Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Birds Milk Cake

This is our absolute favorite cake recipe ever. I planned to make it for Tim's birthday in Utah, figuring I could just look up the recipe online (since ALL my favorite recipes can be found easily online).

To my surprise, this recipe is NOT online. There are several "birds milk cake" recipes there, but none look like this cake when it's finished, and all included either gelatin or agar-agar, neither of which are in my recipe. And most included baking a traditional batter cake and slicing it, which this cake doesn't do.

So I'm putting the recipe (with my modifications, naturally) here online so I can find it when I travel in the future, and because every good recipe ought to be found in more than one place. The original recipe, which is surprisingly vague on a few key points, is found on page 99 of "Lion House International Recipes", published by Deseret Book in 1997 (I got it as a wedding gift from Brother and Sister Blood in 1999).

The thing that makes this recipe special is the boiled cream, which is fussy. After several years of making this cake, I think I've figured out the cream--at least it comes out good. I've no idea if it comes out "right", having never met anyone else who makes this cake. The cream is a little fussy and I've had it refuse to set up with a half hour of beating one day and then set up in 3 minutes the next. Also, the cake doesn't taste as good without the chocolate icing ("gonush" in the book).

BIRDS MILK CAKE (from Russia, supposedly)

Cake:
1/2 c butter or margarine (butter tastes better)
1 c sugar
2 tbsp honey
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2 1/2 c flour
1 tsp baking soda

In a large saucepan on medium to low heat, stir together first 5 ingredients until the sugar is melted. Remove from heat and add flour and soda. Stir until well mixed and thick. Divide dough into five equal parts. Cut five 9-inch circles (or, I suppose, any simple shape) from wax paper. Working with one at a time, place a circle on a cookie sheet and put a ball of dough in the center. Roll or pat to fit the circle perfectly (all the way to the edge)--it will be quite thin, and works nicer if you roll it out. Bake 5 minutes (or until lightly browned) at 350. Remove from the cookie sheet and cool on a baking rack while you make the other cake rounds. They come out looking like giant sugar cookies.

Boiled Cream:

2 tbsp flour
2 tbsp sugar
2 c milk
1 tsp vanilla
1 c butter (works with margarine, but tastes better with butter)
1 c sugar

Combine flour, 2 tbsp sugar, milk, and vanilla in microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on high 2 minutes. Stir. Repeat until cream is quite thick--like soft pudding. It should boil. You can do this on the stove, but the microwave is easier and has better results. Put plastic wrap right down on the surface of the hot cream, pressing it right to the edges like you do with hot custard, and let it cool (the original recipe just says that--but I've found cooler is better, so get it cool to the touch). Beat (don't whip) the butter and sugar until light and fluffy and the sugar is mostly-to-completely dissolved. Put this in the fridge for 15-30 min, until it has stiffened up and is cold. Pour in cooled liquid and beat well until it looks like whipped cream. I have written into my cookbook "Whip, don't beat" and "Beat, Don't Whip" so I guess it didn't set up one way once, and didn't the other way once, too. I think I usually use both methods, switching part-way through when whichever I started with isn't working. Beating this into cream can take a long time, and often I give up when it's still slightly separated--this affects the look of the cake slightly but doesn't affect the flavor or texture really. If you chill the creamed sugar/butter mixture before you add the cooled milk, you can put the milk in lukewarm and still only have to beat it for 3 minutes or less.

Assemble the cake:

Carefully peel the wax paper from the bottom of the cake rounds. Place one layer on a large plate and spread cream over it right to the edge. Top with another cake round, spread with cream, and repeat. DO NOT spread cream on the top layer (so 5 layers of cake, four of cream). Put in the fridge to stiffen while you make the gonush.

Gonush:
5 tbsp sugar
5 tbsp milk
5 tsp cocoa
1/4 c butter (margarine works, too, but doesn't taste as good)

Combine sugar, milk, and cocoa in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and boil until smooth and dark brown and slightly thickened--like hot syrup. Remove from heat and stir in butter until it's melted. Pour over top of cake, letting it drizzle down the sides and collect around the bottom of the cake. If you cook it long enough, it should mostly stay on top like a thick glaze. If you didn't, it will be a thin topcoat with lots of liquidy chocolate around the bottom (which tastes just as good, but isn't quite as pretty).

Keep the cake in the fridge until you're ready for it (even overnight if you want), and refrigerate any leftovers.

This cake sounds involved, but it's not hard. The only tricky part is the cream, which can be fussy if you don't boil the cream long enough, or if you don't cool it sufficiently (it just takes longer to set up), or if your kitchen is too hot or too cool, etc. But it's worth it.

5 comments:

Becca said...

A friend emailed to say that the chocolate glaze is also called "ganache" and can be found under that name on wikipedia.

My sister, who lived in Russia, assures me that it IS a Russian cake, that the Russian people (not chefs, but regular folk) would be more likely to make a cream of boiled milk than gelatin or agar-agar, and that the Russian name for the cake is pronounced "pteetsee maloko" and that it's good.

If the "pteetsee" part of that means bird or birds milk, I think it's a great bit of onomatopoeia, just like that the Chinese word for 'cat' sounds a lot like the noise a cat makes.

Alena said...

It's not 'pteetsee maloko' but 'ptitchje moloko', with 'ptitchje' meaning 'bird's' or 'of the bird' a derivative from the word 'ptitsa' which means 'a bird'.

It is indeed a Russian cake invented by a Russian chef (Vladimir Guralnik) from the 'Prague' restaurant at Moscow in 1920. It SHOULD contain gelatin or agar-agar and it SHOULD be of a souffle-like consistency. The reason why the original recipe is difficult to find is:
1. The original recipe has been patented some 30 years ago.
2. It's not a very popular cake outside the Russian-speaking countries (former republics of the USSR)

Now it's also available in a candy form - tender souffle covered with chocolate http://www.globuz.ru/admin/tmp/7.gif

P.S. Most immigrants LOVE it, mostly due to nostalgia.

Julia said...

Here is an article about this Russian cake. It includes a version of the recipe adapted for western kitches by the man who created the original:

http://rbth.ru/article.php?id=10021

I would imagine that version posted on this blog was probably adapted for Russian home cooks by the cookbook publisher, and is also authentically Russian, even if it is not the same as the original cake.

"Bird's Milk" candy was originally produced in Poland in the 1930s. It was first manufactured in Russia in 1975. The cake version was invented in 1978 by Guralnik at the Praga restuarant in Moscow.

In Polish, it is "ptasie mleczko" and in Russian it is "ptichye moloko." At least, that is how the Moscow Times spells it on it's English website. But, Russian does not use the Roman alphabet, so the spelling of Russian words using the roman alphabet is done phonetically. There is often more than one "correct" way to do it (as is often the case with Russian names), and the spelling depends on which language you are translitering into (spelled out for a German article, it could look quite different).

AlmightyOracle said...

I made this cake from your recipe and it is very good but is not actually Bird's Milk Cake. (But I hear is often mistaken as Bird's Milk) Bird's milk is a lighter cream and is not separated into many layers but a single thick layer of cream (the birds milk) that has the consistency of egg. My husband is from Russia and I have been trying to find the perfect cake that matches the one he remembers from childhood. Delicious cake regardless.

Anonymous said...

I make this the same exact recipe for over 25 years and it is always is the best!!! Thanks to the author... What a great idea to post!!!!