architecture · no recipe · on USSR / Russia · travel

Kargopol, a Gem of the Russian North

Kargopol

There are places that hold a special place in your heart even if you only spent a few days there. And not in a small part this is due to the people you meet there. Last July I visited a place like this in Arkhangelsk Region. Kargopol, an ancient northern Russian town located on the Onega River, had never actually been on my travelling list.

Kargopol

But it so happened that through some long (and I really mean that)-distance volunteering work I got attached to this place in such a way that I accepted the invitation and after some 15 rainy hours spent on the St Petersburg-Arkhangelsk train and an extremely bumpy ride (there are hardly any good “local” roads outside St Pete or Moscow) finally got there. Our first day was dedicated to exchanging news and life stories – which resulted in me almost losing my voice for several days.

Kargopol

The following day I actually visited the place I have been volunteering for and had first to overcome my fears about not being able to in fact. One thing to help people in need – coming in person to this place is the other. I was not sure I would be able to let go of all that squeamishness and just be human. It turned out right, although I was pretty drained after this visit and had just a tiny bit of my mental powers to enjoy the historical center of the town with its churches and museums (these are very often two-in-one in Russia).

Kargopol

Kargopol occupies the area where people lived already in the 4th millennium BC, although it is officially considered to be founded in 1380, being the year when it was first mentioned in writing. Its name is a bit of a riddle, containing parts that refer to both its Finno-Ugric past and the later Russification. And while “pol(e)” (field) is pretty obvious, the first part is translated either as a “crow” or a “bear”, depending on the version you stick to.

Kargopol

There’s an earth mound right next to the local bus station from where I took the photo above that testifies to the times when Kargopol was colonized by the people from Novgorod the Great. The town used to be quite an important trading center in the 16th century as it had the right to trade… salt which was quite a luxury back then and not all the cities were granted the right to do so, forcing them to actually come and buy their “white death” (or is it only said about sugar?) in Kargopol.

Kargopol

But with all its rights and privileges, Kargopol was also a place of exile – tsars would send their unwanted relatives or favourites there, while the sign on the house above tells us that a certain Ivan Bolotnikov (known to all us in Russia from the school history books) who was a leader of a popular uprising in 1606-07 was executed here as well. The wooden sign reminds us that the street was previously called Potanikha instead of Bolotnikov Street (renamed in the Soviet era when Bolotnikov Rebellion was especially celebrated). A curious thing to note about this building in the photo is that the double windows are quite lazily insulated with some moss – to keep the warmth in between the frames.

Kargopol

This 18th century bell-tower is there to remind us of a devastating fire that left the entire town in ruins in 1765 and made Catherine the Great (see her letters above the arch) rebuilt it according to a so-called “regular plan” – the one that was later applied to many cities including St Petersburg. This is how Kargopol became one of the first cities in the Russian Empire to follow this new plan.

Kargopol

But its main purpose now is to serve as an observation tower – one of the things I really appreciate, especially when there IS what to see from up there 🙂 One of the (relevantly) recent experiences that I enjoyed was an ex-monastery tower in Staraya Russa. Which makes me think I still have plenty of my travels to tell…

Kargopol

The church with green cupolas is a weird combination of baroque and whitewashed-wall architecture – I would never have thought that it was built in the middle of the 18th century! And this one with the shiny black cupolas was build 200 years earlier, in the mid-16th century, and over the years it has sunk  almost 100 cm into the ground! The crazy buttresses made of stones and planks of wood were added to support the structure after the already mentioned fire of 1765. But the main attraction of this church is actually a collection of the so-called “heavens” or “skies” (nebesa in Russian), painted wooden ceilings characteristic of the Russian North. Gathered all over the region, they are exhibited in this church just propped against the walls.

Kargopol

Walking back from the main square to my friend’s place (after visiting a local history museum also housed in a church), I noticed a house with super dusty windows and some traditional clay Kargopol toys displayed in two of them. These toys might as well be taken for the more popular Dymkovo toys but are less flashy and I would say more authentic in a way. They say that those who used to make them in the old days would do so in the winter as during the rest of the year they were busy cultivating their land and harvesting.

Kargopol

The toy is considered one of the symbols of the town (and the area) and is featured on, for instance, the local foods such as pryanik and kefir. However, there are very few foods made locally here as the agriculture collapsed with the break of the USSR and due to the remoteness of the area aggravated by the lack of proper roads makes it hard for anything to develop here – including tourism. Speaking of which, here’s what you can find here, just a few steps away from the central square:

Kargopol

This delicate intricate beauty in the traditional “uzorochye” (literally “abundance of ornaments”) style is a 17th century church and the one to the right (below) is another church, once adorned with five cupolas but now reduced to just one.

Kargopol

They are both situated on the old market square – here pictured during the annual festival dedicated to the start of the mowing season and the Kupala Night that falls on the 7th of July. I was lucky enough to arrive just in time for the festivities which included a mowing competition among teams representing various villages, a market day and a real Kupala Night with a fire show, khorovod (round dances) and music.

Kargopol

The competition included mowing a designated plot and building a haystack with a “twist”. There were also traditional chastushki (funny and often ironic short songs that rather resemble short poems) performed by the competitors themselves. And these girls (below) were preparing some treats for the participants.

