Though literally meaning “potato,” the dessert kartoshka hasn’t much to do with the real vegetable, other than, perhaps, its superficial resemblance and overall popularity in the country. Made with cookie crumbs, condensed milk, butter, and chocolate or cocoa powder, this dessert rapidly found its way into the households of the Soviet people and remains a favorite treat of many Russians, young and old alike, today.
Also hailing from the Soviet times, a korzinka is a traditional cake with a sweet and fluffy filling and a shortbread base, no top, resembling a handle-less basket. Hence, the name, korzinka, which means “basket” in Russian. The cake is traditionally decorated with whipped cream in the form of leaves or mushrooms; alternatively, it may be topped with different fruits, such as kiwis, peaches, tangerines, and cherries.
Having made its way from Eastern Europe to France and then back again, the rum baba – or romovaya baba as we call it in Russian – is a staple at nearly any store or bakery, still making some kids giggle at this booze-infused pastry with baba in its name – a crude word for “a woman.” This is a classic yeast-risen dessert dotted with raisins, soaked in a rum-flavored syrup, and topped with white icing.
Another nominee for the quirkiest dessert name ever is ptichye moloko, meaning “bird’s milk” in English. This dessert comes in candy and cake form and, of course, contains no bird milk. In fact, its name traces back to ancient stories depicting the milk of birds as a sacred, healing ingredient. The expression came to mean “something impossible or unimaginable.” Now that we got the bird part out of the way, you should definitely try this chocolate-covered comfort food with an airy marshmallow-like filling.
We had birds – and now it’s time for ants. Muraveynik (“anthill”) is another cake beloved in Russia that borrows its name from nature due to its visual resemblance to an ant nest. This brainchild of Soviet cuisine turns buttery cake crumbs with caramel or condensed milk into a delicious mound decorated with chocolate, nuts or anything that’ll suit your fancy.
All these treats can be found almost anywhere, at your local supermarket or one of the city’s many bakeries, but if you’re in the mood for traditional desserts, drop by the city’s best-known Sever bakery chain for a kartoshka, a korzinka, or the whole Leningrad set (highly recommended!).