Putting aside for a moment the homemade Snickers bars, this might be the most unhealthy recipe I’ve ever posted; five egg yolks, half a pound of butter, and nearly half a pound of sugar. But since we’re going to be stuck in Moscow winter for all eternity, there’s no need to prepare for swimsuit season.
This cake is based on the traditional French Gâteau Breton, which tells me right away that it will be satisfyingly old-fashioned: butter, flour, sugar and eggs. No leaveners, no stabilisers. In fact, there’s nothing light about this at all.
Click here for another buckwheat cake, from almost exactly this time last year
- 140g buckwheat flour
- 140g all-purpose flour
- 1/2 tsp plus 1/3 tsp sea salt (this is the place to use any fancy salt you have lying around)
- 1/4 tsp cinnamon
- 240g unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 175g sugar (any kind will do)
- 4 large egg yolks
- 1 whole egg
- seeds of one vanilla pod (alternatively, 3/4 tsp vanilla extract or 1/2 tsp vanilla sugar)
The glaze: 1 large egg yolk and 1 tsp milk
Butter a 9- or 10-inch removable-bottom tart pan or, failing that, use a pie dish as I did. Preheat the oven to 175 degrees C.
In a small bowl, mix the buckwheat and all-purpose flower together with 1/2 tsp salt and the cinnamon
In a separate bowl, cream the butter until it’s soft and airy. If you’re too lazy to wait and put the butter in the oven to melt as I did, it won’t be any great harm. Mix in the sugar and cream together until it’s uniform.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the 4 egg yolks and the whole egg. Stir in the vanilla. Give it a few good whisks or a good pass with the electric mixer. Then mix the eggs into the butter and sugar, stirring well. Slowly pour in the flour mixture and stir until it’s just combined. Scrape into your prepared pan and level the top with a spatula.
Mix the glaze together and spread over the top of the cake with a pastry brush or your fingers. Then draw a lattice design over the top by raking your fork across the top in three parallel lines. Then make three parallel lines going diagonally, forming a criss-cross design. Sprinkle the rest of the salt over the top, and put your cake in the oven. The original recipe says it should bake for 45 minutes, but mine took 25. Judge accordingly: you want your cake to be golden and shiny, but not at all dry.
My cake got a little burnt in our manic Soviet oven, but even so I think it looks very pretty with its latticed top and glazed edges. A good cake for staying in while the last of winter plays out. This little guy understands:
I never thought Moscow would have the market for farm-fresh food delivery, but I’m so glad it does. There isn’t much competition yet, so you will definitely be paying more than at your local supermarket, but every so often it’s totally worth it. Are we one step away from getting a Whole Foods?!
LavkaLavka: They get produce from all around the Moscow region (and beyond! The plums I got came from–Oo!–Crimea) and deliver it to you in simple brown paper bags. Even nicer, they tell you the origin of each of the items. I ordered from Lavka in the summer and got some milk, tvorog, plums, grapes, corn on the cob, zucchini, peas, potatoes, and beets. Unfortunately, the herring that was supposed to be in my order was nowhere to be found, and my credit card payment did not go through, but oh well. Kinks to be worked out! They did follow up with a phone call asking how everything was, which I appreciated.
I loved the surprise of not knowing what I’d get (and, lazily, not having to click through everything), so I liked the small mix, which costs 1,500 roubles, plus 300 if you want it delivered.
Vegaria: Don’t be deterred by the unfortunate name, which sounds like some strange disease. This is a good place to find vegetarian staples like seitan, tofu, coconut oil, and nut butters. Living in Russia, nut butters are one of the things I miss most, so I practically wept with delight when I found a company that makes peanut butter, cashew butter and almond butter. The company is called, inventively, nutbutter.ru. I did find these elusive nut butters at a market once, but it’s easiest to buy them through their Livejournal (how quaint) and on sites like Vegaria. I ordered something like 8 jars of nut butter, but now that it’s gone I wish I’d ordered even more. Delivery is free if you order more than 2500 roubles worth of merchandise, and they generally deliver between 15h and 21h, which should serve most people’s schedules.
