architecture · no recipe · St Petersburg

Tsarskoye Selo in Wait for Spring

Tsarskoye Selo

We went to Tsarskoye Selo right on the day when there was a blast in the St Petersburg metro. We were on the train when it happened so our escape from the city was very timely. Tsarskoye Selo is just a 30 minute train ride from the center of the city and yet it feels as if you really get into a different world and time.

Tsarskoye Selo

It’s curious that while being technically a part of St Petersburg Tsarskoye Selo is always some years behind – for me the town is stuck somewhere in the late 1990s – early 2000s. Although this doesn’t apply to the ex-royal residence and now a public park / museum, which is, well, out of time.

Tsarskoye Selo

In this time of the year – and on a work day – probably the most striking is the atmosphere in the park(s) of Tsarskoye Selo. There’s just literally no one there. The winter is not completely gone and the spring lingers to arrive, so there’s this feeling of in-between, of something suspended, waiting.

Tsarskoye Selo

The ponds are still covered with ice and the trees are graphic, resembling some black and white painting or shadow theater. Or simply ink spilled on paper.

Tsarskoye Selo

Just a few more weeks and the parks of Tsarskoye Selo will be teeming with tourists on any day of the week. But now you can still enjoy a solitary walk – or a solitary seat 🙂 And wait for the spring, open to all winds – and the view.

Tsarskoye Selo

But the birds are singing, they know the spring is very close.

Tsarskoye Selo

The color scheme of nature is brown – black – greyish white. More colors will arrive later. Can you imagine: all the colors, all the possible forms of life are there in the seemingly dead nature? Just wait and see.

Tsarskoye Selo

Here’s Tsarskoye Selo in spring, summer and autumn.

Adding this post to the St Petersburg collection.

G.

architecture · no recipe · travel

Prague’s Architectural Cocktail

Prague

My last stop on the Mitteleuropa journey, Prague is architect’s paradise and a heaven for architecture fans. It offers the eye so much information in such detail that you just get tired very quickly and give up. Besides, there is such a crowd of tourists moving about the city (mostly Russian and Italian-speaking) that you abandon all the attempts to have a nice peaceful walk and go with the flow.

Prague

Being a St Petersburg local, I’m quite prepared for a varied architecture with several epochs represented along one street, back-to-back. But Prague offers an even wilder picture as it also has yet another layer – Medieval architecture which with St Petersburg’s 300-and-something-year-old history is not the case.

Prague

We went from Bratislava to Prague by bus and after a night at a hostel we started off our day from the nearby Vitkov Hill. The National Memorial sitting right on top of this hill was originally constructed in 1928 – 1938 and that’s why it has a non-human totalitarian air about it. Well, it was really in the air that kind of architecture in those days. Ironically enough, this became an anti-Nazi monument after the war.

Prague

Prague is pretty representative of the Vienna-style Art Nouveau. It pops up here and there as hotels (below), residential houses or this Municipal House (above) which is extremely elaborately decorated both inside and outside.

Prague

To get even more of the Art Nouveau in the city we went to the Alfons Mucha museum and discovered for ourselves one of the sources of all things Art Nouveau in painting and decoration. Even if you don’t now his name, you will definitely recognize his elements in many many posters (1960s concert posters in America drew largely on Mucha’s style) and virtually anything which mimics the Art Nouveau style.

Prague

The windy and chaotic Karluv Most (Charles Bridge) over the Vltava river, the city most known landmark, with the Prague Castle in the background (above). And the view from the other side of Vltava:

Prague

Prague can get overwhelmingly touristy. Looking at its map now I can say that in some ways it is such a popular destination it is verging on being too much. Too much stuff is made for tourists that in the end you cannot really grasp the authenticity of the city. That’s why one would try to avoid Charles Bridge and Prague’s center – just to feel that you can be human again 🙂

Prague

Wandering in the city is easy – you just turn off the main road and keep your head up: pseudo-Gothic castles, real Gothic churches, baroque, classicism, you name it! Hard to tell which one is real and which one is a later interpretation.

