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Arsip Tag: russian
On New Year’s Eve, we attempted to do the reprehensible and take a 6 year-old who usually goes to bed at 7:30 and a pajama-clad infant who went to bed whenever the thought struck her to a party at a friend’s place in Brooklyn. Like, for grown-ups. (Just let me know where to collect our parenting medals.) By 9:30 p.m., all members of the Perelman clan were predictably rubbing their eyes and we headed home before the meltdowns began, got the wee ones tucked in and then made some White Russians. We haven’t been able to stop making them since.
While the drink has absolutely nothing to do with being pale-skinned or Russian-born at least in an ethnic sense, thank goodness, my husband’s fondness for them amuses me no less despite this. Wikipedia tells us that the vodka (the “Russian” part) and coffee liqueur (the “black” part) cocktail known as a Black Russian emerged in 1949, and the White Russian, which includes the praise-worthy addition of cream, shortly thereafter, although there are some that date it earlier (1930s, when it contained gin as well) and some later (1961, when the black/white distinctions first appeared in the Diners’ Club Drink Book).
But for most of us, the drink came into our collective consciousness in 1998, when the cult Coen Brothers movie Big Lebowski — about an aging slacker who called himself “the Dude” and whose chief pursuits included bowling, not working, and drinking White Russians — caused an inadvertent White Russian revival. To wit, I had my first about 15 minutes after leaving the movie theater. I ordered it with skim milk. The bartender looked at me askance. I deserved it.
While the drink is often passed off as little more than an alcoholic milkshake, I think that makes it too easy to dismiss. There are no scoops of ice cream or plumes of whipped cream; chocolate shavings or garnishes of any sort on top would be all wrong. At its finest, it’s a drink that suggests dessert while not drowning you in it, all while packing a sneaky punch. It’s also, if you assemble it just so, stunning — a tempest of light and darkness in a rocks glass. Or an arts-and-crafts project for grown-ups.
One year ago: Perfect Corn Muffins
Two years ago: Stuck-Pot Rice with Lentils and Yogurt
Three years ago: Italian Stuffed Cabbage
Four years ago: Double Coconut Muffins
Five years ago: Spaghetti with Lemon and Olive Oil
Six years ago: Spaghetti with Cheese + Black Pepper
Seven years ago: Toasted Coconut Shortbread
Eight years ago: Pasta Puttanesca and a Broken Artichoke Hearts Salad
Nine years ago: For Beaming, Bewitching Breads
And for the other side of the world:
Six Months Ago: Frozen Hot Chocolate
1.5 Years Ago: Smoky Eggplant Dip
2.5 Years Ago: Rice-Stuffed Tomatoes
3.5 Years Ago: My Favorite Brownies
4.5 Years Ago: Hazelnut Plum Crumb Tart
I have yet to find three White Russian recipes in a row that agree on proportions. The closest thing I can find to a classic advocates 2 parts vodka, 2 parts coffee liqueur and 1 part heavy cream or 2:2:1, but I have also seen versions that are heavier on the vodka and cream (5:2:3), the liqueur (1:2:1) and/or just the cream (2:2:3). Let me be absolutely no help at all except to tell you that our favorite proportions are none of the above, but after repeated, high-stakes “testing” (goofing after the kids are sleep) in our “lab” (sofa watching Netflix), we feel this — which we call the 4:3:3 because when you cook as much as I do, even drinks are measured in tablespoons — is unquestionably the best balance. We use half-and-half instead of heavy cream; with heavy cream, 1 ounce is usually sufficient.
You can of course replace the cream with milk, cow or non-dairy. For more variations, see this list.
Makes 1 drink
2 ounces (4 tablespoons) vodka
1 1/2 ounces (3 tablespoons) coffee liqueur (such as kahlua or tia maria)
1 1/2 ounces (3 tablespoons) half-and-half or 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) milk plus 1/2 ounce (1 tablespoon) heavy cream
Fill a short — or rocks — glass with ice. Add vodka and coffee liqueur. Finish with the cream. For the layered effect, pour the cream in a very slow drizzle off the back of a spoon held over — but not touching — the surface of the drink. To swirl it prettily, insert a stirrer along the inner wall of the glass only as a deep as the cream and move it around in a slow circle.
From time to time when someone learns that I’m married to a Russian, they’ll ask me if I can come up with a recipe for a Russian dish they’ve had, which is hilarious because I have never been to Russia, have probably only picked up 20 words (by generous estimation) in the 13 years we’ve been together and of the maybe five Russian dishes I’ve made, I’ve simply done them my mother in-law’s way. It’s almost like people might know that I have a tendency to get really obsessive when I decide I want to crack the code of a recipe and they’re hoping I’ll apply it to a long-lost loved dish they want to make a regular part of their lives again? Nah, that would be ridiculous.
