When I was a kid, I used to think that some dishes could only be made by certain family members. For example, there was a black tea cake that I believed only my mother could bake. Turkish dumplings, I thought only my mother and aunt could make so delicious. And then there was this pastry which I believed could only be baked by my aunt, my father’s sister, as if there was something magical or that the trick was in her oven or something. Turns out, I was wrong. You just need to learn.
Nokul is a pastry from Sinop, the tiny city where I was born and lived until I was 5 or 6 – can’t remember exactly. We moved to Istanbul after that. And continued to go back there for summer holidays. It is a pastry that you can eat most traditionally in Sinop, but I’ve heard that some different versions can be found in other parts of Black Sea region. I have only known 2 versions all my life: with meat (salty) and with walnut / raisins (sweet). I read that there are some other versions with cheese or other kinds of nuts as well. Nokul was always the pastry of Ramadan feast for our family, though nowadays they also eat it in other occasions as well, the store-bought ones only.
4 years ago, when I visited Sinop for summer holiday, I asked my aunt to teach me how to make nokul. She was so happy to do that. I think it kind of elevated my status in her eyes that I wanted to learn! As she was teaching me, she also talked about her values, which were a little out of date for me but I understood where she came from. For instance, there was this particularly well-remembered quote:
“I always tell young girls this: learn how to clean your house, how to cook, how to take care of home. Then, you should go to school, be financially independent and if you want, you can hire someone for housework. But be sure to be able to do all housework yourself too. If not, one day you might meet a mother-in-law so bad that nothing you ever studied would have a meaning or value and she would talk behind your back badly in every opportunity.”
Well, I nodded respectfully as I listened to her and did not argue – why would I argue with an 80-year old woman about her values? It was a nice sweet moment / memory for the two of us as it was – I never felt close to this aunt and it was one of the very few times that we spent time as just the two of us.
A couple of months later, a journalist friend asked me if I would like to give a recipe for Kotivinkki magazine’s December issue and I immediately thought of nokul. We had a very nice morning with Elisa Miinin writing my story while Riikka Kantinkoski was taking my photos.
This pastry is soft and delicious and it is very good at tea time, though I like eating it also as a main dish, this salty version of course. Just accompany it with simple green salad, you might want to add a bit of tomatoes, and you are good to go. You can try to make different fillings if you are not eating meat, like feta or other vegetables. If you do, let me know about the results in comments section!
Enjoy your soft delicious pastry!
Difficulty: ★★★ (Advanced)
(Makes about 15 pieces, depending on how big you cut the dough)
2 tbsp olive oil, plus more to brush dough layers
2 medium size onion, diced
800 gr. ground meat (beef)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2.5 dl lukewarm water
1 package (50 gr) fresh yeast
1 tsp sugar
500 gr. all purpose flour
olive oil or vegetable oil to grease the mould
1 egg yolk
If you want the no-meat, sweet version, ingredients for the filling made with same amount of dough*:
5 dl. raisins
5.5 dl. coarsely ground (coarsely and small) walnuts (best option is roasted walnuts)
5.5 dl. granulated white sugar
(Optional) 2 tsp ground cinnamon
*To prepare this filling, just mix all the ingredients and you’re good to go.
1. First we’ll make the filling. Put 2 tbsp olive oil in a pan on medium high heat. Add onions and saute for 3-4 minutes, until the onions are translucent.
2. Add meat and cook by stirring frequently. Once the meat is cooked, add salt and pepper, stir and cook for one more minute, then take away from the heat and put aside to cool.
3. Put fresh yeast in water, crumbling it into smaller pieces. Whisk and leave it for 5 minutes. In the meantime, in a big mixing bowl, crack and whisk 2 eggs. Add sugar and whisk more.
4. Put about one handful flour into yeast mixture and whisk well. Add this to eggs and continue whisking until smooth.
5. Little by little, add the remaining flour, whisking or mixing (by a spoon, by a spatula or by hand) at each step, until it comes together.
6. Flour your work surface generously. Put the dough on it and start kneading, until you have a soft and non-sticky dough. Feel free to add more flour while you are kneading if necessary (but add it little by little, not too much at a time). Put the dough back to the bowl, cover with a wet kitchen towel. Leave it in a warm part of your kitchen to double in size (takes about 45 minutes).
7. Uncover the dough when it is double in size.
8. Grease your tray / mould generously.
9. Flour your work surface again. Take a big ball (about a mandarin orange size) of dough and put on floured surface. Roll the dough as much as you can, without tearing and adding a little flour on its surface. The thickness of rolled dough should be maximum 2 mm.
10. Brush the surface of rolled dough with olive oil. I am not giving any specific amount of olive oil for this. Just brush the entire surface but with a thin layer of oil. Spread filling on top of oiled dough. Roll the dough not too tight but not too loose either. Make a spiral shape and put in the middle of your mould. (If you are making the sweet version, you are not going to put any olive oil on the rolled dough. Just spread the filling.)
11. Continue doing the same with rest of the dough, adding each rolled dough piece to the end of the previous piece. When all is done, cover with a wet towel and leave for final proofing. In the meantime, preheat the oven to 190C. You can leave the dough for final proofing until the oven is warm enough.
12. When the oven is ready, prepare the pastry for baking: cut the pieces as big as you like.
13. Brush the surface of the dough with egg yolk. Bake the pastry in medium rack of the oven for 35-40 minutes, until the surface has nicely browned and the dough is soft and well baked. When it’s out of the oven, let the pastry cool down for about 15-20 minutes at least before you serve. The pastry is very delicious when it is very fresh, but it is also very tasty the next day as well (I actually prefer it the next day or at least after a few hours, when the flavours are much further developed). Enjoy!