Prague
I took photos of many a facade but I might just as well have dropped that thing at once as it is not possible to encompass all the crazy variety of architecture in Prague.

Prague

On our second day in Prague (which was obviously not going to be a warm day from the very start) we took a tram across the city to the other side of the Vltava river and then went up there where the Prague’s Castle is:

Prague

We got so cold in the Castle that I can hardly recall anything 🙂 Well, travelling in winter has its downsides. As is travelling on super hot days, I suppose, when your attention span is so short you can only think of getting something cold to drink and find a shady bench to sit on. Winter on its harsh days just makes your eyesight limited – you seem to be looking only in front of you, raising your shoulders and tucking your head in. Feels warmer this way 🙂

Prague

All I remember about Prague’s Castle is that although the entrance to the Castle is free of charge (they would just make you go through security check), it’s a sort of a tourist trap inside: entrance to anything else within its territory apart from several souvenir stores and the information center requires a ticket. But the view from the windy top was great. A real winter fairy tale. Somewhere over there there should be many creatures living on the roofs 🙂

Prague
By the way, they have a vineyard right on the slope of the hill which reminded me of Avignon. After descending back to the ‘ground’, spending some – warm – minutes in the Prague’s metro station right under the Prague’s Castle hill, we continued our wanderings in the direction of the Charles Bridge:

Prague

The ‘other’ side of Vltava proved to be a pretty cozy place, seemingly older around the Castle and probably less touristy than the “Prague 1” with its super touristy attractions such as the astronomical clock and the Jewish district.

Prague

After we got substantially cold and wind-bitten we ended up (twice) in a local cafe called At the Parliament (U Parlamentu). There we had a fix-price menu lunch with fried cheese and boiled potatoes on one day and on the other I tried some soup which turned out to be richly infused with smoked bacon :). You can obviously sample Czech beer at that place, along with some dumplings and other traditional stuff.

Prague
We did not go to any markets in Prague although the Christmas ‘market’ was still on place. We tried some local cheese though – brynza (salted white brine cheese), soft fresh cheese similar to the Russian tvorog (cottage cheese) and some pretty weird sharp-tasting cheese called Sedlčanský Romadůžek.

Here is another one of the spotted – allegedly – Czech dishes, Trdelnik, hugely popular and popularized street food which several countries claim their own, pictured at various stages of its preparation:

Prague
You can’t say it’s a baked bread because it’s cooked over coal, resembling something like a sweet shashlik or barbecue 🙂 Did not try trdelnik in Prague but later a friend brought some from Hungary where apparently they also consider it their traditional dessert. My impressions – overly sweet dough with lots of extra sugar on top!

Prague is a interesting place. It’s not a place you would go to relax though – you would just have no chance for that in the streets teeming with tourists ever hungry for more attractions. But it’s one of those ‘democratic’ places where everyone will find something of interest.

Adding this post to my Travel series where you will find more Mitteleuropa journey accounts on Bratislava and Vienna.

G.

architecture · no recipe · travel

Glossy Vienna

Vienna

The next stop on my Mitteleuropa trip was Vienna. I travelled there by train and back by bus thus experiencing both roads on one day. The journey from and back to Bratislava was really fast either way. And this post is going to be quite a brief one too because I really don’t have much to say about Vienna!

Vienna

I started my journey by visiting the market, Naschmarkt, which I couldn’t really enjoy 100% because of pretty intrusive vendors who would address you in all possible languages. Besides, I was not there only for the local produce and aromas although I must admit the bread looked amazing!

Vienna

I also wanted to see some Art Nouveau (or rather Secession) which this city is particularly famous for. And with all my love for Art Nouveau I was a little bit too dazzled to take it in – too many golden details, too shiny. I guess I’m more into the Nordic interpretation of Art Nouveau which you can find in St Petersburg and Finland, for instance.

Vienna

But I did like the Karlsplatz station designed by Otto Wagner. His motives and patterns were duplicated and triplicated by so many architects around the world that eventually it all became so very trivial.