Kargopol

These ladies just rocked! They were I think the first to finish their “creation” and then they sang just like real stars! Here pictured against the 17th century church with silver cupolas as the background. I really enjoyed the festival, although we missed the first part, the actual mowing, as it started quite early. And I think people around me were enjoying it as well, sincerely, you know, as mowing remains a part of their daily life, actually, since many of the locals live in their own houses in Kargopol or nearby villages.

Kargopol

I was actually also clad in a traditional sarafan that my host made – although contrary to the people participating in the contest I felt very much an impostor 🙂 Moving further towards the “private” residential area of the town where people live in their own (or semi-detached) houses, I came about this apparently old but dying wooden building – this used to be shared by several families.

Kargopol

When everyone was having a nap, I wandered about a bit and was granted with this wonderful view over the town and the Onega River. Kargopol is like this, there are almost no buildings taller than say three floors (they stick to this rule deliberately) and there’s just ONE bus that makes a stop at the local bus station before moving on to the other side of the river when everyone gets off the bus (even if their journey is not over yet) and the driver with the conductor go inside the station building to have some tea. I think that took them about 10 minutes – nobody complained as this is an established “rule”. Not joking!

Kargopol

I enjoyed the view for quite a while, spellbound by the great weather, the atmosphere, the people and the silence which was broken only by a small motor boat moving along the river. There is also lake Lacha nearby, the largest in the region, but we didn’t manage to go there. With all the guests at my hosts’ place and the festival, I only managed to see a tiny bit of the town actually, so many things were left for the next time. I hope to have a walk around it myself too, like I did in that part of the town where my host lives.

Kargopol

That evening there was also the big party, the Kupala Night itself, originally dedicated to the summer solstice (falling on the 24th of June according to the old, Julian calendar) but now mostly celebrating just the summer, I guess. Already on the first day I noticed these wooden figures in the Onega River that were still being constructed. The locals told us these were created for the famous fire show that we were about to witness soon. The figures were also symbolic, some taken from the local fokllore, some representing the traditional Kargopol toys. The big night finally came and I have to admit, I’ve never experienced anything of the kind – the atmosphere of the festival was very far from what I’m used to and I would definitely like to attend it again if I can.

Kargopol

There was also a sort of catwalk with super tall girls demonstrating tradition-inspired costumes, a “skovorodka” (literally “frying pan”) or a dance “floor” with the 1980s music performed live by a biology teacher and his band (well, he’d better stick to biology, if you ask me!), lots of food being cooked and not so much of alcohol around as I would expect (which, I guess, was banned). After that there was some dancing in circles choreographed by a team from Petrozavodsk, which I did join. The culmination of the night was the fire show to the live music by a local musician. Although we were already quite tired and feeling cold, we did watch the first figures to burn (which they did excruciatingly slowly!) and, to tell you the truth, felt some kind of regret that they did burn these structures down.

Kargopol

Next day people from various local communities organized a festival/market showcasing their products and most notably traditions. Of course, there was a much less authentic (and exciting for me) part to this event, though moved away from the main square, where you could get some fast food and completely not local goods and stuff, which people seemed to enjoy a lot, in fact. The thing is, those living in the big cities are spoilt with all the junk stuff to the point they get enough of it, longing for something truly traditional, authentic, ethnic, organic etc etc while in the regions people regard the former as something genuinely entertaining and take the latter for granted.

Kargopol

I guess for me there was much more interest in the traditional part as that is what is missing from my life in the city and I feel only a very distant connection to it. Anyway, pictured below is the same lady who was so active mowing in the early morning, now busy heating water in the samovar. What a stamina she has!

Kargopol

People were selling homemade pies, smoked fish and sweet stuff. But as we ate quite a lot of our own freshly baked sweet and savory pies in the morning (see further), I didn’t sample anything there, just wandered along the aisles, dissuading myself from buying all those baskets, boxes and the like that were on offer.

Kargopol

As I had a train to catch later that day, I couldn’t enjoy the festival and the market as much as I wished to. There was also a singing and dancing competition which I had to ignore in order to see at least some of the things I was indeed interested in. I made some last-minute souvenir shopping, buying a tall box made from birch bark, decorated with the beautiful red and black Mezen patterns, traditional painting style from Arkhangelsk Region.

Kargopol

Earlier that day there was a real treat for me by my host’s sister: she cooked the traditional shangi pies with mashed potatoes (there should have been also some smetana or sour cream on top but the Russian stove my hosts have at home – see above – was piping hot and we had to skip that part) and some qutab-like pies with berries. The funny part about the master-class was when the hosts’ cat (who hissed at me like a real snake and snapped at my face) obviously curious and at the same time pretty nervous with all those people occupying its home (there was quite a few of us there) take a stroll right over the rolled-out circles of dough ready to be filled in and baked. We didn’t mind though 🙂

Kargopol

There was also a very hot banya with veniki (banya whisks from birch branches and leaves) from where I just had to flee as I can hardly stand such heat (and had to stand next to the window for half an hour to come back to life), there was marveling at how little I know about life outside big cities, there was walking with the dog in the nearby forest, there was a ton of new people I met and tons of stories I heard, there was a torrential rain and birds singing in the early morning, there were many things I noticed about myself. And there was some cooking on my part as well, mostly improvising with the ingredients that were available. Here’re some sugar knots and a berry pie in the morning light.

