Ever had a food deja-vu? I strongly believe that certain food is inseparably linked to childhood experiences. Russian Bread being one of them. Whenever I spent time with my great-grandmother who we called either “Max”, short for Maximiliane, or “Sam” (it’s origin is a mystery to me), I tried to make her stroll around the neighborhood with me. Well, for one, because her apartment, which very much reflected bygone times – dark and heavy furniture with stuffy air, was not exactly the place a kid wants to play all day. On a sweeter note: Leaving the house, I always made sure to steer us in the right direction, never failing to miss that tiny little candy store just two corners away.
The old lady behind the counter was a good friend of my great-grandma and both ladies loved to chitchat about the recent neighborhood gossip, hence my ulterior motives always found her approval. Amidst ordinary single-family houses the little corner shop didn’t quite fit in, but only on the very first sight.
Next to a shortened selection of daily groceries, the owner sold – first and foremost – a broad repertory of candies & cookies as well as chocolate and ice cream. Naturally it was THE go-to place for all the neighborhood kids and was deemed to be the only worthy semi-fixed investment around (big pocket-money $$). Being pampered by my great-grandma, I never had to leave empty handed and coincidentally some of her own favorites sweets always found their way into the paper bag: Eiskonfekt and Russian Bread.
I couldn’t dig up a proper translation for Eiskonfekt, but they essentially are little chocolate buttons produced with coco fat or similar to lower their melting point, and thus produce a cooling effect in one’s mouth to give the impression of iced chocolate. This effect increases if the chocolate is stored in the fridge. There is no middle ground, you either hate or love them – to me, simply the typical sweet treat I’d get from all my grandparents. Just like Russian Bread. These cookies’ origin is not proven beyond doubt: While Germans claim that a baker from Dresden imported a recipe for “Bukwi” from St. Petersburg around 1844, the Austrians argue conversely. During the 19th century the Viennese imperial household is said to have developed the bread to welcome Russian envoys. Either way, it was very popular during my childhood, with an educational side-effect! As a kid I could show off my spelling skills (or lack thereof). Yet it never occurred to me to try and make them myself – until I stumbled upon this recipe in a German cooking forum.
Beat the egg whites in a large bowl together with a pinch of salt until they become very stiff (stiff enough to flip the bowl without making a mess).
Add sugar, vanilla sugar, cinnamon and cacao to the stiff egg whites, then blend in the flour until evenly combined.
Preheat the oven to 170°C (340°F). Cover your baking tray(s) with parchment paper or a silicon mat. Fill the batter in an icing bag and carefully pipe the alphabet or other shapes onto the tray. While the first attempts may look a little imperfect, you’ll become better with every new shape and letter. Be careful to leave enough space in-between, the cookies tend to rise a bit in size.
Bake on middle level for 10 to 15 minutes. The best way to find out if your cookies are done, is to take one out (they may still feel a little soft) and let it cool for 1 minute (they turn firm quickly and become crunchy). Remove them from the oven when done and let them rest on the trays for a few more minutes before picking them up. Store them in an airtight container as soon as they cooled down completely to keep them crunchy.
Resume: They turned out just like the real thing, with their typical and unique taste. Some a little sticky and chewy (baking time was too short) most just really crunchy. And…piping the alphabet in a nice and good-looking way isn’t as easy as I would have thought…try yourself!
Recipe source: adapted from chefkoch.de
Prep time: 30 min., baking: 10-15 min.
Ingredients (yields 2-3 baking trays):
4 egg whites
a pinch of salt
125g white sugar
2 tsp vanilla sugar
2 tbsp unsweetened cacao
1/2 tsp cinnamon