Vienna

However, I was glad I could see the original Otto Wagner’s creations and not a-la Wagneresque. Very sophisticated and detailed.

Vienna

I must admit I don’t have much to say about Vienna indeed. I think I didn’t really like it there. And yes, the time I spent there was not enough to make a proper opinion of the city but there was a certain feeling of being in a place where everything is so fixed you can’t change anything. As if everything has been already done for you – the only thing left is just go and admire the place. Vienna appears to me as a grown-up city so to speak, which is done with its development and now represents a static glossy picture.

Vienna

In a way I do struggle to find things interesting to me in the places like Vienna. Same problem with Zurich and Luxembourg. Looking back at it now, I’ve realized what was missing in those cities which I consider quite ‘fixed’ and static (thus not very attractive to me): they seem to lack decadence! I mean, surely there are some old things around but with all their minor bruises or scratches you don’t feel they are… authentic in a way. Too glossy.

Vienna

So in my search for something authentic and less glossy I stumbled upon the stables right in the center of Vienna (the imperial stables of Hofburg palace).

Vienna

Then I got lost in the courtyards of the city center with its interminable museums, posh shops and restaurants, crowds of tourists and horse-driven carts. I liked this guard’s post with sharp ‘teeth’:

Vienna

After wandering in the swarming city center I was glad to get out of it on one of the Ring avenues and into the Stadtpark with a lake and curious clock towers. A nice place to eat your sandwich and get some fresh air.

Vienna

I was planning to go to Albertina museum to see some Monet but in the end I just headed off towards the station visiting the Belvedere Garden which I liked more than the Palace itself.

Vienna
There was a spring-time feeling in the garden although it was just January. But the sun does put you in the spring mood!

Vienna

The view over the garden and the city from the elevation of the palace:

Vienna

Mutlicolour houses just outside Belvedere and next to the central railway station:

Vienna

After all the grown-up glamour of Vienna I was really relieved to get back to home-like Bratislava. I think Vienna just has too much of Baroque about it. I guess you can compare the city to one of its Baroque churches: the interiors seem to be so over-decorated that you feel lost immediately – and tired too. It’s overwhelmingly fanciful. That’s why unpredictable places like Slovakia seem to be less tiresome: at least you don’t get bored there because with all the European-Union-standardization not everything there is as fixed, secure and prosperous as in its neighbor Austria yet 🙂

This post goes to the Travel collection.

G.

architecture · on USSR / Russia · travel

Yaroslavl and Rostov Veliky

Rostov

After seeing three European capitals in January, I’ve now switched back to the explorations within my own country, so i will interrupt my account of the Mitteleuropa trip to share my most recent impressions of two popular Russia’s Golden Ring destinations, the old cities of Yaroslavl and Rostov Veliky (not to be confused with Rostov-on-Don in the South of Russia).

Yaroslavl

I saw both cities about 17 years ago and in summer but I can remember very little – and mostly thanks to the photos that back then we would print out and look at not just once. So this time it was just as if I went there for the first time anyway. I chose the bigger Yaroslavl as my base from which I travelled to the smaller Rostov.

Yaroslavl

And as always (well, actually only since I’ve started travelling on my own) I’ve enjoyed the train part of the journey. I travelled by night both there and back but I did not leave the train too early in the morning to miss that feeling of having a pretty lazy start of the day while knowing that you will have pretty busy rest of the day afterwards. So I arrived in Yaroslavl towards midday and had just several hours of light in front of me. Well, the day was not sunny at all which probably also influenced my perception of the city.

Yaroslavl

I started off from my hostel which was super conveniently located just next to the railway station and when I got to the center of the city, I noticed a flow of people heading towards the square in front of the cathedral – where they were celebrating the Russian Shrovetide, Maslenitsa.

Yaroslavl

I ignored the celebrations and chose to go see the Volga river instead – last time I saw it in Samara and had a swim there too. In the picture below you can see ice and snow-covered Kotorosl river and the ice-free Volga to the left. They come together at this point which is called Strelka (Arrow). This pavilion is one of the symbols of the city and one of the musts for all tourist groups.