Kargopol

On the train I met a woman from Moscow who comes to the festival every year. Although she seemed to have traveled all over the area and learnt a lot, she made me think that you can only learn as much about the traditions and the life in the region as you see and are shown, whereas the true life is what you can only experience if you live there yourself. The next morning, I was already in the hustling and bustling, insatiably commercial Moscow – not the best place to go after such a getaway and a soulful, meaningful journey. One to remember, for sure.

Filed under the Russian Travels collection.

G.

architecture · no recipe · on USSR / Russia · travel

Kolomna, a Picture-Perfect Old Russian Town

Kolomna

Ah, Kolomna, such a picture-perfect 12th century Russian town! If ever you get to Russia and have very limited time, be sure to visit Kolomna, just some 100 km away from Moscow. It will give you a comprehensive and eye-pleasing picture of what “traditional Russian” looks like – and all that easily accessible on foot. Here it comes.

I was in Kolomna last October and was really blessed with fine weather. So the picture got indeed perfect. There’s a fast train leaving for Kolomna from Moscow’s no less toy-like Kazan(sky) Railway Station. The city center is within a relatively short walk from the local railway station, although there’s a tram going straight from where the Moscow train arrives.

I preferred “my two” as we say in Russia though, walking through meandering streets of this pretty low-rising town. Which is exactly what I like. Rejoice you, my fellow old-schoolers!

Kolomna

Kolomna was by the way one of those “closed” cities of the USSR – up until 1994. I wonder whether it actually helped it in a way, preserving it in a more or less authentic state. Now, however, it is a very touristy place and as far as I am concerned, bears no resemblance with a closed city at all.   

Kolomna

The only problem with Kolomna is that it’s very touristy and demonstrates a rather distinct “Moscow (posh) polish” in its city center which is inevitable when you’re so close to the capital. And as a result of this proximity of the ever-powerful Moscow, the once powerful Kolomna is now just a touristy town trying to keep up with its big brother and meet the demand from the incoming avalanches of tourists. So expect a number of Moscow-style coffee places and stuff. Back-to-back with perfectly run-down provincial corners which proved to me that “not everything is lost” here.

Kolomna

Also, the town is quite small, so in just about an hour or so I was somewhat anxious to get out as I felt I was going in circles more or less around the same place. However, deciding against catching the next train I wandered off the center along the river, just to check out the local life – which proved to be a good idea in the end.

The entrance to the Kolomna Kremlin is through the 16th century Pyatnitskye gates with the inevitable shop selling Kolomna kalach (see the sign to the right above), a typical Russian purse-shaped bread made with a handle so that you could eat it with comfort 🙂 A bit like with Cornish pies, people would discard the “dirty” handle although I wouldn’t do it if I were you! Not that it was particularly delicious. I did once try baking some kalach, and it was thicker in texture than in this touristy spot. However, they also offer to visit their bakery and see how the famous Kolomna kalach is made – to be later sampled with the local medovukha or something like this.

There was definitely something “cooking” in the “upstairs” kitchen that day, look at that thing in the sky!

Kolomna

By the way, there’s a regular school right in the middle of the Kremlin territory, next to the cathedral. And a monastery with a bunch of guys routinely begging for money at the entrance (which normally make me hesitant to go inside as I do not give alms as a rule). There were some locals riding their bikes across the Sobornaya (Cathedral) square which looks like some open-air museum with its “collection” of quite a number of churches in various styles. Churches with white (and not necessarily all that white) washed walls are my favourite.

Kolomna

Then I took a stride along the street leading to the impressive wall(s) of the Kolomna Kremlin that are still towering over the part of the town that lies beneath it. There’s also a super modern-looking sports center close by which is a bit out of place there. The cool thing about the town is that it’s not flat which for a St Petersburg native is an attraction in itself.

Kolomna

Just a random woman walking across the street dressed in the 19th century attire. Well, I guess she was going home on her lunch break from the nearby typical Kolomna delicatessen shop/museum. The ornate church in the background (also see the first image of this post) is one of the oldest in the town, now belonging to the Old-Rite Church.

Kolomna

Talking about the traditional Kolomna delicacies, I did buy quite an array of sweet stuff there. As far as I remember, I was in Kolomna on a quiet Monday morning, right after some kind of an autumn festival there. Shops were still decorated for the weekend and were obviously less crowded. I bought some pastila, a cross between fruit leather and marhsmallow, traditionally made with sourish Antonovka apples though a variety of other flavours is also available. Also was tempted to buy some hand-crafted pasta which was a bit like what my Belorussian Granny used to make (minus pepper). 

Kolomna

There are a number of such renovated/reconstructed shops-museums selling all kind of (mostly) sweet stuff, offering visits to their production sites located just behind their counters. Another typical thing to bring back as a souvenir is local soap the production of which was also revived by some enthusiasts. Elsewhere in the town, that’s what usually catches my eye the most:

Kolomna

Autumn in full swing, perfect companion of some local decadence:

Kolomna

This “dancing” house served as a background picture for my phone for a while:

Kolomna

Just loved it:

Kolomna

A local picture-perfect cat – the only thing missing was a picture-perfect kupchikha (merchant’s wife) unhurriedly drinking tea with pastila (I’m referring to the iconic painting by Kustodiev). Who knows, there might be one just behind the wooden fence! 

Filed under the Travel series.

