Tava: Romanian pastry book celebrates ‘constellation of cultures’

Our cookbook of the week is Tava by Irina Georgescu. To try a recipe from the book, check out: Rose Petal Jam Crescents, Romanian Festive Bread with Walnuts and Raisins (cozonac), and Moldovan Layered Cake with Hemp Cream.

At her home in Wales, Irina Georgescu recreates the flavors of her native Romania every Christmas. Baking cozonac, a twisted or braided bread filled with a mixture of nuts and raisins, and fragrant cornulețe filled with rose petal jam are festive rituals.

When New Year’s Eve rolls around, she bakes a chocolate layer cake, if you’re craving some chocolate. Or a feathery diplomatic cake with rum-roasted pineapple, which was part of his repertoire long before he decided to include it in his new book on baking.


(Hardie Grant Books, 2022).

“Even if you go to Romania, a lot of people will say, ‘Oh, we’ll bake the pineapple cake for New Year’s Eve.’ (It’s) very modern in a way. You know, it’s a diplomatic cake after all,” says Georgescu, laughing. It’s cream, custard and stuff. We can’t really say it’s Romanian. But it’s so fun. That’s so traditional for New Year’s Eve.”

Growing up in the Romanian capital of Bucharest, these were some of her family’s Christmas traditions. In other regions of the country, people celebrate differently. Swabians from the Banat region of western Romania, for example, can honor the occasion with gugelhupf, strudel and a beautifully decorated layered cake with buttercream. In eastern Romania, Moldovans traditionally enjoyed a 12-layer flatbread cake with hemp cream called Pelincile Domnului (‘baby Jesus blankets’) on Christmas Eve.



Georgescu introduces readers to the baking traditions of six of Romania’s many cultural communities: the Magyars, Székelys and Saxons in Transylvania, the aforementioned Swabians from the Banat, the Armenians whose ancestors settled in the century-old city XVIII now known as Bucharest and the Jewish communities. from Moldova.

With one foot in the present, one foot in the past, Georgescu crosses borders, tracing the roots of Romanian pastry recipes throughout Eastern Europe and beyond.

Tava means tray in Romanian and is an appropriate title for a book featuring traditions from “a constellation of cultures”. Georgescu illustrates the ways these communities intersect and how people celebrate with different breads and cakes.

“You look at history and you understand all these layers and layers of ethnic groups that came to Romania, settled here and created this mosaic of people and recipes and also in the kitchen,” says Georgescu. “And you just have these layers of culture and history. It’s a bit of a cake, in a way, if you look at the layers of our ethnic history.”

The idea to focus on Romanian baking traditions, tracing commonalities and differences, started with


(2020). In his cookbook debut, Georgescu devoted two chapters to confectionery: savory breads, street food cakes and desserts. The large number of recipes that he had to shelve due to space constraints impressed him how important baking is to Romanians.

“Whatever we do, we end up baking something. When we celebrate something, we bake something. And we bake a cake, a plăcintă”, says Georgescu. “It is the center of how we cook in a way. Because plăcinte, this iconic dish in Romania, can also be tasty. So, we have a plăcintă for a snack.”

Plăcinte are beloved cakes with ancient roots. With two layers of dough, one below and one on top, topped with a variety of fillings (apple and cottage cheese being the most popular), plăcintă is the classic Romanian home bake.

There’s also folded plăcinte, which is fried or grilled flatbread-style, depending on where you are in Romania. (Georgescu presents a recipe for Transylvanian grilled breads with cheese and honey at


.) “There is so much variety,” he adds.

Romanian baking traditions built on a legacy left by the ancient Romans and Greeks, he writes, and bear the mark of influences from the Middle East and the Balkans, Austria, and Germany.

“You can see this diversity coming together in a kind of national culinary identity,” says Georgescu. “But if you look at the big picture, there’s a lot of German-influenced baking.”

