Delicate and Decadent Desserts: Russian Mazurka
Just in Time For Easter… Unless You’re Reading This Late
It’s getting to be that time of year again. You know, that pagan fertility holiday the Christians hijacked to celebrate the resurrection of their lord Jesus, the only documented case of zombies. He died for your sins, but soon he'll be back for your braaaaaaaains!
Okay, silliness out of the way. Easter tends to be a time for bunnies laying multicolored eggs, chocolate crucifixes with raspberry jam filling, and huge picnics after church in which at least one older parishioner, unused to the wealth of rich, salty food and sudden activity, will suffer a near-fatal stroke. Seriously. More strokes take place on Easter Monday than any other day of the year. It’s the salt in the hams, I’m told.
So why don’t we take it easy on the arteries and forgo the egg salad, ham, and jello mold at the potluck picnic this time around and try something a little less common, shall we?
The Mazurka, aside from being a particularly spirited Polish dance, is a traditional Russian cake reserved for Easter celebrations. The name, I’m told, rather unimaginatively translates to something along the lines of “Easter Nut Cake”. As the name implies, it has nuts. Duh. But what you don’t realize is that the nuts are what we’ll be using for flour, which makes this an excellent recipe for anyone with a wheat allergy or tries to maintain a gluten-free diet but is seriously starting to crave carbs.
INGREDIENTS FOR CAKE
- 5 large grade A eggs
- 2 cups shelled hazelnuts
- ¾ cup sugar
- 2 Meyer lemons
INGREDIENTS FOR TOPPING
- 3 tablespoons rum or 1 tablespoon rum extract
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream
- 3 tablespoons powdered sugar
- ¼ cup toasted coconut flakes
- small decorative Easter candies
METHOD FOR PREPARING NUTS
- Begin by heating your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Place hazelnuts in a single layer in a deep baking tray and cook them for 15 minutes or until nut skins darken and blister.
- Place nuts in a soaking wet towel and allow them to steam for a minute, then briskly rub them in the confines of the towel to break away the skins. Some will stick, but not enough to make a difference, so don’t worry about.
- Put nuts on a cooling rack or other surface with high air-flow and allow them to cool and dry.
- Once dry, place nuts in a food processor and grind at low speed until they form a thick powder. Be warned that the oil inherent in the nuts can create something more like peanut butter than flour. To avoid this, err on the side of caution by only raising the grinder speed if absolutely necessary. Undue pressure can also be an issue, so only grind a few nuts at a time. Finally, consider adding a teaspoon of sugar to the processor before grinding. The crystals will act like grit and help create a finer end product while absorbing the unwanted moisture from the oils.
METHOD FOR CAKE
- Separate eggs. In a large mixing bowl, beat the egg yolks at a medium setting and slowly add the sugar until the resultant mixture is pale and creamy.
- Use a cheese grater to grate the peels off the lemons and set the zest aside. Slice one in half and juice it. Add juice and zest to egg mixture.
- At a low mixing setting, slowly add the ground hazelnuts.
- Swap out the full mixing bowl for a fresh one and use it to beat the egg whites until stiff and almost brittle. The hazelnuts do not have the strength to hold the cake together alone, meaning the egg whites are crucial in creating a cake as opposed to a crumbling mess. In other words, beat the egg whites for a few extra minutes just for good measure. Refrigerate them for a few minutes if you’re the kind of person who likes to be absolutely sure.
- Using a plastic or metal scraper, carefully fold the egg whites into the hazelnut mixture. The point here is to intersperse the stiffened whites throughout the hazelnuts as thoroughly as possible WITHOUT BREAKING UP THE EGG WHITES. We don’t want to crush out all the fluffy air already in the whites. Very important.
- Grease a round 8-inch cake pan and turn the batter into it carefully. Don’t press the batter down; just smooth the top so it lays down evenly. Bake for 40 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Turn off the oven and allow the cake to sit inside it for 20 minutes to make sure the cake is solid enough to be turned out onto a cooling rack.
METHOD FOR TOPPING
- Place the cream in a mixing bowl and beat in the powdered sugar and rum until stiff.
- Spread the cream over the cake’s top and sides and press in Easter candies for color. Jelly beans, miniature Cadbury’s eggs, or similar all work just as well.
- Personally, I find sprinkling toasted coconut flakes over the top adds a pleasant texture to the finished product, but I’ll leave that one up to you.
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