Yaroslavl

After realizing that it should be less windy and hence warmer the farther you get from Volga I went to the Yaroslavl Kremlin – or rather Spaso-Preobrazhensky Monastery which was so fortified back in the old days it still looks like a fortress (and is mistakenly referred to as kremlin).

Yaroslavl

Unfortunately, the place is pretty run-down and doesn’t really impress you even though it seems to have all the necessary ingredients such as whitewashed walls, strong gates and a belltower.

Yaroslavl

Love these outside wooden staircases – they seem to be hanging on air and to be popping up in all possible places!

Yaroslavl

I went inside one of these buildings to see the exposition dedicated to the history of the region. One of the objects on display that keep amusing me since I went to a similar museum in Ryazan is kopoushka – a funny named thing used to pick old Russians’ ears 🙂 No photo of this thingy here but you can follow the link to see its many incarnations.

Yaroslavl

Sure enough they tell you about the main symbol of the city in that museum, the bear. It occupies the central place in one of the legends surrounding the foundation of Yaroslavl: they say the original dwellers of these parts used to worship bears and even sent a really ferocious one after prince Yaroslav the Wise, so he killed the bear and took over the power and built the city (which according to one of the versions took its name after Yaroslav). One of the numerous bear symbols in the city is right there on top of the tower:

Yaroslavl

There was a fun part in there for me too: a local producers’ market because that was the Maslenitsa weekend and the first and foremost thing everybody is up to during Shrovetide in Russia – is food. So out I went with a jar of cherry-rum confiture and some meat for my Dad. I also found some super flavourful honey from the Kuban’ region and tasty ryazhenka (baked milk) on my way back to the hostel. Also bought this black bread called Monastyrsky (it had no label on its package so I can only assume that it was made with sourdough and rye malt):

Monastyrsky Bread

Next morning I went to Rostov the Great (Rostov Veliky), within an hour bus ride from Yaroslavl. Just like in the Vladimir / Suzdal couple, Rostov used to be much bigger and much more important than Yaroslavl but then lost all the power. It now resembles a real village with lots of tourists and not many locals around. On the way from the bus / railway station to the center I spotted this dying wooden heritage:

Rostov

When you reach the ‘Kremlin’ (yet again, this is not technically a kremlin, it was the residence of the Metropolitan of Rostov), you do get impressed at its solidness especially if you know that it was not built to defend the city!

Rostov

Its fortified walls are particularly popular among Russian tourists for it being a movie set for the 1973 Soviet classics Ivan Vasilievich Changes His Profession (based on Bulgakov’s play).

Rostov

The city stars in several other movies as well. Seems like it managed to preserve this allure of a provincial town which other cities around Moscow might have lost due to heavy – mostly Brezhnev’s era – construction and reconstruction.

Rostov

An ex-church, apparently, and some rusty but still functioning mail boxes:

Rostov

I really enjoyed walking around the whitewashed walls and up to the lake Nero (yes, the name has obvious Greek roots). The lake was also white – all covered with ice and snow. And there was also sun blinding you with its unexpected enthusiasm as well as such strong wind you could hear it howling although there was nothing but plain surface of a frozen lake in front of you.

Rostov

The amazing Lake Nero and super happy French tourists hopping around:

Rostov

And you can walk on water and enjoy the cityscape…

Rostov

The sun obviously helped enjoy it even more, bringing out the colors:

Rostov

…and then you can climb up the rampant and watch children sliding down the slopes:

Rostov

I guess Rostov in winter is the place to take tourists to see something truly Russian. Besides, the Rostov ‘Kremlin’ looks much better than the one in Yaroslavl. However, there was a fair share of decadence inside too, so I had my moments of architectural pleasure when I entered its walls.

Rostov

And why not combine architectural pleasure with some gastronomic pleasure as well? Here’s how:

Rostov

Home-baked bulochka with apples and cranberries, mmmm, the dough was so light and sweet – just like a pillow! The lady making and selling them has taken the most advantageous spot there is in Rostov – right in front of the entrance to the museum, can’t miss that!

