architecture · no recipe · on USSR / Russia · travel

Delinquent in Smolensk, A City on the Border

Smolensk

A super slow train took me to Smolensk overnight and well into the next day. The day was not a particularly fine one in terms of weather. But that of course was not the reason why I was delinquent in Smolensk. Let me keep the suspense for a little bit more till we get to that point while travelling across the city. For some time now I have been meaning to visit this city on the border with Belarus, one of the oldest in Russia and constantly popping up here and there in the tormented Russian history. First mentioned in the chronicles in the year of 863, it did not preserve much since that time, as you can imagine.

Smolensk

However, Smolensk does have a certain frontier atmosphere, testifying of all the various influences it has experienced throughout the years (Lithuania, Poland…). Its position on the Dnieper river, an important waterway of the trade route from the Varangians to the Greeks, has brought wealth and fame but also attracted too much attention from those who craved to get hold of both.

Smolensk

The first sight you catch when you arrive (not counting the railway station itself) are the two oldest churches of the city, Peter and Paul (12th century! on the left in the photo above and below) and St Barbara (16th; to the right), standing almost side by side and pretty far off the center and the walls of the fortress surrounding it. Just like Novgorod the Great, the Tatar-Mongol yoke did not destroy Smolensk (although Napoleon and Hitler were more successful) and so it boasts some of those pre-Mongol churches hardly to be found anywhere else in Russia.

Smolensk
After a short pause at a very Spartan motel (see below) I put my hat on together with the hood to make it across the Dnieper river. Dnieper has always been in my mind going side by side Ukraine and Kiev in particular. But then some Russians are not sure if Smolensk is in their city either… So, to cut this long story short, Dnieper takes its source in the Smolensk region and then flows across Belarus and Ukraine into the Black Sea. And here it is in its very beginning:

Smolensk

Just noticed the crazy bushes along the Dnieper river embankment that recklessly decide to blossom in snowy hazy November. And here’s a part of the renovated fortification wall that used to surround a really vast chunk of the city. I took this wall as a guideline for my itinerary throughout Smolensk and so followed it from the North clockwise.

Smolensk

The walls were constructed by the same architect who created those of the so called White Town in Moscow earlier in the 16th century. Only this time Fedor Kon’ thought bigger and taller, with much more towers, thus creating a real fortress around the town (which it really is compared to smaller Moscow Kremlin)

Smolensk

And here’s the weirdest part of the north wall – the classicist Dnieper Gates flanked by two bell towers on both sides, literally growing from the 16th century wall. The gates now house a church school.

Smolensk

It looks like this from the other side:

Smolensk

Following the northern wall clockwise I came to this hilly part of Smolensk looking pretty much like a village, with a typical rural shop where you can normally find almost everything you need.

Smolensk

Smolensk Village

Smolensk

View over the Sobornaya Gorka, a hill with the Assumption Cathedral. Right underneath me was a man lying apparently breathless and / or drunk beyond repair. On a deserted street below a couple was waiting for the emergency car to come. I didn’t see what happened next.

Smolensk

Out of 38 original towers only 17 have survived; this one is in the South-East part of the wall:

Smolensk

And here you can illegally climb the ruined stairs and get a view over both sides of the wall – illegally, too. But no one cares.

Smolensk

Avraamiev Monastery (founded in early 13th century, rebuilt in stone in the 18th)

Smolensk

Moving further – Nikolskaya tower

Smolensk

With a drive-through arch:

Smolensk

And a gorgeously Soviet store selling sports goods and clothes. By the time they realized it was time to renew the shop window design, it has suddenly come back into fashion again (the black & white posters are there for a very very long time):

Smolensk

Some Stalinist architecture, ship-shape:

Smolensk

A door leading into a 1930s Gosbank (State Bank) building – still used as a bank premises:

Smolensk

One of the most recognizable buildings in Smolensk – the 1930s constructivist ‘House with Lions’ as it is known here. What a combination! A lady waited patiently while I was taking this photo and then entered – too fast for me to follow in her steps and see what Smolensk avantgarde looks like.

