Babas, Buns, Rusks, and Small Baked Goods

[Translator’s note: This chapter on babas and pastries is distinctive as much for its variety of recipes as for its prodigious use of ingredients. The recipes evoke a vanished era. No homemaker today would use 70 egg yolks in a single cake. Aside from considerations of health and expense, we no longer have the equipment for baking such large babas, nor do we ordinarily expect to feed so many people.

Babas, cakes, and pastries were adopted by the Russians only in the eighteenth century, although yeast had been used in Russia since ancient times. German and Polish influences are particularly strong in this type of baking. It is perhaps not surprising that Americans are unfamiliar with the variety of babas and kuliches that were well known to Molokhovets—Russian cookbooks for Americans rarely contain more than a single recipe for each kind of yeast cake. But Russian cooks also are in danger of losing this aspect of their culinary heritage, which now appears mostly in specialized books on baking. In part, the nomenclature has changed (pirogi has broadened in meaning), but mostly altered tastes and circumstances have diminished the interest in baking. Most Russian cookbooks now devote relatively little space to recipes for cakes and pastries; among the few that are included, recipes for Eastern pastries and for frosted European cakes have replaced those for sweet yeast cakes and buns. As a case in point, the recent Soviet reprint of a selection of Molokhovets’ recipes for sweet dishes included none of the recipes from the present chapter.]