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!


Food and Fandom: Winter King’s Pirozhki

bearnightingaleNot gonna lie, the entire time I read The Bear and the Nightingale I kept thinking about the old-school baking that was happening in the oven at Pyotr’s hearth. Every single time, Dunya was always baking something, and Vasya almost always tried to steal some of the food that came freshly out of the oven.

Vasya, thinking of cakes, went meekly to her stool. There was a heap of them already cooling on the table, brown on the outside and flecked with ash. A corner of one cake crumbled as the child watched. Its insides were midsummer–gold, and a little curl of steam rose up. Vasya swallowed. Her morning porridge seemed a year ago.

So naturally, I turned to Russian inspiration for this Food and Fiction Challenge, and there were several descriptions of food that made me think about what I wanted to do.

They dined outside, on eggs and kasha and summer greens, bread and cheese and honey. The usual cheerful muddle was subdued. The young peasant women stood in knots and whispered.


Mmm…apples and cheese are the best.

One thing I did note was that there was a lot of bread and honey involved. So from the get-go, I wanted to do something with bread and honey. And honestly, bread with honey just sounded lovely and traditional and simple (well, not too simple, considering bread tends to take more time with the whole rising thing).

The table was laid with two silver cups and a slender ewer. The scent of warm honey floated through the room. A loaf of black bread, smelling of rye and anise, lay beside a platter of fresh herbs. On one side stood a bowl of pears and on the other a bowl of apples…

Cautiously, Vasya picked up an apple and bit down. Icy sweetness dazzled her tongue. She reached for the bread. Before she knew it, her bowl was empty, half the loaf was gone, and she sat replete, feeding bits of bread and fruit to the two horses.

And then it hit me. Why not put apples INSIDE the bread, too? Isn’t there some kind of Russian dessert that does that?

So I found that there was. Say hello to the pirozhki.

Morozko’s Pirozhki

In essence, pirozhki are baked or fried bread buns filled with stuffing inside. Stuffing can be either savory or sweet, and the dough can be formed into various shapes so long as it holds the stuffing properly inside. Typically, people use meat like beef to stuff inside a pirozhki. Personally, I always go for the sweet stuff, because why the heck not.

This brought me into thinking about the book, The Bear and the Nightingale itself. For the most part, I was struck by the scenes in the winter-king’s home. I swear he always tried to feed Vasya, so whenever Vasya woke, she always found an abundance of fruit, bread, and mead at the table. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if Morozko HAD put in some apple pirozhki for Vasya to eat at some point. They sound super-delicious.

I got the recipe from Natasha’s Kitchen, along with the apples and then-some. I really didn’t do anything differently from the recipe, so I won’t re-hash the steps and ingredients again. I mean, there was some point where I ALMOST forgot to put the second half of my divided sugar, which would have been a BAD idea, but I remembered at the last minute, so it was all good.

Just something to think about, though, as far as playing with yeast: I do not have a thermometer (I really need to get one, considering…) nor do I have a proofing chamber, so I improvised by turning on my oven, letting it heat up for a couple minutes, then turned it off again and let it cool. Once it was relatively warm, but not too warm, I put my dough in the proofing chamber and let it rise. The effects were roughly the same as a proofing chamber, and honestly, the bread baked so well that I have no complaints.

I also didn’t process the apples, choosing instead just to dice them and then lightly cook them with sugar. Nothing fancy. Next time, I may add some cinnamon, though.


I did run out of apple filling, so for the last two batches of dough, I broke them into pieces, rolled them into round shapes, and then doused them with honey before baking them in, too.

Verdict: The results were MAH-VELOUS, dahling. I could taste the warmth of the hearth and of gold and sunshine, etc. etc. Now all I need is a bit of mead…

Of Breadiness and Babka

Making this post just reminded me that I’ve been meaning to do a recipe from my “Cupcakes and Cocktails” recipe book. But I may or may not have run out of cupcake liners, so, um, I haven’t been as cupcake-ready lately as I usually am.

But this post isn’t about cupcakes.

