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I arrived to the States two decades ago from a tiny country called Yugoslavia, the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia to be precise. I bet many have never heard of it—no worries, nothing to be embarrassed about, because knowing about the SFRY was not exactly a part of general education.
Those who go back long enough to remember might recall a couple of facts about good old Yuga, as we now call it with nostalgia. We were good at basketball. We were ruled by Josip Broz—a quirky dictator nicknamed Marshal Tito—who liked white gloves, black limousines, and mangoes. We gave birth to Tesla, not the car, but the scientist. And most importantly, somehow, someway, we created bajadera (bah-ya-deh-ra) one of the yummiest chocolate pralines in the entire world.
Sadly, I never fully came to appreciate it until I left my country. It was totally my fault, because we take some things for granted. Somehow I expected the trophy to go to a Swiss, Belgian, or French chocolate, because let's face it, one would have never thought that the richest, the most decadent, the nuttiest, and the creamiest praline of all would come from Yugoslavia. As I said, sometimes we take things for granted. But I should have known better, because growing up it was a staple. A symbol. A legend. People graduated with it. It was a guest of honor at countless birthdays and celebrations. It was a companion to all the Turkish coffees my girlfriends and I sipped together, and all the gossip we shared. Yes, I should have know better, because when two decades ago I left my country, on the way to the airport my mom stashed a small box of Bajadera into my backpack. It was her way of saying "I love you," her way of saying "goodbye".
Yugoslavia did not survive as a country, but a recipe for homemade Bajadera is still widely popular across the ex-Yugoslavian territories—Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia, and Macedonia. Making Bajadera at home is a lot of fun. It's a relatively simple no-bake dessert, based on a nougat paste from ground hazelnuts, chocolate, cookies, sugar syrup, and butter. And just in case you are wondering, the real thing can be nowadays purchased on Amazon. But I rarely do it. Because it never quite tastes the same.
- 500 grams granulated sugar
- 12 tablespoons water
- 200 grams hazelnuts
- 200 grams Petit Beurre biscuits (I used Leibnitz and LU)
- 250 grams butter
- 100 grams dark chocolate
- 100 grams dark chocolate
- 4 tablespoons water
- 1 teaspoon butter