In the Czech kitchen: grandma's bread pudding recipe

Žemlovka, the ultimate Czech comfort food, has nurtured generations of Czechs who remember it from their childhood.

Marcus Bradshaw

Written by Marcus Bradshaw
Published on 24.02.2021 17:00 (updated on 24.02.2021)

Žemlovka is the ultimate Czech comfort cake. Technically, it's not a cake, but rather a bread pudding - a joyful assembly of soaked bread, apple, cottage cheese, and raisins.

It is very easy to make. It's more of an assembly job than careful weighing and mixing, so it's an ideal project for small hands.

There is some debate as to whether or not there should be snow (sníh) on top. Some versions of the dish see it topped with baked meringue, while others prefer to keep it clean and crispy. Every grandmother has her own way of doing it, and many Czechs' preferences will have been set at an early age by their Babi's žemlovka.

We've included the meringue in this version, as the recipe calls for three egg yolks, so it makes sense to make meringue with the whites.

Classic Czech Žemlovka

Ingredients

  • 1 loaf of white bread, sliced
  • 500 ml of milk
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 12 tablespoons castor sugar (krupice)
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter
  • 8 small apples, peeled and grated roughly
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • butter for greasing the baking dish
  • Icing sugar for dusting

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Filling

  • 250 g of soft fat cottage cheese (tvaroh)
  • 2 tablespoons powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon softened butter
  • 30 g vanilla sugar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 50 g of raisins soaked in rum

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 160°C. Grease the baking dish with butter.

Begin by preparing the cheese filling: beat together the tvaroh with the butter, sugar and egg yolk. Add the vanilla sugar and drained raisins, remembering to reserve the liquid.

Next prepare the bread: in a large bowl, beat together the yolks and milk, add two tablespoons of the sugar, the melted butter and beat again. Gradually add the slices of bread into the flavored milk and let them soak.

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Assemble the layers: Cover the bottom of the baking dish with a layer of soaked bread. Spread all the grated apples over this layer of bread, sprinkle with cinnamon and four tablespoons of sugar. Cover with another layer of bread, and spread the tvaroh mixture over this, before covering with a third layer of moistened bread. 

Dust with icing sugar and drizzle with the rum and a little melted butter. Bake in the oven for about 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the meringue. In a spotlessly clean bowl, beat the egg whites until they form solid peaks, and then beat in the remaining six tablespoons of sugar. Spread the meringue on top, and then return to the oven for a final 5-8 minutes, being careful not to let the meringue burn.