Lemon and sugar, the two ingredients used for making agda syrup
Desserts found in Bosnia and Herzegovina (B & H) may be broadly split into two categories: Turkish/Oriental derived desserts, and local Balkan style cakes. The former arrived during some 400 years of Ottoman rule (1463-1878), while some in the latter category are influenced by Austrian desserts (one testament to their rule of B & H from 1878-1918).
Oriental desserts are usually very sweet and often feature a lemon syrup called agda. There are also Oriental desserts in B & H such as halva that do not feature agda, but this article focuses on the ones that do. They are designed to be eaten in small portions and some, like baklava, are traditionally paired with strong Turkish coffee, which effectively offsets the sweetness. All are allowed to rest for at least several hours after being made and may be served either at chilled or at room temperature. In fact, they taste better if made the day before. The following are Oriental agda desserts commonly found in B & H:
- Baklava. The most famous-and perhaps most popular-of all Oriental desserts. Muslims traditionally make it for Eid and Christians for Christmas and Easter, though it can be made for any special occasion. Different versions of baklava are found in every former territory of the Ottoman Empire. Sometimes sold as “walnut baklava”, Bosnian baklava is made with many layers of buttered filo pastry filled with a mixture of ground walnuts and sugar. It is cut into pieces (usually diamonds or triangles) before being baked to a deep golden brown and finished with a generous amount of agda. It is then left to rest; the filo pastry soaks up the agda. Traditionally served with Turkish coffee, today a glass of water is usually served alongside it to help cut through the sweetness.
- Ružica. This literally means “little rose”. Similar to baklava, except for ružica are made by rolling sheets of filo pastry around walnuts to make a loosely rolled tube, which is then cut into small sections before baking. This shape somewhat resembles a tightly packed rose flower, hence the name.
- Tulumba. This is soft dough that is pushed through a star shaped press. The resulting shape looks much like a Spanish churro. The tulumba are deep fried in oil before being soaked for several hours in a bowl of agda. When compared to original Turkish tulumba, B & H tulumba are bigger and softer in contrast to the small and rather firm Turkish tulumba.
- Tufahija. These are whole apples (sour ones are most popular) that are peeled and cored before being boiled in agda until soft enough to be easily eaten with a spoon but not falling apart. Alternatively, some people briefly boil them before baking. Next, the apples are stuffed with either ground walnuts or almonds mixed with hot milk and a little sugar. They are then placed in in individual serving bowls and some agda is poured over before they are thoroughly chilled. Thick cream, sometimes with vanilla, is spooned on top. Tufahija apparently originated in Iraq or Iran, though nothing like the Bosnian version seems to exist there today. The name comes from the Arabic word tufahije (apple).
- Kadaif. These are thin shreds of wheat flour pastry (basically vermicelli). Note that they are almost always bought; I do not know of anyone who makes their own at home. The shreds are first generously buttered, and one half is then placed at the bottom of a buttered tray. A generous amount of ground walnuts is spread on top, then the other half is added and brushed with more butter. The completed kadaif is baked to a deep golden brown before being soaked with agda and left to rest. In addition to lemon, some recipes call for the addition of orange blossom water to the agda. Bosnian kadaif is very similar to the Turkish version, except for it is always made with ground walnuts and not ground pistachio’s, as is more common in Turkey.
- Hurmašica. I am not sure where or when this dessert originated. The name comes from a local Serbo-Croatian word, hurma or urma (date-the fruit). This dessert is made by mixing together eggs, flour, butter and a little sugar to create rather firm, smooth dough. The dough is broken into small sausage shaped pieces and each is pressed-sometimes with a walnut piece-into a date shaped cake against the spikey surface of a box grater (hence the name), giving it a pretty pattern on one side. They are then baked until golden brown. The result is something like Scottish shortbread. As with all other Oriental desserts, it is soaked with agda and chilled before serving. My grandmother made this dessert quite often as I was growing up.
I hope that you enjoyed this introduction to these traditional desserts. Feeling like you’re ready to prepare some yourself? I have a treat for you: my next instalment will feature a recipe for tufahija, and other recipes will follow in due course. Stay tuned!