Russian-style Pear Cheesecake

Pear Cheesecake

When you have pears hard as wood and two packages of Russian tvorog, you just go and make an improvised cheesecake. It turned out to be quite Russian, I should say, because tvorog is pretty grainy compared to the much softer cream cheese. Anyway, here’s a more or less accurate reconstruction of that improvised Russian-style cheesecake with pears:

Pear Cheesecake

1 year ago – Deli Bread with My Un-Favourite Ingredient

2 years ago – Dying Eggs for Easter the Natural Way

3 years ago – Apples and Oranges

4 years ago – Biscotti and On Soviet Food Stupidities

Russian-style Pear Cheesecake will make a soft but rich cheesecake with that very tvorog texture and flavour.

Ingredients:

for the base:

  • 90 g of butter, cold
  • 70 g of sugar, but actually to taste
  • about 180 g of flour
  • an egg
  • some cold water
  • a dash of nutmeg

for the cheesecake:

  • 500 g 5% fat tvorog (or a grainy type of farmer’s cheese)
  • 2 eggs
  • 100 g or more of sugar, to taste
  • 2 Tbs of cornstarch
  • a pinch of vanilla extract
  • 4-5 small pears or other fruit
  • some ground cardamom

Procedure:

First, make the base: mix flour with sugar and nutmeg, then cut in cold butter. I usually work in the butter with my hands after I precut it into pieces. Your mixture should resemble crumbs. Mix in the egg and add the water little by little so that you get a kneadable dough. Do not over-knead though. Cover the bowl and leave it in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, you can start making the filling. Rub the tvorog with the sugar, mix in the eggs one by one, add the cornstarch and the vanilla. Slice the pears in your preferred fashion (I leave the skins on and do not pay too much attention to the appearance).

Grease a round springform pan. Now take the pastry out of the fridge and roll it a bit bigger than the size of your baking pan / spread it in the pan with fingers (which I did). You should be able to make quite tall borders with this amount of pastry. Lay the pieces of pears all over the bottom, sprinkle with some cardamom. Then pour all the cheese mixture on top. Give it a nice shake to distribute the mixture evenly.

Bake at 160-170 ‘C for about an hour (check at 50 minutes). Leave to cool and then keep refrigerated. It will slice better after some time in the fridge.

Pear Cheesecake

Remarks: No need to buy unripe pears for this cake:) And I think any fruit will do as long as you like it! I didn’t add any sour cream (smetana) either which might have added a creamier taste to it. Also, be careful with the sugar – mine was a little bit too sweet!

Pear Cheesecake

Result: A chewy kind of cheesecake, if you know what I mean. It is more like the Russian zapekanka which is made with tvorog, eggs, sugar and a bit of flour.

After some time in the fridge, the slices were not falling apart that much and looked more ‘professional’. But I didn’t get a chance to take any pictures:)

Pear Cheesecake

This recipe goes to the Sweet and Russian collections.

G.

Spring and Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

Tsarskoye Selo in Spring

Spring and Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo (aka Pushkin) equal a very very enjoyable Sunday! Let’s dive into the Art Nouveau architecture straight away, by visiting one of the first modernist buildings in St Petersburg:

Tsarskoye Selo in Spring

It’s such a coincidence that the first building discussed in the book on Art Nouveau in St Petersburg I picked up today for reading would be this very dacha!

Tsarskoye Selo in Spring

According to the legend, Queen Victoria presented it to one of her relatives from the Russian royal family Grand Duke Boris Vladimirovich of Russia (grandson of Alexander II), who ordered it to be built in the very end of the 19th century by British architects. Hence the English-cottage style:

Tsarskoye Selo in Spring

The Soviets first gave it to Lunacharsky and then to the famous scientist Vavilov who had his study in this building. Since then it is still occupied by Vavilov Research Institute of Plant Industry. You can spot their greenhouses to the right:

Tsarskoye Selo in Spring

And thanks to them they also preserved the garden surrounding the dacha buildings. Not all them survived though. But the over-hundred-year-old cedars are alive!

Tsarskoye Selo in Spring

This building has become a film star thanks to becoming a filming location of the much loved Soviet Sherlock Holmes series back in 1980. It was filmed from the outside to make a perfect home for one of the characters in The Adventure of the Empty House. And from the inside it impersonated a hotel in Switzerland in The Adventure of the Final Problem :) And how amazing it is actually inside – oak furniture, doors and wall panels… Pity we couldn’t enter to see all that!

Tsarskoye Selo in Spring

The early spring decadence can only rival with that of autumn.

Tsarskoye Selo in Spring

The ivy is still dormant, there are a few flowers around and the sun graphically emphasizes the details. And Art Nouveau is in the details.

