October 17, 2010
Name of cake: Sour Cream Bundt! (with pears and almond cream)
Occasion: HCB, and Raiuchka is in town!
Constituents: sour cream bundt with pears and almond cream (do i hear an echo?)
A couple of weeks ago Raiuchka came down to visit for the weekend. Our plan: Raiuchka would teach me some of our favorite Russian dishes, and we would bake a cake together. Also, we would explore some of the Russian markets around town (looking for the best Black Bread), reminisce about our time in Simferopol, and try to drink vodka like we used to. (Guess which one we failed at. Here's a hint: 37 year old livers aren't as spry as they were at 20. In our defense, potato vodka is strong assed shit.)
It was hard, at least for me, to pick a favorite Russian grocery, as each one had something I liked but none had all the things I liked. The nearest store to me, luckily, has the closest thing to black bread I have found so far, plus our favorite cheese from our days in Simferopol. It is called Rossisski--translates as russian cheese, and it is similar to havarti.
|raiuchka took this shot while we were having tea at one of our professor's apartment. i stole it from her flickr feed :)|
The black bread we ate in Simferopol, after standing in the proverbial bread lines--but it was more like bread crowds--had a crackly crisp crust, a dark and dense interior with a sour tang. The loaves were always round, and there was never enough. We were in Simferopol in 1994, only three years after the the collapse of communism, and all of Ukraine was in hard times. There was nothing on the shelves of what was once a government store, just the bread behind the counter that people were fighting to buy. Ukraine didn't have any money to buy fuel from Russia, so the buses barely ran and when they did, people fought to get the very last spot on the steps, often running each other over or even forcibly pushing the crowd deeper into the bus, like you would force more clothes into your dresser drawer. Many people didn't have running water or electricity, or if they had running water it never was hot. The kids my age in their early twenties didn't have much of a future, as there were no jobs. The professors at the University hadn't been paid in six months, but they showed up and did their jobs anyway, because as they would say, "what else is there to be done?" Times were very uncertain, and almost everyone was scared. They would say to us, "we have it hard, and we've had it hard in the past. But one thing about us, we endure." They would say it with pride, thumping the table, and we would top it off with another shot of room temperature vodka. Oof, warm vodka.
Life was hard but we still had a great time. The people can be very gruff and indeed, run you down to get on the bus, but once you stop being a stranger and they know who you are, they will invite you into their home, share what they have, drink long and deep with you, and pretty much bend over backwards for you if need be.
Anyway, back to present day life in Portland, Oregon. Actually, back to a couple of weeks ago when Raiuchka was visiting and we baked the Swedish Pear and Almond Cake. We spent all day Saturday cooking Russian, so we baked the cake on Sunday, while still in our pjs, a little hungover and yet buzzing from all that black tea.
It is a simple and basic sour cream bundt cake, with the fun trick of adding a layer of almond cream and fresh pears to the top of the cake which will sink to the bottom by the end of the bake. That is good baking magic, and delicious to boot. I would have preferred to use at least partly almond extract instead of just vanilla for the cake, as the delicious almond flavor stayed pretty much in the cream at the top of the cake.
We ate this cake while playing Durak, which is a very addictive card game. We played it A LOT during our stay in Simferopol. It can be played in teams or as individuals, and is better when there are more than two people playing. I find it fascinating that there is no winner to durak, only a loser. In our own games, there is a clear winner and it is the winner who is singled out (and everybody else are the losers). In Durak, there is a clear loser and it is the loser who is singled out (and everybody else are the non-losers).
By the way, the cake was delicious, in all the ways a sour cream bundt is delicious: rich, dense, moist, soft, simple and unassuming yet full of flavor and deeply satisfying. I think in the sour cream bundt category the marble velvet is still the winner, but this is certainly a non-loser.
|a couple of durischkas|