G.

cookies · Family recipe · on USSR / Russia · sweet · traditional Russian recipe

Rozochki or Cream Cheese Meringue Roses

Rozochki or Cream Cheese Meringue Roses

Unintentionally – but quite justified – I’ve taken a sort of a sabbatical from my writing here. With all the editing of the translations of Turkish (!) soap operas and various documentaries and TV programs, I just seem to be not very fond of computer in the evenings. But let’s do it, let’s open this new year with a revival of an old recipe that our family friend once shared with my mother.

Rozochki or Cream Cheese Meringue Roses

Who knows how old this recipe actually is but my guess is that it came into our family no later than 1988 – judging from one of the ‘nearby’ recipes in My Mom’s cookbook that has this date next to it. And as you can imagine the recipe is pretty laconic (see the first one at the top of the picture above). Though I would rather call it – lacuna-ic. Just as I did with my Granny’s recipe for Jam-filled Cigars, this Soviet recipe was non the easier in terms of deciphering (or rather guessing) the instructions.

Babushka Vintage

Before getting our teeth into the soft pastries / cookies, could we pause for a moment to marvel at this powder box from the early 1970s that belonged to my Granny. For no particular reason, just wanted to share with you my fascination for the Soviet ingenuity. Let’s unzip the box…

Babushka Vintage

…And ho-o-op we find the mirror and the (metal!) protective screen with a tiny lock at its right. The engraved emblem says Leningrad and bears the most recognizable symbol of the city, the Peter and Paul Fortress. And then we turn the screen over…

Babushka Vintage

…To find yet another protective screen – a gauze one this time that covers powder puff and the powder itself. I remember that I used to play with this box when we were coming or even staying over at our Granny’s – I used to be a fan of all things ‘lady’, imagining myself in the times of Frances Hodgson Burnett‘s stories. The other paraphernalia that played the part in my imaginary life were my Granny’s super-fine gloves, a silk scarf and a straw hat. Oh yes 🙂

Babushka Vintage

And now on to the food part – to the rozochki or small roses cookies (sic). The main trick with this recipe was that my mother couldn’t really recall the procedure. The instructions in her cookbook were apparently taken down at the time when they were pretty obvious and the only thing she might need were the exact figures for the ingredients. But since then (God knows when, late 1990s, I guess?) she has not baked these quasi-cookies at all and naturally the recipe has now presented itself as quite a riddle both to her and to me. But we did it, somehow.

Rozochki or Cream Cheese Meringue Roses

1 year ago – Bird Cherry Birthday Cake

2 years ago – Peanut Butter Post

3 years ago – How to Make Silky Cream Cheese at Home (that’s what you do when you work from home)

4 years ago – Two Spinach Pies and Spinach…Rice

5 years ago – Rye Malt Bread, Two Versions

6 years ago – 2 Energy-Boosting Sweets to Keep Your Mind and Spirit Up

Rozochki or Cream Cheese Meringue Roses adapted from our family friend’s recipe.

Ingredients

For the pastry:

  • 1-1.5 cups cottage cheese – see remarks below
  • 100-120 g butte, softened
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1-1.5 cups flour

For the filling:

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 egg whites
  • pinch of baking soda
  • pinch of salt

Procedure

First, make the pastry. Mix the cottage cheese with the butter and the two egg yolks, add in the flour. Adjust the amount of flour / cottage cheese in your pastry. It’s ok if the grains of cottage cheese are still visible. The consistency should not be very tough, just enough to be rolled out in some flour. Shape the pastry into a ball, cover and set aside (somewhere cool / cold).

Make the filling by beating the egg whites with the sugar, salt and soda with a hand-held mixer. The desired consistency here is what you would get with the meringue – a sort of a thick spreadable cream. Preheat the oven to 200-210 ‘C.

Now you can either roll out the entire piece of pastry or in parts. Use flour generously to avoid a sticky mess and rerolling. Roll it out into a rather thin rectangle and spread the filling quite generously onto the surface, leaving a margin on the long side (though the filling will start escaping anyway). Start rolling from the long end – gently and not tight – into a log. Cut the log across into as many pieces as you want (roughly two fingers wide) and carefully transfer onto baking paper / mat cut side up. Put your fingers round the bottom part and gently press them so that the upper part opens up into a ‘rose’. Repeat with the rest of the pieces and with the remaining pastry. Space the roses apart as they will puff up and also spread out even more in the oven (so you might want to bake these in two batches). Bake for 12 minutes on the middle rack and then 2 more on the top shelf (for the golden effect). Do not overbake these as they will hard up as they cool down and you don’t want to lose their softness!

Rozochki or Cream Cheese Meringue Roses

Remarks

A few words about the pastry: tvorog or cottage cheese should be quite dry, here the drier the better, so the grainy type will do as well. Mine was 5% fat. The less liquid you have in the pastry, the easier it will be to roll it out (and the less flour you will use).

The original recipe called for 200 g of margarine but it worked out fine with just half of it – and with softened butter, not margarine.

And yes, there’s absolutely no sugar in the pastry! But the super sweet filling plus the juices it creates while baking does the trick. The entire pastry is thus soaked in this juice and becomes sweet too.

The bigger piece of pastry you take for rolling out, the more ‘petals’ (spirals) your roses will have. My first batch resulted in rather small roses (I rolled out smaller pieces) but the second one (featuring in the pictures here) was from a bigger piece of pastry, resulting in something that was more close to the original (as we remember it).

As we couldn’t really recall the procedure, the instructions above might not be the authentic ones but they were clearly the most optimal ones for these roses. The original recipe suggested eating these warm but when they cool down they are perfectly fine.