Tsarskoye Selo in Spring

This nearby building was less lucky. Just a few years ago the clock tower was still holding on but now it is pretty much threatening the passers by. This is the stables, actually.

Tsarskoye Selo in Spring

And this one is a later addition by the court architect, in the same style. It was supposed to house the duke’s guests along with one of the first cars in the country (and a chauffeur).

Tsarskoye Selo in Spring

This used to be an arch – for that very car to drive through:

Tsarskoye Selo in Spring

Details:

Tsarskoye Selo in Spring

And this one:

Tsarskoye Selo in Spring

Very decadent:

Tsarskoye Selo in Spring

And just for a change – the glorious gates to Catherine Palace:

Tsarskoye Selo in Spring

This post goes to my St Petersburg series.

G.

A Getaway to Veliky Novgorod

Novgorod

Veliky Novgorod, or Novgorod the Great, welcomed us with a cold and gloomy weather but the next day was it was sunny and even warm. A run across the bridge over lake Ilmen and along the tourist-less Kremlin walls was just what I needed!

Novgorod

You somehow miss such moments in St Petersburg – because it is rarely people-free, there are no REALLY old places and the overall feeling is that of a European city rather than one in Russia. And that’s why this getaway to Veliky Novgorod was like a breath of very fresh air to me. Couldn’t get back to senses for about a week afterwards!

Novgorod

You can see the Kremlin to the left of the photo above – with its red-brick walls and the bell towers. The Kremlin has been upgraded and rebuilt over the centuries but as it was not destroyed during the Tatar-Mongol yoke, it somehow represents that old Russia which most of the cities just lost.

Novgorod

This white wall was reconstructed there where the merchants would sell their goods, on the Merchants’ Side, opposite the Kremlin. The Ilmen lake and the Volkhov river provided the water way needed for the development of the trade.

Novgorod

Veliky Novgorod was rich and independent until Moscow took over. It traded with the Europe and the East. And it was a republic too!

Novgorod

The next day after we arrived I took a picture of the same place in much better weather circumstances. This bell tower is right in the middle of the Novgorod’s Kremlin:

Novgorod

Veliky Novgorod is the land of churches. Of all sizes and centuries. This tiny church is on the Kremlin’s territory too:

Novgorod

And I think I like it more than one of the oldest stone churches in Russia, St Sophia (11th century):

Novgorod

This one (on Ilyina Street, away from the Kremlin) is just like a rocket in a mist:) Although that was not exactly a mist but the smoke coming from some spring-cleaning in the nearby courtyard. We tried to bang on the door but no one would open, so we called the number indicated on the door and got inside to see some Theophanes the Greek‘s frescoes.

Novgorod

Opposite this church is this monastery. With wonderful architectural decorations. You can tell these were HAND-made. Unique!

Novgorod

And even random architectural forms in the courtyard of our hostel (which occupies a quite old building too) do remind you of a church:

Novgorod

Well, not to mention that some citizens of Novgorod the Great actually LIVE inside a church! This one is St Ilya on Slavna, transformed into a residential building in the wild atheist times:

Novgorod

Last time we were there in 2013 and there were cats looking out of the window. This time we were observed by a local instead. The building is just mind-boggling.

Novgorod

Nice combination of the rusty brick color with the grass.

Novgorod

Another example of architecture blending in with the nature (and vice versa):

Novgorod

Some Moscow-style architecture for a change, with a pink-colored church in the background:

Novgorod

Birds enjoying the spring sun:

Novgorod

Absolutely love those shapes, patterns and volumes:

Novgorod

Another rocket-like church, with a later addition visible to the left:

Novgorod

This is a church in Perynsky Hermitage. Similar windows with small circles and the inevitable signs of the civilization:)

Novgorod

The Perynsky Hermitage stands on the Ilmen lake, where we spent some time enjoying the pine forest and the first signs of the spring:

Novgorod

And this is a different type of Russian churches, but the one which persisted the most. This is Vitoslavlitsy, an open air museum with all those log houses and churches collected all over the region to make an entire village.

Novgorod

It might be quite touristy (especially during summer and various festivities) but I like it there.

Novgorod

You can enter almost all the residential buildings and see what’s inside.

Novgorod

The interior reconstructs mostly later centuries but still you can get a feeling:

Novgorod

This long stick is a proto-lamp:

Novgorod

The Russian stove which was the first thing to be constructed when a house was being built, the place for baking, cooking…

Novgorod

… sleeping (on top), washing (inside!), giving birth etc.

