I’m currently reading a culinary dictionary and listening (downloaded an audiobook!) to a very thorough and helpful in a way cookery book (The Secrets of Good Cooking) both by William Pohlyobkin (1923-2000), actually a Soviet historian who – with such a surname there’s no other way! in Russian it means a ‘broth’ – got so involved with cooking, the history of cooking and its rules and principles that all this interest resulted in quite a number of books in the 60-90s (note his A History of Vodka translated into English; for Russian version use this site). Not all that he wrote is relevant now, that’s for sure, but most of what he wrote sounds so true and right that you somehow listen, follow and respect.
But what kills me in Soviet culinary books is the way the recipes are presented. You ought to be culinary pro sometimes in order to realize some quite easy recipes – such is the degree of how brief the instructions are! E.g. a seemingly innocent phrase ‘use as much flour as the dough will take’ can leave you without the stock of all-purpose flour and even cornmeal and make you run outdoors to get more (which happened when I was making ‘baranki’ – a kind of baked bagels – following a similar Soviet recipe)! But a truly post-Soviet girl won’t give up facing such recipes, of course. So I headed courageously for an experiment – cook at least some things that I bookmarked in these 2 books, especially those from the cuisines of the ex-USSR republics and certainly from the Russian traditional cuisine.
There’s even St Petersburg cuisine as I found out – but the things those crazy XIXth century gourmets created, being definitely affected by some 364 days of no sun and mostly clouds characteristic of my city, are so far-fetched and artificial that even their names are to be laughed at =) How’s that : ‘obertoukh’ – a word specially made up to imitate a German one – is a pie made out of ‘blini’ (crepes) with a hole in the centre (while there’s a similar traditional dish called ‘blinnitsa’); ‘oblako’ (cloud) is a desert made from 10 egg whites and berries… but, well, we’re not talking here about reckless things, but about stable Soviet recipes, haha. Let’s look at one of them:
Sochni – there’s apparently no correspondent name in English – is a traditional Russian yeast kind of pie. There’s a sweet (originates from Archangelsk, a city in the North) and a savoury version (from Yaroslavl, more to the South, using fish, spring onion and eggs for the filling) – I chose the more familiar one, the sweet, which you can still buy from a local supermarket or a bakery, though in a more compact size. Page 169 of the Culinary Dictionary A to Z reads (in my humble translation; see my comments in brackets, we’ll read between the lines! ):
Sochni of Archangelsk (adapted from a taciturn recipe in ‘O koulinarii ot A do Ya‘ by W. Pohlyobkin, 1985)
100 g rye flour (North of Russia is famous for its mmmm great pies using rye flour)
300 g wheat flour (I used all-purpose, you hardly find any other kind of wheat flour here)
½ of a glass (of a famous multifunctional Soviet table-glass responsible for all measurements; contains 250 g of water or vodka – see this witty site about it and other Russian symbols at http://www.wowrussia.com/) of milk (I heated it gently)
50-75 g butter or even 100 (I tend to decrease the amount of fats in my coking, so I hardly used 50)
1 tsp salt
30 g yeast (fresh yeast, of course, there was no other kind of it in USSR, so I had to buy some for this recipe too and guess where it’s produced? In Sweden! Gosh!)
Place rolled out dough…
(yes, you’re already supposed to create dough somehow, I’ll tell you how I did it: I dissolved the yeast in the lukewarm milk, poured it into the well in the flours and salt mixture, then added 1 egg and 50 g softened butter, kneaded it, got this soft and silky ball of dough and rolled it out to some 30*35 cm, cause I thought that would be alright)
…on a buttered tray into the oven…
(I preheated my oven to 175 C without fan. Usually there’s no determined C or F degrees in Soviet culinary books, which is explained by the primitive ovens without showing temperature scale but just some marks, ‘gas marks’ (e.g. 6 for 180 C) appeared later on)
…leave to brown a bit…
(‘podroumyanit’ in Russian, a tricky word, the result fluctuates according to what is ‘slightly brown’ to you, for me it took 12 minutes, but judging from the photo I should have left it for some minutes more)
…then brush with a layer of cottage cheese paste…
(cottage cheese or ‘tvorog’ being a common Russian food, with different fat percentage though, but who cares)
…made from thoroughly squeezed homemade cottage cheese (I took 200 g of no-fat cottage cheese), eggs (I took 1) and sour cream (I used 1/3 of a CUP), seasoned with salt (less than a pinch) and sugar (I used half of a cup). Brush the topping with butter…
(that was tricky cause my cottage cheese was more like cream cheese,
of course I skipped squeezing it not to mention making my own. I somehow managed to spill some melted butter on top of it though)
…leave to brown a bit in the oven…
(again that ambiguous browning! Well, this time it took mine 15 min)
…then quickly fold the ‘sochen’ in two…
(guess if that was tricky too! My sochen nearly broke in two, although not completely)
…brush with butter, slightly powder with flour and put it again into the oven to bake (10 min). You’ll use no less than 50 g of butter for brushing (almost so).
Pohlyobkin also adds that sochni were different from other Russian pies in the way that their borders were not pinched and the yeast dough was not left to rise and immediately baked. The filling is supposed to ‘freeze’ in such a way in the oven that you will be able to fold the sochen without breaking it or moving the filling.
Well… I nearly succeeded. My sochen came out huge like a pig, broken, with sizzling tvorog filling but definitely delicious – especially the dough without a distinct rye flavour but at the same time rich and tasty. Next time I would of course roll the dough more finely and make 4 or even 6 individual pies from it, leaving it to ‘brown’ in the oven longer than 12 min (first ‘browning’) and rather using something like ricotta for the filling. The dough is really great, you can use it for buns or pies, mmm, delicious!
The second thing I already tried from the two books was the recipe of the oatmeal cookies (noted as ‘European’ by the author but pictured here with a traditional Russian wooden spoon that just caught my attention) from page 129 (as a true linguist I’m reading the dictionaries from the end), but they turned out quite sour, definitely asking for more sugar than 50 g or perhaps adding raisins. The dough wouldn’t roll nor be cut out with cookie cutters even after more than 30 min in the fridge, so I baked them as they were, forming some into balls. The temperature instructions were again very ‘reserved’ – bake at medium even heat till light brown colour. If you want to try this recipe, I will surely give it to you.
Sorry for an avalanche of brackets, but I promised to read between the lines =) Ι do recommend (malgré tout) this Soviet recipe of a traditional Russian dish, which is quite feasible even for those not familiar with Soviet recipes.
Coming soon with more recipes – there are loads of them waiting in the line (characteristic sign of a Soviet society, queuing for almost everything was a rule). As my baking happens nearly on an every day basis, there are truly loads of them, but I will share with you only the most interesting of them.
Will come back really soon, today!