Rozochki or Cream Cheese Meringue Roses

Result

Very sweet and soft, these cottage cheese and meringue pastries will disappear before the second batch is ready. The combination of the chewy cheese pastry and the super-sweet meringue is addictive. Can constitute a sort of a warm meal for the sweet-toothed as these rozochki are pretty nourishing.

More Soviet recipes are here. And more Soviet paraphernalia in case you are interested is here.

G.

Family recipe · on USSR / Russia · sweet · traditional Russian recipe

Jam Cigars from my Granny’s Recipe Book

Jam Cigars from my Granny's Recipe Book

It’s been a week since my Granny died. A few hours before she actually died while turning my thoughts back to my Babushka I for some reason had a ‘vision’ of those sweet rolled things filled with jelly she used to bake – called sigary, i.e. cigars. I told myself that I would make them too.

Jam Cigars from my Granny's Recipe Book

Although in my mind I confused them with somewhat similar dessert – not with jelly but with nuts, I found a copy of the original recipe in my Mother’s recipe book and – a bit taken aback by the sheer… brevity of its instructions – I however ventured on this experiment.

Jam Cigars from my Granny's Recipe Book

Can we call it a traditional Russian recipe? Probably not. But this is definitely a Soviet recipe. Soviet recipes has at least three features in common. Firstly, they can have very vague ingredient measurements. Like this phrase ‘put as much flour as the dough will take’ which can mean anything from several glasses (Soviet cooks do not use cups) to a kilo or more.

Jam Cigars from my Granny's Recipe Book

Secondly, the procedure itself might be quite elliptical in its explanation. Like… no procedure at all, just the ingredients  or something like ‘bake until done’ without any indication of temperature, time or even any instructions on what to do before baking (how come you don’t know what to do if the recipe’s title is ‘cake’?!).

Jam Cigars from my Granny's Recipe Book

Thirdly, the ingenuity with which a Soviet cook would use the ingredients (the choice of which can be quiet scarce and / or striking to begin with) tells you a lot about the Soviet way of life in general.

Jam Cigars from my Granny's Recipe Book

The recipe in question is at the very bottom of the page, written by my Granny’s hand. Some of the instructions must have been added later, probably when my Granny’s memory started to fade a bit and she had to resort to more detailed recipes. I will share with you my Mother’s take on this recipe combined with my changes, so this is a true family recipe.

Jam Cigars from my Granny's Recipe Book

A year ago – Whole Wheat Biscotti with Chocolate and Pistachios

2 years ago – Finnish Sourdough Flatbread and Cookies with History

3 years ago – German, French and Polish Sourdough Bread

4 years ago – Winter Light and Lemon Cake

5 years ago – Winter’s Here. Time for Spicy Rye Bread

6 years ago – Flammekueche

Sigary or Cigars from my Granny’s recipe book

Ingredients

  • 200 g smetana or 15% fat sour cream
  • 180 g butter, melted*
  • 2-2.5 glasses or about 320-350 g flour
  • jelly / jam / confiture of your choice (tangy ones are best)
  • powdered sugar

Procedure

Melt the butter and add in the smetana. Start adding the flour gradually until you get smooth malleable dough. Optional – place your  dough covered into the fridge for about half an hour. Meanwhile preheat your oven to 190 ‘C**.

Take a piece roughly the size of a big walnut and start rolling it mostly in one direction so that you get a long strip resembling an oval. The thinner you roll your dough the more layers of it you will get in your cigar. Spread your jam over the dough in a thin layer leaving narrow margin on the edges. If your jam has bits of fruit in it, place a small bit in the middle of the strip. Start rolling the strip starting from the top edge (it’s somewhat easier this way) so that you get … well, a cigar. These cigars won’t spread so you can place them pretty closely on the baking mat but mind that the jam will most certainly leek out (I would suggest using silicon rather than paper – to collect all the jam drippings :).

Bake for about 20 minutes or until your cigars are nicely browned. They become crispy and pretty fragile when they cool down. While they are still warm, roll them in powdered sugar. The best here is home-made grounded sugar that will contain some larger bits as well – for a more Soviet-gourmet experience.

Jam Cigars from my Granny's Recipe Book

Remarks

As I was making this recipe I had to stop as I realized I didn’t really know what to do once I mixed all the ingredients. So I put the dough into the fridge, a step which was not in the recipe, until my Mother came back home and explained me the procedure. I guess you can omit it or give your dough a short chill anyway. For this recipe I used two types of homemade (Mother-made) jam – plum jam and apple jam – both with large bits of fruit in them. I had to pick out one piece of fruit per a cigar. You see, the dough itself is quite fragile so you probably won’t be able to put in a chunkier jam. My Granny’s side note says that you can add some sugar to the dough but I wouldn’t do that as the jam provides all the sweetness you need.

* I reduced the amount of butter in this recipe – the original recipe actually called for margarine as it was and still is much cheaper than butter.

** We had to experiment with the oven temperature with the first batch. For some reason my Mother thought that these should be baked at a pretty low temperature, so we started somewhere at 120’C and them moved up to almost 200 as the cigars just wouldn’t brown. We baked our second batch at about 190’C for exactly 21 minutes.

Result

Sweet and tangy, crispy but moist too. Such a treat! One of those things I haven’t tasted for years.

