Food and Fandom: Snow Vatrushka

Ah boy, I haven’t been in a food and fandom kick since my birthday, and we really need to fix that! Thankfully, I found the right kind of inspiration.

Without fail, I’ve managed to do at least one dish from each of Katherine Arden’s Winternight Trilogy, and for good reason! (See my food and fandom posts on pirozhki and medovik.)

The Winter of the Witch is the third book of Katherine Arden’s trilogy and follows Vasya’s adventures in old Rus. In the third book, things go to a head, as both the supernatural and the human worlds gear up for a war. It’s also where the gods of winter and summer come to a head, and boy oh boy, do I love it when we get a literal–and figurative–kiss of frost.

Hem hem. Enough about Vasya and Morozko. Let’s talk about Russian food.

The smell of the feast hit her first: of sweat and honey-wine and fat meat roasted in a great pit of coals at the center of a long hall. The room was packed with people, richly dressed; their ornaments gleamed copper and gold in the smoke-haze. The heat went up, making the air dance, to a hole in the center of the roof. A single star gleamed in the blackness, swallowed by the rising smoke. Servants bore in baskets of fresh bread, dusted with snow.

When I read that (and salivated a bit), I thought: “Confectioner’s sugar is kind of like dusting something with snow, so a bread dusted with confectioner’s sugar?” But I didn’t want to just make bread, and then randomly sprinkle sugar-dust on it. That’s kind of the simple interpretation of “bread dusted with snow.”

Once again, I scoured the interwebs for the perfect Russian recipe. Now, the last two recipes I’d done that were inspired by Russian folklore and Arden’s books were from Natasha’s Kitchen, so shoutout to her because she actually does have an iteration of the bread I wanted to try to make. That being said, I am not a cherry fan and I wanted to work with the ingredients I had on-hand, plus a sweet cheese for the filling.

Which is why I turned to Bake-Street for their take on vatrushka.

I love cheese bread. I’ve done a Romanian pasca before, and honestly I’ve been wanting to up my bread baking skills a bit more. This one definitely needed a bit more work, in my opinion, but I did decide that mascarpone is my new favorite cheese to bake with.

I’ve altered the ingredients below.

Vatrushka – Russian sweet bread

Dough Ingredients

  • 2 cups bread flour
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 tsp and a pinch dry yeast
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Cheese Filling Ingredients

  • 8 oz mascarpone cheese (room temp.)
  • 1 large egg (leave some egg white for brushing)
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 1/2 tsp bread flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt

I deviated a little bit in making the bread itself, but I found that I made silly mistakes when I did so (like forgetting to let the yeast activate in the warm milk PRIOR to putting everything into the bread flour mixture), so again, I point you toward the actual recipe so you can read up on how the bread and cheese fillings were made.

Verdict: The parents actually compared this to the pan de bonos (Colombian cheese bread) they loved, though I explained to them that this one was Russian-inspired and definitely didn’t use the same type of cheese (I used feta the last time I made pan de bono, though I might alter that recipe and actually use mascarpone…). I still need to work on the bread part of the baking, and I decided against sprinkling “snow” on the top because the cheese itself talked of snowy sweetness, but otherwise, the whole thing was really good with tea!

I’d recommend it, if you have the time to make bread, that is.

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Mango Madness, Pt. 2

The mango cake rears its head again! Honestly, this is a reprise of the first mango cake I’d made, but with several changes.

Now, mangoes aren’t in season at the moment, and I’m only sorry that I couldn’t find any really ripe mangoes at the moment to take this recipe to the next level. That being said, it still came out really well, and the cake itself was the desired softness I really found lacking in the last cake. So for the sake of keeping the actual recipe I used in one spot (something that’ll help me at the very least), I’m throwing this on my blog. That way if I ever want to make it again, I can just go to one place, right?

We totally know I’m making this again…

Shoutouts to Natasha’s Kitchen and Make Fabulous Cakes for the fabulous recipes I ended up using to make this delicious concoction.

Chiffon Cake

(courtesy of Make Fabulous Cakes)

  • 2 1/4 cups cake flour
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar (separate 1/2 cup sugar for egg white mixture)
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 8 egg yolks
  • 3/4 cup (180 ml) orange juice
  • 3/4 cup (180 ml) oil
  • 8 egg whites
  • 1 tsp. (5 g) cream of tartar

Preheat oven to 325°F. Prepare cake pans (I used two 8″ pans and a smaller 6″ one for the leftover tier) by greasing and lining them with parchment paper. Melting butter and spreading it around each pan works, but otherwise cooking spray works just as well.

Sift cake flour in bowl and add 1 cup of the sugar, baking powder and salt mixture.