Enter: medovik. Or maybe smetannik. Guys, if you’re ever looking for a sign that a recipe is going to be a doozy to unpack, definitely aim for a dish that nobody even agrees on the name of.*
Technically speaking, this hunt began in 2013 when I received two requests for Russian honey cake — something I’d never even heard of — within a month. I expected it to be a fairly simple process: 1. Try an authentic one from a Russian bakery and see if I even liked it, which I doubted I would because I’m just not that into honey. 2. If I did, try to recreate it using published recipes as guidance. But things got immediately, screechingly off track.
First, I fell in love. Why did nobody tell me it was as stunning as a dobos torte? I have a soft spot for cakes with a gazillion skinny layers. Oh, and the flavor — I had no idea. It tastes like an extraordinarily good honey graham cracker (i.e. like nothing we can buy in a box) that’s at once caramel and penuche and biscoff or stroopwafel layered with a sweetened cream or custard or cream cheese, yet the version I was eating, as per the ingredients on the label, contained exactly zero of these things. I was riveted.
And then I fell in… something, because the recipes I found made no sense at all. They were for cookies! This was unquestionably a cake with plush layers. I ceased all medovik/smetannik studies until this madness stopped.
Last month, three years later, I began anew. I went into a tornado of research — my Russian cookbooks, recipe websites in English and Russian via Google Translate, more Russian cookbooks through Google Book Search, having my mother-in-law call her friends that bake, YouTube videos in English and Russian — the likes I haven’t done since 2012’s Lasagna Bolognese in 2012, a dish I referred to “my culinary Mount Everest,” a mountain that has never since looked so tiny. The more I read, the more confused I became.**
I finally, weeks later, had to make all the noise stop. I closed all the books and all of the browser windows and started typing a recipe that blended the most appealing middle ground or elements of everything I’d read. I accepted that there were parts that didn’t make sense to me but I would do them anyway. I expected very little, but the cookie discs — yes, cookies, but a tiny bit bendy so maybe 10 percent on its way to cake already — smelled like a kiss of buttery honey caramel as they exited the oven and I felt like we might be at the brink of honey cake greatness at last.
After expending so much mental energy on the layers, I decided the simplest filling option — sweetened sour cream — was the most sane place to start. Honey would be the logical thing to sweeten it with, but after seeing a few recipes that worked in sweetened condensed milk, only one of the most delicious substances on this earth, I sweetened mine instead with it. The filling/frosting takes approximately one minute to make and I was pretty excited by now because this was happening, I was finally doing this. And then this happened:
And I was all because I couldn’t believe I’d gotten so close just to trash the whole thing. I shoved it into the back of the fridge, stormed out of the kitchen and didn’t return until the next day, and then I took deep breaths. I re-iced the cake with the spillover. I scooped and spackled. I covered the cake with the prescribed crumbs but until the moment that we sliced into the cake, I was still convinced it was a flop, that there would be no filling left, just a merged megastack of cake inside with no nuance, no joy, no point, no…
… sound. This cake has a way of silencing a room.
** So, is it called medovik (honey cake) or smetannik (sour cream cake), Deb? I asked many many people and here is a small sampling of the responses I got:
Team Smetannik: “Smetannik is what you made — it is a honey cake with sour cream layers…” “Smetanik is any cake with sour cream based frosting. Smetannik has honey in the recipe too, but only a little.” “Smetanik is a cake with sour cream used both in frosting and batter.” “smetannik, but you are missing the walnuts.. We make it with walnuts on each layer.”
“Medovnik, which I I think is also called Medoviy Tort — is basically the same thing, except, and this is where you get LOTS of debate, has honey in the sour cream frosting.” “Medovik is a honey cake which is usually assumed to have a sour cream frosting (though not always). I’d call it a Medovik.” “did you use multiple cups of honey in the recipe? Then it’s a medovik… also you seem to be missing walnuts”
Both teams were kind, however. “… if you were to use the terms interchangeably, the Russian culinary police won’t come after you, partly because there is no consensus.” “It’s definitely confusing, but call it what you want, I’d eat your version and ask for seconds.” (Aw.)
** Just a rough overview of some of my questions:
– Why did most contain 2 tablespoons of honey and 1 cup of sugar? How was this a honey cake?
– Why do some use 2 tablespoons of butter and others use 12?
– Half the recipes called for us to make a caramel and then, when it is still bubbling on the stove, whisk eggs into it — you do not need to be a food scientist to know this is how to make scrambled eggs. The other half have you make the caramel with the eggs already in it! How can that work?
