Baking Memories

“Pogacsa.”

I learned to say this Hungarian word long before I could ever spell it.

Pronounced PO – ga – cha, the word represents buttery, faintly cheesy, bite-sized biscuits, once baked by my grandmother. They were slightly crispy on top, burnished with egg yolk, and decadently flaky. A fresh batch barely lasted a day in her house. In particular, my father and I gobbled them down.

While my family loved eating them, my grandmother often reminded us that making them was labor intensive. “They’re not easy,” she’d say, while I idly popped one after another in my mouth. As a child I never grasped — nor cared for — the effort involved. I didn’t help make them, though sometimes I watched my grandmother toil over the dough…flattening it, folding it, then repeating. Afterward, it had to “rest” in the “icebox” overnight.

That step always baffled me. Why were we beholden to the dough’s sleep cycle? Why wait a night? Just bake it already, I’d say.

Due to the time and effort required, my grandmother was the sole pogacsa producer. After she passed away, it rarely appeared on the table.

But this fall I found myself craving pogacsa — which such a raw desire, that I decided to make it myself. My cousin provided a recipe.

Wikipedia describes pogacsa as “a savory scone in Hungarian cuisine.” That’s a pretty vague definition but a nod to the many variations in ingredients, size and shape. Butter and flour are must-have ingredients but, according to Hungarian lore, the dough might also include sour cream, hard cheese, pork crackling, cabbage or a host of seeds and spices.

Our family’s version isn’t overtly cheesy. It contains cottage cheese and just four other ingredients: flour, butter, salt and dry yeast.

I didn’t have a lot of faith in my first pogacsa attempt. The dough was incredibly sticky and, in an imprecise fashion, I added heaping spoonfuls of flour to create form. In addition, the dough was nubby due to the cottage cheese. My grandmother’s dough was never nubby, I thought, wishing I’d paid attention to her craft.

The following day I rolled out the dough and repeatedly pressed a shot glass against it in orderly rows. I remembered how my grandmother muttered in Hungarian when the dough caught inside the glass — and how’d she avoid that glitch by jamming the glass with a vigorous twist. I imagined her technique and recalled her warning: handle the dough as little as possible. On a cookie sheet I brushed each button-sized disk with egg yolk.

Within 5 minutes the kitchen smelled as my grandmother’s once had — with that wonderful, biscuity-baking aroma. The product, however, wasn’t as tasty. My pogasca smelled like the real deal but turned out too doughy and lacking the trademark crispness.

 

That was back in October. Since then, I’ve improved my technique. Also, I found my grandmother’s recipe which calls for less butter and no yeast. At the very bottom of her recipe — far below the instructions for folding and resting the dough — is a parting thought in a jaunty typewritten line:

It ain’t as easy as it sounds!

I’ve come to appreciate that sentiment — albeit a little later in life.

My kids, however, tread on the same ground where I once roamed. They offhandedly demand pogacsa and then thoughtlessly wolf in down.

I can appreciate that, too.