Smolensk

Moving along a rather long Kommunisticheskaya (Communist) Street, which changed names at least 6 times across the centuries, including Bolshaya Dvoryanskaya (Nobleman) vs Bolshaya Proletarskaya (Proletarian), Sotsialisticheskaya (Socialist) and Stalina (Stalin). That street was not the lucky one for me – as we will see later. This is a local arts school in a neo-Russian style red brick building:

Smolensk

An early 17th century Gromovaya (Thunder) Tower and a monument to Fedor Kon’, the architect.

Smolensk

Moving further along the South-Western wall:

Smolensk

And looking back:

Smolensk

When I realized I’d seen most of the sights located in the center, I decided to move back and explore the old merchant mansions along Bolshaya Sovetskaya. Little did I know that after passing along this Fine Arts Museum on the same Kommunisticheskaya street I would get too distracted by a Stalinist building on the right and a neo-Russian on the left plus a 16th century wall lurking somewhere over there that I would nonchalantly cross the street where it was not supposed to and… bump into a policeman. So here we go, my first fine and about 20 minutes of the precious daylight wasted while another policeman was taking down my name etc and telling me stories about St Petersburg – veeeery slowly. No, they were not impressed that I was a tourist from another city and the fact that it was a state holiday did not make them drop the whole thing either. Delinquent!

Smolensk

Did you know that if you pay your fine within a short period in Russia (and you can make it online too) you only pay 50% of it? Well, I did 🙂

Smolensk

The 17-18th century Assumption Cathedral, all gold inside. My last shot in Smolensk after which I crossed Dnieper once again to the railway station district to wait for my late night train that would take me across the border to Belarus. I didn’t manage to sample anything particularly remarkable in Smolensk (only gobbled down something quite similar to panforte – but it was imported from Minsk), nor did I get any postcards. No local market either. Hm, seems like Smolensk did not pass my test! Or was it just the weather with wind and snow right into my face?

Not recommended in Smolensk: The city has a very scarce selection of accommodation options. So much so that you either end up in an overpriced ‘euro-standard’ hotel or in a very dilapidated motel-like place (which I did). Unless you have your train to catch the same night (and IN the night too), do not choose Mini-Hotel na Avtovokzale. It is very convenient for those travelling by train or bus but definitely to be avoided if you care about your own self.

This post goes to my Travel series.

G.

architecture · no recipe · on USSR / Russia · St Petersburg · travel

Autumn and Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

Autumn and Art Nouveau go really well together. And where else would they go perfectly well together than in Tsarskoye Selo, an aristocratic suburb of St Petersburg. I love visiting it in autumn when the ex-royal residence is wearing its gorgeous multicolour veil. This time though we decided (ok-ok, I persuasively suggested it) to go on an Art Nouveau quest around the town. The number of Art Nouveau places is limited but thanks to the overall status of Tsarskoye Selo as a ‘country’ residence, they are mostly separate cottages / dachas. The first spot we visited was the dacha (summer cottage) of the grand duke Boris Vladimirovich of Russia , now the premises of the Research Institute of Horticulture. Built in 1896-1897 – supposedly by two English architects – it is considered to be one of the first Art Nouveau places in St Petersburg.

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

Since the last time we were there in spring 2017 (seems like years ago), they’ve surrounded the whole area with a fence and also started renovation in one of the buildings which used to serve as a stable (also built in 1896-1897). Also, the little clock tower which used to decorate this house is gone…

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

I do hope they will be careful with what is left from the original interior details (if any) – in this case you never know if the renovation is beneficial or on the contrary fatal for the building. The nearby second (reserve) home with a garage (one of the first garages for automobiles in Russia, built in 1899), slowly but steadily dying from the mold and disuse, represents a very sad picture from the inside:

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

Wonderfully decadent from the outside – if only there was a way to stop the building from decaying:

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

I don’t know the plans for the garage, but I hope they do something about it pretty soon as the roof is falling in:

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

An un-standardized door:

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

An un-standardized window:

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

The previous times I was there I didn’t pay much attention to the fountain erroneously thinking it was a later addition. probably thanks to the fact the dacha is somewhat off the main road and the fountain is almost in the ‘woods’, it survived till today – and who knows, maybe even its mechanism is still working?

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

Another thing which I didn’t explore earlier was this hobbit-like pavilion near the greenhouses (not sure if these are the original ones) – also built in the Art Nouveau style and now full of junk.