– A lot of recipes have you mix baking soda and vinegar — basically activating it and rendering it almost inert, right? we did this once for red velvet cake and it confused me then too — and then mix in into the bubbling caramel, surely killing off any rising powers left in it. What was the point of all of this?
– Why does the dough roll out better when warm? Isn’t this stressful? What if your kid needs something and then the dough cools and you can’t roll it, does one just throw everything away?
– Do these really bake into cookies or something softer?
– And the filling — some people use sweetened sour cream, others add whipped cream and/or sweetened condensed milk or a full pastry cream/custard and I even saw one with a cooked flour frosting. Which was correct? Which was better? This is not America’s Test Kitchen. If I can not reasonably nail down a recipe in 2 to 3 rounds, I’m out.
One year ago: My Old-School Baked Ziti
Two years ago: Better Chicken Pot Pies
Three years ago: Miso Sweet Potato and Broccoli Bowl
Four years ago: Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls
Five years ago: Apple Pie Cookies
Six years ago: Mushroom Lasagna
Seven years ago: Quiche Lorraine
Eight years ago: Best Challah (Egg Bread), Mom’s Apple Cake and Beef, Leek and Barley Soup
Nine years ago: Peanut Butter Brownies and Arroz Con Pollo
Ten! years ago: Lemony Persnick
And for the other side of the world:
Six Months Ago: Caramelized Brown Sugar Oranges With Yogurt and Potato Pizza, Even Better
1.5 Years Ago: Why You Should Always Toast Your Nuts and Obsessively Good Avocado-Cucumber Salad
2.5 Years Ago: Asparagus-Stuffed Eggs
3.5 Years Ago: Spinach and Smashed Egg Toast
4.5 Years Ago: Over-The-Top Mushroom Quiche
Roll first quarter of dough between two pieces of parchment paper until it’s in a very thin 8″x10″ rectangle. If yours is a little wider or shorter, that’s fine; you’ll just want the remaining pieces to be the same size so they stack neatly. Peel away top parchment sheet and set aside to use for next dough. With the dough still on the bottom parchment sheet, use a knife or pastry wheel to cut dough in half, into two 4″x10″ rectangles. No need to separate them. Dock the dough all over with a fork and slide parchment and dough onto a baking sheet big enough that it lays flat. Bake for 9 to 12 minutes, or until light brown at edges. Transfer wafers to cooling rack.
Repeat with remaining quarters of dough. If you’d like to use less parchment, you can wait until the first quarter is baked and cooling to reuse the parchment for the remaining quarters. If you’d like to use less time and have the oven space, use additional sheets of parchment to roll out the remaining quarters and bake more than one at a time. Wafers can be stacked as they cool.
Make the filling: In a medium saucepan, whisk together sugar, starch, and salt. Add the eggs, one at a time, whisking until smooth and no pockets of sugar-starch remain before adding the next. Whisk in vanilla bean paste, if using, and then, very gradually, whisking the whole time, pour in milk. Bring mixture to a simmer over medium heat, whisking the whole time. As the custard begins to bubble, it will thicken. Simmer for one minute, whisking. Remove from heat and stir in the butter until it is fully melted, then the rum (if using) and vanilla extract. If you want your custard extra silky-smooth, pour the custard through a fine-mesh sieve before continuing, but I never do.
Press a piece of plastic onto the surface of the custard and let it cool at room temperature or in the fridge until lukewarm. If you’ve got space outside on a cold day, this speeds the process up.
Assemble the napoleon: Take one wafer layer — I usually choose one with the sizing a little off — and chop it into breadcrumb-sized pieces. Transfer to a bowl and toss the crumbs with powdered sugar and set aside.
Place one of remaining wafer layers on your cake plate. Dollop 2/3 cup custard filling on it and use a spatula to spread it just a millimeter or so from the edges. It will seem very thick and wobbly — you’re doing it right. Repeat with 6 more wafer layers and most of the remaining custard filling (I always have a small amount left; it never survives the afternoon), finishing with a final layer of custard. Let it hang out at room temperature for 10 minutes — just walk away — so it begins setting up.
When you come back, you’ll see that some of the custard has spilled out the sides — it’s totally fine, just scoop it up with your spatula and press it back over the sides, a bit like you’re messily icing a cake. Sprinkle some of the powdered sugar wafer crumbs over the top, and then press small — you’ll really have *just* enough — handfuls over the long sides.
Transfer the napoleon to the fridge to rest overnight. The layers will absorb some custard and it will slice cleanly once they do. We find it takes 24 to 36 hours for the layers to soften to the ideal point.
The next day, dust with additional powdered sugar and cut into 1-inch slices. Leftovers keep for 4 to 5 days in the fridge.