Tuesday, July 8, 2008

They Don't Know What They're Missing

In Poland there is one kind of chocolate cake: the cream filled W Z-tka [voo-zet-kah]. Most every bakery sells this cake. There are various other cakes that might be classified as "chocolate", but the cocoa is used more as a coloring agent than for purposes of flavoring (measured in tea or tablespoons, rather than cups) and they are often smothered in fruit or nuts. Apart from the W-Ztka, if you see any dark brown cake or a cake with a dark layer, you can be fairly sure that it is made with poppy seeds, often ground ones. I know this because the first year or two after we moved here, when I was still excited about trying new things, I ordered lots of them, expecting chocolate each time. You (most likely) have no idea what it's like to bite into a cake expecting chocolate and get poppy seeds.

To me, ground poppy seeds taste almost exactly the way an old, unused attic smells. In a word, I think it tastes like dust. This isn't the hyperbole-prone Lisa speaking in her usual terms of exaggeration. I feel sure that if you offered me a cake made with ground poppy seeds, side by side with a cake that had been seasoned with all the dust that could be swept off the old bikes, broken furniture and boxes of outgrown clothing in any given attic, I would be unable to determine which was which.

Generally speaking, when I bake something and give it to Polish people, they are surprised by how sweet or rich it is (nobody has yet mentioned how dust-free it tastes). This makes sense, since all the cakes and cookies you get here are dry and not very sweet. I have learned to like many of them, but I far prefer American treats. I have been given recipes for some Polish cakes that I have liked in the past, and have been astonished at how much butter they contain. How can a cake with so much fat taste so little like a dessert? At least now I know not to let myself feel all healthy when eating Polish goodies. That piece of orzechowiec may contain raspberries, and may be twice as tall as a brownie cut the same size, but because it is so dry and crumbly, it probably has about the same mass as the shorter brownie, and still contains more than twice the fat in the brownie!

Fortunately, Greg's family loves American desserts. One of their favorites is a chocolate sheet cake, which they have had a few times in the past while they've been visiting us. The last time they came I made some brownies (the ooey gooey ones in my sidebar) and Greg's sister mistook them for the sheet cake! One is dense and fudgy and one is light and moist! One is frosted and sprinkled with toasted almonds, the other is plain with chocolate chunks inside. I suppose they're both very chocolaty, sweet and moist, and all three of those things make them different from Polish cakes, so I should be more understanding. But can you imagine not appreciating the difference between brownies and cake? That's why I think it's a crime that there is even such a thing as "cake like" brownies. BAKE A CAKE if you want cake, instead of adding extra eggs (or whatever) to turn your brownies into one.

The same thing has happened with chocolate crinkle cookies and double chocolate mint cookies being mistaken for each other. I will admit that I do stick to a theme in my baking, so that may make it a little difficult for the less discerning palate, but still. Well, to be fair,I guess if someone offered me some makowiec, and then some fancy, layer cake (and assuming, for the sake of this example, that I didn't kindly decline, and was careful not to make any gagging sounds), I might get them mixed up too. A Pole might love the glaze on one and the contrast of the layer of yeast cake in the other, but to me all I'll ever taste is dust.

*It should be noted that I have nothing against poppy seeds in moderation (in muffins, on breads/rolls etc.), and in their whole form. I should also add that Greg LOVES the taste of ground poppy seeds. He simply adores the INTENSE poppy seed cake his mother makes at christmas time. It contains ground poppy seeds, sugar, eggs, almond flavouring and little (if anything)else. Maybe a little flour. I'm not sure, as it is NOT one of the recipes I've asked for.

11 comments:

Erin said...

I have often been disappointed by those poppy seed cakes as well. They look so good. I have always thought they must be so much work to make with such a little payoff. I guess you have to grow up on it to appreciate the flavor. But now I feel like I really need some rich brownies...

KC said...

I think I'll stick with French pastries--as far as I can tell they don't go for the poppy seed thing. Do they have nutella in Poland? In France they have nutella donuts and they are my absolute favorite.

Lisa said...

Ooooo. French pastries! They actually have some really delicious pastries here, too (though probably not as amazing as the real deal in France) I seem to remember Erin, that you were a little addicted to the pastries they sold right near your block.

They do have Nutella here. I am a little embarrassed to say that I don't like it! *blush, blush* When we first came to Poland I was still into milk chocolate, and I loved that all brands of chocolate could be bought with hazelnuts. For some reason, I must have eaten a few too many or something, but now I just can't stand hazelnuts! So much so, that I can't handle Nutella or even plain "alpine milk" Milka chocolate, because it contains some kind of hazelnut paste or something. Sad, but true. I do understand that the rest of the world loves it, some people more than others, but I can't tell a lie. I'm just not into it. :(

Katherine Bouldin said...

Polish style ice cream was aggravating, too, because of all the chunks of stuff (fruit, nuts, etc.) Kind of like Rocky Road going bad ... very, very bad. I am like you ... I don't see what all the hype surrounding Nutella is about, but that did not stop my dear husband from collecting each and every one of those special Lord of the Rings (The Two Towers) Nutella jars from Tesco while we were in Poland in 2003.

Erin said...

Yes, I really really miss that bakery right outside my apartment and the fresh pastries....

Andrea & da boyz said...

I'm with you on the attic dust thing, but no likey Nutella? How is that possible? :)

Say, I was wondering if you could send me all of your addresses to update my address book. I just went to send you an email and realized that I don't have your address? And I would love your postal address too, in case I actually do Christmas cards this year... Oh, and then I can find you when I am just hanging out in Poland someday.

Anyway, send me an email at my same old address: harksarama@hotmail.com

gramalee said...

You missed my favorite: devils food. The best chocolate cake in my book. And since I feel free to opine I will say that French pastries are rather tasteless to me. German pastries on the other hand are SO buttery and sugary and fruity (if you want fruity) that about three bites will fill your bliss quota for the day! I only remember that ?cheesecake? with berries that Maria made. Fabulous!

jonesfamily said...

Korea was the same. The most BEAUTIFUL desserts without an ounce of sugar! SO dissapointing!

Elizabeth said...

I really didn't need a reminder of the poppyseed cakes. I always thought they were chocolate too! I also remember the ice cream being dry. Don't ask how that is possible, but it was dry. On the other hand, I could dive into a nice nalesniki z serem and cream on top right about now. Yum!

I am so glad you found my blog and we are in touch again. Ryan and I about fell over when we saw Evelina. Have we been home that long?! Yikes! Your family is so beautiful. Hopefully we'll get to come and visit sometime. We sure miss it!

ncheshire said...

First, I'm glad I'm not alone in the thinking Nutella is overrated. There used to be a non-hazelnut variety that was pretty decent, but it appears to have fallen away. Down with the hazelnut tyrants!

Perhaps it has disappeared, but I have fond memories of buying murzynki (hey, that's what they called them) at the Katowice train station. Those chocolate cakes were as sweet and moist as anything Hostess ever put together.

april oakley said...

I have started modifying Polish pastry recipes and other recipes so they have more flavor. Romania had the same issue; dust-like, rancid poppy seed cakes. Yuck! Chocolate was only good in it's candy bar form. I miss Polish chocolates. oooohhh, I wish I had a tiki taki.