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

The entire pavilion seems to be growing out of the ground, merging with the garden. It has obviously sank over the last century which only gives it a more ‘natural’ look. If only it was also kept in a better condition…

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

Our next Art Nouveau stop was the ex-store of the Guards Economic Society, built already in the late Art Nouveau period when in St Petersburg they were mostly moving towards the retrospective styles (1911-1914). But the ‘province’ (although Tsarskoye Selo is very close to the city) is a different thing.

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

They say the building continued to be used as a shop even in the Soviet period but now it’s hard to say what’s there. There are security cameras and yet half of the building seems to be abandoned.
Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

Apart from the decadent stone staircases…

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

with trees growing through them, …

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

and original glass in the windows,…

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

there is also a pavilion in the same pseudo-English style nearby (as well as two other pavilions of an uncertain function):

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

I wish I could visit that shop when it was just open. Or even now, to see what’s hiding inside behind those large windows – and also what’s up there in the pinnacle? What’s inside the small pavilion is better not seen 😦

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

The third stop was the mansion of count Gudovich (built in 1901-03), now a kindergarten, situated just outside the Catherine Park.

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

You cannot go close to the building as the schools and places like this are now mostly fenced in (we had plans to get hired as cleaning ladies to get inside 🙂 so we just wandered around peeping through the fence. Must feel like a sort of Hogwarts to the kids!

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

One of the details that catch your eye is the grate and the gates designed by Art Nouveau guru Robert Metlzer. The grate reminds me of the Northern Modern style that was a very popular movement within Art Nouveau. It brought into the architecture all those Scandinavian fairy-tale elements that make you think of fortresses, ammunition and creatures that turn into stone.

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

The gates are still operating:

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

There are also street lights but sadly no bulbs:

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

The forth stop was connected to the first automobiles in the Russian empire – though now it has more to do with the agriculture of the Leningrad (St Petersburg) region as it houses some of the departments of the local Institute of Agriculture. The garages were built in 1906-1907 to house 2 new Delaunay-Belleville cars bought for the emperor.

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

When we saw this bas-relief we couldn’t decide whether that was a car or a tractor – such is the aura of the place now 🙂 But it actually depicts the introduction of the first cars in Russia. And here is the garage:

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

Now students sit in there listening to their lecturers. What a transformation for a garage!

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

The building in the background is the one with the bas-relief.

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

A pavilion nearby was built later and has a glass roof for more light. I guess they use it to house some specimens of agricultural machinery:

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

Faded colors of autumn:

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

Natural decadence:

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

Beautiful door of the nearby dacha of Alexander Pushkin:

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

The day was really nice so I decided to leave the architecture for a while and go enjoy some nature. The Alexander park (a free-entrance counterpart of the more popular and more regular Catherine park) was surprisingly green for late September and although the sun was already setting down, I enjoyed my walk along the alleys up to those corners that you normally miss out.

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

Although this is a landscape park and so it’s not exactly all nature… But the combination of the natural beauty with the tricks of the architect makes you love it no less.

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

A lamppost next to the ruins of the Chinese Theater:

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

One of the bridges bears the name of the factory that produced it – the famous one that is also responsible for major metal constructions found here and there in St Petersburg, the San-Galli Factory:

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

Since the summer started a month later than it was supposed to, the autumn also arrived late(r) this year. The autumnal hues were just beginning to make their appearance:

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

Four friends:

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

On my way back:

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

The golden evening light of September…

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

…made the Catherine Palace less pompous and a bit warmer:

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

While it made the gold look even gold-er 🙂

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

Baroque palace meets civilization:

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

And as my final stop, I entered the 1860s Lutheran church with its rows of white benches and a boy changing the plates with the numbers of verses to be read next day. I came just after the organ concert finished. The church originally opened for the German instructors working at the nearby Lyceum (where Pushkin studied) and had services also in Finnish and Estonian languages up until 1931. Then it acted as the premises for a factory, gestapo and a driving school. Miraculously, it didn’t suffer much destruction through all that.

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

More pictures of autumnal Tsarskoye Selo are here in my last year’s post.

Adding this post to the Environs section of the St Petersburg collection.

