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EURASIAN COOKBOOK  / BIRD’S MILK CAKE
04.07.2014


Sophia Rehm graduated from the University of Chicago with a BA in Russian Language and Literature. Sophia is currently SRAS's Translate Abroad Scholar. She hopes to return to Russia and to pursue literary translation and further studies of Russian literature.

This article was published as part of SRAS's free monthly newsletter. Want the newsletter?


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Узнайте как готовить самый вкусный торт «Птичье молоко»!
Photo source: Andys.md

Торт
«Птичье молоко»

 An Airy Russian Cake as
Unusual as Its Name
By Sophia Rehm 

Jump to: recipes; videos; study abroad!

Like the soft, meringue-filled candy on which it was based, торт «Птичье молоко» (Bird’s Milk Cake) consists mostly of filling. Thick but exceptionally airy layers of soufflé are separated by thin, fluffy slabs of cake, and the whole confection is covered in chocolate glaze. The cake’s fantastical name, connoting rare and wonderful luxury, is fitting: торт «Птичье молоко» developed under the USSR, attained popularity of mythical proportions among Soviet consumers despite being relatively hard to purchase.

Почему он носит такое название?

Candy  
Польские конфеты, Ptasie Mleczko. The original Polish candy that served as the inspiration for the Russian cake is still in production by the original manufacturer.
Photo source: Wikipedia.org
 
   

Although торт «Птичье молоко» is considered a Russian invention, its story begins in 1936 in Poland. There, Jan Wedel, owner of the E. Wedel confectionery company, developed a new kind of candy. It consisted of small, rectangular blocks of milk-based, airy meringue covered in a chocolate glaze. Wedel dubbed his invention "Ptasie Mleczko," which means "Bird’s Milk" in Polish. The term had been used in Slavic languages before to refer to something precious and rare. It has been attributed to a princess of Slavic fairy tales who, testing her suitors, sends them to find the one thing she lacks, and which ought to be impossible to obtain: bird’s milk. In fact, the concept can be traced back to the writings of ancient Greeks and Romans, in which bird’s milk appears as a fantastical delicacy.

A secondary, more practical reasoning for the name may be seen in the ingredients of the candy. Most meringues consist primarily of egg whites and sugar. Wedel's innovation was to create a meringue that utilized generous amounts of milk – thus adding milk to a dish that was generally dominated by products contributed from birds.

Wedel’s innovation may have made the stuff of fairy tales real for the people of Poland, but Russians acquired – and transformed – the rare treat only through a long and arduous process befitting a mythical suitor. The USSR’s Minister of the Food Industry traveled to Czechoslovakia in 1967, where he encountered a version of the candy and, upon returning to Moscow, gathered representatives from factories throughout the country at the Рот Фронт (which was the name of a German communist party and translates to "Red Front" from German) confectionery factory in Moscow. These representatives were given samples of the candy – but no recipe – and instructed to recreate it. At Приморский Кондитер (Seaside Confectionery) in Vladivostok, confectionery technologist Anna Chulkova, who was later awarded the Order of Lenin for her work, developed a complicated but highly successful recipe, using the gelling agent агар-агар (agar-agar). The candy appeared next at Рот Фронт in 1968, but began to be mass-produced only in 1975 by the Красный Октябрь (Red October) confectionery factory in Moscow. Shortly thereafter, Vladimir Guralnik, the head of the bakery at Moscow’s prestigious Praga Restaurant, tasted the newly popular candy. The idea for торт «Птичье молоко» was born.

  Guralnik
 Владимир Гуральник, автор рецепта торта «Птичье молоко». Vladimir Guralnik is still producing cakes from his original recipe. They are often elaborately decorated. Photo source: TheMoscowTimes.com

Guralnik and his team of bakers spent six months developing the cake’s recipe. Due to the complexity of the recipe and the cake’s short shelf life, they rolled the new dessert out in small batches at first, of about 30 cakes a day. But as the cake rapidly gained in popularity, production increased – first to 60, and eventually to 600 cakes a day. Guralnik had successfully wooed his compatriots, and торт «Птичье молоко» entered Soviet history.

Как правильно есть торт «Птичье молоко»?

Eating торт «Птичье молоко» in the 1980s, at the peak of its popularity, required more than a fork. Muscovites waited in line for hours outside of the Praga Restaurant to buy the coveted cake, adding their names to a list and receiving a number indicating a position in line. It was not unusual for spots in the line to be sold on the street: Guralnik himself reported once that he was offered a numbered slip of paper on his way to work for 3 rubles (the cake cost around 6 rubles and 30 kopeks at the time). The cake truly lived up to its name, not only in its rare taste but in its scarcity.

Tорт «Птичье молоко» was, and remains, a favorite dessert for special occasions. However, it is now produced by multiple companies and is available in restaurants and grocery stores throughout Russia, and has been recreated in innumerable Russian kitchens. Thus, it is now a product for everyday consumption as well. Many grocery stores offer full-size versions meant to be sliced and shared in more formal settings and also small, individual portions that are each individually glazed and served with a paper wrapper so that one does not even need a plate or fork to enjoy the delightfully simple cake that comes from the incredibly complex recipe.

