Honey and hazelnut winter wreath: of new and old

This year was full of happenings, things both good and bad, new and interesting people, new and old places, but most of all good food. I restarted the blog in February this year, determined not to quit again as I did when I first started photography and blogging 5 years ago. But those were different times, when I was on my doctoral studies (I have a PhD in molecular biology, there, the secret’s out) and had absolutely no time to continue blogging. This year, a couple of conversations with friends, reflections about the things which are important to me and a couple of weeks later I’ve found myself reopening the blog and started photographing full time. I’ve learned a lot from others, passed hours studying blogs and looking at gorgeous photographs, discovering so many talents. Most of all I had the time to cook all day long and practice on my own since I was jobless during the whole year.

I’ve recently got a job in the scientific area. This time, I promised myself not to let go of what I’ve started. I am grateful to have had this year to seriously re-enter the world of photography, cooking and styling. This world means a lot to me. These are the moments when you can entirely detach and concentrate only on creating. It’s a world full of wonderful and creative people from around the globe, a community which I am now starting to get to know and feel to be a part of. The most important thing I’ve realised this year is that all comes in its own time. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe in destiny or things alike, I’ve too a scientific mind to do so. Yet I understood that things will come when you are ready to accept them, when you are mature enough to deal with them, or when you worked hard enough to see a good result and a new opportunity. There is no sense in trying to speed things up or being too eager. You just have to be ready. Have to work harder. However, dream big. Remember to be realistic, but keep your hopes high. I am dreaming about making this my job once, combining cooking and styling and photography. And I am working hard now to gain experience for when the moments is right.

This new year will without doubt be a year of hard work. It will also be a year of serious reflection about life and priorities. I hope that in the near future I will be ready enough to make the important changes and concentrate completely on what I love most. Most of all I hope I will be wise enough to take the good opportunities when they come my way and work hard in order to create them.
With that thought I am giving you the recipe for my honey and hazelnut Christmas wreath. It is such a winter-y brioche, perfect for Christmas, which is now several days behind us. But the festive spirit is all around, today is the last day of the old year, and maybe just as well a good opportunity to decorate the festive table with this wreath. I wish you all a year full of opportunities and the spirit to take them and make your dreams come true.

Honey and hazelnut winter wreath

550 g flour (plus more for dusting)
250 mL milk
1 egg
80 g butter
50 g light brown muscovado sugar
3 tsp dry yeast
1/2 tsp salt

100 g grounded hazelnuts
50 mL milk (more if needed)
6 tbsp good quality honey

1 Mix flour and salt in a large bowl.
2 Warm up (37° C) half of the milk with one tbsp sugar, add the yeast and mix well. Cover with a dry cloth and leave at a warm place for 10 minutes until the yeast becomes foamy.
3 Mix the rest of the milk with remaining sugar.
4 Melt the butter and add it to the milk.
5 Make a well in the middle of the bowl containing the flour and pour in the milk-butter-sugar mixture, then add the milk with yeast. Carefully scrape all the sugar that might stick to the bowl. Mix the flour into the liquid using a spatula. Continue kneading the dough for a couple of minutes with your hands. When the dough is not sticky anymore, form it into a ball, cover with a dry kitchen towel and leave for one hour on room temperature to rise.
6 Prepare the filling.
7 Roll the dough in around 25×40 cm rectangle. Spread the hazelnut filling over the dough leaving 1 cm border around the edges.
8 Roll the dough on the longest side into a log. Cut the log lengthwise with a sharp knife. Braid the two parts placing one strand of dough over the other making sure to expose the filling.
9 Carefully lift the dough and place it on a large baking sheet, forming a wreath. Seal the ends of the dough together. Leave it to rise in a warm place for another half an hour.
10 Brush the wreath with eggwash, sprinkle with almond slices and bake on 180°C for around 25 minutes, until golden.

1 Heat the milk in a small pan.
2 Add the grounded hazelnuts into the hot milk and stir so that the hazelnuts absorb all the milk. Add a tablespoon more of milk if the mixture is too dry.
3 Add the honey and mix well.
4 Set aside to cool down completely before spreading it over the dough.


Midwinter magic: Lussekatter or Saffron buns

Lussekatter or Saffron buns
A couple of years ago I used to dream about living in Sweden. I don’t really know how the idea of it came to me, maybe it was the music I used to listen to, with songs about the dark cold Nordic winters, mystic and deep relationship with the nature and celebration of its beauty. Soon I started learning Swedish language and I was enchanted by the sound of it. I learned about Swedish culture, customs and food and felt a strong belonging to the country I’ve never visited before.

