onto a serving plate. Pour the glaze over the top of the cake and smooth out. Cut the cake into squares. Serve with some piped cream and a cherry on top.

Blueberry & almond Babka loaf

The babka seemed to have something of a resurgence over lockdown and, of course, it is a well-known staple treat within New York delis. The original recipe is said to have originated in the Jewish communities of Poland and Ukraine. This type of babka (a sweet braided bread, as opposed to a fluted bundt) was likely taken by the diaspora to Israel, and beyond, establishing itself as a ‘yeast cake filled with chocolate, cinnamon and sometimes fruit’. I was interested to learn that in the early 19th century, challah dough was rolled up with jam and baked as a loaf and that the addition of chocolate and other spices was a much later incarnation.

Some say the word babka comes from the Yiddish bubbe, also meaning ‘grandmother’. A babka made in this way, of twisted strands of dough baked in a loaf form, is different to my earlier recipes for a more cake-like babka, baked in a bundt tin and reminiscent of a grandmother’s skirt. Rather than using chocolate, I like to make mine with either a home-made preserve or, in this case, with a wild blueberry preserve. There are Polish and French versions of such a preserve in most supermarkets. Ground almonds add a little additional texture and another layer of flavour, but you could use finely chopped hazelnuts, instead. Poppy seed paste also makes a good alternative filling to jam.

• 350g plain flour, plus extra
• 14g fresh yeast, crumbled (or 7g active dry yeast)
• 75g caster sugar
• 75ml lukewarm milk
• Two eggs, plus one egg yolk, beaten (save white for glaze)
• 1 tsp almond extract grated zest of one orange
• 1 tsp salt
• 75g butter, cubed, room temp
• Sunflower oil, for greasing

For the filling:
• 300g wild blueberry preserve or any jam of your choice
• 50g ground almonds
• 50g soft light brown sugar

For the streusel:
• 25g cold butter
• 40g plain flour
• 25g caster sugar or soft light brown sugar

In a jug, combine 1 tablespoon of the flour with the yeast, 1 tablespoon of the caster sugar and half of the lukewarm milk. Stir with a whisk, then set aside in a warm place for 10–15 minutes.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the remaining flour with the rest of the caster sugar and mix well. Pour in the yeast mixture and keep mixing. Switch to a dough hook and add the eggs and egg yolk, the rest of the milk, the almond extract and orange zest, and mix well for around 5 minutes. Finally, add the salt, followed by the butter and keep mixing/kneading for at least 10 minutes. It should form a lump of dough.

You will need to stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl a couple of times. If the dough is still sticky at this point, add up to 2 tablespoons of extra flour.

Brush the inside of a clean bowl with a little oil. Transfer the dough to this bowl and cover with a clean cloth. Leave somewhere warm for at least hours, but ideally four hours.

When you are ready to bake, line a loaf tin, measuring 30 x 11 x 7cm/12 x 4¼  x 2¾ in, with a single sheet of baking paper, so that a little hangs over the long edges.

Tip the dough out onto a board sprinkled with a generous amount of flour. Punch the dough to get rid of any air pockets and knead for a couple of minutes. Roll out the dough to a 30 x 20cm/12 x 8in rectangle. Spread the preserve/jam for the filling all over the dough, leaving a couple of centimetres clear around the edge, then sprinkle over the ground almonds and the brown sugar. Roll the dough into a log, starting from one of the longest edges. Take a sharp knife and cut down the centre of the log, dividing the whole length. You will then have two long pieces and be able to see the filling on the inside.

Starting at the top, join the two pieces of dough, then cross them over each other. Keep going, as though you are making a braid. You can trim both ends to neaten them up. Carefully transfer the whole piece of twisted dough into the lined loaf tin. Cover with a clean cloth and chill in the refrigerator for up to 2 hours.

Meanwhile, make the streusel topping. Place all the ingredients in a bowl and rub them together with your fingers until the mixture resembles a crumble or a sandy texture.

Preheat your oven to 180°C/160°C Fan/Gas Mark 4/350°F.

Brush the top of your loaf with the lightly beaten egg white, then sprinkle over the streusel topping. Bake in the centre of the oven for 50 minutes, checking after 35 minutes to see whether the top looks golden.

Once it is golden, cover with foil and continue baking for the remaining time. Remove from the oven and leave the babka to cool in the tin.

Serve warm, with a little unsalted butter.