Ferma: Like LavkaLavka, they sell fruit, vegetables, meat, dairy and honey straight from the farm to their quirky, impossible-to-find shop near Chistie Prudi. They bill themselves as an all-organic place, too, if that appeals to you. The other day, the start of “spring” as it happens, I picked up my food order, which included cabbage, apples, carrots, and an enormous pumpkin. I might order from them again, but only in summer, when I don’t have to carry 10 kilos of vegetables through this:
Sadly, they only deliver if you order 3000+ roubles worth of food, though delivery is free if your order is over 6000 roubles. My order came out to a bit less than 1000, so you can imagine how much you’d have to order to hit 6000…
Out of all three, I’ll probably go back to Lavka Lavka first, as it was the most convenient, with the greatest selection and fair prices. But Ferma did give me the chance to put my cooking to the test; I mean, what am I supposed to make with this massive pumpkin?
Sometimes I long for a holiday away from Moscow; getting around the city can take forever, the pollution is really bad, and you may see nary a smile all day. But most of the time I love it here. I don’t know how much longer I’ll be in Russia, but there’s reason that this is my third visit–there’s something so energizing and new about this city, even after all this time. Anyway, here are ten things that I’ve been loving recently.
1. Our new cat:
He is terribly cute, with black and brown stripes, little foldy ears and big, big eyes. In fact, he reminds me a lot of this guy:
It’ll still be a while before all the ice melts, but the sun has been shining all day long, and it has been a low of -5 or so. Bliss! Spring also means Women’s Day (which means chocolate) and Maslenitsa (Shrovetide), a time for blini.
3. The Theatre:
There are about a million different theatres here, many of them extremely good. I didn’t realize how good until I read this list. What’s more, my Russian is finally getting good enough to go to the theatre and enjoy it. In the past month I’ve been to the Mali Teatr, the Stanislavsky, and will be going to the Arts Studio Theatre this weekend. There’s really no reason not to–tickets can be as cheap as 400 roubles.
4. Luxe Living:
The wealth is palpable: you can easily pay $6 for a latte and $1000 for an iphone. There’s a club with a swimming pool on the top floor. There’s VIP coat check at almost every theatre. I don’t like paying the extravagant prices, but I do find the contrasts fascinating: seeing a giant Coffee Mania alongside crumbling cheburechnayas; driving a brand new Lexus while living in a tiny one-bedroom flat. Even English classes are a sign of privilege, which means you can make teaching here a very viable option if you’re smart about it.
5. Easy Traveling:
Easyjet has started flying the London-Moscow route, which means that I just bought a round-trip ticket for a grand total of $225. As more and more Russians have the income to fly abroad, the prices are decreasing and the competition is increasing. Luckily, inner-city transportation has also stayed great. When I leave Russia, I know that marshrutki, shared taxis that go all around the city, will have a special place in my heart. I use public transport every day, and the metro is fast, reliable, and beautiful to look at. Love love love.
6. Fashion Watching:
For pure people watching, no place will ever beat New York. But for watching the women of fashion, Moscow takes the cake. It’s still cold enough to watch women in their beautiful floor-length furs, amazing heels, and tiny Burberry clutches. I may get weird looks for wearing pink lipstick, but my highest heels would never get a second glance.
7. 24/7 Everything:
The working hours of this city are unreal; in my area alone the number of 24-hour shops amount to the following: four supermarkets, two pharmacies, and at least four coffee shops. Further afield you can find 24-hour favourites Respublika (a bookstore), the Sandunovsky Baths and classics like Cafe Pushkin and Starlite Diner, not to mention the countless 24-hour flower shops.
8. The Lack of Tourists:
For such an enormous city, I don’t hear tourist’s voices too often. Maybe I’m oblivious, but I don’t hear a lot of different languages on the street or in the metro, and when I hear English, my ears prick up. That means that there are people in this vast area who have never heard an English-speaker before. That means that you become a kind of special commodity to Russians, and, likewise, there can be quite the bond between foreigners. There are events at almost all the embassies to celebrate this sameness abroad, and you can get in touch with Moscow Interacts or Internations if that’s your thing.
