Wonderful Things About Russia … Its Food

Darra Goldstein is a college professor in Russian studies, a world-renowned food scholar, and an award-winning cookbook author. She has written at least a dozen books, including “A La Russe: A Cookbook of Russian Hospitality,” “High Society Dinners: Dining in Tsarist Russia,” and “Fire and Ice: Classic Nordic Cooking.”  She also has edited “The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets.” Currently, she is the editor-in-chief of CURED Magazine, which was launched in October 2016 and is focused on the art of preservation (curedmagazine.com).  These great recipes are from “A La Russe: A Cookbook of Russian Hospitality.”

Cottage Cheese Tartlets (Vatrushki)

These wonderful tartlets always disappear fast. Though they may be made larger (Gogol’s Chichikov feasted on vatrushki “at least as big as a dinner plate, if not larger”), I find the diminutive size perfect for eating out of hand. A classic accompaniment to borshch, these tartlets can also inspire a tea or zakuska table.

Yield: 20 tartlets


2 cups all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

8 tablespoons butter

2 egg yolks

3/4 cup (scant) sour cream


1 1/2 pounds Russian Cottage Cheese (tvorog) or farmer’s cheese

3 egg yolks

1/4 teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons sugar

6 tablespoons sour cream

6 tablespoons raisins

1 egg yolk

1 tablespoon cold water

To make the dough, mix together the flour, sugar and salt. Cut in the butter. Work in the yolks and sour cream. (The mixture will be slightly sticky.) Wrap the dough in waxed paper and chill for at least 30 minutes before using.

To prepare the filling, beat the 3 egg yolks into the cheese. Stir in the salt, sugar, sour cream and raisins, blending well. Chill.

On a floured board, roll out the dough 1/8-inch thick. With a cookie cutter, cut out 4-inch rounds. On each round, place 2 heaping tablespoons of filling, spreading it to within 1 inch of the edges.

Bring the edges of the dough up around the filling in gentle folds, leaving the filling exposed and making a narrow border of dough. Place on a greased baking sheet.

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Brush the tartlets with the egg yolk, which has been mixed with the cold water. Bake for 25 minutes until the filling is puffed and the dough golden.

Note: If the vatrushki are to be served as an accompaniment to borshch, cut down on the sugar and omit the raisins entirely.

“Mother-in-Law” Torte

The recipe for this festive torte, reserved for special occasions in Russia, was given to me by my cousin Roma, who works as a pathologist but whose avocation is baking. He regularly turns out flaky pirogi with wild mushroom stuffing and tender pirozhki filled with chopped cabbage and eggs. This torte is Roma’s specialty. It was his mother who passed the recipe on to him, so Roma’s wife, Raya, dubbed the cake “Mother-in-Law” Torte. It’s a favorite with children, as evidenced by the clamorous cries of Roma’s two children when the torte appears on the table.

Yield: 12 servings

Cake layers

14 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 3/4 sticks)

5 tablespoons sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup walnuts, ground

2 tablespoons sour cream

2 cups all-purpose flour


4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 small egg, lightly beaten

1/4 cup sour cream

1/4 cup walnuts, heated slightly in a frying pan to release their flavor, then finely chopped

1 tablespoon brandy

Chocolate glaze

2 tablespoons milk

1/4 cup sugar

1 (scant) teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

To make the cake layers, melt the butter, then pour it into a mixing bowl. Stir in the sugar, salt, walnuts and sour cream, mixing well. Then stir in the flour until it is well blended. The dough will be loose.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spread two baking sheets with aluminum foil and grease the foil.

Divide the dough into 4 parts. On the foil, pat out 4 rounds, each ¼-inch thick and 8 inches in diameter. Bake the rounds for about 15 minutes, until browned around the edges.

Cool the rounds before removing them from the foil, since they are very fragile.

To make the filling, cream the butter and sugar until light. Gradually stir in the vanilla extract, egg, and sour cream. Add the nuts and the brandy, beating well. This filling will be very loose, so chill it for at least 10 minutes in the refrigerator before spreading it on the cake layers.

Spread the buttercream filling between the cooled cake layers.

To prepare the glaze, pour the milk into a small saucepan. Mix together the sugar and cocoa powder and add to the milk. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter. Immediately spread the glaze over the top layer of the torte.

Place the torte in the refrigerator and chill for several hours before serving.

If you want to taste some good Russian food, visit The Samovar Restaurant, 201 N. Washington St., Rockville, for authentic Russian and Central Asian cuisine. For more information, call 240.671.9721 or visit samovarrestaurant.com.

Editor’s Note: For more edible delights by Sheilah Kaufman, go to www.cookingwithsheilah.com.