I intend to make more recipes from my Granny’s recipe book. There are those that with just their taste can bring back so many childhood memories.

And no, I do not smoke and in no way do I promote it!

Adding this post to the Sweet recipe collection.

G.

pies · sweet

Red Currant Pie with Ground Oats and Peanuts

Red Currant Pie

Berries from dacha. Some of them are now frozen, some of them turned into a sort of zhivoe varenye (live confiture, consisting of berries strained with sugar, no boiling involved – the best way to preserve all the good stuff in the fruit), some of them eaten raw (gosh, they are so sour!) and some end up as a filling to numerous cakes, muffins and this time also a pie.

Red Currant Pie

This summer with June and July almost sun-less, has not given the berries enough sugar so they are eeeextra sour. Thanks God, no apples this year – I can only imagine how sour they would be…

Red Currant Pie

Red currants are traditionally extremely sour. Yet, I like baking with them, they seem to give that special ‘it’ to the cakes and pies.

Red Currant Pie

After making quick cakes and muffins, I’ve finally got over my laziness and here’s a pastry pie I baked today with the last red currants from our dacha – soft and zesty. Why peanuts in a berry pie? Well, I just had some in front of me.

Red Currant Pie

Same goes with why I decided to add this tolokno (see Remarks below) layer to the pie 0 I guess I just had it on the table at that moment too! However, it seems it was not that bad an idea after all – it has given the berries an extra soft (and sweet) layer and also prevented the juices from destroying the bottom of the pie. I think it worked in a sort of custard-y way.

Red Currant Pie

1 year ago – Lemon-Gooseberry Bars

2 years ago – Greek Olive Buns and Breadsticks

3 years ago – Spanakopita and Mediterranean Vegetable Millefeuille

4 years ago – Summer Goes On with Sourdough Mini-Rolls

5 years ago – Pommes. Pommes de Terre too

Red Currant Pie with Ground Oats and Peanuts

Ingredients (as with most of my recipes – the amounts are very approximate!)

  • 150-200 g sugar, divided
  • lemon zest, to taste
  • 90-100 g butter, cold or from freezer
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 egg
  • handful of peanuts, ground into flour
  • all-purpose flour, enough for the pastry
  • 2-3 Tb oat flour (preferably tolokno or kama, see Remarks)
  • 1/2 cup warm water, or more as needed
  • fresh red currants

Procedure

First, make the pastry. Cut cold butter into small pieces, mix in about 50-70 g sugar, depending on how sweet you want your pastry, lemon zest and the egg. Working rather quickly before the butter softens too much, add a pinch of salt, ground peanuts and start adding all-purpose flour, delicately but swiftly kneading the pastry with your hand. My idea was to make it rather soft and crumbly so I did not knead it into a disk. Leave the pastry covered in the fridge for at least 30 min.

Meanwhile, prepare the oat flour layer. I used the easiest method for making kasha from tolokno (see Remarks), by mixing it gradually into a small bowl with some warm water, adjusting the amount of flour to achieve rather thick consistency. Add in about 50 g of sugar (the mixture will get more runny).

Line a round or rectangular baking dish with parchment paper. Take the pastry out of the fridge and distribute a bigger (2/3) part of it on the bottom, by gently rubbing it through your fingers. In this way you’re creating a more ‘aerated’ sort of pastry layer rather than a smooth one, so no worries if there are ‘holes’ in the bottom layer. Keep the rest of the pastry in the fridge.

Pour the oat mixture over the bottom pastry layer and scatter red currants on top, finishing with some more sugar, depending on the sweetness of your berries (ours are as usual super sour). Take the remaining pastry from the fridge and rub it through your fingers over the berries. There will be more spaces in the top layer with berries popping out as you’ll have less pastry for it but that’s exactly what you need.

Preheat the oven to 180’C. Bake for about 40-45 min. until the top layer is golden and the berries are happily bubbling away.

Red Currant Pie

Remarks

Tolokno aka kama or talkan, is a traditional grind of slightly toasted whole oats, considered to be healthier than what you get with the industrially milled oats. In Karelia they eat it with berries and it’s such a treat! You can of course use oat flour or grind some oatmeal instead.

Red Currant Pie

My pastry ‘recipe’ is not anywhere close to what you would call classic, so feel free to use your favourite recipe. Anyway, I have to confess, putting enough butter into the pastry does make a difference – it’s just what I wanted – soft and crumbly!

Red Currant Pie

Result

Sweet-n’-sour in one bite, very soft and peanut-y, with distinct flavour from the oats detected.

Red Currant Pie

This recipe goes to the Berries and Sweet collections where you will find many more recipes with red currants in particular, like Cardamom and Red Currant Cake, Coconut Red Currant Bread, Pretty Good Red Currant Coffeecake, Moelleux aux Groseilles or Redcurrant CakeRed Currant Meringue Pie, Red Currant Flan and Red Currant and Marzipan Swirls among others.

G.

St Petersburg · sweet · traditional Russian recipe

Bird Cherry Birthday Cake

Bird Cherry Cake

This is my second attempt at making a Cheryomukhovy Tort or Bird Cherry Cake. You might have never heard of this bird cherry tree at all. You might have never even thought you could eat anything made from it. And yet it is one of the traditional ingredients in the Northern and Siberian cuisine.

