Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Kovrizhka, grandma's spice cake (vegan version)

I was thinking about the menu for a Russian food cooking class and this kovrizhka came to mind. Kovrizhka is a kind of spice cake, baked in Russia and Ukraine, which I loved to make when I was in my teens. Since then I somehow forgot about it, which is unjustified given how tasty and simple it is. It fit really well into the class menu, so I went to search for the recipe.

It came from my grand grandma, the same one who is responsible for vareniki and syrniki. When I found the recipe I realized that I did get a little more organized in cooking since I was in my teens. It looked the following way. "40 walnuts" - ok, am I really supposed to count them? "1 cup of sugar, 1 cup of varenie, 1 cup of strong tea... add flour till you reach pancake batter texture". That was really precise. It looked like I needed to work on the recipe a little.

This cake is stuffed with nuts, honey and candied fruits from jam (varenie) and that's why it so lovely. The original one was based on eggs and sour cream but this time I felt like developing a vegan version of it. When I started drilling it down to basic proportions it turned out very similar to British/American spice cake. That's interesting, given that my grandma was Ukrainian. My dad sais that the old traditional Russian spice cake was different - more similar to firm gingerbread, but that's what my grandma did.

The vegan version also turned out nicely soft, moist and aromatic with delicious crunchy outside. Both recipes (the regular one and the vegan one are below).

Grandma's spice cake (kovrizhka) (regular and vegan version)

serves 12

100 g sugar (or honey for the regular version)
150 g varenie (jam with pieces of fruit in runny syrup) of your choice (e.g. cherry, blackcurrant, strawberry, raspberry)
100 ml strong black tea, cooled to room temperature
240 g apple puree (or 2 eggs + 140 g sour cream for the regular version)
50 g vegetable oil
1 tea spoon vanilla
100 g walnuts, roughly chopped

250 g wholewheat flour (or all purpose flour)
3 tea spoons baking powder
1 tea spoon baking soda
1 tea spoon ground cinnamon
1/2 tea spoon ground cloves

Stir together sugar (or honey), varenie, tea, apple puree (or eggs and sour cream), oil, vanilla and nuts in a large bowl.

In a medium bowl combine flour with baking powder, baking soda and spices and stir to spread everything equally.

In two batches add the flour mixture to the liquid ingredients. Stir to get even runny batter. As soon as the batter looks right, stop stirring. It is important not to overmix.

Slightly oil a 10 by 20 cm loaf cake pan and line the bottom with baking paper. Pour the batter into the pan and bake in a 180C oven for 40 - 50 minutes. The cake is ready when a wooden stick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Take out of the oven and let sit in the pan for 3-5 minutes. Run a knife around the edge and take the cake out of the pan. If you let it cool to room temperature before serving it will get more flavor and become easier to slice. Slice 1.5 cm thick and serve with tea. Fruit syrup (possibly from the varenie you used in the cake) can be a good complement (for those who like it sweet).


Everyday banana bread (vegan version)
Polish style szarlotka (apple pie)
Lazy vareniki (cottage cheese dumplings)
Blackcurrant cheese cookies
Ukrainian granny's vareniki with mashed potatoes (vegan version)
Home made apricot jam (varenie)
Apple and walnut muffins (vegan version)

Kiev food: a personal guide

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