Tikvenik – Sweet Tradition with Pumpkin from Bulgaria

Tikvenik is a sweet, vegan specialty from Bulgaria: extremely thin puff pastry, layered with pumpkin and walnuts and baked as long as it needs to get a beautiful crispy, golden crust. It’s the only recipe from my little booklet with naturally sweet Christmas recipes I publish here, not only because I will prepare Tikvenik this year on Christmas Eve. It’s also because I like the tradition that is associated with this sweet dish in many Bulgarian families.

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Down-to-earth dessert for a big get together

What I am allowed to publish is a family recipe from Kristina Boneva. I introduced her and her unique jewelry design with spices in my last post. She also made earrings and necklaces using pumpkin seeds and freshwater pearls. “Hungarian pumpkin seeds are really cute, like little mise,” says Kristina.

Here you can read my story about Kristina and her spiced jewelry.

I was surprised when I learned that many Bulgarian families are traditionally eating only vegan dishes on Christmas Eve. “That’s true,” she confirmed. “Many people in our country are fasting 40 days before Christmas and the vegan menu on Christmas Eve is the conclusion of this time.”

One of the traditional desserts served is called Tikvenik, filmy dough, layered with sweet pumpkin and walnuts. “My grandma used to make this thin puff pastry at home, skilfully rotating it in the air.” Kristina regrets that she doesn’t master this art of dough-making. Neither do I, so we both buy Yufka or Filo dough at Turkish or Oriental food stores. The beautiful thing about ready-made pastry is that it allows you to prepare this dessert for family meetings in no time.

Tikvenik, vegan Bulgarian dessert, Christmas recipe

The pumpkin – in Bulgaria it is called “Tikva” – is only grated, briefly stewed, sweetened and flavored with plenty of cinnamon. You are welcome to believe Kristina when she says, “It tastes heavenly delicious! When I think of it, I immediately get childhood memories of the fragrance in my grandmother’s kitchen. While pumpkin was in season, she often made this dish, not just for Christmas. I was always delighted and kissed her hands.”

Tikvenik is like a strudel. But If you make the filling quite thin and decide for many layers, it resembles Baklava and can be served in small pieces with a strong, black, spiced coffee or some sweet wine. I have already rolled and layered the dough – both versions look a bit rustic but pretty.

Tikvenik, vegan Bulgarian dessert, Christmas recipe

Hidden lucky charms for Christmas or the New Year

“When we bake Tikvenik in Bulgaria for Christmas or New Years Eve”,  Kristina told me, “we use to hide little lucky-charms. These are beautiful wishes for the upcoming year – sometimes spiritual, sometimes material. A journey, happiness, children, creativity or very special sayings. In the past, my grandma has hidden small branches of cornelian cherries with different buds in the layers. Then she wrote down her lucky messages, and for everyone who chewed on one of these branches, she revealed the special meaning.”

Until today this is a fond tradition. I love the idea and think it’s a great and entertaining way of communication – whether for a small family or one large round of friends.

Tikvenik, vegan Bulgarian dessert, Christmas recipe

I didn’t find cornelian cherries but will hide a piece of walnut shell, cinnamon stick and star anise and a cardamon pod – and I’m curious about who will find which message and if there will be some kind of magic involved:-)

Here it is, the recipe for Tikvenik – Bon appetit!

Tikvenik – Sweet Tradition with Pumpkin from Bulgaria
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Ingredients

(serves 8)

400 - 500 g Yufka or Filo dough

400 g pumpkin (Hokkaido is fine)

200 g walnuts (grounded)

200 g breadcrumbs

150 - 400 g sugar (it's up to your taste)

1 slightly heaped Tbsp cinnamon

about 150 ml high quality rapeseed oil

METHOD

Grate the pumpkin coarsely, put in a saucepan and pour over about 4 tablespoons water. Boil and simmer at medium temperature until it's soft but non-boiled. Add sugar as much as you like and cinnamon.

Prepare the dough according to the packing instructions, moisten it if necessary.Decide whether the dough should be layered or rolled. Layers are easier to handle.

Grease a big round or square mold with some oil. Add one or two layers of puff pastry and sprinkle with some more oil, spread it all over with your hands or a brush. Now add a thin layer of breadcrumbs, pumpkin, and walnuts. Cover with one or two layers of filo dough, grease and return the previous steps until there's no more filling.

Your final layer should be dough. You can either fold over the edges if your dough was bigger than the size of your mold. Or just cover the filling with a final layer, grease with oil and if you like, cut a lovely pattern through all layers now.

Bake in a pre-heated oven at 160°C for about 40 minutes until it's crispy and golden on top.

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