Appears in
Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

By Darra Goldstein

Published 2015

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pastila is an ethereal fruit confection that is one of Russia’s oldest sweets, likely dating back to the fourteenth century. It originated as a way to preserve the apple harvest by cooking tart, pectin-rich apples until soft, then sieving them into a purée dried slowly in the oven. (The name derives from the Latin pastillus, meaning a “small loaf.”) Two Russian towns lay claim to pastila: Kolomna, near Moscow, where the confection was probably first produced, and Belyov, near Tula, where the recipe was perfected. The secret to excellent pastila is the addition of air through copious beating and through egg whites, which turn the dense apple paste into a light, airy mass. After whipping the apple purée until light, egg whites beaten stiff with a little sugar are folded in (the original sweetener was honey). This mixture is spread in a thin layer on a baking sheet to dry for several hours at low heat in the oven. The Belyov version calls for reserving a little of the beaten apple mixture to spread between layers of the baked pastila. The stacked confection is then returned to the oven to dry a little more, resulting in a surprisingly moist confection that is sweet yet tart, less gelatinous than marshmallow, and softer than meringue. Although apples are traditional, pastila can also be made from berries and even hops, a version touted in the nineteenth century as a hangover cure.