It’s about bread, actually.


Chocolate Babka


I usually avoid bread-baking for the most part, mostly because it is time-consuming, and a lot could go wrong regarding my lack of bread-baking tools in the kitchen. I mean, honestly, the things legit bakers seem to use for bread alone, like bread hooks and proving chambers and thermometers, and other fancy stuff…I really don’t make bread on a regular basis to want to invest in things like that (though, the thermometer would be REALLY useful in the long run…). That said, I had planned on making a chocolate chip version of the Romanian Pasca I’d done last year, but found myself getting too lazy on finding ingredients.

Plus, I think my sister and I ate up all the chocolate chips in the house. Oops.

So when I leafed through Easter-related baked goods, I came across a babka recipe from Broma Bakery. I really wanted to incorporate chocolate into something bready, and well, I had all the ingredients in supply, so I went with it!

(Okay, so I actually didn’t have any confectioner’s sugar handy, but I substituted for that! All for the love of–well, all for the love of staying indoors and not having to run out to the store to buy confectioner’s sugar!)

This was also my first time using active yeast, so I was worried I’d killed it when I stirred it into the overly-warm water.


No worries, though, it started frothing and everything!

This is a legit concern, guys. I’ve had things NOT rising on me before. It’s the worst.

Anyway, as for the chocolate…I still have plenty of the huge Jacques Torres bar I purchased a couple months back, so I just banged loose a few pieces and boiled it up into the paste mixture. Again, no confectioner’s sugar, so I mixed granulated sugar to corn starch (for every 1 cup granulated sugar, mix in 1 teaspoon corn starch). The paste came out just fine, to be honest. And after hours waiting for the dough to rise, I finally did some light kneading and rolling out.

Rolling this thing up and then trying to make it look pretty with braiding it together was, um, interesting at best. I think I gave up trying to braid the bread and just went: “You go here, you go here, you go EVERYWHERE WHEEEEEE.” Seriously, as long as it looked all twisty, and the chocolate was showing, and it baked properly, I was absolutely fine with how it looked on the top part. Plus, chaotic braid is um, pretty cool too. Yep.

Verdict: I could have probably been fine leaving it to bake for an extra few minutes, as the dough smelled too doughy for me. It was soft, though, and the chocolate paste tasted delicious, even with my doubts that confectioner’s sugar could be substituted well enough.

Needless to say the babka didn’t last very long.

Food and Fandom: Romanian Sweet-Cheese Pasca

Okay, so there’s not really one specific fandom for this, but after drenching myself in vampire-related fiction and anime this week, I decided I wanted to do something as an homage to the original Dracula.


Wait, no. Not Alucard (though arguably the Hellsing anime DOES connect this badass vampire to the original vampire XD). More along the lines of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, really.

Vlad III the Impaler to be exact.


There were a couple years back when I had this obsession with both Romanian and Hungarian history, particularly during the time of Vlad Tepes’ reign. I pretty much followed and collected a few texts regarding this tumultuous time period in Eastern Europe, when the Ottomans sought to conquer Germanic lands and were repeatedly thwarted by Hungarian, Moldavian, and Romanian armies. The Impaler was certainly one of the figures that cut across as notoriously famous during that time, and most that know him now tend to remember him as being excessively cruel against his enemies. It’s probably why he was quite the inspiration for Stoker’s Dracula (though arguably the whole blood-drinking thing is an old myth in Eastern Europe, and inspiration for that can probably be attributed to a Hungarian countess).

Anyway, after reading a Netgalley ARC and finishing the Hellsing anime, I figured I’d look up a Romanian recipe to try out. At first I thought about something savory and something that could be eaten for dinner. But, then I came across the Romanian Pasca, and I immediately knew I had to bake it, even though it isn’t Easter (and I do recognize the amusing irony in me making a Christian-related dessert as homage to a man who was said to be the “son of the Devil/Dragon”).