Bird Cherry Cake

Last summer for instance we tried some bulochka with bird cherry filling in the Urals.  And my first attempt at making a bird cherry cake was back in 2014, after I bought a small package of bird cherry flour in Novosibirsk. This time I managed to get the flour in St Petersburg – it can be found in eco / bio / health stores and even in bigger supermarkets in the baking department. Funny enough, the flour I bought during my roaming on Vasilyevsky island last year is produced in Ulan-Ude, where we suffered from extreme heat just a couple of month earlier, in the summer 2016.

Bird Cherry Cake

I have doubts that the bird cherry flour can be found that easy outside Russia, so if you go on the Trans-Siberian one day, do try this thing. Such a distinct flavour – of almonds and some booze at the same time! This is why I decided to make a bird cherry cake for my Grandpa’s 85th birthday – something different for a change. And here is the recipe. And although you might never actually use it you will at least know how this exotic thing is made.

Bird Cherry Cake

1 year ago – Peanut Butter Post

2 years ago – How to Make Silky Cream Cheese at Home

3 years ago – Two Spinach Pies and Spinach…Rice

4 years ago – Polenta, Sempre Polenta and Broccoli

5 years ago – Two Rrrrrye Breads (Raisin and Riga)

Bird Cherry Cake or Cheryomukhovy Tort adapted from the recipe on the bird cherry flour package by aiuduhlesa.ru. Will make a huge multi-layer cake with distinct – or should I say never heard of? – flavour and dense crumb.

Ingredients:

  • 6 (!) eggs
  • 100 g sugar
  • 300 g all-purpose flour
  • 300 g bird cherry flour
  • 180-200 ml sparkling water – mine has lost its bubbles, see remarks
  • 1 heaped tsp baking soda
  • juice of half a lemon
  • 3 cups of high fat sour cream (smetana), for the icing – used less, see remarks
  • 5 Tbs sugar, for the icing – used a mixture of powdered and regular sugar

Procedure:

Beat the eggs with sugar until foamy. Add half of the sparkling water (100 ml) but do not stir. Add the flours and start mixing the batter with a spatula or a spoon (do not beat). Pour lemon juice onto the soda (it will bubble like hell) and add it to the batter. Gradually add the remaining sparkling water: your batter should resemble thick sour cream (I had to add more water). Leave the batter for about 10 minutes. It should get all bubbling and airy (mine was not…).

Divide the batter between two greased round pans (26-28 cm in diameter) and bake in the preheated oven for 30-40 minutes at 180’C. Leave the layers to cool completely.

Meanwhile, get your icing / filling ready: beat the sour cream with sugar pretty well until the sugar dissolves. Cut each cake layer in half (I did it with the help of a special string but you can do it with a thread or a knife) and start building the cake. Take a half and place it on a plate cut side up, spread the sour cream filling and cover with the next layer,again cut side up. Proceed till you have your last layer, this time placing it cut side down on top. Ice the top layer with the remaining sour cream and decorate it with grated chocolate or some bird cherry flour (see remarks).

Bird Cherry Cake

Remarks: 300 g of bird cherry flour seemed like a lot after I added all the all-purpose flour to the batter. I wonder if you should actually use less of whether it’s just that I used less soda and still water instead of sparkling? Yes, I thought we had some sparkling water in the fridge and it turned out to have lost its ‘bubbling power’ by that time. Three cups of sour cream might also seem a bit too much but in the end you do get a lot of layers! I would add more sugar to the batter and use all the three cups of sour cream next time. And yes, although there’s no butter or oil in this recipe, there are SIX eggs 🙂

Bird Cherry Cake

As for the decoration, I sprinkled the top with finely ground flaxmeal – it’s rather neutral in flavour and taste, which doesn’t interfere with the bird cherry flavour. I did it not only for the sake of the desired ’85’ pattern but also because the top layer sour cream mixed with sugar and left overnight (although in the fridge) tend to acquire a brownish colour (no fear, it’s only natural!). So you would actually need something to decorate the top with (leave it to the last moment before serving) in case you’re not planning to serve the cake straight away. Leaving the cake in the fridge overnight is preferable so that the layers soak in the sour cream. 

Result: A big cake with the unusual flavour and the traditional sour cream filling which looks like a chocolate cake and yet is not. With minor changes to the recipe this can make a pretty good (birthday) cake. 

Snowy Saturday

Bird cherry tree is closely associated with the coming of spring: it blossoms lavishly in May, emitting its perfume all over the place. And since the weather changes back to cold for several days at exactly the same moment, there’s this persistent belief that it’s not a mere coincidence. In brief, when you see a bird cherry tree ready to show off its white flowers, there will be some cold days ahead. It works every year.

Snowy Saturday

We are quite far away from May now…

Snowy Saturday

Woke up today to seeing this outside our windows:

Snowy Saturday

And yet the days are growing longer and there’s even more light with all the snow. And you start hearing birds. Winter is beautiful but it’s just so long.

Snowy Saturday

This post goes to the Russian and Sweet recipe collections.