Novgorod

Nice:

Novgorod

The so called “red corner” – for the icon, the beautiful hand-woven and embroidered towel and a lamp. During the Soviet times this expression got a different meaning – the place for Soviet propaganda power in a building.

Novgorod

We didn’t have much time there but I could have stayed longer.

Novgorod

Very cozy. Although a traditional Russian isba (the word comes from istopit, to heat) would be heated po-chernomu, without a pipe letting the smoke outside of the building (hence the dark walls) – all this combined with small and low windows.

Novgorod

And the windows from the outside:

Novgorod

And some more churches before we leave Veliky Novgorod:

 

Novgorod

As you can see, I’m much more interested in their architectural forms than in what they represent:

Novgorod

For me they represent the history, the tradition and the people. And the connection to all of it through the centuries.

Novgorod

More of the rusty colors. Looking good in the sun. After just a couple of centuries:)

Novgorod

Those shapes!

Novgorod

The lace-like decoration of this church reminds me of a traditional hand-woven towel.

Novgorod

So white and decadent.

Novgorod

Hope I could give you an idea of a – well – real Russian city.

Novgorod

The weekend was great. Miss travelling and learning about my country!

Adding this post to the On Russia series.

G.

St Petersburg in March

Griboedova Canal, St Petersburg

I was just about to post these photos taken back in March to say goodbye to winter when we had a snow storm all of a sudden! I hope that this will not prevent the spring to take over…

Griboedova Canal, St Petersburg

I’m now reading Mikhail Prishvin‘s diary from 1930 and 1931 and he calls this first period of spring ‘the spring of light’. Look how light it is at 6 in the morning! I have a privilege to contemplate the sunrise from my 23rd floor every day:

Spring Light in St Petersburg

And then 12 hours later same day:

Spring Light in St Petersburg

The spring of light starts around February 20, I suppose, and by March 8 you can jog in the early morning and actually enjoy the first rays of sunshine. Now that the day is long you feel you can do more in one day: it’s a shame not to when the sun stays up so long!

Griboedova Canal, St Petersburg

Walking along the Griboyedova Canal makes you wonder why anyone might ever want to leave this city – it has everything! A special place on this planet indeed.

Griboedova Canal, St Petersburg

A few days before that walk in the spring sun, we went to a much needed and long-waited-for concert of the only Russian performer I actually love, Zemfira. The first time I went to her concert was 16 years ago and that was one of the strongest emotional experiences I ever got. Just love her music, her creativity, her voice, her talent. Love being part of the love that is exchanged between her and the people who love her. This shot was taken just before the concert – a warm evening and such a great concert!

Sunset

This post is a continuation to Spring in St Petersburg. The Beginning and it joins my St Petersburg series.

G.

Lebkuchen, German Gingerbread

Lebkuchen

I know it’s springtime but I was craving for something hearty, flavourful and full of spices, honey and zest… A Russian pryanik or kovrizhka might be a very good option but my choice fell on this German gingerbread recipe instead:

Lebkuchen

It reminded me of the Alsatian pain d’épices (or spice bread) which is usually sold in those huge bricks and is actually called Lebkuchen too.  It’s particularly popular during the Christmas season but as it is also a characteristic local treat, it’s sold all year round.

Lebkuchen

I’m dedicating this post to my – now – overseas friend Jana who I guess will appreciate this recipe! Janaki, you can try making this Lebkuchen to your new friends, I’m sure they’ll love it!

Lebkuchen

1 year ago – Discovering Cityscape with Cheese and Yogurt Biscuits

2 years ago – Darnitskiy Bread

3 years ago – Travelling Muffins and Wandering Bread

4 years ago – Pane al Cioccolato… Senza Cioccolato

Lebkuchen or German Gingerbread adapted from www.kingarthurflour.com will make dense, brandy-flavoured gingerbread with cracking icing and bits of orange peel! Go to the original website (which I love dearly) for the entire recipe.

My changes and remarks:

Did not use lemon oil and orange oil but lemon and orange zest instead; forgot about almonds completely (but the batter was super thick without them already); used cardamom instead of cloves; omitted crystallized ginger. I also made less glaze for which I used brandy.

Lebkuchen

Remarks: The brandy glaze adds even more flavour to this gingerbread although it makes them less children-friendly. I didn’t make my glaze super thick, I think there was already enough sugar in this recipe. Love the bits of the orange zest – would really suggest to use (larger) peel instead of finely grated zest. I forgot about the nuts but if you manage to incorporate them in this super thick batter, go for it!

Lebkuchen

Result: These fragrant and spicy squares are such a délice! The cracking sugar icing, the chewy and dense ‘body’, the flavours! No need to wait for the festive season:)

Lebkuchen

Adding this post to Country-specific and Sweet recipe collections.

