David Plotz, CEO of Atlas Obscura and longtime host of the Slate Political Gabfest, wrote a cracking review of Samarkand and Taste of Persia the other day in the Piglet, but one line stopped me cold:
“I ended up cooking a full meal from each book: A soup, a vegetable, a starch, and a meat.”
Pardon? What kind of “full meal” has a soup course, but no dessert?
I wondered if perhaps Taste of Persia and Samarkand didn’t contain any appealing sweets, but feast your eyes, my friends
That is a photo from the pages of Samarkand of an Uzbek cake called Ruining a Russian Count’s Castle. The very existence of cake called Ruining a Russian Count’s Castle makes me glad to be alive.
I decided to make one.
I haven’t learned the origins of the Ruining a Russian Count’s Castle cake, nor the source of its name, as research materials on Uzbek cakes are scant, even online. But then I only spent about seven minutes looking. What I do know about Ruining a Russian Count’s Castle: You can use a base of profiteroles, meringue, torte, or sponge cake. Atop whatever base you opt for, heap a mound of cream, stud with meringues (cocoa-flavored or plain), and drizzle chocolate over all. Here’s the range of ways a Ruining a Russian Count’s Castle might look. What a world.
|flat as a pancake, loaded with prunes|
I had my doubts about the Samarkand recipe. The base cake was dense and flat, barely an inch tall, and full of prunes and walnuts. The whipped cream topping called for heavy cream and sour cream but no sugar. This felt wrong, so I added sugar (and would do so again.) The instructions have you slather some of this cream on the cake, then crush a few of the cocoa meringues into the remainder of the cream so you can create a stiff mound that will hold the rest of your little meringues. You end up with a wonderful monstrosity of a cake.
This seemed like a novelty cake, a stunt cake, and I didn’t expect it to taste good. But we loved it. There’s so much going on. You’ve got your little crispy meringues to nibble on, then a layer of cream with delectable bits of sugary crushed meringue. Beneath this you get to the layer of pure, tangy cream and then the dense, nutty torte. As soon as you get tired of any one element, you can move on to another, and they're all delicious. Mark asked if the fruit in the torte was cherry. It’s a good sign when someone thinks a prune is a cherry. I was sorry to have to tell him otherwise.
Total delight this cake, both the idea of it and the thing itself.
I also made an easy sesame-ginger brittle from Samarkand and have spent the last few days trying not to eat it all up at once. You boil honey, sugar, and water together, add sesame seeds and whole almonds, cook for a bit, add butter, candied ginger and baking soda, pour over a cookie sheet, cool, break into shards, eat a caramelly, crunchy piece, try to resist eating a second piece, eat a second, try to resist. . . and so on. Ten minutes to produce this tasty treat. Fifteen max.
Plotz made a good call on Samarkand.