9 June 2012

Traditional Bulgarian Sweets

This year, Lundulph and I joined my Mum and Dad in Bulgaria over the Easter holidays, which I thought was very exciting.

We also rented a car and did a few day trips to a couple of other Bulgarian towns to see the historic Old Town Centres.

In one of these towns we found a really nice old fashioned coffee house at the end of the main street and decided to stop by and rest our feet over a coup of Turkish coffee "on sand". Turkish coffee is made in a special pot with very finely ground coffee. Together with water it is brought to the boil and removed from the heat several times so that foam builds up on the surface. The "on sand" part was that there was a tray filled with sand over a heating element. The special coffee pots were each only large enough for one coffee and were placed in the sand to boil. From what I could see, the sand thing was for show mainly. Regular cooker hobs work just as well.

Along with the Turkish coffee, we each also ordered a tall glass of water with a spoon of бяло сладко (byalo sladko). This translates to "white sweet" or "white preserve" and is basically pouring fondant. You sip the coffee, lick the fondant and drink the water in turns.

It was all very tasty. The coffee itself was far too small, so both my Mum and I had to order a second one.

The coffee house also sported a small corner with traditional sweets. Obviously having been part of the Ottoman Empire for some 5 centuries, Bulgaria has picked up extensive parts of Turkish cuisine and especially the tradition of fabulous desserts and super sweet bites. Without thinking much about it, I bought one of each thing they had, some of which I'd never seen before, but which made my Mum's eyes sparkle a bit.


Now that we are back home, Lundulph and I have been carefully working our way through these treasures.

The first things we had were the bright red caramel lollies in the shape of cockerels. I have fond memories of these as a child, these were a little disappointing as they had very sharp edges and I'm sure I cut my lips on mine. I think they were more child-friendly when I was little. Lundulph crunched through his very quickly, mumbling something about toffee apples.


I also sneakily had the sugar daisy a couple of days later. I thought it would have been flavoured with something, but it wasn't. It was very easy to chew, so I think it was made from some sort of sugar icing that had been allowed to dry out. I do have some vague memories of daisies and violets of this type of lolly.


Next we tried the нуга халва (nuga halwa), which is better known as French nougat. The one I bought was modernised with cocoa and wasn't as sweet and chewy as I expected. But it was very nice indeed and very close to my own past attempts at French Nougat. I'd always thought I'd failed, but perhaps I wasn't so far off after all.


The most mysterious thing in my goodie bag was балсуджук, pronounced balsujuk and I'm not entirely sure how to translate. Basically it is walnut halves threaded on a string, then dipped repeatedly in thickened grape must. This is a method normally used to make candles, so I was quite curious about this based on this fact alone. Very much like in the case of dipping a wick into melted wax and letting it cool and dipping again and thus gradually creating a candle, with the балсуджук, you have a string with fresh walnut halves, which are repeatedly dipped into sweetened and thickened grape must and allowed to cool and set between each dip. Eventually the walnuts are completely hidden inside and the ready thing looks a little like a knobbly sausage. Taste-wise it was disappointing, it was very bland and Lundulph didn't like the overall texture either. I don't know what grape must tastes like, but I expected it to taste of grapes at the very least. I have a feeling this балсуджук was a cheat and that grape juice mixed with water and gelatine had been used to create it. Still, the method of making is massively intriguing and I will try to get hold of some real grape must and see if I can do better.


The next thing was supposed to be the "карамел халва" (caramel halwa) which I suspect was something from Western Europe, not something traditional. It looked like a bar of toffee sprinkled with chopped nuts. Sadly, as I opened it, I noticed that the nuts had gone mouldy, despite a best before date of early October this year. So this thing had to go straight into the bin, a great shame, I was quite looking forward to it.


Of course, having decided to have something sweet to finish off our dinner, we needed a replacement and went for the last thing in the bag - локум с орехи (Turkish delight with walnuts). This one we could be fairly sure was not mouldy for the simple reason that it was well dusted with corn flour, so no moisture where the mould could sprout. It was also very very soft and hard to cut, but was very tasty indeed, not too sweet at all. Also on my to make list.

The one thing I wasn't able to get in the shop was пестил. Again something I had not come across before, but when I looked it up, it turns out I had read about it. This is in fact what is called fruit leather, though traditionally the Bulgarian пестил is made from plums, but other fruit works as well. Basically a fruit purée is made from chopped fruits and a little water. Sugar, lemon juice and spices are added to taste and the whole thing is blended smooth, then poured onto a shallow baking tray lined with cling film and this is then dried out on low heat in an oven until it resembles leather. By chance it is on one of my to try out lists and I will do so, as soon as I get a new cooker - I can't get low enough temperatures with my gas cooker, but an electric one can be set as low as 30 degrees C.

So on the whole interesting, though I had set my expectations a bit too high.

No comments: