I poke around Russian culinary forums from time to time, for good ‘ole time’s sake. Once in a while I stumble upon a good recipe or two and feel compelled to translate them for my English readers. Recently, I had a discussion with a few ladies who happen to be big fans of Belonika. If you haven’t heard of this lady, you might find her story fascinating. She’s considered to be a Russian Julia Child, none less. Not going to recite her fascinating bio here, if you are curious enough, you might find plenty of information in both Russian and English about her.
At one point I was curious enough to follow her blog and even downloaded a pretty app which delivered freshest recipes, straight from her stovetop to my smart phone. After a while, I came to a realization that most of her spectacular culinary masterpieces were good ‘ole classics with gorgeous photographs. Now, you might say that Julia Child didn’t invent anything either — all she did was bring French cookery to America, explained, deconstructed, and simplified it, making it much more approachable to busy American house cooks. Belonika did approximately the same thing — she brought the best of European, and French in particular, culinary classics to broad Russian audience, thus raising the bar in home cookery. All of a sudden, we started seeing house cooks all over the place abandoning the all-too-familiar over-mayonnaised and super-cheesed goodness for classy French dishes from Belonika. And that, my friends, is a great thing, especially for a blogger, but Belonika started publishing books, which do precisely the same thing — deconstructing good ‘ole classics in a casual way.
Now, I don’t know how to feel about this. In Julia Child’s times, the access to French cuisine was not as easy as it is nowadays. I wonder sometimes whether Julia Child, were she born in the 70s, would become a blogger rather than a book author. Don’t know. I just think that publishing books full of recipes that everyone knows and can download off internet within seconds is kind of strange in this day and age, no matter how gorgeous the pictures look.
I think that Belonika is an excellent blogger with a unique writing style that sounds precisely like her speech — witty, short, not shy of a choice-word or two, if you know what I mean. She is charismatic, and her food pictures are gorgeous. But she is no book author by any stretch. I might be completely wrong, but this is my opinion and I am sticking with it, at least for now.
Ok, off my apple box now and back to my argument with the Russian foodies. The ladies who raved about Belonika’s stuff, kept on an on about how exquisite and elegant her dishes are, and how amazingly tasty they are… blah blah. Someone recommended this carrot cake on a spot, and I decided to give it a try.
The recipe claimed to have been obtained from some french restaurant chef (maybe even a famous one, but who am I to know about this). It looked very easy, had readily available on hand ingredients and promised feathery and silky texture and incredible bliss of flavor with minimal effort.
Having tried it, I have to agree with two out of three claims — simple ingredients and great texture. Flavor, on the other hand, left much to be desired. The carrots I used were very tasty and sweet, so I can’t blame this on the poor input quality. The problem for me was — flavor was too straight forward, too bland and uncomplicated. I think for such a gorgeous texture, you have to work in a bit more flavor complexity, to offset the direct sweetness, and this is exactly what I attempted here. I added lemon juice and zest, dry ginger, and a tiny pinch of ground cloves. It was a little tweak that made a big difference. With these tweaks, you can forego the sauce altogether and just enjoy the cake as is.
So, what exactly was I trying to prove here? Nothing, really. I made Belonika’s recipe on a dare, and ended somewhere totally different. And now I am shamelessly blogging about it. This is probably why I should stick to blogging and not claim to be a book author. Tweaking someone else’s recipe to adapt it to your particular taste does take some degree of expertise and confidence. Writing about it in a way people may find interesting and would be willing to try it takes a bit of hubris and a bit of skill and a bit of trusting your gut both literally and figuratively, and this is what blogging is all about — it’s about infinite variability and trying different things, it’s about perfecting your style, about expressing and celebrating your individuality…
Writing a book, however, implies a great deal more responsibility, precision, styling and many other factors that separate people like Julia Child from the rest of the hunches-in-bunches and wannabes. I am not talking about keeping things formal, but to me reading a recipe from a book implies — this is different from what you’ve seen before; it has been tested numerous times, perfected, streamlined and leaves no room for error. But that’s just me.
Wow… this rant really wore me out. I guess, the moral of the story is — try the dang cake. It’s good!
Carrot Cake On A Dare
Original post by Belonika (Russian) here: http://www.belonika.ru/recipes/285/
For the cake:
- 1 lbs robust sweet carrots, peeled and chunked
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup flour
- 4 eggs
- 3-4 tbsp olive oil
- 1-1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp ground ginger
- zest and juice of 1 lemon
- 1 pinch of ground cloves
For the sauce (optional):
- 1/2 cup cream
- 2 tbsp honey
- Put all ingredients in a processor and hit “on”. Stop when everything is smooth and uniform (including carrots). We are aiming for batter of buttermilk thickness, not pancake batter thickness. Depending on how juicy your carrots are, you may need to add a bit more flour. I didn’t add any and it was just fine for me.
- Preheat oven to 350F. Pour batter into a greased and floured spring form, or a parchment lined cake form, and bake until toothpick comes out clean, for about 50 minutes.
- To make a sauce if you so desire, bring to a gentle boil and cook cream and honey together in a small saucepan for a 2-3 minutes.