Although it has entered Russian pop culture, the real торт «Птичье молоко», many would argue, can be found in only one place: Moscow’s Praga Restaurant, where Guralnik continues to bake his famous cake according to the original recipe. The restaurant now produces about 200 cakes each day.

 
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Как правильно готовить торт «Птичье молоко»?

Tорт «Птичье молоко» consists of three essential parts: layers of white cake, a soufflé filling, and a chocolate glaze. It resembles its candy precursor in the unusually high ratio of filling to cake. The recipe Guralnik and his team perfected over the course of six months made use of the same агар-агар that Anna Chulkova had used in her candy recipe. Made from seaweed, агар-агар is a gelling agent that is generally sold in powdered form. Агар-агар can withstand higher temperatures than желатин (gelatin), a more common, and less expensive, gelling agent. This property allowed Guralnik to boil syrup for the soufflé filling to 117° C (about 243° F). This temperature, he found, lent an ideal weight to the filling. After adding additional ingredients, the mixture was cooled to 80° C (176° F). The cake and filling were stacked, alternately, and glazed with chocolate. Guralnik had a secret for the chocolate as well: he kept it at 38° C (about 100° F), and used a machine that mixed it constantly to make sure it stayed smooth and even.

Guralnik received авторское свидетельство (an author’s certificate) for his recipe, a certificate issued in the Soviet Union to acknowledge authorship of an invention without affording its creator exclusive rights. Other manufacturers had to follow the original recipe, however: it was made the official ГОСТ (государственный стандарт – state standard) recipe. Guralnik’s recipe, with a variety of instructions for adapting it for a kitchen more modest than Praga’s, can be found by searching for торт «Птичье молоко» по ГОСТу. There are also numerous торт «Птичье молоко» recipes that deviate from the original, sometimes adding fruity or floral flavors. Many recipes use желатин instead of агар-агар to simplify the recipe. This substitution apparently does not alter the taste of the cake, but does detract somewhat from the soufflé’s airiness.

Давай приготовим!

See below for a free recipe for bird's milk cake. See also the free videos online. If you are interested in cooking from Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, and other places in Eurasia, make sure to see our full, free Eurasian Cookbook online! You might also be interested in the following specialized cookbooks we've enjoyed:

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Tорт «Птичье молоко» (ГОСТ)

Размер формы: длина формы 26 см, ширина 14,5 см, высота бортика 5 см.

Ингредиенты:

Коржи:

  1. Сахар - 100 гр.
  2. Масло - 100 гр.
  3. Яйца - 2шт.
  4. Мука - 140 гр.
  5. Ванильный сахар - 0,5 ч.л.

Суфле:

  1. Белки - 2 шт.
  2. Сахар - 460 гр.
  3. Сгущенка - 100 гр.
  4. Масло - 200 гр.
  5. Агар-агар - 2 ч.л. без горки 
  6. Лимонная кислота - 0,5 ч.л.
  7. Ванильный сахар - 0,5 ч.л.
  8. Вода - 140 мл.

Глазурь:

  1. Шоколад - 75 гр.
  2. Масло - 50 гр.

Приготовление:

Этап 1.

  1. Замочите агар-агар в воде (140мл.) 
  2. Сгущенку и масло вытащите из холодильника и оставьте при комнатной температуре

Bird’s Milk Cake (Official Recipe)

Pan size: 10 inches long, 6 inches wide, 2 inches tall

Ingredients:

Cake layers:

  1. Sugar – 3.5 oz
  2. Butter – 3.5 oz
  3. Eggs – 2
  4. Flour – 5 oz
  5. Vanilla sugar – ½ tsp

Soufflé:

  1. Egg-whites – 2
  2. Sugar – 16 oz
  3. Condensed Milk – 3.5 oz
  4. Butter – 7 oz
  5. Agar-agar – 2 level tsp
  6. Citric acid – ½ tsp
  7. Vanilla sugar – ½ tsp
  8. Water – 4.7 oz

Glaze:

  1. Chocolate – 2.6 oz
  2. Butter – 1.8 oz

Preparation:

Step 1.

  1. Soak the agar-agar in water (4.7 oz.)
  2. Take condensed milk and butter out of the refrigerator and let stand at room temperature.

Этап 2. Готовим коржи

  1. Масло, сахар, яйца, ванильный сахар взбиваем в однородную консистенцию 
  2. Добавляем муку 
  3. Взбиваем в однородную массу 
  4. Тесто делим на 2 части 
  5. Каждую половину размазываем в круг/прямоугольник толщиной 0,4 - 0,5 см. Зависит от Вашей формы 
  6. Каждый корж выпекаем в разогретой духовке на 210 гр. по 10-12 минут. *Не забудьте про коржи, чтобы они не пересохли.
  7. Чуть остужаем коржи. В форму (если у Вас нет разъемной) выстилаем пищевую пленку и выкладываем 1 корж  

Step 2. Make the Cake Layers

  1. Beat butter, sugar, eggs, and vanilla sugar to a smooth consistency.
  2. Add flour
  3. Beat to a smooth paste
  4. Divide the dough into two parts
  5. Spread each half into a circle or rectangle .2 inches thick. This depends on your pan.
  6. Bake each layer in an oven heated to 410 degrees for 10-12 minutes. Don’t forget about the cake layers, or else they will dry out.
  7. Cool the cake layers slightly. Line the pan with plastic wrap (if you don’t have a springform pan) and put one cake layer in.

