The northern part of Romania is called Transylvania, just after you cross the high peaks of the Carpathian mountains. The Carpathians stretch through 7 countries in Central Europe, and they divide Romania into three major regions: Moldova to the east, Wallachia in the south, and Transylvania to the north.
There are large communities of Hungarians and Saxons in Transylvania, with their rich culture and food history, all melted together with Romanian traditions. Several Saxon villages are protected by the UNESCO heritage status, with several charities (including one started by the Prince of Wales ) involved in the restoration and preservation of these distinct sites.
On my part, I’m doing what I can to cook Transylvanian food that we all love back home. It means flavoursome breads, rich stews, stuffed doughnuts, and delicious fruit cakes.
The potato bread is one of our favourites, although not too many people make it at home. If you like the sound of it, this is what you need:
500g strong flour
150g mashed potatoes (see method below)
350ml water between 34-36C
2g fast action yeast
The method is similar to the one explained in the ‘Flour Water Salt Yeast’ book by Ken Forkish. I’ve changed the ratio of some of the ingredients, some timings, and the amount of water, and I added the potatoes.
Put the flour and the water in one container, mix well and leave to rest for 30 min. Then, incorporate the yeast and the salt, and knead by hand or machine for 5 minutes. Leave to rest for 15min, then knead again for 5 minutes. Leave to rest for 25min, then knead again for 5 minutes. Leave to rest for 40min, knead again for 5 minutes, then leave to proof overnight at room temperature, preferably between 18C-21C.
In the meantime, prepare the mash potatoes. Bake the potatoes in their skin in a 190C oven for about 1 hour, or until they are nice and soft. Leave to cool for 10 minutes, then cut in half and scoop up the flesh. Set aside in a bowl until needed.
Take the dough out of the container on a flat surface, and gently stretch it to a rectangular shape. Spread the mash potatoes on top very carefully, using your hands, and start folding. Grab a quarter of the dough, stretch it, and fold it over the top. Repeat a few times, and try to tuck the corners under the dough when folding.
Repeat this process for about 10 minutes. Put in a Banetone basket to proof for 1 hour.
Heat the oven: You will have to set the oven to 240C temperature, around 30 minutes before baking. I bake my bread in a Dutch oven, so I put it in when I turn the oven on. It needs to heat up.
After the proofing, I put my bread in the hot Dutch oven as carefully as possible. Put the lid on and bake for 30 minutes. Then I take the lid off and bake for another 20 minutes. The crust needs to be beyond done, if we want it to have all that wonderful caramelised flavour.
I rest my bread on a cooling rack for around 1 hour before I eat it. This is particularly hard to achieve when all the aromas in the house are amazing and the loaf is right there next to you.
PS:There is an article inThe Guardian talking about these Saxon communities, if you are interested, read here