What is ballokume?
Ballokume or ballokume elbasani is one of the most authentic Albanian pastries, an essential tradition of the city of Elbasan and a symbol of the summer festival, Dita e Veres; it is also called the summer cake.
Dita e Veres
On the 14th of March in Albania, summer day is celebrated, says Veres, and there is no stronger symbol than the ballokum to mark this day.
Why do we call it the day of summer when in fact it is Spring Festival? Because the Illyrian/Albanian solar calendar consisted of only two seasons, summer and winter, and the seasons started at the March equinox for the summer and in September for the winter, reaching the mid-season at the solstices of June and December, during the festivities of Mesvera (mid-summer) and Mesdimri (mid-winter).
Since ancient times, this festival has always been celebrated in Elbasan, a city located in the center of the country, but also throughout Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia and all Albanians around the world.
Dita e veres, the first day of summer, is the feast of the rebirth of nature, of the soul. This is one of the few popular pagan celebrations.
The Renaissance, in ancient times, symbolized goodness and joy. The anniversary has medieval roots and refers to the mythology of Homer’s works. It is a pagan festival, born at the time when people prayed to the gods and nature.
According to the Julian calendar, the solar calendar used in ancient Rome, March was the first month of the year and March 14, the first day of the year, marking the end of winter and the arrival of spring, blossoming flowers, the rebirth of nature.
Even though summer is celebrated throughout Albania, the star of this festival is still Elbasan, the city of flowers and love. Dita e Verës is dedicated to nature and fertility and represents the awakening and regeneration of creation. The relationship between man and nature is central to this celebration.
The celebration of the Albanian summer originates in the province of Cermenica. Several centuries ago, during the ancient Illyrian period, there was in this province the temple of Diana of the Kandavas, goddess of fertility, forestry and hunting.
Every year, after the cold winter and the arrival of the warm spring season, the inhabitants of Kandavia, the ancient province of Cermenica, devote a feast to their goddess.
The most typical dessert of this day is therefore the ballokume but also, with less importance than the ballokume, the revani, which is similar to basbousa.
What is the origin of the word ballokume?
Let’s go to Sandjak, an administrative division of the former Ottoman Empire. Sandjak means “standard” or “banner”. In the Ottoman Empire, there were many clan leaders, Turkish, Persian, Albanian, or North African and they were called bey.
The sandjak-bey, sanjaq-bey or beg meaning the “lord of the banner” was the title given in the Ottoman Empire to a bey. He was a senior officer appointed to the military and administrative command of a district.
At the end of the 16th century, the Sandjak-bey of Elbasan, the Sanxhakbeu, after having tasted a small cake made from corn flour cooked in a wood fire, exclaimed: “është ba si llokume!” (“it’s as good as a lokum“).
And so, by contracting a few words from Bey’s sentence, the name ballokume became the “official” name of this traditional Elbasan dessert.
Ballokume in Elbasan
National Summer Day has a family and traditional atmosphere in which parents, children and families celebrate together. On this day, Albanians welcome a long and happy life.
But it is by far the city of Elbasan that is at the heart of the festivities of this summer day and has kept all the ancient traditions starting with the preparation mode.
Although ballokume preparation is a ritual throughout the country, Elbasan ballokume is said to be different and to have “a little something more” because Elbasan introduces one more element into the recipe: love.
Elbasan says it is also the feast of love. Love for man, love for life, and love for nature.
There is a tradition in Elbasan. That of introducing the water of ashes of a fire of wood in the preparation of the ballokume. The water is, of course, filtered through a cheesecloth. In the absence of ash water, the elbasani then includes milk instead.
The celebrations of this summer festival of March 14 begin on the evening of March 13 with a fire and it is the ashes of this fire that are used to prepare the ballokume.
In the pure tradition of Elbasan, the ballokume must be baked over a wood fire, just like traditional pizza.
The housewives of Elbasan explain that the ballokume must imperatively be prepared in a copper container.
In this copper container, the ingredients should be put in the correct order by beating them with a wooden spoon. First, melted butter, then sugar, eggs one by one, corn flour and finally this famous ash water. At first, the butter melts with the sugar until it is well dissolved, then the eggs are incorporated. The flour is added gradually until the 3 ingredients are well mixed.
The dough must be kneaded vigorously, which is why the men of the house are often involved in the ballokume preparation.
Follow this authentic ballokume recipe in the pure tradition of Elbasan housewives, a pure treat for your taste buds!
Ballokume is a traditional Albanian biscuit from the city of Elbasan, prepared from cornmeal, eggs, sugar, and butter and traditionally eaten on March 14th during Dita e Verës (Summer day).
- 2 cups melted butter (warm)
- 2 ½ cups caster sugar
- 8 eggs
- 2 tablespoons water of ashes (or 2 tablespoons of milk)
- 6 cups cornmeal
- Pour 1 tablespoon of ashes from a wood fire into a bowl. Add 3 tablespoons of water and stir well. Let stand and steep for 30 minutes, then strain through a cheesecloth.
- In the absence of ashes, milk can be used.
- In a large copper container, add the melted butter.
- Add the sugar and mix well for 3 minutes with a wooden spoon until you obtain a foamy mixture.
- Then add the eggs one by one while continuing to beat for 10 minutes.
Add 2 tablespoons of water of ashes (or 2 tablespoons of milk) and beat again for 5 minutes.
- Finally, add the flour gradually and mix all the ingredients until obtaining a very homogeneous dough.
- If the mixture appears liquid, add 1 or 2 spoonfuls of all-purpose flour and mix well.
- Cover the dough and let it sit at room temperature for 20 minutes.
Preheat an electric, gas oven or wood oven to 350 F (170 C),
- Form small 2 oz. balls and place them, spaced well on a baking sheet, greased or lined with parchment paper.
- Flatten each ball slightly after shaping them
- Bake for 40 minutes.
- When out of the oven, wait 20 minutes before placing the ballokume on a rack to allow them to cool completely.
- Store them in an airtight metal box.