9. New Finds Every Day:
In my experience, in Moscow it can be difficult to escape your comfort zone and check out new restaurants, bars, or openings: there’s no Yelp, no BlogTo, and no Sunday Times supplement. I have found a couple of good tools, though: Cozy Moscow and The Village have been big helps. In print, there’s Element, Time Out Moscow, and The Moscow News.
10. The People:
Recently, I’ve encountered some enormously helpful Muscovites. For instance, the other day I was trying to help a young Italian girl on the metro and, while chatting, I thought we may have missed her stop. To our rescue came about four different Russians, all wanting to help her and speak English. In that same vein, all the Russians I teach are lovely: when you meet Russians in their homes and get to know them, they will feed you with their nicest food, their crunchiest cookies, and their top tea. And look out for the treats you’ll get on your birthday!
That’s all, folks! Have a lovely week!
If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.
Nearly everyone has a story about Paris. My ex-boyfriend, for instance, said that Paris is where he first fell in love with food. When he went there for the first time in his early 20s, it was his first time out of Canada. In Paris, he said, he experienced the best he’d ever had—the best cheese, the best wine, and the best pastries. By the time I got to France, some two years ago, I was decidedly more jaded, but the city was still a lovely surprise. You see, I never used to want to go to France. It seemed typical, obvious, as if everything had been discovered and all the beauty sucked out of it by swarms of tourists and unfriendly Parisiens. But, despite myself, I was excited to go. Even on my first trip to Paris for New Year’s 2010, I was excited to finally see the shingled roofs, cobbled streets, and grey skies. And this year, at the beginning of May, there was even more anticipation. I had five days in Paris, and I was going to prepare; I had my train tickets from Nice, and I booked myself a sweet studio with Air BnB. I knew my area, Les Gobelins in the 13th arrondissement, and I had a few expectations (but not too many—a trip killer, in my opinion). I watched films set in Paris to get me into the mood—Caché, Les 400 Coups, and Midnight in Paris.
In Midnight in Paris, Owen Wilson’s Gil is obsessed with the City of Lights. Paris in the rain. I’m no fan of rainy days, really, but he’s right—no grey skies are more beautiful than Paris’s. It’s especially nice if you can just stay inside your little studio while it’s blustering outside. Then you can eat a bit of baguette and Roquefort from Biocoop as I did my very first night. Or you can go old school, as I did my second day, with a chilly mint julep at Bar du Central. Extremely nice to put one’s feet up after a day of sightseeing at the Centre Pompidou. At Bar du Central I met up with an old friend (and current Sorbonne scholar), as well as a Russian niece-of-a-friend to discuss life, London, and her translations of Teffi.
Nadezhda Teffi, a Russian émigré writer, lived much of her life in Paris. In fact, when we met, my friend above was trying to arrange a meeting with some of Teffi’s old literary contacts. There’s so much nostalgia in Paris, and a lot of literary history. In that same Midnight in Paris, Gil is tired of being a Hollywood screenwriter; instead, he’s eager to imitate the Paris-based writers he so admires: Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Faulkner, Stein. Paris seems the natural place to be a writer, with plenty bookstores to keep your reading current, and cafes to keep your writing sharp and caffeinated. Indeed, I was mad keen to check out fabled Shakespeare and Co., which was lovely, homey, and full of good stuff for the reader of English.
Another landmark, though not one related to book browsing, is Angelina, famous for their ultra-dense hot chocolate. I skipped the inside and got a hot chocolate pour emporter, taking it out to les Tuileries across the street. And it’s Paris after all, so you can also also buy box after box of chocolates on every corner. It is my souvenir of choice (to give and receive). My personal favourite is La Maison du Chocolat. Lucky for me, you can get their chocolates far beyond France these days.
Aside from chocolate, what dessert could be more sweetly French than the macaron? On my second-to-last day I went to L’Atelier des Chefs, where me and several other ladies (along with master chef Cédric) whipped up four batches of macarons—lemon, raspberry, strawberry and pistachio. Even though I like macarons only so-so, I was determined to take a cooking class in the most important food city in the world. I’m only sorry I couldn’t bring these sweets back with me (too squishy). I had to opt for a taste of Pierre Hermé instead. Equally delicious, I tell you.
