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Vita Badran shows how to make placek, a layered cake for special occasions, popular in Poland and Ukraine.
She had trained in law in Lviv, Ukraine, the former Polish city of Lwow, but in Auckland she worked in a bakery, then in the public library, where she loved browsing in the long aisle of cookery books, she said.
Traditional Polish and Ukrainian special occasion cakes have many thin layers with various fillings in between. Less than three layers is not acceptable, and really special ones may have 12, she said.
This cake has four. The recipe for the dough is her mother's and the toppings are traditional, although she has chosen this particular combination. Such cakes allow a lot of flexibility and creativity as long as there are several colourful layers, she said.
At big events like weddings, birthdays and celebrations, several different cakes will be cut into bite-sized pieces and served on platters like petit fours along with coffee.
It is thought these rich layer cakes originated in Austria, which annexed part of Poland in 1772, she said.
Seeds and coconut crumble placek (layered cake)
For the base:
170g unsalted butter, softened but not melted
5 egg yolks
135g granulated sugar
3 Tbsp plain unsweetened yoghurt
2 tsp baking powder
For the toppings:
5 egg whites
100g icing sugar
1 cup chopped cashews
3 Tbsp boysenberry or raspberry jam
1 cup shredded coconut
½ cup poppy seeds
For the icing:
300g unsalted butter, softened
100g icing sugar
300g thick vanilla custard
extra coconut for decoration
First make the base
Cut the softened butter into chunks and put into a bowl. Separate the eggs. Add the yolks to the butter and put the whites aside for the toppings. Add the sugar and yoghurt and stir to mix a little.
Stir the baking powder into the flour and add about three-quarters to the butter and egg-yolk mixture. Use your clean hands to squeeze and mix the ingredients together, adding more flour as needed until it forms a ball. Cut two pieces of baking paper to fit baking sheets. Cut a piece of cling film the same size.
Rinse your hands in cold water - this makes the dough easier to handle.
Divide the dough into two equal pieces. Break pieces off one of them and dot about on one of the sheets of baking paper, pressing them down to flatten and spread them out. Spread the cling film over the dough and use a rolling pin to roll the dough into a thin sheet. Cut off excess bits and use to fill gaps. When the sheet is covered, remove the cling film, trim any rough edges and score down the middle, as this sheet will form two of the four cake layers. Place on a baking tray.
Repeat with the other piece of dough.
To make the topping
Whisk the egg whites until fluffy, then add the icing sugar a tablespoon at a time while still whisking.
Sprinkle a quarter of the cake with chopped cashew nuts. Spread jam over another quarter evenly to the edge. Spread a quarter of the egg-white mix gently over the jam, taking care not to mix them. Carefully spread another quarter of the egg-white mix over the nuts. Divide the remaining egg-white mix into two. Gently stir the poppy seeds into one half and spread over another quarter of the cake. Mix the coconut gently into the last of the egg white mixture and spread over the remaining quarter of the cake base.
Bake both trays in an oven heated to 150degC for about 20 minutes. Have the tray with the coconut topping on the upper shelf so it will brown a little as this will become the top layer of the cake.
The layers are done when the toppings are no longer sticky.
To make the icing
Beat the butter until soft and creamy. Add the icing sugar and beat until pale and fluffy. Then add the thick vanilla custard a tablespoon at a time. If you add too much too fast, it may separate.
When the cake layers are cooked and cooled, stack and join the layers with the icing with the cashew layer on the bottom, then the jam layer, followed by the poppy seed layer and finishing with the coconut layer on the top. Spread the icing around the sides to hide the edges and press coconut into it. Vita piped a rim of icing around the edge, but says you don't need to decorate the cake much as it is served cut into pieces with the colourful layers of the cut edges forming the decoration. Leave the cake in the fridge for a few hours for the icing to firm up before cutting. It is actually best a few days after making.
To serve: cut into small pieces and arrange on a plate. Serve with coffee.
• To soften butter from the fridge, microwave it for about 5 seconds. If the butter is very soft, it will be easier to mix, but the dough will need to be refrigerated for half an hour or so to stiffen so it is rollable. However, don't melt the butter or it will spoil the cake.
• In Poland they would use sour cream but it is quite different from the sour cream here. Yoghurt is a good substitute. It should be mildly flavoured, not tangy.
• Walnuts would have been traditional in Poland as cashews don't grow there.
• Layer cakes like this are often better two to five days after they are made.
• Store in the fridge.
• Thanks to Afife Harris and Centre City New World.