The Symphonic Juncture

A [Symphonist]: "The one who is not afraid to raise the primal force."

- Boris Asafiev (1917)

Russian Recipe Sunday! No.2 Russian Tea Cakes!

In another installment of ‘Russian Recipe Sundays,’ I chose the internationally recognized and beloved dessert recipe ‘Русские чайные пирожные,’ or in English Russian Tea Cakes! This immensely delectable cookie recipe was not what I had originally intended to make, nor had I any conception of the recipe’s steps before waking this morning and deciding to bake ‘something Russian.’ This particular baked good has a two-fold texture, the exterior being of a firm and crumbly orientation while the interior molds to the teeth and gives way to the expectant mouth. Dusted with powdered sugar [сахарная пудра], of which I mixed chopped nuts too [конктрено грецкие/ specifically walnuts], this denser shortbread-esque confectionary treat has an odd historical lineage, as this recipe is technically not Russian and is, in fact, an American creation. According to Professor of Russian Dorrit Goldstein of Williams College, a knowledgeable Scholar on cuisine and Agricultural diplomacy, among other cross-cultural achievements and accolades, this recipe is absent from many Russian-language cookbooks of past and present. In 2009, when asked by LAT’s Regina Schrambling if this indeed was authentically Russian, Darra responded, “I just took a quick tour of my Russian-language cookbooks, including some old ones, and didn’t find anything that resembles the tea cakes.

However, this hasn’t stopped the infiltration of the recipe into not only American culture but international waters as well, this recipe being equated with the Italian variant called ‘Italian wedding cookies,’ existing still a Mexican alternative, ‘Mexican wedding cookies,’ although these strains and counterstrains being more semantically different than any, concrete recipe-based differientations. How it entered America though is quite interesting to denote, as Schrambling notes that the predominate theory for its infiltration into American kitchens came from Mexico when Europeans nuns on missionary trips adopted the local polvorones recipe, the iconic ‘Mexican wedding cookie’ whose final constitution is only equivalent to the Russian tea cake except for the omission of the powdered sugar exterior dusting. Nick Malgieri, a New-York based, multi-medium based Cook, Educator and Author, regarded the recipe as emanating from Eastern Europe due to a similar recipe from the region which he calls a ‘pecan ball,’ itself a cousin of the Viennese almond crescents, a cookie with a ‘low-sugar, high-nut ratio.’ Malgieri went on, as quoted by Schrambling, to mention that European nuns, once arrived and settled in Mexico, began baking quite frequently and as such, this recipe, with all its variations and permutations, was the natural result of a recipe made public by some sort of private-social transfer.

And, quite frankly, that is where much of the scholarship ends on this historical ambiguous recipe whose roots can not really be accurately researched or delineated with 100% certainty, but there are a couple Russian recipes that could very well add fuel to the dubious culturological heritage to which this recipe currently belongs. If searching this recipe on Russian google using the search query, Русские чайные печение традиции / Russian tea cookies traditional, one is immediately greeted with an article from Пей.ву entitled, “Traditions of Russian tea drinking or how do they drink tea in Russia?” written around 2017. In this short статья [article], they talk about the traditional way tea was used a offering to new guests and to welcome visitors and dignitaries in the country and household. They do say that ‘guests smacked [their lips on] sugar, like a sweet candy, and later honey and jam were served with it, then various chocolates, pastries and other sweets were added,’ thus it is quite possible that a early rendition of this recipe was present in Tsarist traditions and Russian households. Upon further searching, because of the Americanized appeal of the recipe, when using Russian google, pretty much all that appears are recipes in one camp [searching up the name itself] or Russian tea practices [if adding the keyword ‘history’], thus finding sources that talk about the supposed Russian heritage of the recipe is tricky at best and non-existent and worst.