Once or twice a year I'll be out shopping and see a bunch of beetroots that look so firm and fat, so purple and earthy, that I can't resist them. They remind me of a borscht that a Polish friend used to make which was amazing, and I forget two important things.
The first is that I don't really like beetroot very much, at least not red beetroot - I find the flavour is too overpoweringly earthy, and I get fed up cleaning the stains off everything it comes in contact with. The second is that I've never found a borscht recipe that comes close to the one my friend made (I'll never find another setting quite as perfect as a dark room in her house, full of the portraits her late husband had painted of her, and every corner stacked with books, to eat it in either).
I do have a couple of new cookbooks since the last failed attempt to find something that sounded close though (maybe Olia Hercules Summer Kitchens, or Darra Goldstein's Beyond the North Wind will have something? Gill Meller might come up trumps too) so this bunch of beetroots might not be destined to shrivel into something miserable before they get used.
The first place I looked was in Zuza Zak's 'Polska' - which has 2 borscht recipes - one is almost a stew with steak in it, the other a clear vegetarian version. Both sound very good, neither were what I wanted. A recipe for a salted caramel Mazurek caught my eye though, mostly because I had a tin of carnation caramel bought early in the first lockdown, and some pecans left over from Christmas both hurtling towards their best before dates. I also had the some sour cream bought with borscht in mind.
However you make it this is a simple recipe and if you have a tin of caramel to use, rather than having to go old school and cook a tin of condensed milk on the hob for 3 hours it's a lot quicker. I should have been more mindful of the quantities - it is almost unbelievably sweet, when it says it produces 10 portions that isn't the coy disclaimer it sometimes is. I've had 3 pieces of this now and I'm not sure what to do with the rest - maybe leave some for my neighbours. It's good, but it goes a long way.
The interesting thing about it is the dough - which I read as being a pastry, and then realised was more like a cake batter. Pastry has never been my strong point, and rolling something that was half way to being a cake batter was a challenge. With hindsight it would also have been a really good idea to chill it again after it went in the tin and before the oven (yes, the sides collapsed).
The dough asks for 300g of plain flour, 125g of soft brown sugar, 200g of salted butter, 2 egg yolks, 1/2 a teaspoon of vanilla extract, and 1 tablespoon of soured cream. I mixed it in a food processer because generally the further I keep my hot little hands from pastry the better. If you're doing it by hand mix the flour, sugar, and butter to a breadcrumb consistency before bringing it altogether with the rest of the wet ingredients and kneading until you have a smooth dough. Chill for a good half hour to 45 minutes.
Roll out on a well floured surface until the dough is about a cm thick and then line it into a greased brownie tin (approximately 24 cm long). I made a mess of this - it's a fragile dough, and if I make this again I'd be inclined to half the quantities, use a smaller tin, and not be especially worried about it having raised sides. At this point I should have put it back in the fridge for half an hour, but instead followed the instructions and baked it in a fan oven at 160 degrees (gas 4, 180 degrees if not a fan oven) for about 20 minutes by which time it was a golden colour.
The filling is standard can of carnation caramel (397g) with a pinch of sea salt mixed into it, spread over the cooled pastry and topped with 100g of pecans that had been gently fried in 25g of butter, 25g of soft brown sugar and 1/2 a teaspoon of salt. I would cut down the sugar in this to a scant teaspoon another time.
There probably will be a next time because I'd like to play around with this recipe a bit - if I can make my dough look a little less rustic it could be a smart enough finish to a dinner served in very thin slices with really strong coffee.