The Hungarian word for biscuit, roughly translated, is pogácsa, and there are two basic types: salty and sweet. But within each category huge variations exist. I posted a recipe for Vajas pogácsa, a sweet Hungarian butter biscuit awhile back, but recently I got to bake with a real live Hungarian baker in my home kitchen and she taught me how to make these Simple Cheese Pogácsa, a delicious and addictive cheesy biscuit to nibble on anytime and to serve with drinks.
Here is Marika Pal, my new Hungarian friend, who was visiting her son, Robert and his wife, Judith, in Missoula. Marika baked with me for a couple of days, and we had a marvelous time. She doesn’t speak English, so Judith acted as our interpreter. Since so much of baking is visual and tactile, we really didn’t need many words to understand each other. All of Marika’s measurements are metric, and she weighs all her dry ingredients. The metric system is sensible and easy so long as you own a kitchen scale. I’ve converted her weights and measures to ounces and cups.
Marika had me mix the dough in my 5-quart KitchenAid mixer with the flat beater. I put all the ingredients into the bowl and used 1/2 cup of the sour cream to start. You want to end up with a smooth, non sticky dough. After rolling the dough–no thinner than 1/2-inch!, Marika scores it in a cross-hatch pattern and brushes it with egg yolk. No matter what kind of pogácsa one is making, the scoring pattern is traditional.
After the entire surface of the dough is brushed with the yolk, she grates a bit more cheese on top and stamps out rounds of dough using a 1 1/2- to 1 3/4-inch cutter. She reshapes each biscuit between the cupped palms of her hand to smooth the sides.
As she works, she sets the pogácsa fairly close together on a baking sheet lined with cooking parchment.
During baking the pogácsa rise a bit and turn a lovely golden brown color. Cool completely before serving and store airtight. They stay fresh for a day or two, but it’s best to freeze them for longer story and reheat them briefly before serving.
Simple Cheese Pogácsa
1/2 cup whole milk, heated to 110-115 degrees F.
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon sugar
4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, 20 ounces (dip dry measure into flour container, fill to overflowing and sweep off excess to level)
5 ounces finely shredded Gruyère cheese, plus more for topping
1 tablespoon salt
2 large eggs
7 ounces (14 tablespoons; 1 3/4 sticks) softened unsalted butter
1/2 to 1 cup sour cream
1 egg yolk
Finely grated Gruyère or other cheese
1. Combine the milk, yeast, and sugar and let stand until yeast is softened, about 10 minutes.
2. In the large bowl of a stand mixer put the flour, cheese, salt, eggs, butter, softened yeast, and 1/2 cup sour cream. Mix on low speed with the flat beater until the dough masses on the blade. If the dough seems dry, add a bit more sour cream. Beat on medium speed 1 to 2 minutes. The dough should be nice and smooth and non-sticky.
3. Line a large baking sheet (17 x 12 inches) with parchment. Adjust an oven rack to the lower third position but do not turn the oven on.
4. Roll the dough 1/2-inch thick (no thinner!) on a lightly floured surface. Make a shallow cross-hatched pattern with the point of a sharp knife all over the top of the dough and brush with the egg yolk. Sprinkle the cheese on top, and cut out rounds with a 1 1/2- to 1 3/4-inch diameter cutter. Use the palms of your hands to cup each circle of dough to smooth the sides.
5. Arrange the circles in rows about 1/4-inch apart. You’ll have 7 rows the short way and 9 rows the long way. Put the pan in the oven and turn the oven on to 400 degrees F. Bake about 25 minutes, until the pogácsa are nicely browned on their tops and bottoms. Cool completely and store airtight.
6. Pogácsa may also be frozen for up to 1 month. That and reheat to refresh them.
Makes about 60 cheese Pogácsa.