i don’t know if you’ve ever heard about Polish weddings. they are usually big, last until morning and are famous for the abundance of food. the food just keeps coming, but – in fervour of dancing, drinking and having fun – it usually gets somehow ignored, only to be realised on the following day, how much one has missed out by not eating.
the chocolate truffles i am introducing today, are the must-have at every Polish wedding. and it’s not because they are exceptionally good (even though they are!), but because they are a by-product of the multiple bakes. let me get things straight: growing up, i participated in a few weddings. weddings in the country used to be held, very often, at the local community hall and the food was prepared by a local cook, with the help of the bride herself and her family. i used to love going round to help, especially with baking. as i was 7 or 8 years old, nobody had ever given me any serious tasks, of course, but beating egg whites or butter was satisfying enough. as the weddings used to be quite big, a minimum of 100 people invited, there was a need for baking a lot (lot!) of cakes. say, 50?
customarily, everyone invited to the wedding was expected to ‘donate’ produce, which was to be used for the cooking and making up of the wedding feast. some would bring eggs, some would bring flour, others milk, cream or anything else they had in hand. only the local family and friends, usually women, would participate in the big baking, though. maybe 10-15 women, depending on the size of the wedding.
the big wedding bake off would start on Monday and it was the ‘meeting’ and trying out the oven day. on this day, only yeast cakes would be made. sweet, brioche-like cakes with fruits (plum for example) or sweet cottage cheese topping (filling like in these, in Poland called drożdżówki), raised with fresh yeast rather than with baking powder, are very popular in Poland. they are not celebratory cakes, rather an everyday treat, something kids will have with a glass of milk. they are a good indicator of the quality of the oven (and cheaper than, say, trying the oven with a 30-egg sponge cake!). the cakes, after being baked, would be distributed among the ladies who brought the produce with them, as a form of reimbursement, and a nice treat, i suppose? some would be eaten on the spot, as they taste best freshly baked. these yeast cakes are also a good indicator of the quality of the flour: if the flour is too wet, they won’t raise as good.
Tuesday to Thursday is when the proper baking takes place. but importantly: in a particular order. first, as my mum put it, ‘dry’ cakes; which means: cakes without creams, butter-creams and any other vulnerable to time fillings. the baking would start with all sorts of shortcrust pastries, biscuits, poppy seed cakes, walnut cakes, but also sponges which will later be used for creating multi-layered cakes, with fillings. baked cakes and pastries were stored in a chilled room or fridge, but it was important to move them onto some cardboard, as leaving them in a baking tin would result in the cakes having a metallic smell and aftertaste.
i have never, before and after, seen as many eggs being beaten for ridiculously fluffy and light sponges. and i have not seen a single scale being used, ever. these local women, especially the one in charge, who has probably seen more weddings in her life than many of us, can bake with their eyes closed. i don’t think i have ever been more impressed, than when seeing these women, and later in life my grandma and my mum, baking sponge cakes without the use of a scale; and they would rise all the way up to the sky! they were always light, fluffy and could be easily cut into four, if not five layers.
with the ‘dry’ cakes baked, then came the time for cheesecakes. cheesecake is an institution in Poland. it’s firm. it’s wet. it’s heavy. it’s nothing like a fluffy Japanese cheesecake or beautifully light New York cheesecake. when you eat a Polish cheesecake, you know it’s been made with cheese. in Poland, the cheese used for cheesecakes is a curd cheese, often homemade, which needs to be put through a mincer at least twice, otherwise the cheesecake will be super grainy (and that’s a big no). the cheesecake will contain: egg yolks (crazy amounts, as well, starting with 7, but some cheesecakes using as many as 15!), icing sugar, butter, sometimes milk or/and vanilla extract. it takes two hours to bake a good Polish cheesecake (two hours is the total time a cheesecake spends in the oven), and i can tell you this – if you’ve never tried, put it on your bucket list right now. Polish cheesecake is something to know the taste of, for sure.
after the cheesecakes, comes the rest: little shortcrust ‘cupcakes’ decorated with cream, walnut-shaped and flavoured ‘cookies’ and the fillings for the cakes. i am not sure if i can paint the picture of the variety of cakes presented to the average Polish wedding guest: they are cut into little squares, arranged on a plate or a cake stand, and placed on the tables, humbly waiting for the (probably) unintrested guests to try them. the cakes come in all shapes, colours and flavours: caramel, vanilla, coffee, poppy seed, apple, walnut, coconut, chocolate. the variety is overwhelming. and, as everyone is after savoury treats, rather than sweet ones (as they go better with alcohol), cakes are hugely left out of the picture, sadly sitting on the tables, eaten only occasionally by some bored kids, who’ve had enough of dancing. but they don’t go to waste, the cakes. Polish (famous?) hospitality found a way around it, too: every guest, when leaving the wedding reception, is given a small box packed with the wedding cakes, cut in small squares, which surely will be enjoyed on the following day, when the alcohol evaporates and the tiredness of dancing all night wears off.