G.

cookies · on USSR / Russia · sweet · traditional Russian recipe

Taste from Childhood: Nutshells with Condensed Milk

Fake Nuts Filled with Condensed Milk

From all the recipes I’ve tried over this long winter break that we officially have in Russia (the cold has made me stay at home most of the time) I’ve picked this Soviet recipe as the first post in the newly arrived 2016, another childhood sweet treat like Zemelakh cookies. Back in 2013 I made a post featuring a selection of Soviet kitchen utensils that are mostly out of circulation now. Among these were the aluminum molds to make walnut-like cookies filled with condensed milk. They look like this:

nut molds

My friend came along with her batch of walnut molds and two cans of sweetened condensed milk. Though three years older than our set of molds, her recipe is exactly the same (in the best Soviet traditions) and it comes on a gloriously Soviet-design packaging. If you take a look at the back of this recipe made by a Voronezh industrial machine plant (!), you will find out that it was printed on a recycled leftover packaging from a canning plant in Orel! 🙂

Fake Nuts Filled with Condensed Milk

To make the walnut-like cookies even taste like walnuts, you can fill them according to the recipe (3 egg whites beaten with a cup of sugar until thick and then mixed with 1.5 cups of ground walnuts). Our choice that evening was caramelised sweetened condensed milk. And yes, you will need an entire evening to make all the cookies from the required 3 cups of flour with the limited amount of molds! 🙂

Fake Nuts Filled with Condensed Milk

1 year ago – Winter Fairy Tale and Semolina Bread

2 years ago – Chocolate, Cocoa, Coffee and Cakes

3 years ago – Join the Soviet New Year Table

4 years ago – Sourdough Breads

Nutshells Filled with Caramelised Sweetened Condensed Milk or Орешки со сгущенкой (Oreshki so sgushchenkoj) translated and adapted from a 1982 packaging of the nut molds will make a mountain of small nut-like cookies willed with the sweety-sweet condensed milk (teeth, beware!). If you don’t have the molds, try using madelaine cookie molds instead.

Ingredients

for the dough:

  • 3 cups flour
  • 200 g margarine – we used about 150 g butter
  • 1/2 cup sugar – you really don’t need even that much as the filling is super sweet
  • 3 egg yolks – save the whites for some souffle, I made banana souffle
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • vinegar
  • 1/4 tsp salt – we added just a pinch + some vanilla extract

for the filling:

  • about 3 cans of caramelised condensed milk or any other thick substance you prefer
  • or the original suggestion: 3 egg whites beaten with a cup of sugar until thick and mixed with 1.5 cups of ground walnuts

Procedure

We reversed the original procedure a bit, first beating the egg yolks with sugar until pale, then adding the softened butter and a pinch of salt and vanilla. Then we mixed in a third of the flour, then added a tiny bit of vinegar to the soda and poured the bubbly soda into the mixture. The 3 cups of flour were quite a lot for the decreased amount of butter that we used, so the dough ended up quite hard and not very easy to roll out. But if you dare using the whole 200 g of butter you will probably avoid this dryness.

Leave the dough covered in the fridge (original suggestion – somewhere cold) for 15-20 minutes and then roll it out into a thin sheet (we did it in portions). Cut the dough with the same molds and press the dough into the molds (we didn’t grease them as the butter in the dough will mdo the job). Here you will understand if you rolled the dough too thick or too thin – you should be able to cover the entire mold from the inside with the dough. The recipe suggests cutting the overhanging dough with ‘a sharp knife’ but you can also do it with your fingers (the overhanging dough will only appear if you cut the dough using a round cutter).

Place the molds on a baking sheet ‘like saucers’ (the dough side up) and bake (we guessed 175’C would be fine) for about 15-20 minutes until the dough starts browning. Be careful not to overbake! Leave the molds to cool a bit and then take the shells out. Fill both shells and bring them together. Enjoy!

Fake Nuts Filled with Condensed Milk

Remarks: The caramelised condensed milk filling is super sweet as you can imagine. So if you want a lighter version I would suggest using some  nut butter or super-thick jam – or the original walnut filling. And if you do run out of filling (like we did with the whole two cans of condensed milk) and you realise it soon enough before you make another batch of nut shells, try using the dough for some individual tartlets filled with whatever you like (I had some thick cranberry jam). Well, at least even a small tartlet will use up more dough than a nutshell will!

Fake Nuts Filled with Condensed Milk

Result: ‘A taste from childhood‘ was the verdict of my friend’s parents (the recipe makes such a mass of these nuts that you can feed three families with no problems :). These nuts are super-sweet and addictive. Best consumed with lots of tea to wash down all the thick condensed milk filling. There are various ways to enjoy these cookies – some people (kids) like licking out all the filling first and then eating the chewy shells, some prefer biting and some will just swallow the entire piece 🙂

Fake Nuts Filled with Condensed Milk

The caramelised and regular condensed milk is definitely a taste from childhood. The caramelised version is particularly often used in many industrially made foods like syrok (a fatty cream cheese treat in chocolate glaze), layer cakes, cookies and biscuit rolls. A housewife in USSR would boil a whole can of sweetened condensed milk and produce the caramelised version at home, as only the un-boiled version existed (with such editions as sweetened condensed milk with chicory or sweetened condensed milk with cocoa / coffee). Some of these home experiences ended up on the kitchen door, floor and all over the place too 🙂

Fake Nuts Filled with Condensed Milk

As yo can see in this photo we had quite a lot of shells left unfilled – I didn’t witness what happened to them later but I guess they just served as a ‘base’ for the jam or something. I was actually glad we ran out of filling cause the procedure is quite tiresome with such a mass of dough! A recipe for a tireless Soviet housewife who knows how to make a treat out of the scarce ingredients 🙂

This recipe goes to my Soviet/Russian and Sweet recipe collections.

G.