French food goes beyond the sweets, and beyond the classic coq au vin and beef bourguignon; France’s food takes its influence from the Caribbean, Africa, and the long-standing Jewish population. The food is diverse, as are the people. And all food is celebrated, it seems, from the spiciest tagine to the creamiest Béchamel sauce. That’s all well and good, but what really warms my heart is Paris’s pastry. I love a city where pastry is king. It had been a while since I’d eaten a kosher pastry, but this one hit the spot; I highly recommend the fig strudel at Florence Kahn in Le Marais.
Spicy food, spicy politics–don’t forget what else was happening while I was in Paris: the election. I’m only sorry to admit that I didn’t realize what was happening until it was over. I went out to dinner with friends and they, kindly, explained to me that the socialists had won. To give you a taste of what a big deal this was, this is what every newsagent looked like the day after:
After elections drama, I was pleased with my quiet last day, which involved a morning stroll through Père-Lachaise, cemetery to the famously deceased: Jim Morrison, Colette, Isadora Duncan and, apparently, the mythical Heloise and Abelard. The grave below, perhaps not a famous man, is the most interesting one I saw. A little bit creepy, but definitely distinctive. That’s good, of course. If it were boring, it wouldn’t be Paris. Bien sûr.
It’s kind of a bad sign if you start your beach holiday in Nice not knowing that the beach is made of pebbles. Tiny, smooth, feet-hurting pebbles. The sand in Monaco and Cannes? Imported. I wouldn’t be going for long walks on the beach sans shoes again, but I would be taking in this beautiful view. After a cold Russian winter and continual trauma at work, it was time for a holiday by the sea. I couchsurfed with a lovely Polish girl, Sara, who showed me many of her favourite parts of the city and, of course, kept me fed.
What to Eat
Chocolate: Before I arrived, Sara hosted two girls from Germany who had come to France to do “research” on French chocolates. They tried hundreds of chocolates along Côte d’Azur, and in their estimate Lac Chocolatier was among the best. Lost in the old town, I stumbled around for a good ten minutes before finally coming upon it again, like some sort of hidden treasure. Good chocolate can be found so many places in France, but Lac seems to put special effort into their flavours and their brand.
Ice Cream I almost bypassed this glacier, fearful for the start of swimsuit season. But I couldn’t escape the call of Fenocchio‘s vanille meringuée: vanilla ice cream with bits of crushed up meringues mixed in. If you’re more adventurous you can try other, more exotic flavours (olive, anyone?) at this historic establishment. It was hot and lovely outside, so my ice cream was almost dripping down my hand as I was trying to take this photo. Le yum.
Pizza: Nice has changed hands many times, and was an Italian dominion before it became a part of France in 1860. This and its proximity an hour from the Italian border mean that pizza is served absolutely everywhere. Atmosphere Café dished up a nice four-cheese version, which I tried my best to eat up in its entirety while we sat on the patio and people-watched. My host had the moules-frites and, sadly, did not recommend them. Cold fries–never!
Sandwiches: On my day trip to Monaco, while walking around the gardens and the palace up on the hill (Monaco is much hillier than I’d thought), I noticed that everyone was walking around with baguette sandwiches. While I hate to be such a cliché, the reason they’re so popular is that they’ll keep you full for hours and are super-portable, not to mention delicious. I’d basically recommend any sandwich shop there for a baguette (duh, not a panini) and some cheese. This sandwich was enormous, packed with brie, tomatoes and rucola. I was pretty sure I’d never finish it, except… I did.
Socca: This strange-looking bread thing is socca, a Niçois tradition of the highest order. It’s a pancake made out of chickpea flower, eaten entirely with your hands. I cannot for the life of me remember where we went for our socca, but the gentleman at Chez Thérésa across the street from Sara’s apartment was always friendly and helpful, so I’m sure you’d get nice food there. Get there early, though, as he closes at 13h!
Tarte aux Brèdes: If my description of a chickpea pancake isn’t exactly causing you to furiously click through the Air France website, then maybe you should try the tarte aux brèdes. It’s a bit of an odd Niçois child too, but hear me out: sugared swiss chard and raisins inside flaky pastry. A bit sweet, a bit savoury, and very nice for breakfast. My host bought me one on my last day in Nice, and it was the perfect end to my trip.