Rostov

And meanwhile inside the Rostov ‘kremlin’ the spring has arrived:

Rostov

…making navigating around a bit complicated. In some places you just had to run quick under a shower of melting snow and over a big puddle.

Rostov

Patterns:

Rostov

More details:

Rostov

Fortification walls which were never supposed to serve as fortification:

Rostov

And here’s the Metropolitan’s Garden – must look amazing in spring / early summer with all the apple trees blossoming:

Rostov

More details:

Rostov

This is actually the entrance to the history museum (a rather disappointingly small one compared to Yaroslavl). Can you imagine that this very bit of a Byzantine jug should survive and not some other of its pieces?

Rostov

A rather unusually decorated church with a matching pine branch:

Rostov

Check out that door!

Rostov

This one is serious too:

Rostov

A rather run-down cathedral:

Rostov

The gates to the kremlin-residence:

Rostov

More details:

Rostov

Meanwhile outside of the kremlin walls: decadence, anyone?

Rostov

There was a bunch of wooden Art-Nouveau houses along Okruzhnaya street which runs round the center of Rostov right to / from the lake. This one resembles some kind of a green bug, quite in the fashion of Art-Nouveau:

Rostov

But the obvious winner was this house with a mad-mad-mad balcony windows:

Rostov

And loads of decadence around – this house was abandoned both by people and by wasps (see their nest in the top left hand corner):

Rostov

There was also an ex-church with its belltower turned into… a (fire) watchtower! I went up to the lake to have a glimpse of its magic before I headed off to the bus station. On my way from the lake the decadence was interrupted by some nicely preserved specimens of traditional Russian window frame decorations:

Rostov

As you might have already guessed, I enjoyed Rostov Veliky more – even though it is really small and packed with tourists in its most popular spots. I would love to come back to Rostov in spring or summer – the lake Nero should be gorgeous! And after all I haven’t heard all the legends surrounding it and haven’t been to all the monasteries on its shores to get the best views.

This post goes to the On Russia and Travel series.

G.

architecture · no recipe · travel

Easy-Going Bratislava and Devin Hrad

Bratislava

This new year break was the second one in my life when I was away from home. I went to the yet undiscovered Mitteleuropa, visiting three capitals in one go: Slovakia’s Bratislava, Austria’s Vienna and Czech Republic’s Prague.

Bratislava

Bratislava welcomed me with seizing cold and wind. I left St Petersburg in sports shoes so you can imagine I was quite unprepared for long strolls. Even my camera was unprepared – it got all cold and its battery died on the first day before I could take the pictures of the misty snowy Bratislava.

Bratislava

Wandering in the relatively small old town of Bratislava won’t allow you to get lost for sure but it will provide you with quite a number of small details that I appreciate much more than anything else.

Bratislava

Adorable curves and street lamps all over the old town of Bratislava:

Bratislava

Right in the center of the old town. Wonderfully decadent.

Bratislava

But the most decadent street is Kapitulska which leads up to St Martin’s Cathedral. Reminded me of Thessaloniki’s Ano Poli.

Bratislava

This street is also right next to the city wall. Just one street but almost each house is mouthwatering for such decadence freaks like me.

Bratislava

A missing house which left its trace on the surviving neighbor’s wall:

Bratislava

I wonder how many more years these houses will last. The on eat the end of the lane doesn’t seem to be doing particularly good anymore.

Bratislava

13th century St Martin’s Cathedral. A place to warm up your frozen limbs before continuing your explorations:

Bratislava

Old pharmacy with a small opening for giving out prescription drugs?

Bratislava

The most famous bridge in Bratislava aka Most SNP and one of the city’s symbols since the 1970s. Also features a restaurant on top of the UFO-like tower. In that kind of weather it just lacked some lights to compliment the picture.

Bratislava

The remains of the city wall and the houses crawling up the hill crowned by the Bratislava Castle:

Bratislava

Frozen garden inside the reconstructed Bratislava Castle. This cloth is used for shielding the trees.

