Approaching winter holidays are always filled with fabulous flavor. Well in advance of the actual holidays we set up the tree, stock up on our favorite foods, fetch marinades and special ingredients from the pantry. The lady of the house is puzzled about how she could surprise the household with one of her delectables.
New Year’s Day has long been one of the most favorite holidays in Russia, and one of the main manifestations of joy – a feast. Festive table unites everyone, young and old, ones well to do and ones making ends meet. A long time ago, when I used to live in St. Petersburg, no New Year’s Day holiday table could manage without Anthill cake, very tasty and simple dessert. If you would like to make something original, try this recipe, I can assure you – all your guests would love it.
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Often some cookbook authors try to come up with a good story for the origin of Anthill cake recipe. They may say it has descended from the eastern Chak-Chak sweets, some name it a variation of Napoleon cake, and yet others claim it to be a version of Pennsylvanian “meat grinder cake”. French cuisine has a recipe of Profiteroles cake which looks very similar to Anthill but tastes completely different. A British version of the same is Prince William cake (rumored to be the baked by the prince himself) which is mixed with cream dry sponge cake with an added drop of rum or brandy.
So seems like in spite of the existence of numerous Anthill cake relatives from around the world I tend to think of Anthill as a brainchild of the Soviet era bakers – times of poverty when food was scarce, choice of ingredients limited but nevertheless everyone wanted to make something special and unique! The recipe for this delicious and simple cake comes to us from 1960s and ’70s, however, the offspring of lean years was so successful that it was not forgotten.
At the time probably every family baked their own version of Anthill, as per handwritten recipes of moms and grandmas. If you are nostalgic of your poor student youth or simply too busy, you can make the easiest version of this cake: crumble shortbread cookies into very small bits and mix them well into condensed sweetened milk – your dessert is ready. However, even if you have never cooked anything more complex then fried eggs, to bake a proper Anthill cake should still be in your power.
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Also, do not delay baking Anthill to the last moment, since in order to become perfect it has to be refrigerated overnight. If you would like to serve it at your New Year’s Eve table, cook it at least one day in advance. Even if baked on December 29-30th and refrigerated, it would still be perfectly fresh for your holiday feast.
Muraveynik – Anthill Cake with Caramel & Walnuts
- 3/4 cup (12 Tbsp.) unsalted butter
- 2 Tbsp. brown sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 Tbsp. sour cream
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 8 oz. dulce de leche (milk caramel)
- 1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
- 5-6 Tbsp. poppy seeds
- chocolate to decorate, ground into small pieces (optional)
In a large bowl, using an electric mixer on medium speed beat the butter and sugar until creamy. Add the eggs, baking powder, sour cream, vanilla, and flour and mix until blended. Wrap the dough tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate until well chilled, at least 4 hours or for up to 2 days.
Preheat an oven to 350°F. Line one baking sheet with parchment paper.
Shred chilled dough on the large holes of a box vegetable grater or run through a meat grinder. Arrange a layer of shredded dough on baking sheet and bake for about 12-15 minutes until light brown. Be careful not to burn the dough, as it’s easy to do. Remove from the oven and let cool completely.
In a large bowl mix together cookie crumbs, walnuts, poppy seeds (leave a little for decoration) and milk caramel, make one big "Anthill" using rubber spatula dipped in water. The mixture will be very sticky. Sprinkle with chocolate and extra poppy seeds. Refrigerate before serving.
To make Milk Caramel (dulce de leche) at home you can carefully boil sweetened condensed milk in its own can for about 2 hours. Be aware to put more water all the time to cover the can, while you are cooking the milk (the can explode if it’s not fully submerged in water).