Tea, for the English and Russians alike is the highlight of the day. I love tea too. I’m quite partial to Whittard’s Caravan Russian Black Tea, served with a slice of lemon. And while all manner of biscuits or cakes may be great to eat while enjoying your favourite warm beverage, there is nothing better than a simple Russian cheesecake. A true afternoon delight…
2 slices of white bread, blitzed to breadcrumbs
500g ricotta cheese
(unless you are lucky and live near a Russian supermarket which sells proper cottage cheese)
90g caster sugar
zest of 1 lemon
juice of 1/2 a lemon
3 tbsp semolina
1 tsp vanilla extract
Soak currents and lemon rind in lemon juice and vanilla extract
Separate the eggs
Beat egg yolks with caster sugar, ricotta and semolina
Add currents and lemon rind to egg yolks
Beat egg whites until stiff peaks are formed
Gently fold in egg whites using a metal spoon
Grease loose-bottomed cake tin with butter
Generously apply breadcrumbs to the tin
Pour mixture in to tin
Heat in oven on 175 degrees Celsius for 35 minutes or until golden brown on outside and set inside
Serve dusted with icing sugar and garnished with assorted berries such as blueberries, bilberries, strawberries or raspberries (or a mixture of any of those mentioned)
I made a promise to some of my colleagues at Glam that I would bake them a cake and as one of my colleagues is Hungarian I took inspiration from the Hapsburg’s traditional confectionary. I am not particularly artistic so my efforts are always going to be rustic rather than looking as if it has been picked up at a patisserie but at least it gives it a real homemade feel. This chocolate cake is a simple chocolate sponge with a mocha buttercream filling and a chocolate and brandy icing topping. I have made this cake once previously and I made the icing on top a lot thiner so it literally ran off the spoon and covered the whole cake and sides but this time I made it thicker and piled it on the top. Depsite the sugar and butter content of the cake, it contains no preservatives or artificial colourings or flavourings and is surprisingly light and not sickly, making it the perfect little treat for your family or friends!
These little Russian dumplings, a cheesy version of Italian gnocchi, are a real favourite of mine, but be warned, they require some time to make. Personally, I think the easiest thing is to make up a huge batch once or twice a year, freeze in small batches, and simply defrost and reheat when you want them. This is such a typical little East European dish which can be eaten either savoury, such as with bacon, or as a dessert with smetena (sour cream) and sugar.
This biscuit recipe is one of my tried and tested favourites. I took a particular interest in Jewish history and Judaism while at school after visiting the Synagogue in Reading. I studied Religious Studies after school as an extra GCSE and during the year in which we looked at Judaism, Joe Perl and his wife Sylvia who were Holocaust survivors, would come in and tell us about their beliefs and feed us scrumptious food that they would normally eat over festivals or holy days such as the Sabbath. A year or so after I left school I came across a giant Jewish cookery book. I’ve used it so much and its dessert recipes are usually good. This is my adaptation of the traditional Jewish Kipferl biscuits which originated and continue to be popular in the former Austro-Hungarian Empire states. They make great presents when tied up in some cellophane, and I usually hand them out, somewhat ironically, at Christmas time. I suppose I should really call them my Hanukkah gifts!
This is a two-layered slice with a rich walnut base and creamy light coffee topping. Serve with a complementary drink, for example, a sour cherry liqueur. If you want to alter the recipe, use pistachios instead of walnuts.
This super light cheese cake has a sponge base and top and has a creamy filling with just a hint of ricotta. It makes a great little dessert after a heavy meal and goes well served with a few seasonal berries such as blackberries, cherries or strawberries, soaked in a little cherry brandy (marsaka).
This is a really tasty and healthy dish originating from Bulgaria. It’s super quick and requires few dishes so the washing up is limited! The chicken is smothered in a rich, herby sauce. Serve the chicken with rice to mop up all the wonderful juices.
Baking is something of a guilty/secret pleasure. I love baking. I love baking bread. I absolutely adore baking biscuits. I seem to manage to surround myself with people who also love baking, those who are able to produce baking perfection. Why is baking such a guilty pleasure for me? I’m normally one of those people who likes to throw everything in a pot, stir, serve and eat. You can’t really do that with baking. It takes precision. So don’t tell anyone that I actually quite enjoy the technicality of baking! It’s just between you and me!
When I came across a recipe for Lepeshki, a Russian biscuit which uses sour cream instead of butter and just knew I had to give the recipe a go.
Ingredients (for about 24 biscuits)
275g self-raising flour
Pinch of salt
90g caster sugar (vanilla sugar if you have it)
1 egg separated
1 egg whisked
120ml sour cream
2 tsp vanilla and almond extract
(You can use less, you can use more, I just really love vanilla and almonds)
1 tbsp milk
50g flaked almonds
Preheat oven to 200 degrees Celsius/ 400 degrees Fahrenheit / Gas Mark 6
Sift the flour, salt and sugar into a mixing bowl
Make a well in the centre
Whisk one of the eggs and mix with the sour cream, vanilla and almond extracts and milk
Add to the dry ingredients to form a soft dough
(I feel I should divulge some information regarding flour at this point. The original recipes was for 225g of flour, but this made a dough which was so runny there was absolutely no way I was going to be able to roll it out. I added more by eye and think you probably need 275g of flour instead but as each flour varies, you will have to give it a go and if it becomes too dry you may need to add some extra wet ingredients. I think the recipe I had was just a bit wrong, but still, use your instinct rather than relying on numbers!)
Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface until about 8mm/ 1/3in thick
(It may be preferable to cool the dough in the fridge before rolling as it becomes warm very quickly and it may be good to roll out sections at a time and keep the remaining in the fridge until you are ready to cut more)
Cut the biscuits into rounds with a 7.5cm/3in cutter
Transfer the circles to a lightly oiled baking sheet on a baking tray
Separate the other egg
Brush the biscuits with the egg white
Sprinkle with flaked almonds
Bake for 8 to 10 minutes until light golden brown
Transfer to a wire rack to cool
Store in an airtight container (unless you are feeling particularly piggy and want to devour the lot!)
If you are permanently on the hunt for the lightest cake in the world, look no further. This Romanian cake is made from a blend of thick yogurt, lemon and honey and is the lightest cake I have ever consumed.
115g caster sugar
2 large eggs
115g Greek yogurt
Grated rind of 2 lemons
Juice of 1/2 lemon
150g self-raising flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
curls of lemon rind to decorate
For the syrup: juice of 1/2 lemon, 4 tbsp honey, 3 tbsp water, 1 cinnamon stick
Preheat oven to 190ºC
Grease and line a shallow, 7-inch square cake tin (I made extra to fit my rectangular tin)
Allow butter to soften.
Cream together the softened butter and sugar either in a bowl or a mixer until pale and fluffy.
Slowly add the egg yolks, Greek yogurt, lemon rind and juice.
Beat until smooth.
In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until just stiff.
Sift together the flour and baking powder.
Fold flour and baking powder into yogurt mixture. Fold carefully, do not excessively stir because you will stretch the gluten in the flour.
Then, fold in egg whites, again carefully, making sure they do not lose all their air, otherwise the cake will not be light. A top tip is to use a metal spoon not a wooden one!
Spoon the mixture into the prepared cake tin.
Bake for about 25 minutes or until golden brown and firm to touch.
Turn out on to a plate and peel off base paper.
For the syrup, put the lemon juice, honey, water and cinnamon stick together in small pan.
Stir until boiling.
Cook until syrupy.
Remove the pan from the heat.
Remove and discard the cinnamon stick.
Spoon the warm syrup over the cake then sprinkle with lemon rind.