Wine: Best for last, n’est-ce pas? On the mad hunt for wi-fi (or, excuse me, le wee-fee), we checked at least five establishments before one woman was kind enough to direct us to Distilleries Idéales. I didn’t listen to her directions too carefully, so we didn’t find it just then, but we did make our way back in the evening for some wine. One bartender we talked to during the day said that he himself was headed there later that evening, so it seems to be a bit of a favourite in town. Just the thing for feeling like you’re a local already.
Up Next: What to Do in Nice
I leave for my holidays tomorrow and, in honour of a short jaunt to France, I made a crêpe cake. It involved making crêpe after tedious crêpe, sandwiching them together with a cream cheese filling and topping it off with a butterscotch sauce. It was reasonably tasty, but most of the photos make it look like a blob. Not very appealing. I decided to make something new instead, something which would photograph better and would use up the blackcurrants I had lying around. I checked Food Network, Epicurious and all my standard American favourites, but I couldn’t get anything beyond blah recipes involving crème de cassis. I guess I’d never thought much about blackcurrants before either, but then I was lucky enough to get a pound or so from my colleague, who picked them while at her dacha last summer. This subsequently made me think of jam and, after doing some research, I learned of the bakewell tart, apparently quite the classic in England (as are all things berry–just check out some of these). I can only make rectangular-shaped things, given that I have one baking pan, but this seemed the perfect recipe to herald in the arrival of summer berries and nice weather.
This was my first foray into jam-making, and it proved really, really easy. If you have some fruit on hand, especially a high pectin one like blackcurrants, hop to it and make this super-easy jam. It was so easy, in fact, that I am far too lazy to retype the instructions; they’re easily available over here on BBC’s website.
Bakewell Squares (adapted from a Waitrose recipe)
The most popular version of this is actually the bakewell tart, which I’m sure would have been lovely had I had the right equipment. Failing that, it worked nicely in my standard glass baking dish. It’s a pretty easy recipe, despite the many steps, and it works with jams of all sorts. You certainly don’t have to make the jam. I must say that I was too lazy to go out and buy additional ingredients, so my topping was a little on the slight side. I essentially just halved the recipe. I’ve given listings for both what I did and for the original, thicker topping. I think I’ll go for more next time.
- 200g plain flour
- 2tbsp sugar
- 100g unsalted butter, chilled and cubed
- 2 large beaten egg yolks
- 100g softened unsalted buter (I ran out and used 50g instead)
- 3 large eggs, beaten (2 eggs for me)
- 125g cane sugar (70g–you get the idea)
- pinch of vanilla sugar or 1/2 tsp almond extract
- 150g ground almonds (I used about 80g of both almonds and walnuts, as those were what I had on hand)
- Sugar, to dust on top
- Around 3/4 cup jam for the middle (I’ll bet strawberry would be particularly delicious against the almonds)
Make the pastry by combining the flour, sugar and salt. Rub in the cold butter with your fingers or a pastry cutter until it resembles fine bread crumbs. Then add in half the beaten egg yolks, mixing until you have a soft, slightly dry pastry. Now you can roll out your dough to fit your tart/baking pan, but I was honestly much too lazy for this. Just press it into the pan with your fingers and put the tray into the fridge for a half-hour. Preheat your oven to 190°C. When your 30 minutes is up, prick the dough all over, then put it in the oven for 15 minutes or until it’s golden brown. Take it out and let it cool a bit, then spread your jam over the top. Lower the oven temperature to 180°C
Now get started on the filling: beat together the soft butter and sugar, then slowly add the eggs a little at a time. Be careful not to let the mixture curdle; ensuring that all the ingredients are at room temperature will help a lot. Add the almond/vanilla extract, then fold in the ground almonds. Spoon the mixture over the jam and level it out with the back of the spoon. Place it back in the oven for 30-35 minutes, or until the top is golden and slightly firm to the touch. Take it out, let it cool slightly, then sprinkle with cane or icing sugar. Eat up.