G.

no recipe · on USSR / Russia · St Petersburg

Dacha: From Summer to Autumn

Dacha

Our dacha in St Petersburg region (aka Leningrad region) is one of those places for me, a city dweller, where I can get closer to the nature or at least follow the seasons that are much more distinct here than in St Petersburg. It’s a pity our dacha is a classical summer cottage type and we perform our dacha activities from somewhere in late April until early November, so I have never actually seen it in winter. But the transformation that the nature undergoes moving from summer to autumn for me always starts at our dacha – you can feel it in the air, in the light and even in the soil. In this post I would like to share with you just a glance of this transformation. Let’s start with…

Dacha

Early July – this year it resembled early June as the nature was one month behind the ‘schedule’ (now it seems to have gone one month ahead). I was burning old leaves leftover from last year, cleaning our plot from the many useless things that normally constitute the ‘wealth’ of most old-school dachas.

Dacha

Everything was very June-like green and very slow. Apart from the grass (read: moss) and the puddles – both grew pretty fast this summer.

Dacha

Late July – the beginning of the end of summer, supposed to be the best days in terms of weather with the peak warmth. This July as I said was rather like June which means we were not that spoiled with sun but rather overloaded with rain.

Dacha

I just adore that evening light…

Dacha

In late July we finally reached that point where you get used to the summer and lose track of days (although this summer it was much easier to count sunny days than the rainy ones). This is the period that is hard to be defined as you just live through it, day by day.

Dacha

Long days are nice when there’s sun – and in St Petersburg and its region we have the famous white nights – but with the interminable rain from dusk to dawn you don’t know what to do being stuck inside. One of the possible pastimes is baking potatoes 🙂

Dacha

September – warm colours of early autumn, cozy time in jeans & sweater, a short Indian summer with a bit more sun that we did not get enough of during the actual summer.

Dacha

The setting sun is the most magical:

Dacha

I started this summer wearing this old 90s sweater and I finished our dacha period in it as well.

Dacha

Some warm yellow after the rain:

Dacha

Dacha

The soil was so wet this summer that we harvested some Lactarius mushrooms that popped up here and there. I will also make a separate post on our mushroom and berry picking in the forests of the St Petersburg region.

Dacha

This beard looks and feels pretty weird 🙂 The mushroom grows its beard when it gets old.

Dacha

The fluffy Astilbe:

Dacha

Astilbe in the backlight:

Dacha

Our apple trees follow their own schedule – they give fruit every second year. And with every new second year they do it more and more assiduously, giving us more apples that we can possibly process ourselves. This year only the most broken tree with almost no roots (it fell down under the weight of 200 kilos of apples once) miraculously gave a couple of sweet apples (the much-suffering trunk of the tree is pictured in the 1st photo of this post).

Dacha

October – gathering fallen leaves and getting warm through that; everything gets transparent and you can suddenly see much farther; cold graphics of autumn; nature becomes distant as if hiding from you and slipping through your fingers.

Dacha in Autumn

I think I’ve broken every record in gathering fallen leaves this autumn. My back says I’ve been a bit too zealous…

Dacha in Autumn

And yet I have my favourite leaves in autumn – the super-multi-coloured leaves of chockeberry tree (haha, what a name in English – but in fact pretty exact!). My Granddad used to make a sort of extra-tart wine from these berries – it leaves such an aftertaste in your mouth you can hardly get rid of.

Dacha in Autumn

G.

architecture · no recipe · on USSR / Russia · St Petersburg

A Snapshot of Golden Autumn in St Petersburg

St Petersburg in Autumn

With the first snow 2 days ago and the general turn to a rather winter-like weather, I’m gradually fallen into a sort of seasonal snooze. Before I get all sleepy and lazy, here’s a snapshot of what St Petersburg is like these days, these golden autumn and post-golden autumn days of September and October.

Golden Autumn in St Pete

I will not bombard you with those lusciously coloured trees in the parks of the city (you can easily google that) but rather try to render that delicate (sophisticated? aristocratic? cold – for sure!) look and feel that St Petersburg adopts somewhere in late September.