Mix orange juice, oil and egg yolks.

Make a well in dry mixture and pour in juice mixture. Mix together (I used an electric hand mixer) for about 2-3 minutes until light and fluffy.

In a separate bowl, whisk egg whites until frothy. Add in cream of tartar. Slowly add the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar. Beat the egg whites until stiff peaks have formed.

Gently fold the eggwhites in to the batter.

Pour batter in cake pans and bake for approx. 45 minutes.

Loosen the sides with a knife or metal spatula and invert to a metal rack almost immediately.

Mango Cake Filling

(courtesy of Natasha’s Kitchen)

  • 2 mangoes cut into thin, uneven strips (honestly, this is a decoration choice)
  • 2 medium fresh mangos (which was puréed to about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 1 to 4 Tbsp sugar if needed

I used a hand blender to puree the mixture. The sweeter the mango, the less sugar you need to add. For this particular instance, I ended up putting the full 4 tablespoons because the mangoes were not sweet (sigh). Over the summer, I got away with not putting any sugar at all, and it came out fresh and delicious all the same!

Cream Cheese Frosting

(courtesy of Natasha’s Kitchen)

  • 16 oz cream cheese (2 packages), softened
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract

Combine all filling ingredients in a large bowl and mix (I used an electric hand mixer). Mix on high to around 5/6 minutes until frosting is soft and retains shape.

And then, once all this is done, AVENGERS ASSEMBLE!

Putting the cake together is pretty much what takes up the most time for me, to be honest. I baked the cake the day before I had to put it together, just so I could freeze it overnight and then cut each layer in half easily. With chiffon cake, this step is particularly important, because it is a SOFT CAKE. Without the solidity of frozen cake, there’s a greater chance of ripping pieces of the cake on the sides. Each layer (four on the main cake in total) got a good slathering of frosting on the side, then a layer of puree, and repeat. What I would have liked to change was the amount of frosting in between. The cake could have used a bit more, to be honest.

In any case, I covered the cake up, decorated the sides with the uneven mango strips, and garnished it all with piped frosting and little pieces of mango.

It actually came out prettier than what I’d imagined in my head. But, ya know, I have my moments sometimes!

Verdict: The cake was made for my sister’s apartment-warming party, and it quite literally got finished within the next few minutes after it got sliced up. I’ve also got someone wanting an order of the cake for Christmas, so I’m guessing it was a success! It certainly tasted good, though again, much of its epic taste would have been heightened if I’d managed to find yellow mangoes as opposed to the red ones.

Food and Fandom: Zelie’s Jollof Rice

Well, maybe not Zelie’s and more like Zelie’s mom.

I haven’t finished Children of Blood and Bone just yet, but there were two dishes I really wanted to try out when I started reading it. The first was this coconut pie that Amari really wanted to eat but was kind of unable to because circumstances and plot. On the other hand, the other dish was the first thing I was hit with in the book.

I try not to think of her.

But when I do, I think of rice.

When Mama was around, the hut always smelled of jollof rice.

Now, as a Filipino, I grew up on appreciating the beauty that is rice. I grew up appreciating the fact that there isn’t just the ONE rice brand to end all rice brands (though as far as I’m concerned, jasmine rice beats out all the rest). So when I saw this mention of jollof rice, I needed to do a bit of research to see what makes this different, from, say, fried rice or something (though even fried rice has a different set of ingredients to it depending on the culture you’re looking at).

And ya know, I kind of dig it.

I found the jollof rice recipe at Naija Chef, and just browsing through his recipe list has definitely gotten me curious over what other types of food I could try from the site’s collection. There are DESSERTS THERE, DAMMIT. I might also even try something with fish, because fish was such a big deal in the first few chapters of CoBaB.

When I had my family taste test the rice, they seemed to like it enough. It had this nice sweet kick to it, though in hindsight, I probably didn’t need to use parboiled rice for it. To me, it was good, but the rice got overcooked and was way too soft-textured, which I didn’t like as much as I thought I would. If I make this again, I’ll probably add an extra cup of rice (maybe long-grain? I might have to experiment there) or lessen the tomato sauce.

Verdict: All in all, though, the flavors were all there, and it really made for a lovely combination with some fried pork chops!

Food and Fandom: Hauptman Brownie

Wow. Okay, the title sounds kinda euphemistic, but ya know what, I’m keeping it because nobody does werewolves quite like Patricia Briggs. But I’m biased.

This kind of doubles as a little throwback to one of the only series I’m still up-to-date with, and that’s saying a lot, considering I’m really bad at series, and the Mercy Thompson series is at 10 books, with an 11th coming out in March of next year. Its spinoff series, Alpha and Omega, is at 6 books and counting (4 of which I’ve definitely read…I can’t remember if I picked up Dead Heat yet…maybe I have).