Bratislava

A frozen alley close to the National Theater. Looking all like Paris or Vienna (as I discovered later on).

Bratislava

Misty Danube after I’ve recharged my camera and went for a walk to the river. Children were playing hockey on the ice. Well, it’s not technically Danube, this is an intermediary stream Karloveske Rameno that I’ve crossed over to reach the real Danube. There’s also a Water Museum there.

Bratislava

I went up to see the city from the Bratislava Castle hill several times. The castle itself did not impress me much- it has been heavily renovated (or rather recreated) as it fell in disrepair and remained in ruins until 1950s. Although every magnet or postcard features the Castle as the most recognizable symbol of the city, I preferred the view from the Castle. They say you can see Hungary on a fine clear day from up there:

Bratislava

On one of the days I went to yet another castle, Devin Hrad or Devin Castle, one of the popular attractions very close to the place where my dear friend lives. It is situated at the confluence of Danube and Moravia rivers, a very fine spot!

Devin Hrad

It’s one of the most ancient castles in Slovakia, And as is common with (remains of) the castles, the view from the top is worth all the climbing and entrance fees 🙂

Devin Hrad

It was a windy day with some glimpses of sun so I could enjoy the scenery and was almost blown away when I got to the top of the hill. Unfortunately, the very top part of the castle was closed (it’s winter after all) so I could only wander round the lower towers.

Devin Hrad

That small tower is called the Maiden tower and immediately attracts your attention (and there’s of course a number of legends built around it). Love the sheer bulk of the castle, the massiveness and the roughness of the stone against the riverside background:

Devin Hrad

Remains of a 9th century church with the only thing still intact – the view over Danube. After all, the name of the castle, Devin, actually derives from the Slavic word for seeing, although other interpretations include such meanings as ‘the place of evil spirits’ or ‘castle of the girl’ among others.

Devin Hrad

On my last day in Bratislava we made a walk in the city center – and there was sun, finally. It looked even prettier with the sun, especially through the stained glass window – just like a fairy tale town!

Bratislava

These pictures were taken from inside the Town Hall which is now a museum:

Bratislava

You don’t need a monocle with these windows 🙂

Bratislava

All in all I really liked the country. I didn’t see much but I could grasp the easy-going spirit of the place (and I enjoyed the language too!). There’s something to the Eastern Europe that makes it closer to my heart. It’s not that fixed as the Western Europe and thus less predictable.

Bratislava

And yes, you can purchase locally produced sheep and cow-milk cheese and yogurt from a vending machine at the public transport stops. None of your chocolate bars or fizzy drinks please! 🙂 We’ve tried this cheese, called Mini Parenicky, which reminded me of suluguni:

Bratislava

Here pictured with spaetzle, cottage cheese and some salad. It was a very nice lunch we had at my friend’s place before I grabbed my rucksack and set off for my long way back home.

The following posts will be about Vienna and Prague.

This post goes to the Travel collection.

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.

bread · Greek recipe

Koulouri Thessalonikis, Take 2

Koulouri Thessalonikis

This is a take 2 of trying to reproduce the wonderful bread rings called koulouri: street food, breakfast food, snack food, these rings are sold all over the place in Thessaloniki, Greece. Of course I’ve done many more attempts over these years but the result has never been nearly as good.

Koulouri Thessalonikis

And hooray, now there’s a video of this recipe that you can watch (there was a request for that in one of the comments to the take 1)! I’m sure there’ll be no problem with it being in Greek as you might as well just try to reproduce the movements of the baker with the help of the recipe that follows. Here’s the video from the SKAI’s Chef on Air TV program – start watching from 3:55 if you don’t know Greek.

Koulouri Thessalonikis

The first koulouri I posted on this blog back in 2012 was with a slightly different recipe. I think overall those first koulouria (plural for koulouri) looked more authentic but almost 5 years later there’s no way I can actually compare the two recipe other than by appearance.