Golden Autumn in St Pete

(by the way, see above the Palace bridge from which I took my recent photos of the Neva river view)

St Petersburg’s been pretty generous on various sunsets and sky views this autumn:

Golden Autumn in St Pete

(pictured is the golden dome of the St Isaac’s Cathedral from where you can get a very fine view of the city)

The sun makes such a difference – even when it just lights up the spire of the Peter and Paul’s Cathedral against the ominously dark cloud (the contrast was much more impressive than what you get on this photo – and the colour of Neva waters was almost identical to that of the clouds):

Golden Autumn in St Pete

Steel-coloured sky of St Petersburg (Moika river next to the Palace Square)

Golden Autumn in St Pete

My first alma mater and ex-building of 12 ministries of Peter the Great with a long-long corridor:

Golden Autumn in St Pete

Find 10 differences in the light between this photo (taken at 9.55 am)…

Golden Autumn in St Pete

and 9.56 am:

Golden Autumn in St Pete

A general view of the place I pass by almost every morning (on Vasilyevsky island):

Golden Autumn in St Pete

In the park near the Admiralty (the very center of the city), a (three) boys’ picture:

Golden Autumn in St Pete

And a girl’s picture:

Golden Autumn in St Pete

Will try to deal with the heavy backlog of all the posts I’ve been meaning to share with you since July or so.

This post goes to that very very prolific St Petersburg series.

G.

architecture · no recipe · on USSR / Russia · St Petersburg

From Vasilyevsky to Petrovsky, Krestovsky and Yelagin Islands

Petrovsky, Krestovsky and Yelagin

I’m St Petersburg native, it’s my umpteenth year in St Petersburg and yet there are places in the city that I have never ever walked in my life. Among these was one of the many islands that the city stands upon – the Petrovsky island. An idea to ‘go see what’s up there’ ended up in making about 12 km, crossing 6 bridges linking Vasilyevsky, Petrovsky, Krestovsky and Yelagin islands (not counting the island I came from crossing the Palace Bridge) in a bit over 2 hours. That’s what I call walking.

Petrovsky, Krestovsky and Yelagin

Crossing Tuchkov bridge from Vasilyevsky island you first see this engineering marvel, Petrovsky stadium aka Lenina Stadium (whose else?), first audaciously built in 1924 then reconstructed in 1955-1961 and 1980. I have never been inside (not a football fan) but would like to see the city from within (if that’s possible).

Petrovsky, Krestovsky and Yelagin

After crossing yet another bridge that leads to Petrovsky island, I found myself first in a park and then on a heavily non-pedestrian street that rather resembled an interminable construction site – Petrovsky prospekt. Someone didn’t make it to the other side:

Petrovsky, Krestovsky and Yelagin

Petrovsky island may really disgust you once you leave the park – I did continue walking just because I came all the way there and was determined to get to the other end of it. However, reading about it now I realize it’s not only about construction sites and dying factories and research institutes. But – they are too hard to distinguish most of the times. It’s only later when I got back home that I found out I took a photo of an Art Nouveau building – in the midst of the garages and what not – and that once belonging to a factory which built the first garages in St Petersburg in the beginning of the 20th century:

Petrovsky, Krestovsky and Yelagin

The only wide street of the island, Petrovsky prospekt, comes to Petrovskaya square and then continues up to the other end of the island as Petrovskaya kosa (before Lenin they called everything by Peter’s name here :), which is an even less welcoming road with hardly any space for pedestrians. My aim was the yacht club and the haven from where you can see the newly finished highspeed road called ZSD (Zapadny skorostnoy diameter or Western Rapid Diameter). On my way there:

Petrovsky, Krestovsky and Yelagin

Doesn’t this thingy remind you of a certain character from a certain cartoon?

Petrovsky, Krestovsky and Yelagin

And then I saw this:

Petrovsky, Krestovsky and Yelagin

Or this, with less geometry:

Petrovsky, Krestovsky and Yelagin

The yacht club is there since the 1930s:

Petrovsky, Krestovsky and Yelagin

After some bathing in the warm sun and trying to avoid being run over by expensive cars (you have to pay to drive on the territory of the club), I went back to the square and turned left to the Bolshoy Petrovsky bridge (they say Rasputin’s corpse was hidden under the ice somewhere over there). There was yet another view towards the sun and the highspeed road – with a sort of a grass island in the middle.

Petrovsky, Krestovsky and Yelagin

I found myself on Krestovsky island, the place to go for fun (there’s a huge amusement park) and sports (arena, stadiums, nice tracks for skating, a rowing club etc). It’s also the most expensive real estate location in St Petersburg.