From what I read, Pasca is a traditional dessert found in Eastern Europe, often made during Easter. Essentially, the Pasca is considered a form of sweetbread, or panettone (the Italian equivalent), and usually the common ingredients include milk, butter, sugar, eggs, and flour. There are, of course, different ingredients that can be added into the Pasca, and in the case of the Romanian Pasca, ingredients often include sweet cream, sour cream, cheese, and/or rum.

Honestly, I pretty much decided on doing the Romanian Pasca right after I saw the word “rum”. But ya know.

Romanian Sweet Cheese Pasca

I made a great deal of changes and rough conversions in the recipe I used, but here’s the original if anybody’s interested. Below is the altered recipe.

Pasca Ingredients

  • 2 1/4 cups bread flour
  • 3 eggs
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) melted butter
  • 1 cup lukewarm milk
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 pack (7 grams) dry yeast
  • 2 tsp rum
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract

Filling Ingredients

  • 24 oz. cream cheese (softened)
  • 3 eggs
  • 2-3 Tbsp sour cream
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup butter (softened)
  • 3 Tbsp flour
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup raisins

Making the dough: Beat eggs with sugar and salt. Add rum and vanilla. Let rest around 15-20 minutes. (Technically, the recipe called for rum extract, but why use rum extract when you can use actual rum?!).

Mix dry yeast with bread flour (there’s a difference between fresh yeast and dry yeast, btw, and I used dry yeast). Pour lukewarm milk over the egg-rum-vanilla mixture, and slowly pour whole mixture onto flour. Slowly add the melted butter and knead the dough until it can be separated from hands.

Note: I thought 2 1/4 cups flour was too little; my mixture was still too wet. Because I used rum instead of rum extract, I needed closer to 3 cups of bread flour for my desired consistency.

Cover mixture, put in warm place and wait for dough to double in size.


Making the filling: Mix cream cheese with sugar, butter, and sour cream. Add eggs one by one, then the rest of the filling ingredients. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 375 F.


Grease a deep baking pan and sprinkle with flour. Set a portion of the dough aside for the top, roll the majority evenly and place dough at bottom of the pan. Pour cheese filling on top of the dough (if you don’t want a grand mess, don’t overfill the pan!). Twist/braid the rest of the dough and form a border on top of the cheese filling.


Brush the dough at the top with egg whites (well, I may have forgotten to do this, but it does make for a nicer, more glistening look).

Bake for 50 minutes or until top is golden brown.

Optional: Sprinkle top with confectioner’s sugar. (I preferred not to oversweeten the Pasca, so I opted out of this.)

Verdict: I think I can go with a few more fixes, like actually doing the right conversion on the rum (2 Tbsp, not 2 tsp) for more flavor. Lemon grating was in the original recipe, so I might re-add that. And I might either lessen the baking time to 40-45 minutes, or lessen the temperature to 350 F, since I felt the bread and cheese filling may have been a little overcooked. My brother also suggested NOT “ruining the cheese filling with raisins” and put chocolate chips instead. Food for thought, hmm…

That said, it came out rather delicious, and inside things were still pretty soft! Great with coffee.

25 Reads: Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

I want to go to Prague. I want to meet a fiery-eyed angel there and be raised by strangely loving but shady teeth-collecting demons. I want to be friends with a marionette maker’s daughter and roam the fairy-tale streets whilst vampires and ghouls try to pull a scare on back alleys and hidden corners. I want wishes, even small ones that could change my hair a bright blue (except mine would probably be a mixture of gold and purple, just ’cause). I want the feel of astral butterflies fluttering excitedly in my stomach (though that can’t be too comfortable on a regular basis). I want wings so I can fly. Particularly wings that emit a self-contained fire.

God, if Daughter of Smoke and Bone could be any more poetic, I probably would have cried over how beautifully written it was.


by Laini Taylor
Little, Brown Books, September 2011
YA paranormal fantasy

smokeandboneGoodreads: Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real, she’s prone to disappearing on mysterious “errands”, she speaks many languages – not all of them human – and her bright blue hair actuallygrows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she’s about to find out.

When beautiful, haunted Akiva fixes fiery eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself?