Koulouri Thessalonikis

1 year ago – Whole Wheat Fig Bars

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

3 years ago – Apricot Oatmeal Bar With Pistachios

4 years ago – After Apples Come the Berries

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

Koulouri Thessalonikis or ΚΟΥΛΟΥΡΙ ΘΕΣΣΑΛΟΝΙΚΗΣ adapted from chefonair.gr will make a dozen of soft and a tad sweet bread rings. I’ve made several changes to the original recipe which included filling the rings with chocolate cream cheese.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 kg all purpose flour
  • 4 Tbs seed oil – I used olive oil
  • 1 Tbs salt – I used less
  • 1/2 cup lukewarm water for the dough – I needed more
  • 2 Tbs sunflower seed oil for brushing the baking sheet – I used paper / baking mat
  • 2 cups lukewarm water for the sugary water – I cut this in half
  • 1 cup sugar for the sugary water – I cut this in half
  • 2 cups sesame seeds – I had too little of these (be generous!)
  • 3 Tbs flour for the yeast
  • 15 g fresh yeast – too lazy to check the yeast conversion website, I put in a bit of instant yeast (it should have been 1.76  tsp of instant yeast or 2.65  tsp of active dry yeast)
  • 1/2 cups lukewarm water for the yeast
  • 2 Tbs sugar for the yeast – I used a bit of honey

Procedure:

Pour lukewarm water into a bowl and dissolve the fresh yeast with the 2 Tbs of sugar. Add 3 Tbs of flour and mix. Cover with plastic foil and leave to rise for 30 minutes at room temperature.

(The original recipe asked for the mixer) Place the flour, the yeast mixture, the oil, the water and the salt to a big bowl and start kneading (3 minutes with the mixer running at low speed and then 5 minutes more at high, a bit longer by hand). Cover the bowl with a towel / plastic foil and leave to rest for 30 minutes and then knead again (5 minutes with a mixer, longer by hand).

Divide the dough into 15-18 pieces (I made 12 balls) and roll each piece into a rope about 30 cm long. Mix sugar with lukewarm water in a plate to create sugary water (it helps keep almost all the sesame seeds on place and adds some colour). Dip the ropes first into the sugary water and then into sesame seeds (place them on a shallow plate: I would suggest keeping some as a reserve because they stick so well and disappear pretty fast). Pinch the two edges to create a ring. Place the koulouria on a greased baking sheet (or line your sheet with parchment paper / baking mat), leaving space between them as they will puff up. Cover with a towel / plastic foil and leave to rise for 30 minutes (my first batch was rising for a bit longer already shaped while the second was rising longer as dough balls).

Bake in the preheated oven at 170’C for 15-20 minutes (mine took 20 minutes).

Koulouri Thessalonikis

Remarks: You can see how naked the second batch looks, as I was running out of the sesame seeds… For this recipe you do need quite a lot of them if you want a really authentic look and taste! And by the way, with the sugary water trick these seeds do not come off as massively as they would with dipping them in just plain water.

Koulouri Thessalonikis

The second batch also looks more browned as I was using a black baking mat for these. It’s a pity today on such a beautiful snowy winter day there’s not much light so the koulouria look rather blueish. Which they don’t 🙂

Koulouri Thessalonikis

I added less sugar to the dough and a bit less salt and still I think the crumb tastes pretty salty which comes into contrast with the slightly sweet outside thanks to the sugary water.

Koulouri Thessalonikis

Result: These traditional Greek bred rings are soft and chewy. I would eat them plain or with cheese and salad – although the original recipe suggests slicing them and filling them with chocolate. Which I imagine is also nice as bread is multipurpose!

Koulouri Thessalonikis

As for the crumb, koulouri is much softer than its Russian counterpart bublik (which has a dense crumb and poppy seeds instead of sesame). Bublik is also larger and thicker, with a more browned surface. Gosh, I love both 🙂

Koulouri Thessalonikis

By the way, all in the mood of the first Saturday of the month when we participate in the local recycling activity, I recycled the sugary water into a berry coffee cake. Worked out just fine.

Koulouri Thessalonikis

This post goes to the by Country and the Yeast Bread collections.

G.