One of the great things about Romanian food is that there is something for everyone. Luscious corn porridge, mamaliga, with salty curd cheese, hearty soups, elegant salads, spiced meats, and ethereal fruits. Many communities, including Jews, have lived in Romania and influenced its cuisines – and this shows up in Romanian baking. Germanic, broad-shouldered fruit pies, light shortbreads common across the former Ottoman Empire, and swirled fruit-and-nut breads reminiscent of Eastern Europe all stand side by side. Romania is an underrated baker’s paradise.
Irina Georgescu captures this fantastic diversity in her latest book on baked treats, Tava. This dessert-focused book chronicles both traditional Romanian and Balkan recipes like the plăcintă cu mere – and apple and walnut pie – and gogoşi doughnuts, and newer creations like a crepe recipe with a toffee apple and rosemary sauce. Georgescu writes in a relaxed, yet passionate style, and provides a richly illustrated journey through the diverse regions and culinary traditions of her homeland. This book follows Carpathia, an excellent and not dessert-focused compendium of traditional and modern Romanian cooking.
The recipes in the book are fantastic. One of my personal favorites is the apple and caraway seed loaf cake, which is beautifully simple and very delicious – the juice of the grated apple is what moistens the cake, so it feels luscious and light at the same time. I can also vouch for the malai dulce – sweet cornbread – recipe, and the wonderful pinwheel swirl shortbreads, which were fun to make. Something that I deeply appreciate about the recipes is that the sugar content is much reduced compared to other books, so none of the recipes I have tried are either too sweet or cloying at all. I wonder if this is common across Romanian confectionary, or simply attributable to Georgescu’s (obvious) culinary genius. I’m excited to soon try the courgette (zucchini) fritters and the various pies.
Georgescu openly celebrates the Jewish influence – and other influences – on Romanian cuisine. Some of these are in the recipes that many communities share – for example, noodle puddings or doughnuts. She also adds a well-written and very nice discussion of Jewish baking traditions in Romania at the end of the book, followed by a hamantaschen recipe with plum butter that looks absolutely divine. I appreciated also that hamantaschen were in the section on gifts – after all, they are a traditional part of mishloach manot. Along with the Jewish insert – again, appropriately placed – there are also entries on Hungarian-speaking, German-speaking, and Armenian communities in Romania, with wonderful recipes attached.
Beyond the celebration and the recipes, Georgescu’s book gives one more gift: an excellent antidote to authenticity discussions in food. Georgescu explicitly focuses on the diverse origins of Romanian food, and resists the urge to mush them into a single narrative – in fact, she rejects authenticity! She states,
“I prefer to say ‘this is how we eat in Romania’ – a kaleidoscope of old, traditional and regional recipes, relevant to who we are now.”
I hope many more authors and cookbook creators take this lesson from this excellent book.
Tava: Eastern European Baking and Desserts From Romania and Beyond, by Irina Georgescu