A Bucketful of Squees

Laini Taylor writes such pretty things.  This isn’t the first time I’ve been introduced to her writing, so I had expected writing that took me back to what I had seen in Lips Touch: Three Times and somewhat in Blackbringer. What I got was a love child between urban fantasy and faerie, with the short story “Spicy Little Curses” as the doting world-traveling aunt. For me, that made for some enjoyable writing, and even holding a physical copy of the book itself was much more preferable, since the layout usually tends to be just as aesthetically pleasing as the text (Lips Touch still remains my favorite of the hardcovers I own).

smokeandbone1The star-crossed lovers trope gets a new set of wings. Admittedly, I could do without having to read another Romeo and Juliet complex. Warring families, lovers belonging on opposite sides, blah blah blah. Karou and Akiva are no different, true. Well, save for the fact that Akiva belongs to a race of elitist warrior angels and Karou’s an art student whose hair grows blue at the roots and who works for the chimaera abominations that are supposedly no better than slaves. But, you know, same old story, right? Maybe. Kinda not really.

I guess there’s the magic system and the mythologies to blame for that. There’s also the fact that “good” and “evil” aren’t exactly classified as such, and even the monsters can be construed as more beautiful than the regal seraphim in Astrae. I also love that each side has a story about origins, and that this is shown in the book.

And those characters, yo. Zuzana was easily my favorite character, and often she made me laugh out loud on the train as I read (which is slightly embarrassing, but oh well). I loved Karou’s personality, and even as she fell into insta-love (can it be classified as insta-love when technically it’s been seventeen or so years?), she didn’t completely forget who she was (sorry, Akiva!). I loved Brimstone and the chimaera and really hope the ending was ambiguous enough to leave a bit of Hope at the door–I mean, that’s the whole point, right? Hope is more powerful than wishes after all.

That heartbreaking ending. I would have considered the Madrigal addition as the slowest point of the book, but I actually loved that the story was shown that way, and not through explanatory dialogue. That said, I did realize, with increasing anxiety, that the book was ending and a conclusion was not happening any time soon. Yeah, I totally felt like I was broken up with twice in that second to last chapter. But I won’t elaborate…

So yes, easily a 5 out of 5 Goodreads stars.

A Little Taste of Prague

The beginning chapters of the book opened up to a lot of description about the places Karou frequented in the mortal realm. Which is a good thing, because I loved envisioning Taylor’s Prague, and loved reading about the quaint little Poison Kitchen cafe and the food Karou and Zuzana tended to get there. At some point, there was a scene in the book where Karou offers to get breakfast, and Zuzana says something similar to: “If it doesn’t have chocolate, it’s not breakfast.” (I can’t remember exactly, so the wording might be off). Karou walks back to the bakery and buys kolaches.

So immediately, I had a craving to make myself some of these baked morsels.


Unsurprisingly, there was a kolache recipe out there waiting for me to make. And so I took some time to bake some!

Granted, “some time” kind of encompassed a day and a half, considering I initially thought I’d killed my yeast (which was remedied by me putting the dough inside my oven over a tray of boiling water). There was a lot of waiting for the dough to rise–at least three times. But other than that, since I skipped out on making the fillings from scratch, once the bread was actually ready, it took a mere 20 or so minutes to flatten it, fill it, and bake it.


Note: Since Thanksgiving is around the corner, I found a lot of fruit pie fillings at the supermarket for sale, so I went and got a raspberry filling as well as an apricot one. I didn’t use the apricot filling, though, since I wanted to put chocolate in at least half of the kolaches. As Zuzana said, no chocolate, not breakfast!

Verdict: Personally, I loved the baked Nutella texture more than when I put it on top after the bread baked. My sister is the opposite, and liked the Nutella nice and creamy. My mother decided the raspberry filling was nice, but not as nice as speculoos spread, and my father liked just the bread itself without any of the sweet toppings. Honestly. I think as long as the bread is baked, you can put whatever toppings you want on top and it’ll come out brilliantly.