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In a brief detour from recipes of strictly friends-and-family provenance, I give you Mrs. Nováková’s bábovka. The intrepid Mrs. Nováková, doyenne/editor of the Czech section of the publishing house where I used to work, biked merrily to and from work in good weather, and poured homemade hazelnut liqueur for the office, in bad. Sharing an office with Mrs. N. and her team of three giggly (but very sweet) editorial assistants supplied a good eighty percent of my Czech vocabulary. The Czech and English sections occasionally bonded through our mutual love of 1,001 Baby Animals (from the house frontlist), and through mutual outrage at the typesetters and Chinese government censors.

Everyone seems to have a bábovka recipe–and Jakub’s aunt’s recipe is coming up, later this week–but this one is extraordinary, studded with rum-soaked raisins and flecked with orange zest. In a word, fantastic. (Thanks to Petra for sending the recipe–and to Mrs. N., for sharing it.) :)

Mrs. Nováková’s Tvarohová bábovka
Adapted from the original

bread crumbs
1 cup sugar
1 cup shortening or margarine
4 eggs, separated
2 tsp. vanilla
2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
9 oz. cream cheese
raisins soaked in orange juice (or in rum)
zest from 1/2 to 1 orange

Butter a Bundt pan and coat with breadcrumbs (as you would with flour). Set aside. Preheat oven to 350°F.

Mix together sugar, shortening (or margarine), 4 egg yolks, and vanilla. Sift together flour and baking powder; set aside. To the sugar and egg yolk mixture, add the cream cheese, flour and baking powder, raisins, and orange zest.

Whip the four egg whites into soft peaks. Fold into batter.

Bake at 325 degrees for approximately 45 minutes. (Poke with a cake tester or sharp knife to make sure it’s done.)

The last line of the recipe is Nikdy nezklame: Never disappoints. So any errors in this version are entirely mine.

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Go to your closest farmers’ market. Buy eggs. Break open, according to recipe. Marvel at the deep orange color. Proceed. The results are worth it.

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Batter and an errant orange.

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For Bábovka, you butter the pan and coat it not with flour but with fresh breadcrumbs. It’s a brilliantly subtle layer that vanishes as soon as you eat a piece of the cake–so the first taste you get isn’t sweet, but toasty and almost savory.

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If, unlike me, you have a handheld mixer and can beat the heck out of egg whites, your bábovka will look somewhat more lofty than this one. What I tend to think passes for soft peaks (done by hand in a bowl, by someone without Julia Child’s stamina or copper) clearly doesn’t cut it. But the cake still tastes amazing.

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In a fit of practicality, I froze half, but had to dig it out of the freezer two days later, since we’d devoured the first half of the cake. This morning, we chased the last of it around the platter and had it for breakfast, Prague style.

The problem with old recipes is that they fly off the table in the barest breeze. It’s a cool morning, here, and I’m up earlier than I’ve been in a long time. After two cups of coffee from La Boheme Cafe (Prague!), I’m sifting through J.’s mother’s recipes, or trying to, but they skip out from under my fingers and float off toward the hallway, light as onion peels.

Pařížský dort (Parisian Cake)

Pařížský dort (Parisian Cake)


This one is for Pařížský dort (Parisian Cake): cream, oil, water, sugar, cocoa, 6-7 egg whites, topped with a creamy mix of butter, sugar, chocolate, and pudding. The base is chocolate cake; the middle, that creamy chocolate mix, finished with a chocolate glaze and a knot of whipped cream. Should I try this? Six to seven stiff-peak egg whites in New York humidity? What do you think?

Tvarohová bábovka (Tvaroch Cake)

Tvarohová bábovka (Tvaroch Cake)


Bábovka,a light and springy cake, is one of the first things I learned to make, even before we moved to Prague. J.’s Aunt Dana makes a spectacular one called Prezidentská bábovka, which is flecked with chopped bits of chocolate, and somehow manages to slide out of a Bundt pan, completely intact.

But I also learned how to make this from a Czech friend I met while both our families were living at the Weizmann Scientific Institute, in Israel. Katka and I were both married to postdocs and (as such) our visas prohibited us from working, so we became quick friends while trying to adapt to Israeli and Weizmann culture. For a while, Katka was teaching me Czech, but she couldn’t stop laughing at my pronunciation. Since she had a hearty, infectious laugh, I didn’t get very far in my studies. But the friendship grew, and one of the first things she gave me was a bábovka recipe written from memory. When I made some comment about that, she just rolled her eyes and said, “Erin, every Czech girl knows this recipe.”

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A handful from the pile…

Well-loved Italian cookbook

Well-loved Italian cookbook


Králík po Livornsku (Rabbit alla Livornese)

Králík po Livornsku (Rabbit alla Livornese)



The Italian cookbook, from 1968, falls open to this page, and is weathered (like all favorite cookbooks) with floury fingerprints and sauce blots. Years of the thick cooking air have begun to darken the edges in a kind of sepia watermark.

Woodblock illustration, Italian cookbook

Woodblock illustration from the Italian cookbook



It takes a long time to realize, if you’re immersed in this cookbook, that there are no photographs–just these mesmerizing green-and-black block graphics.

Kuchařka naší vesnice (Our Villages' Cookbook)

Kuchařka naší vesnice (Our Villages' Cookbook)



I’m fairly sure this is the Czech Joy of Cooking: that indispensable cookbook you run to for everything from how to truss a turkey to how to eat soup dumplings politely. What? That’s not in Joy?

Introductory pages, Kuchařka naší vesnice

Introductory pages, Kuchařka naší vesnice


The food pyramid, Czech-villager style. Five components for proper nutrition, reads the caption. Something each day from every group. Reasonable and logical. (And 739 pages long.) The book was printed in 1967.

Čočka (right under the fish) are lentils. The word also means “lens” in Czech, and when my father-in-law used to talk about photography, one of his passions, while making lentils, it would confuse me to no end.

Čočka is close to another word, kočka, “cat.” On more than one occasion, that first year in Prague, J.’s dad would be making lentils for Sunday lunch, and I would come in, offer to stir the pot, and exclaim, “Cats! I love cooked cats!” My father-in-law and my husband would fell on each other, laughing.

I need to make a few things, this week. What would you like to see? Cast your vote below!