Petrovsky, Krestovsky and Yelagin

The sun was already pretty low when I got to the fountain in the middle of Krestovsky:

Petrovsky, Krestovsky and Yelagin

It was such a wonderful evening, a real Indian summer one (we call it Babye leto, Summer of Women). St Petersburg knows how to be good to us, and not just women 🙂 This is a view from a bridge leading towards the green(er) and calm(er) Yelagin island, with this where-do-you-put-that Lahta center being constructed in the background. This controversial skyscraper now gets in the view from about everywhere in the city. No, not a fan either! Gosh, people, you won’t get to the stars and scrape the sky with that 🙂

Petrovsky, Krestovsky and Yelagin

Let’s add a kayak, a bird and a grate here:

Petrovsky, Krestovsky and Yelagin

Take them away and put a fisherman instead:

Petrovsky, Krestovsky and Yelagin

By the time I got to the end of Yelagin island, the crimson sun already sank. There was a bunch of people listening to an excursion and some others taking selfies with the lion. Then I walked a bit more along the island and got to the Vyborgskaya side to take the metro back home.

Petrovsky, Krestovsky and Yelagin

And here’s my 12km route across the city – well, approximately, the flags appear there rather frequently for no particular reason (just because I was not sure the service I was using would build a correct route). That highspeed road is on the left.

route for Petrovsky, Krestovsky and Yelagin
This post goes to the St Petersburg series.
G.

architecture · no recipe · on USSR / Russia · St Petersburg

7 Days, 7 Views from Palace Bridge in St Petersburg

From Dvortsovy

I cross Dvortsovy aka Palace Bridge each day at least once to get to my new job. It’s like coming 12 years back in time, when I was studying at the State University. In fact, the university where I work now is just some meters away from the main building of my first alma mater. I didn’t take these photos 7 days in a row but each day I was crossing the bridge from the Bezymyanny, Unnamed, and I-have-never-thought-of-it-as-an-island island to Vasilyevsky island, I could enjoy a very different view – as well as different weather conditions. Just wanted to share with you this daily experience. What’s your favourite?

Wednesday September 13, 9.54 am

From Dvortsovy

Thursday September 14, 12.34 pm

From Dvortsovy

Friday September 15, 10.07 am

From Dvortsovy

Tuesday September 19, 5.15 pm

From Dvortsovy

Wednesday September 20, 10.04 am

From Dvortsovy

Thursday, September 21, 17.03 pm

From Dvortsovy

Friday, September 22, 1.10 pm

From Dvortsovy

Starring: Kunstkamera, arguably Russian first museum, the Neva river, arguably one of the most important factors in the foundation of the city, the Academy of Science,  arguably the first of its kind in Russia, and – sometimes – the St Petersburg sun, arguably the most rarely seen star in the sky 🙂

This short post goes to the interminable St Petersburg series.

G.

Greek recipe · pies · vegetarian

Cheese Pie with Homemade Phyllo Pastry

Homemade Phyllo aka Filo Dough from foodwishes.blogspot.com

Cheese. Crunchy pastry. Worth some effort that the traditional Greek phyllo pastry requires – as well as worth a short walk to get some Georgian cheese 🙂 It’s a coincidence that I found some flat suluguni cheese in our local ‘farmers” store (they say it is a blini type of suluguni and sell it in disks) – which looks just like the pastry before it’s rolled out into sheets.

Homemade Phyllo aka Filo Dough from foodwishes.blogspot.com

I have been meaning to use this recipe for the Greek phyllo pastry since I saw the video on the Food Wishes blog (the videos are always enjoyable – even from the language side of it – fellow linguists will understand:) some time ago. And finally I did dare to make a cheese pie with it – a sort of tiropita.

Homemade Phyllo aka Filo Dough from foodwishes.blogspot.com

I have to admit this recipe is not a very quick one but you’ll see the difference and you’ll like the result for sure. And moreover there’s the video so you just have no excuses not to make this phyllo pastry and use it for savoury or sweet pies like bougatsa or baklava (there’s another video on how to make baklava). Careful though – baklava is super nutritious and addictive!

Homemade Phyllo aka Filo Dough from foodwishes.blogspot.com

Don’t get intimidated with the seemingly complicated recipe procedure – Chef John’s instructions will guide you through it and after several it-will-never-work-out-well moments you will master this pastry that they use in so many pies in Greece. Oh, Greece is the heaven for pie fans!