In the baking customs of the Saxons and Swabians, for example, this influence manifests itself in different ways. Lichiu (cake), “the quintessential Saxon dish”, is very basic. In the past, it was made in baking days as a way to use up every last bit of dough.

Bakers made a flatbread and topped it with whatever toppings were on hand, from a simple egg yolk and butter to fresh plums in the fall. The Saxons were famous for their buffalo milk, Georgescu explains, so if they had sour cream or crème fraîche, they would have used that too.

Traditionally, the Saxons celebrated every occasion with lychee, be it Christmas, Easter, weddings or harvest time. They even ate it for breakfast with a glass of plum brandy before starting a hard day’s work.

“Everything revolved around this very simple idea of ​​just dough covered with the basic basic ingredients in the community: eggs, dairy, and fruit in the garden,” says Georgescu.

The elaborate cakes of the Swabians, who settled Romania in the 17th and 18th centuries (roughly four centuries after the Saxons), stand in stark contrast to the utilitarian lychee, he adds.

Coated with buttercream and covered in chocolate icing, Swabian cakes were without parallel.

“You can see even just in these two communities, ethnic groups, that the baking is very varied, from basic, just dough with fruit, to something that uses a cake pan,” says Georgescu, referring to the tall leavened gugelhupf, studded with dried fruit.

It’s a bit of a cake, in a way, if you look at the layers of our ethnic history.

Similar to the layered cakes he features in


Drawing inspiration from Swabian-German bakeries and Eastern European pastry shops, Georgescu took a multi-tiered approach to writing the book. He first spoke to members of the six cultural communities: People who are making history.

These included Caroline Fernolend, who established the prototype Saxon self-sufficient village in Viscri, and writer Paul Agopian, whose family settled in Romania after surviving the 1915 Armenian Genocide. Agopian’s website (negustorie.ro) is a resource like no other, says Georgescu, as he works to restore his family’s heritage and shares the stories of Armenian communities in Romania.

“These are people who are changing the landscape in Romania today,” says Georgescu. “People who recovered their own traditions after the fall of the communist regime and who actively did something to improve the community.”

Second, he pored over old cookbooks to piece together the past. Basically, there was a cookbook during the communist regime, she explains, and it was lost a lot.

After the fall of communism, Romanians began trying to recover cookbooks that were written long before World War II, which is not an easy task, Georgescu stresses. Founded in 1859, Romania is a relatively young country. Cookbooks from the 17th century from what is now Romanian territory would have been written in Hungarian or German.

Many of the early Romanian cookbooks are collections of international dishes, Georgescu explains. In the early 19th century, Romanians were fascinated by French cuisine, and there were also many German and Austrian influences. Later, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, attention turned to how people cooked in the countryside.

“It is very encouraging that you can see how many people in Romania are passionate about bringing back this Romanian cuisine. And little by little, as they discover notebooks in the attic, or when houses are renovated or modernized —old houses—, people also find different cookbooks there, ”he says.

“And they talk about them, or they go and print them, or they go and publish them somehow. So, it’s still the beginning, but there is a movement towards rebuilding, really recovering, a legacy of our kitchen, and that was also part of my research.”

The third layer was her own story: baking traditions passed down in her family and recipes inspired by experiences. Memories of saving pocket money to buy cream pies and coffee cakes at the patisserie near her high school. A nostalgia for savarins and layered cakes and pumpkin and sour cherry strudels his late mother and her grandmother used to bake.

“I suppose for many Romanians living abroad, they will be quite interesting and in a way a trip down memory lane. Because you used to have them. It doesn’t matter that sometimes they didn’t really follow the classic recipe for something, but now, in this book, you have the reality. What they should have been during the communist regime”, says Georgescu.

As much as


it is a historical and cultural journey, it is also personal. “(It’s) what I remember and what I really missed when I came to the UK to live here (in 2009),” says Georgescu. “Thinking of different recipes, I wanted them here in my book.”

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2022

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