And honestly, it all started out because I got lucky with an ARC of Briggs’ short stories anthology and quite honestly fell in love with most of the stories there, even without having read anything but Moon Called at the time. And, well, I don’t think I actually reviewed Moon Called, which is a shame, because I could probably say so much about the first five books, since I’ve been re-reading them one after the other every few months to a year since 2014. I don’t know, the series itself really is my go-to comfort place for when I just want to cozy up with my favorite Tri-Cities werewolves and a kick-ass tattooed, coyote-shifting protagonist.

But enough about that. Let’s talk about chocolate.

Under the mellowing influence of good food and good music, Adam relaxed, and I discovered that underneath that overbearing, hot-tempered Alpha disguise he usually wore was a charming, overbearing, hot-tempered man. He seemed to enjoy finding out that I was as stubborn and disrespectful of authority as he’d always suspected.

He ordered dessert without consulting me. I’d have been angrier, but it was something I could never have ordered for myself: chocolate, caramel, nuts, ice cream, real whipped cream, and cake so rich it might as well have been a brownie.

“So,” he said, as I finished the last bit, “I’m forgiven?”

“You are arrogant and overstep your bounds,” I told him, pointing my cleaned fork at him.

“I try,” he said with false modesty.

Moon Called by Patricia Briggs

That right there, as well as the squee-ish passage that happens after, is the minute I started shipping A+M from the getgo. I would have loved to say it’s smooth-sailing from there, but nope. The ship needed more than chocolate to sustain it.

(This is actually not one of my favorite of the MT covers, but ya know what, I can’t complain, because the covers have been getting better and better since after Bone Crossed).

But chocolate really helps, considering how many times Mercy and/or Adam eat it every so often in the books.

So about this concoction…

Honestly, this was semi-homemade. As in, I actually got myself a brownie mix (GASP I DIDN’T MAKE IT FROM SCRATCH? THE SHAME…not), baked the brownie batch, toasted some almonds, and purchased a sundae-type ice cream, because yuuum. I also couldn’t be bothered with making my usual salted caramel sauce (which, in hindsight, would up the game of this brownie-ice cream dessert SO MUCH MORE), but the maple syrup I got from one of my school parents was dying to be used, so I ended up with that. Also, it made me feel better for eating such a decadent dessert!

Anyway, if you’re looking for something you could definitely put together with minimal effort, it’d be this one.

And if you’re looking for an urban fantasy to get lost in, I’d definitely point you toward the Mercy Thompson series.

Food and Fandom: Genya’s Almond Kulich

So I pretty much finished the Grisha trilogy recently, and if it were up to me, I’d make all the pastries that were mentioned in every page. Heck, I probably still might go back to a few of the foods that were showcased in the books, but a lot of them did come from Ruin and Rising.

One of which was the almond kulich.

“It’s just a ring.”

Zoya sighed and held the emerald up so it flashed. “I am horrible,” she said abruptly. “All these people dead, and I miss pretty things.”

Genya bit her lip, then blurted. “I miss almond kulich.”

It wasn’t a big mention, but I do adore Genya, and of course she’d mention missing the food at Os Alta of all the things to miss. Naturally, I went to look up a recipe and found one for almond ginger kulich. Bread takes such a long time to make, and I still haven’t got the hang of it much yet. I find I’m usually overbaking or overproofing something, but at least my arms are getting a workout with the kneading!

Kulich is apparently Russian bread that’s served during Easter. It kind of reminded me of the Romanian pasca, which I’d done a while back, which was this sweet cheese bread that was AMAZING. So honestly, I was way excited to try this one out.

Almond Kulich

Original recipe found at Vintage Kitchen.

I also…didn’t quite follow the recipe again, because I’m not a scotch and brandy kind of person, and I didn’t have crystallized ginger handy. SO. I used rum to infuse the raisins, cranberries, and orange zest. Instead of the ginger, I substituted with dried cranberries. I also ended up breaking off a third of the bread dough to make a nut-less version for allergy purposes. Honestly, I think that’s the one that came out the best.

Behold! A nut-less brioche-looking kulich!

And the best part? It’s great with tea!

Verdict: The fruits and almonds definitely weighed the bread down a bit, so it’s not as light and fluffy as I’d hoped. That being said, perhaps next time I’ll use cake flour instead of all-purpose and mix that with the bread flour. All that said, the almond version brought such a good combo of sweet and salty to the tongue, and with some bergamot and orange leaf tea? Holy crap, I definitely have my tea-time snacks for the next few days!