Homemade Phyllo aka Filo Dough from foodwishes.blogspot.com

1 year ago – Official St Petersburg or Along Bolshaya Morskaya

2 years ago – Pear Croustade and Pane Tipo Altamura

3 years ago – From Sunny Greece to Autumn Leaves in St Pete

4 years ago – Plum Cakes from Italy and Austria

5 years ago – Shangi, Pies from the North and Urals

6 years ago – Ode to My Baboushka

Cheese Pie with Homemade Phyllo Pastry adapted from the hilarious foodwishes.blogspot.com will make an almost authentic Greek pie… well, at least you can imagine it is! Go to the link above to watch video instructions for the pastry (attention: requires some time and effort!). See my remarks in italics.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading
  • 5 teaspoons olive oil – for some reason I thought it was 5 TABLEspoons 🙂
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine salt
  • 2 teaspoons white wine vinegar – our 10-year old vinegar from France gave too much of flavour
  • 3/4 cups warm water

filling:

  • about 300 g rubbery cheese, ideally – suluguni, if not – haloumi, grated / mashed
  • about 300 soft fresh cheese in light brine, ideally Feta, Imeretian or Adygea cheese, grated / mashed
  • salt with dried herbs, pepper

starch mixture:

  • 1/2 cup cornstarch – I had only potato starch
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Procedure:

Make the pastry: Place the flour in a bowl, make a well in the center and pour in the oil, vinegar and the warm water plus the salt. Mix these ingredients with your fingers (not with someone’s else of course) in the bowl, then place on the surface and kneed into a smooth and soft ball, about 5 min. Roll the ball into a log and then back into a ball for several times. Wrap and leave to rest for at least 1 h at room temp.

Divide the dough into balls of 20 g (mine were about walnut size), cover the ones you are not using. Take 5 balls and roll each of these balls into a small disc, dust each of them really well (!) with the starch mixture and stack all 5 together. Then roll the stack out to about double the size, separate the discs (this will come with practice…), dust each disc again, re-stack them together in any order you like and roll out again into a sheet of pastry – the thinner the better.

Place one sheet of pastry between 2 sheets of parchment (reuse them in baking later), roll into a log (do not press), wrap in plastic (I placed them in a plastic bag) and leave in fridge / freezer if not using straight away.

When assembling your pie, use several sheets for the bottom layer and some more for the top layer (or even in-between layers, as in baklava). Drip olive oil over each 2nd sheet of pastry and do not forget to pre-cut the pie (do not cut through). Bake at 350’C for about 1 h (I did not have that much time so I switched the fan on at 180’C and reduced baking time to 30 min).

Homemade Phyllo aka Filo Dough from foodwishes.blogspot.com

Remarks: Chef John says the recipe will make enough for about twenty sheets of pastry but I got 3 sheets with 5 layers + 1 sheet with 3 layers which was enough for a rather large though flat pie. I didn’t roll my pastry out too thin though. And yes, re-separating the discs of pastry is the most challenging part of the process, I only got the trick after rolling out and re-separating two stacks.  After all, phyllo means a leaf (or a sheet in this case)… Another remark, the cornstarch mixture makes a bit too much for this amount of pastry – I used the leftovers in a cake. Also, I used quite a small baking sheet so had to make rather thick borders – better avoid it, the pastry get too tough at the edges.

Result: Crusty-crunchy flat cheese pie. Do you need any more comments to persuade you to make it here and now? That’s what you are striving for – the crunchy outer layers of the pastry:

Homemade Phyllo aka Filo Dough from foodwishes.blogspot.com

…and these layers that separate from each other on their own once baked:

Homemade Phyllo aka Filo Dough from foodwishes.blogspot.com

…which are not that easy to separate before baking 🙂 Here is one of the stacks before rolling out:

Homemade Phyllo aka Filo Dough

and before re-separating the discs:

Homemade Phyllo aka Filo Dough

I was a bit late to photograph the entire pie – this is what was left next morning:

Homemade Phyllo aka Filo Dough from foodwishes.blogspot.com

And yes, my blog has just turned 6!

This post goes to the Lunch / Dinner and Greek recipe collections where you will find many more Greek – and not only – pies.

G.