Lussekatter or Saffron buns-1

Lussekatter or Saffron buns-2In mid December, when the dark shadows come early and fall deep over the North, Sweden celebrates Saint Lucie or Sankta Lucia. On December 13th, Swedish girls put on their white gowns and one of them, wearing a crown of lighted candles represents Lucia, who’s name in Latin means lux, light, and represents light in the winter darkness.
Lucia is a Catholic saint of light, but the light celebrations at this time of the year go deep into the old times. Earlier in history Saint Lucy’s day coincided with the longest night of the year according to the Julian calendar. In paganism, the great feast of Yule falls at this time. Yule is celebrated on the longest night, when the full circle has been concealed and it is time for the sun to be reborn again and to prevail over winter darkness. I like to think of Lucia celebration as a remnant of the old, pre-Christian tradition, making the magic ever stronger.
It was at one of Saint Lucy’s celebrations that I tried lussekatter for the first time. These golden yellow buns in the form of a curled up cat, with raisins as eyes were initially called djävulskatter or devil’s cats. According to the old German legend, the devil would scare the children disguised as cat, while Jesus in a form of a child gave out bread coloured with saffron to a golden, sun-like colour in order to chase the devil away. I still remember how I loved the buns on the first bite: soft and sweet with a specific flavour so typical to saffron. I’ve been baking lussekatter regularly ever since. Eventhough in Sweden lussekatter are traditionally baked for December 13th they can be enjoyed throughout December. So why not celebrate winter solstice this year on December 21st with a batch of golden, warm saffron buns? The recipe is here.

Lussekatter or Saffron buns-3

Saffron buns or lussekatter

Recipe adapted from the book Classic Swedish food by Carl-Jan Granqvist and Lena Katarina Swanberg.

Makes 20 (15 cm) buns

1 g saffron powder*
550 g flour
1 sachet dry yeast
250 mL milk of choice
120 g light brown muscovado sugar
1 large egg**
1/2 tsp salt
120 g butter
1 tbsp dark rum
around 40 raisins for decoration
rum to cover the raisins
*If you are using powdered saffron, mix it in with warm milk. If using saffron threads, grind them in a mortar and pestle together with a tablespoon of sugar, then transfer to a small bowl and add 2 tbsp dark rum and leave for a couple of hours, preferably overnight
**leave a tbsp of egg, add to it a tbsp of water and use as eggwash insted of using another whole egg

Place the raisins in a bowl and cover with rum or a mixture (1:1) of water and rum.
Heat up the milk to around 37 °C. In a large bowl, combine half of the milk with yeast and 1 tbsp sugar. Mix, cover with a clean cloth and set aside at room temperature for ten minutes.
Dissolve the saffron powder in the rest of the milk. If using threads, strain the liquid of previously infused threads to the milk. Melt the butter and pour it to the milk and saffron, add the egg and mix to combine.
Place the flour in a large mixing bowl and sprinkle with salt. Make a well in the centre and pour in the milk with yeast and the mixture containing the egg and butter. Mix everything together using your hands to form the dough. Add a bit more flour if necessary and knead until the dough comes off the sides of the bowl and doesn’t stick to your hands. However, the dough should be elastic and a bit sticky – avoid adding too much flour during kneading.
Cover the dough with a clean cloth and leave it to rise in a warm place until it doubles in size. It will take around one hour.
When the dough has doubled, divide it into 20 pieces and roll them out to a 10 cm oblong shape. Cover with a cloth and let them rest for 10 minutes. In the meantime prepare the baking tray.
Take each piece of the dough, roll it again so it’s around 20 cm in length and then twist the ends of the dough forming number 8. Put one raisin in each half of the swirl. Place the buns on the baking tray, leaving some space between them and let them rise again for 45-60 min until they have doubled in size. Brush them with eggwash and bake them in a preheated oven at 190°C for around 10-12 minutes until they start to golden. Take them out carefully from the baking sheet since they will be soft and fluffy, and allow to cool before serving.

The buns are delicious the first day but become dry really fast. However, they freeze very well. If you decide not to freeze them and they start to become dry the next day, heat them up in the oven or put in a microwave for 10 seconds. Serve with hot glogg or coffee.

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Lussekatter or Saffron buns-6

Poppy seed swirl buns

Poppy seed swirl buns

In Croatia, poppy seed cakes are a staple for Christmas holidays. The traditional poppy seed roll cake called makovnjaca (mak is poppy) is baked all winter and especially for Christmas table. The relationship people have with poppy is rather clear – either you love it or you don’t. When I was a child, we used to celebrate Christmas at my grandparent’s house where we would have lunch and the traditional cakes for dessert. Read More

Autumn chocolate pavlova with poached pears and chocolate tonka sauce

Autumn chocolate pavlova with poached pears and chocolate tonka sauce
More than anything I’m a summer’s child. Having been born in summer might have something to do with it, or the fact that summer has always been – and still is – the most joyful period of the year for me. But alas, all things come to an end. The good ones seem to end even faster and all of a sudden I can feel the days are starting to change. I can feel the longer shadows and chiller nights of late August, then September. I can feel the sun rays getting weaker with every passing day and before long autumn has arrived, making piles of dry leaves at the doorstep.Read More