Last week in Armenia I went to many houses where the people could not have done more for me to help me learn about bread, cake, food, hospitality, and life in Armenia. I was welcomed like a long lost daughter, was asked to stay the night (or the week) was fed until I nearly burst and drank everything from young wine to fresh juice, to vodka to pear brandy (80 degrees – if you are going to die, die happy!). The Armenian people are simply wonderful – generous, kind, thoughtful, helpful and natural. The way people should be. If you want to have your faith in human kindness restored – I suggest you get on the first flight to Yerevan and begin to explore.
In an earlier post there was a little movie of Fatima and her mother making lavash in the traditional oven in the ground. What is amazing is that Armenians can bake cakes in those same ovens! Cakes, in their tins, are placed on a trivet which is lowered into the oven when it has somewhat cooled down. The oven is covered with a lid of some kind and the cake bakes. It’s amazing!
The wonderful cooks at the Cherkezi Dzor restaurant in Gyumri showed me how to make Gata – the celebration cake/bread that is simple, beautiful, and tasty. Because I am a yeast baker, I moderated the recipe only slightly to make it with yeast rather than bicarb. Although I have only made with the traditional filling, if you wanted to deviate away from tradition, you could add poppy seeds, dried fruit or ground nuts (almonds, walnuts…). The filling, by the way, is called a horitz! When the cooks were explaining the gata to me, they said, “and the filling is just a horitz…” and I said, “huh?” and they said, “a horitz! a horitz! everyone knows a horitz!” I had to confess I had never met a horitz, before discovering that a horitz is a crumble (streusel) by any other name. However, the horitz does use mountain butter which alas I cannot get. I had to settle for supermarket butter….
The beautiful gata was served to us after we had an incredible meal of fresh trout and sturgeon caviar, served with a basket of fresh bread (getting the fresh vibe?) followed by fresh trout and fresh sturgeon. The trout had been barbequed in the same kind of oven-in-the-ground as the bread and the sturgeon had been steamed. Both were seasoned very simply – with bay and paprika, salt and pepper – and were the best fish I have ever had in my life. A meal of fresh fish, bread, pickles, cake, dried fruit, coffee and plum vodka is a miracle of contrasting flavours and textures and the airy and bright restaurant decorated with antique rugs and lovely old furniture is a beautiful, atmospheric place in which to enjoy it.
Here is my very first gata – and it won’t be my last.
I will post the recipe of the gata soon and you too can enjoy baking this wonderful bread.