you are probably wondering by now, what does it all have to do with the (how i called them), no-waste chocolate truffles? these chocolate truffles, in Polish called ziemniaczki, are made with…other cakes. leftovers, shall i say? you see, every ready cake cannot be just cut into squares and served as it is, the edges, the sides need to evened out first, cut off, to be more appealing, more neat. imagine you made a nice cake. you take it out of the tin after it cools down or settles (the case with the buttercream-filled cakes), and it does not look very pretty. the cream has probably run down the sides, the chocolate ganache dripped, or a chunk of sponge fell off while taking the cake out of the tin. and since in Poland there was no custom of decorating the cake all the way around, like a wedding-cake or a birthday-cake (especially that most of the Polish layered cakes are relatively low and square, rather than circle), the sides needed to be trimmed, about 1cm off of each side of a square cake – off. imagine the waste! 4 cake-length slices of each of the 50 cakes! not surprisingly, another idea was born out of the Polish thriftiness: how about we re-use all the cut-off pieces of cakes and make them into something new? and that’s how the no-waste chocolate truffle or ziemniaczek was created. all the leftover cake pieces were thrown into a bowl, with some dark cocoa powder, jam for the zing, maybe raisins or walnuts, if there were some, and vodka – for the extra flavour. not much of vodka, i’ll stop your imagination right there, maybe a shot or two. the resulting ‘batter’ would be rolled into small balls, covered in desiccated coconut or other decorative ingredient, left in the fridge overnight and voila! – chocolate truffles with no cost, the last (but not least) non-baked bake of the wedding bake off.
the times have changed though. not many people now decide to hold their wedding at the community hall, not to mention that probably none of them bake and cook their own wedding feasts. nowadays, most of the people either rent a purpose-built wedding restaurant for their big day, or hire a catering company. surely, it saves the work and stress for the bride, but also – spares the fun! i was only little when i attended these ‘bake offs’, but i remember the atmosphere: all these women, working in unison since early morning, whisking, beating, chopping, cutting, but also eating, gossiping, drinking, even singing sometimes. and although this custom is now almost gone, there are still some witnesses of the past, ziemniaczki being one of them.
NO-WASTE TRUFFLES OR ZIEMNIACZKI
250g of any leftover cake, biscuits, cookies (I used leftover sponge cake, crushed ginger biscuits and crushed gingerbread biscuits)
50g crushed walnuts
50g raisins (soaked in hot water for a few minutes)
25g ground almonds (or desiccated coconut)
1tsp almond extract
1-2tbsp of jam (I used blackberry)
50g melted butter
3tbsp icing sugar (adjust to your liking, but not much more than that)
3tbsp cocoa powder
desiccated coconut or hundreds&thousands to cover the truffles in
How to make?
1. Add all the ingredients to a bowl.
2. I don’t recommend using an electric mixer to work the batter, go in with your hands. We want to achieve a fairly smooth, but still chunky consistency. Add more cocoa powder if the mixture is not dark enough, more almonds or crushed biscuits if it’s too wet and more butter or a tablespoon of milk, if it’s too dry.
3. Take a small amount of the mixture and roll it in your hands, until you get a nicely shaped ball.
4. Cover the ball in desiccated coconut or in the hundreds&thousands (or whatever else you use to decorate them, crushed walnuts work well, too). Best way to do it, is to take a shallow bowl, fill it with the desiccated coconut and throw ready-rolled truffles in it. When you have a few in a bowl, move them around, until they are evenly covered in desiccated coconut and transfer them to a wire rack or a plate.
5. I recommend leaving the truffles in the fridge overnight, to let them set properly. Also, leaving them for 12 hours or so will let all the flavours mix beautifully; so when you finally eat the truffles, you will get this completely unexpected, strong flavour of all the flavours combined. They are powerful balls, I am telling you!
All done. Time to sit back and relax now. Oh, how I wish I had one of those truffles with me now (I have some frozen, should I?).
Anyway, hope you enjoyed the read!