Этап 3. Готовим суфле

  1. Сгущенку с маслом и ванильным сахаром взбиваем в однородную массу и оставляем в миске при комнатной температуре 

Step 3. Make the soufflé

  1. Beat the condensed milk with the butter and vanilla sugar to a smooth paste, and set aside in the bowl at room temperature.

Этап 4.

  1. Начинаем взбивать белки 
  2. Добавляем лимонную кислоту 
  3. Взбиваем все в стоячую пену

Step 4.

  1. Begin to beat the egg whites
  2. Add citric acid
  3. Beat the mixture into a thick foam.

Этап 5. 

  1. Агар-агар доводим до кипения на среднем огне *Важно, агар-агар теряет свои свойства при 120 гр. Если у Вас тоже нет термометра, то не даем агару сильно булькать.
  2. Всыпаем в агар-агар сахар и варим на среднем огне до готовности *Поначалу сахара очень много, но он быстро растает. Готовность сиропа проверяется "ниточкой". За ложкой, вытащенной из сиропа тянется ниточка паутинка  
  3. Чуть остужаем сироп и вливаем в белки тонкой струйкой, постоянно помешивая миксером.*Масса моментально увеличится в объеме в несколько раз.
  4. Взбиваем до густого состояния *Густеть будет по мере остывания агар-агар. Суфле прям заворачивается на венчики
  5. Добавляем масло со сгущенкой и еще раз взбиваем до однородной массы 

Суфле готово!

Step 5.

  1. Bring the agar-agar to a boil over medium heat. Note that agar-agar loses its properties at 248 degrees. If you don’t have a thermometer, don’t let the agar come to a brisk boil.
  2. Pour the sugar into the agar-agar and boil until ready. Check if the syrup is ready using the “thread” method. A thin thread should hang from a spoon dipped in the syrup.
  3. Cool slightly and pour the syrup into the egg whites in a thin stream, stirring constantly with a mixer. The paste will immediately grow several times bigger.
  4. Beat to a thick consistency. Agar-agar will thicken as it cools. The soufflé gets wound up in the beaters right away.
  5. Add the butter and condensed milk mixture, and once again beat to a smooth paste.

The soufflé is ready!

Этап 6. Формовка торта

  1. Сразу же выливаем половину суфле на первый корж 
  2. Выкладываем второй корж на суфле 
  3. И вторую часть суфле полностью выливаем в форму 
  4. Убираем в холодильник до застывания 

Step 6. Assemble the cake

  1. Immediately pour half of the soufflé onto the first cake layer
  2. Place the second cake layer onto the soufflé
  3. Pour the entire second half of the soufflé into the pan.
  4. Put in the refrigerator to chill. 

Этап 7. Глазурь

  1. Шоколад и масло топим на водяной бане. Перемешиваем 
  2. Выливаем на застывший торт. Приподнимая форму распределяем глазурь по всей поверхности 
  3. Убираем в холодильник до застывания.

Готово! Достаем из формы. Нарезаем и наслаждаемся!

Рецепт от: Рецепты-вкусно.рф

Step 7. Glaze

  1. Melt the chocolate and butter in a water bath. Stir.
  2. Pour onto the chilled cake. Lifting the pan, distribute the glaze on all surfaces.
  3. Put in the refrigerator to chill.

It’s ready! Remove from pan. Slice and enjoy!

Recipe from: Рецепты-вкусно.рф

 

Our Favorite торт «Птичье молоко» Videos

In this video, Бабушка Эмма (Grandma Emma) of the culinary site videoculinary.ru makes торт «Птичье молоко» using желатин. She gives a brief (and fond) historical introduction to the cake, and slow, clear instructions throughout.  The background music adds to the video’s nostalgic feel. Her website features a version using агар-агар as well.

 

In this video, the very enthusiastic Vitali, creator of YouTube cooking channel Покашеварим, makes торт «Птичье молоко» with агар-агар. He demonstrates how to boil the syrup to the right consistency without using a thermometer. His playful attitude makes the video fun to watch.

If you’d like to see more of Vitali, he devotes this video to an overview of the history of торт «Птичье молоко.» He tells the story in detail, beginning with the origins of the name and the dessert’s roots in Wedel’s Polish candy.

Вспомнить все (Remember Everything), a program by the Москва 24 (Moscow 24) news channel focusing on nostalgia, features a segment (beginning at 6:07) on торт «Птичье молоко.» The segment includes fascinating information about the cake’s history, Soviet-era photographs including photos of Praga Restaurant, and personal memories of the cake and its incomparable taste. View it here.


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