Like I said a few days ago, my boyfriend and I thought that our dear friends--the ones who bore with us all summer while we painted and problem-solved and were often just too tired to be much fun--deserved a party. So last weekend, finally, we flung open our doors and had them all over for a little food and drink. My boyfriend played bartender and had everyone sipping our lemony riff on this gin sparkler (the Meyer lemons are here at last!). I had the oven roaring and passed around various little nibbles just as soon as they were cool enough to pluck off the half-sheet. There were gougères, a pizza patate, spiced hummus, pear bread, carrot cake truffles, and, of course, these little pillows of buttery, flaky, cheesy goodness right here, pogácsa.
You should know by now that just about anything that puffs up golden and buttery in the oven is enough to get me excited. Butter and a hot oven work magic together. You can't get me away from the oven window if I have pastry going. I have to peer in every few minutes, cheer on the pastry: puff now, you can do it! But these pogácsa have had me especially excited lately, not just because of how amazing they are--though they are that--but because the recipe for them is a family recipe, and I'm very happy that my friend Agnes was willing to share it with me and with you too.
I first had these pogácsa at her place last winter when she graciously invited a crowd of us over to make up for a cancelled class. We piled into her living room, listened raptly, and thought hard about De Motu Animalium...until the smell of pastry in the oven, rich and tantalizing, drifted down from the kitchen. I, at least, found it hard to concentrate. It was a long twenty minutes before class was over and the pogácsa came out. And when they did, we snapped them up fast. Like I said, buttery, flaky, cheesy goodness. I had to ask for the recipe the next day.
Pogácsa, generally speaking, are a pastry of Hungarian provenance. They vary a lot in size, consistency, and flavouring--some are more biscuit-like, some are yeasted, some are made with pork cracklings. The pogácsa that Agnes' family makes, though, are more like bites of puff pastry than anything else--but with a tang and tenderness that remind me a little of a good buttermilk biscuit. The dough is simple, just equal parts flour, butter, and farmers' cheese, along with a little salt, repeatedly layered and rolled out. And with that taken care of, you just let things work their magic in the oven.
Note: Farmers' cheese. It's a soft, fresh, tangy cheese often sold in plastic containers by the pound. I haven't had any trouble finding it in Illinois and New York, but Agnes says that she never managed to find any when she was living in California. Make ahead. You can certainly complete the turns a day or two before you bake off the pogácsa, so long as the dough is tightly wrapped in the refrigerator. I have a handful of cut squares that I tucked away in the freezer.
I'll let you know soon how well they fare there. Update, 01-25-12. The pogácsa bake up beautifully from the freezer. Once you've cut up the dough, place the pieces on a parchment-lined half-sheet and chill in the freezer until firm, about half an hour. Remove them from the half-sheet and store in a zip-top bag. When ready to bake, follow the directions as written below.
225 g butter, just a little under room temperature
225 g farmers' cheese
225 g all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
10 g parmesan cheese, grated
1 egg, beaten
Cream the butter in a stand mixer, 1-2 minutes. Add the farmers' cheese and mix to incorporate. Then, add the flour and the salt, mixing just until incorporated.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and pat into a rough rectangle. If it's warm and tacky, wrap it loosely in plastic wrap and leave it the refrigerator to chill for at least 30 minutes. When the dough is ready, generously flour a clean work surface and a rolling pin. Roll the dough out into a rectangle, about 8 by 15 inches and a 1/4-inch thick, and then fold the dough into thirds as you would a letter. (The dough might be a little tacky and difficult to work with at first. It will improve with more rolling and folding.) Rotate the dough 90 degrees and repeat the rolling and folding. This completes a full turn. Return it to the refrigerator in plastic wrap to chill for an hour.
Complete 1-2 more full turns, leaving the dough to chill for another hour between turns. The more turns, the flakier the pastry will be.
Heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Roll out the dough into a rectangle, about 8 by 15 inches and a 1/4-inch thick. Cut bite-sized circles out of the dough, as would be traditional, or cut it into squares no less than 1 1/4-inches on each side. Place on two parchment-lined half sheets. Brush each with a little egg wash and dust with the parmesan. Bake in the centre of the oven until puffed and deeply golden, about 20 minutes. Serve immediately.
Makes about 60 bite-sized pogácsa.