This column is a collaboration with SBS Food Deputy Editor, Farah Celjo, a keen home baker who shares some of the love and delight behind her Bosnian heritage, plus a few treasured homespun recipes.
By
Anneka Manning, Farah Celjo

22 Aug 2016 - 10:35 AM  UPDATED 23 Aug 2016 - 11:07 AM

How did you learn to bake?

I grew up in a loud and loving family surrounded by home cooking. I was fortunate to be on the receiving end of my mother’s delights and she is a great inspiration when it comes to cooking and baking. Every time my mother would bake I would be glued to the bowl, watching her hands and following her around the kitchen. I love watching my mother and her baking-style, her ease. She isn’t one for written recipes or exact measurements; she throws it all together and without any gadgets or fancy utensils. She just knows. Taste and touch reign supreme and I am now much the same when it comes to baking. For me the baking process is a happy space and then when baked goods bring people together it turns into an even happier place. I quickly found myself baking late at night, after work and much of my university life involved 3 am baking runs where I loved to bake-up something sweet when I was burning the midnight oil in essay mode. I began to read cookbooks left, right and centre and quickly found myself experimenting with flavours and recipes and, of course, sharing the deliciousness.

What typically characterises Bosnian baking?

Every Bosnian social event I can remember was all about food. Whether you go for the savoury breads and pies, or layered luscious desserts, you soon realise how food-centric Bosnians are. Food is family; food is friendship; and is an integral part of social interactions.

There is nothing light or half-hearted about Bosnian cooking. It’s rich, creamy, salty, sweet, and buttery and there are always leftovers. There is no such thing as too much food. Bosnian food is all about sharing and enjoying it straight out of the dish if you wish. 

Bosnian food calls on many spices. Paprika, parsley, bay leaves and Bosnians are no strangers to a little salt and pepper... and then a little more. I grew up enjoying Bosnian pitas - pies made with homemade pastry, rolled out on large sheets and then filled with meat or potato, spinach and cheese. Pita reminds me of home.

In Bosnia, the fresh produce, the meat and veg, the eggs, honey, cream, yoghurt can all be locally produced. Typical ingredients would include potatoes, tomatoes, onions, garlic, cabbage, mushroom, spinach and beans and sour cream is often served with many savoury traditional dishes.

Tjestenina
Bosnian noodles are soup-erb!
From a classic family favourite, to a bowl of sweet and sour that challenges what a noodle looks like, Bosnians also enjoy a comforting bowl of soup.

Pekaras or bakeries are found everywhere in Bosnia and you literally follow your nose and the queues to find a smorgasbord of sandwiches and freshly baked sweet and salty kifle (rolls). Desserts are much the same, made fresh with local produce, full of flavour and there is no skimping when it comes to sweetness. Clotted creams, vanilla custards, nuts and chocolate are all common additions with a sticky syrup, of course! 

One thing I have adopted from my mother is her love of cake and coffee, together. There were always desserts and cakes floating around the house, just in case someone dropped in, because serving a cup of coffee on its lonesome just didn't seem complete and sweet desserts accompany black Bosnian coffee (kahva) perfectly. 

I’ve noticed that simplicity seems to be the strength of many Bosnian recipes. Would you agree with this?

Bosnian cooking is a colourful interaction between the many cultures and styles of the region and there are always variations in many recipes. Bosnian cooking is rich and full of heart. And while I would say it is simple and very achievable for anyone to take on Bosnian recipes, don’t be afraid to make your own pastry or your own syrups or even get creative with your choices of nuts, fruits etc. The key to Bosnian cooking is patience with your layering, your proving, your filling and your time – it’s all about a little extra care.

Are there any similarities to other cuisines?

Due to its geographical location and history, Bosnian cuisine is about the food, cooking, and eating habits balanced between the Western and the Eastern influences. Bosnian cuisine features Turkish, Mediterranean and Eastern European cuisines and a lot of its influences were taken during the rule of the Ottoman Empire for almost 500 years. You also see the influence of Austria and Central Europe. Like so many places touched by the Ottomans, Bosnia also has a version of baklava. This filo pastry, layered with nuts and syrup, is a popular Bosnian dessert. You also have kefir (a thin yogurt drink) served with savoury dishes and a Turkish-style black coffee that is enjoyed with syrup-laden desserts to balance out the sugar. 

 

Bake these Bosnian recipes


 

1. Potato pies (pita sa krompirom)

Commonly referred to as potato ‘pita’ these filo pies are simplicity personified ­– and that is what makes them so good! Traditionally a flaky dough is made to encase the simple potato filling and filo pastry is a great alternative, especially for the convenience. This recipe uses vegetable oil, but feel free to use olive oil in its place, if you wish. 

2. Sweet jam-filled pastries (kiflice)

Kiflice are filled pastries that look like mini croissants but have a more strudel-like texture. Whilst the dough itself isn't sweet, the jam filling and the icing sugar topping gives this pastry a sweet hit. This was one of my first baking successes and a childhood favourite. I remember helping my mother when it was time to get the icing sugar out, because that was the perfect time to sneak one when she wasn't looking! This recipe uses a red berry jam but you can get creative and use your favourite jam or spread, if you like. 

3. Russians' hats (Ruske kape)

These little layered cakes are the sweetest hats you'll find. Made up of custard cream and a chocolate topping they are covered in shredded coconut for a little texture but you can also use nuts as well, if you have them handy. They are best served chilled and if you aren't much for a dessert fork, then eating these with your hands like a cupcake is absolutely acceptable!

4. Bosnian syrup biscuits (hurmašice)

These golden and buttery numbers are a Bosnian favourite. A cross between a biscuit and a little cake, these can come in various shapes, sizes and flavour-styles. Some may be larger or smaller, more syrup-y or perhaps with slightly different imprint patterns, but one common denominator is that they are embraces a sweet syrup that oozes into the biscuit – soaked to perfection. My version is fairly simple and also incorporates orange zest for a little citrus kick and semolina for a little more texture. Pair them on a plate and serve it up with kahva -  is it coffee o'clock, yet?

5. Mini rolls with cheese (kifle sa sirom)

Visiting the local bakery is part of everyday life in Bosnia and the bakeries always have a good variety of kifle (rolls) to choose from. Salted or cheese-filled are popular but you can find Frankfurt stuffed versions, or perhaps a chocolate, or jam-filled sweeter bun which are also popular. Traditionally shaped, these cheese kifle are dotted with butter before baking giving them a lovely tender, rich crumb that makes them completely irresistible.

6. Rose baklava (ruzice)

If you love syrupy baklava then this is the dessert tray for you! Ruzice gets its name because once you cut and turn the layered pastry pieces onto a tray they resemble the rose bud. Traditionally, these are made with walnut and tirit filling but if you are running low on time you can skip the tirit and use only walnuts as your filler, this works just as well. The combination of butter and oil between your pastry sheets ensures the pastry remains crisp during the baking process. This dessert is a syrup lover's dream and is best served with black kahva to balance out the sweetness. Don't be shy, you can most definitely get spooning straight from the pan.

Photography by Alan Benson. Styling by Anneka Manning. Food preparation by Tina McLeish.

 

Anneka's mission is to connect home cooks with the magic of baking, and through this, with those they love. For hands-on baking classes and baking tips, visit her at BakeClub. Don't miss what's coming out of her oven viaFacebookTwitterInstagram and Pinterest.

 

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