G.

Improvising with Sourdough Bread or Being Lazy?

Improvising with Sourdough Bread

I’ve grown lazy enough these days to start baking without a recipe. This concerns both bread and sweet things. Not all of my free-baking experiments are successful but I guess I get some extra pleasure from those which do happen to be successful. And there’s always this risky feeling of experimenting which I do enjoy!

Improvising with Sourdough Bread

So what I do is feed my rye sourdough culture with rye flour + water and then after an overnight rest I divide it and use the larger amount for the rye bread and a smaller for white bread. Sometimes if I just need some white bread, I feed the culture with white flour.

Improvising with Sourdough Bread

Thanks to the now mature sourdough culture (been using it since 2011) I usually do no add any yeast, but this time I wanted a more ‘fluffy’ result with my white bread, so I added a bit of instant yeast to the dough. I also tend to overload my bread with seeds and bran, so sometimes it all results in quite a dense and moist crumb, just like this time when I also added rye malt:

Improvising with Sourdough Bread

Oh, breaking this just-out-of-the-oven bread is so very tantalizing!

Improvising with Sourdough Bread

Of course the rye version which I make with rye flour + all-purpose / whole-wheat flour does not rise as much in the oven – although it does rise a lot before baking, as this rye flour is so very reactive!

Improvising with Sourdough Bread

If you’re looking for a perfect sourdough bread recipe, it doesn’t exist. I mean, you should probably just figure it our for yourself. I ‘created’ mine out of Darnitsky bread recipe which I’ve been using for quite a long time already.

Improvising with Sourdough Bread

For me, the best formula is to take several tablespoons of sourdough culture from the fridge, feed it with about 200 g of water and 200 of rye flour, then leave it overnight. At this point you can either split it for two breads or make one large loaf. Then I add about 200 g of water, 200 g or more of rye flour, more or less the same amount of white flour, salt, various extras like wheat, oat or rye bran, coriander, sunflower, pumpkin or flax seeds, oatmeal, rye malt, sometimes honey etc. I try to achieve a sort of thickish dough so that it will keep the shape, if it’s going to be rye bread it will be sticky but you should be able to fold it and almost knead it. I then leave it covered for more than an hour, sometimes I make several folds and leave it for some more time to rest (rise). I then flour a glass bowl, shape the bread into a round loaf, flour it and place it in the bowl. Alternatively, I make rolls if I see that the dough (usually with more white flour than rye) is quite easy to shape. I leave it to rise for yet another hour covered and preheat the oven to 225 ‘C with a pan on the bottom (for steam) and a reversed tray in the middle (it acts as a baking stone for me). I then reverse the loaf onto a baking mat / paper, make several slashes and slide it onto the hot tray. I pour some water into the pan on the bottom to create steam (not much so that it evaporates and I don’t need to take the pan out during the baking). I usually do not change the temperature but if I see that the loaf is browning too much, I might decrease the temperature or move it to a lower rack. The baking takes from 25-30 minutes (for the rolls) to 45-50 for the loaf.

Improvising with Sourdough Bread

This might not sound as a very precise formula but then this is what I call experimenting with the sourdough! You never know even with a perfect recipe whether your bread will come out right or not, because this living thing called sourdough culture can have its moods:)

Improvising with Sourdough Bread

What’s your personal sourdough bread formula?

Adding this post to Sourdough bread collection.

G.

Birthday Brownie Muffins

Brownie Muffins

Made these brownie muffins for a birthday party of my very good friend: combining the taste expectations (brownie) with the easy and handy shape (muffins) + some paper cases and party decorations made this recipe a success!

Brownie Muffins

1 year ago – Concert in Rotunda and Country Applesauce Muffins

2 years ago – Darnitskiy Bread

3 years ago – Travelling Muffins and Wandering Bread

4 years ago – Crackers + Pesto

Brownie Muffins adapted from www.mrbreakfast.com will make super rich, thick and chocolaty muffins. Click on the link to get the entire recipe.

My changes to the original recipe:

Used a chocolate bar instead of chocolate chips, did not add any walnuts or pecans. I also doubled the recipe.

Brownie Muffins

Remarks: The muffins rose fine but cracked on the top. Use good quality cocoa and chocolate for these – because you do want your muffins to be as much brownie as possible ;)  Also, the very first bite of every muffin will be the chocolate bits which you are supposed to add to the top – so make sure you will enjoy it!

Result: Rich, chewy and really brownie-like muffins. Might try these again – now with nuts, as in the original recipe.

Brownie Muffins
This post goes to the Sweet and Chocolate recipe collections.

G.

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