Fatty Flaky Hungarian Comfort Food, Cheddar-Bacon Pogácsa from Baking at the 20th Century Cafe 'Iconic European Desserts from Linzer Torte to Honey Cake' (Artisan Books, October 2020) by San Francisco baker extraordinaire Michelle Polzine.
Cheddar-Bacon Pogácsa (Hungarian Savory Scones)
This delicious yeasted “biscuit” is unique to Hungary, although similar pastries with similar names can be found all over the Balkans and the Carpathian Basin. Every Hungarian I have met has their own recipe for these, and they are usually a source of great family pride. The pastry may look like a cross between a scone and a biscuit, but these delightful morsels are so much more. They are leavened three ways—with yeast, lamination, and baking powder—to achieve a flakiness and prevent a heaviness that could otherwise be a pitfall with so many fatty ingredients wedged into one dough.
The addition of baking powder is not traditional, but it gives the dough a little extra lift. A trick I recently learned for laminating, or putting turns in the dough (as for croissant and puff pastry), is to actually cut the dough and stack it to create the turns, rather than folding it, which is the way I was taught, and what I had practiced for more than twenty-five years. This new technique makes for a much clearer delineation of layers, and you won’t end up with those wonky ones that happen in the folded parts of the dough.
Even though there is a ton of fat in this dough, the liquid from the cream and sour cream can still make it tough if you don’t respect the gluten and give the dough the proper time to rest between turns. If while rolling you feel it resist or spring back in any way, drop your weapon (I mean rolling pin), wrap up the dough, and chill it for 30 minutes before touching it again.
I like to make tiny pogácsa to serve as a snack with wine and larger ones as a morning or afternoon pastry. This is another recipe with interchangeable parts, so feel free to be creative, swapping out different cheeses or herbs for the ones suggested here, keeping your proportions in line with the ones listed, and make your own legendary family recipe!
Makes 18 pogácsa
4¾ cups (570 grams) all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons (35 grams) baking powder
2¼ teaspoons kosher salt
½ teaspoon mildly spicy chile flakes, such as Aleppo (optional)
1 cup (237 milliliters) heavy cream
1 tablespoon crumbled fresh (cake) yeast or 1 teaspoon instant dry yeast
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon (241 grams) sour cream
1 cup (113 grams) grated cheddar cheese (about 4 ounces)
¼ cup (10 grams) finely chopped chives
4 to 6 slices bacon, cooked and finely chopped
½ pound (226 grams) cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
1 egg, beaten, for egg wash
Flaky sea salt, such as Maldon, or nigella seeds or poppy seeds for sprinkling
Combine the flour, baking powder, salt, chile flakes, if using, in a large bowl and set aside. Pour the cream into a medium bowl and add the yeast to the cream. Add the sour cream, whisk to combine, and set aside.
Add the cheese, chives, and bacon to the dry ingredients and stir to combine, coating the ingredients in flour. Add the cubed butter and work it into the flour with a pastry blender or your fingers. Some butter pieces should be the size of peas, but some larger pieces are okay. Make a well in the center of the mixture and pour in the wet ingredients. Use your hand like a claw to pull the dried ingredients into the creamy center and rake everything around, distributing the wet and dry bits evenly, until no dry or wet spots remain. Transfer the dough to a sheet of plastic wrap and pat into a rectangle that is 1½ inches (4 centimeters) thick. Wrap in the plastic, and chill for 1 hour.
On a floured work surface, with a floured rolling pin, roll the dough into a rectangle that is 13 by 24 inches (33 by 60 centimeters). Use a dry pastry brush to brush off any excess flour. Cut the dough into three 8-by-13-inch (20-by-33-centimeter) rectangles, meticulously brushing off the excess flour. Stack the rectangles of dough on top of one another, then turn the stack so a short side is in front of your belly. This is the first “turn.” Roll the dough to an 8-by-18 inch (20-by-45-centimeter) rectangle, wrap in plastic, and chill for 30 to 45 minutes, until cold and firm.
Repeat the rolling, cutting, and stacking process two more times for a total of 3 turns, chilling after each turn.
When ready to roll and cut the pogácsa, preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Line two sheet pans with parchment.
On a lightly floured work surface, with a lightly floured rolling pin, roll the dough to a thickness of ¾ inch (2 centimeters). Using a sharp paring knife, score the dough diagonally in one direction, then again in the opposite direction to create a diamond pattern, cutting no deeper than ⅛ inch (0.3 centimeter).
Using a 2¾-inch (7-centimeter) round cutter, cut out the pogácsa and place on the prepared pans, spacing them about 2 inches (5 centimeters) apart. (The scraps can be gathered together, chilled or frozen, and rerolled once.) (The pogácsa can be made ahead and frozen before baking. Freeze in a single layer on a sheet pan until frozen solid, then transfer to a freezer bag and freeze for up to 2 months. They can be baked from frozen; just add a few minutes to the baking time.)
Brush the pogácsa with the beaten egg and sprinkle with flaky salt. Transfer to the oven and bake until puffed and golden brown, about 30 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.
(*Excerpted from Baking at the 20th Century Cafe by Michelle Polzine -Artisan Books-. Copyright © 2020. Photographs by Aya Brackett.)