September 14, 2019

Eight Russian Desserts To Make Your Mouth Water


Eight Russian Desserts To Make Your Mouth Water
Syrniki (soft sweet cheese pancakes). Wikimedia Commons

What’s the most important part of a Russian meal? We definitely think it’s dessert. Russian meals serve dessert with tea (к чаю), or with coffee if you choose, at the end of meals, thereby saving the best for last. Also, many iconic Russian desserts have a fascinating history behind them. Some traditional desserts trace their lineage back to Kyivan Rus, but others didn’t even originate in Russia. Still others became popular in Soviet kitchens, and still more took on unusual lives, becoming instruments of foreign policy.

Whatever their origin, Russian desserts make the perfect end to any meal. Here are eight desserts that you absolutely need to try at your next dinner/lunch/breakfast/any time of day. {BONUS: All Russian Life recipes linked to in this post are normally only accessible by a digital subscription, but we have made them freely accessible for the rest of September.}

1. Jam

Redcurrant jam
Redcurrant (красная смородина) jam. / 1000.menu

That’s right — you can have just jam for dessert! But ideally, you should pair it with tea. My Russian teacher says that her father does not consider a meal complete without a cup of tea and a few spoonfuls of jam, straight out of the jar. As Linda DeLaine once wrote for Russian Life: “Tea as a dessert is also popular. Take a spoonful of your favorite jam with each sip of unsweetened tea or serve fine chocolates with the tea. A real treat!”

2. Tula Pryanik (Тульский пряник)

Тульский пряник
A 1-kilogram Тульский пряник. / Wikimedia Commons

A pryanik is a pastry made with honey, flour, eggs, and spices. In its most simple form, it is like a soft, dense gingerbread cookie, minus the ginger. Indeed, pryanik is commonly translated as “gingerbread,” even though it does not have to have ginger.

Traditionally, pryaniki from the Tula region were large, had a sweet filling inside, and a design on top. In their efforts to standardize and expand food production, the Soviet government established several factories dedicated to producing Tula pryaniki. These factories are still operational today, and in fact, one of them recently sent a batch to the International Space Station. But you don’t need to visit space to try Tula pryaniki. Anyone with an oven can design and bake their very own Tula pryaniki, and of course, if you ever visit Tula, you can feast on fresh Tula pryaniki there.

3. Guriev Kasha

Guriev kasha
Guriev kasha. / 1000.menu

Guriev kasha is not as healthy as normal kasha, but it arguably has a cooler creation story. Supposedly it was invented by either Count Dmitri Guriev, a well-traveled gourmand official in Alexander I’s court, or somebody who worked for him. According to legend, Alexander III was eating Guriev kasha in a train when the train derailed, killing 23 passengers but sparing him. So not only is it a tasty dessert, it’s a lucky one too.

Guriev kasha is made by layering semolina with nut and/or fruit fillings and separating each layer with browned milk skins. It is topped with a layer of sugar browned in the same way as crème brûlée, as well as fruits and nuts. There are plenty of recipes online, but here’s one published in the November/December 2013 issue of Russian Life.

4. Baked Apples

Baked apple
A baked apple stuffed with nuts and dried fruits. / gastronom.ru

How do you like them (baked) apples? Baked apples are quick and easy to make, plus you can pretend they’re totally healthy, no matter what you fill them with. The lazy chef can stuff them with nuts and dried fruits, while gourmands may use cinnamon, tvorog (cottage cheese), or even alcohol. Be sure to use apples that are on the sour side, as baked apple recipes are typically designed for apples that have a bit of a kick. In olden times, baking apples was a way to use the less tasty varieties, while in our day, it allows you to deceive yourself into thinking you’re eating less sugar than you really are.

5. Sharlotka

Sharlotka
Sharlotka. / obozrevatel.com

The sharlotka is not to be mistaken with its European cousin, the charlotte, a cakelike dessert that glues together ladyfingers or thin sponge cakes with cream, custard, or fruit purées. Before the Soviet Union, a sharlotka probably looked like the charlotte, but in the Soviet Union it underwent simplifications that brought it to the masses. The modern Russian sharlotka is an apple-flavored angel food cake that you can top with anything you want. Marina Pustilnik  suggests topping with marmalade and walnuts, but you can add fresh fruit, more apples, powdered sugar, or whatever else suits your fancy (cake).

6. Syrniki

Syrniki
A syrnik stack. / edimdoma.ru

Not in the mood for something super sweet? Syrniki are traditional sweet cheese (творог) pancakes that you can serve with sour cream, jam, honey, or just have on their own. Although they are traditionally fried in butter, you can substitute for vegetable oil and still end up with a deliciously filling dessert. Marina Pustilnik offered a fine recipe in our summer issue.

7. Kaymak with Wafers

Kaymak with wafers
Kaymak with wafers. / gastronom.ru

Want something creamier than syrniki? Whip up some cream with vanilla and lemon. Then add the cream mixture (kaymak) and dried fruit to some wafers, and voilà — you have kaymak s vaflyami (with wafers).

The term kaymak originates from Central Asia and, in that region’s cuisine, refers to unflavored thick cream. While Russian kaymak with wafers doesn’t use actual kaymak, its taste should evoke the richness of cream freshly separated from milk.

8. Zefir

Zefiry
Multicolored zefiry. / povar.ru

Feeling lazy? Hop over to your local Slavic store and buy a box of zefiry (or, if you want to burn some extra calories, make some yourself). A zefir, as the name suggests, is as light as wind. Like a meringue, it isn’t too rich, but it is as soft as a marshmallow, so you can mix and match with some of the other desserts above.

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