Soviet Kartoshka, or Why Russians Eat Potato for Dessert

The word “potato” in Russian can mean both a vegetable and a type of cake. To be fair, the pastry does look like potato, hence the name. In Russian you call it kartoshka. It’s neither fancy nor does it have a sophisticated flavor profile but I, like many other Russian people, am very fond of it because of the childhood memories it brings back.

As a little girl, I stood in the bakery staring at the window case, and there was nothing in the whole world I craved more than kartoshka. When I grew up, I realized that my favorite cake is nothing more than cookie crumbs mixed with condensed milk and butter. That simple and unpretentious but, nevertheless, delicious.

russian kartoshka dessert

History

The first mentions of this dessert can be found in the beginning of XX century. It doesn’t mean that kartoshka was never made before, only that the written recipes would be impossible to find in cook books, since it was, initially, a way of utilizing old unsold pastries. Olga Shatunovskaya wrote in her memoirs:

“Before the revolution in Baku, today’s pastry cost a kopeck [Russian for cent]. The next day that same pastry would cost half a kopeck. On the third day, if it wasn’t sold, all those pastries would be used to make kartoshka-cake.”

Later, in Soviet Union, kartoshka turned into a self-sufficient dessert. It was not prepared of old pastries anymore. Instead, it was made of bread crumbs and cake cut-offs. In other words, it was a perfect way for Soviet canteens to utilize leftovers – every gram in the kitchen was on account, and cooks couldn’t afford any waste.

Kartoshka quickly gained popularity among Russian people and found its way into every household. The recipe calls for simple ingredients, which was a perfect solution for housewives in the times of food deficit and ration cards. When women started making this cake at home, there were no leftover crumbs or cut-offs, of course, so they used biscuits instead.

russian kartoshka

Ingredients

Biscuits

Biscuits used for Russian kartoshka should be neutral in taste, something like Marie bisquits.  Some recipes call for making biscuit cake from scratch to mimic the original kartoshka made of cake cut-offs. I personally think it’s not nessasary. Kartoshka is meant to be a simple cheap treat that a housewife can make in 20 minutes. Baking a cake from scratch just to crumble it afterwards doesn’t fit into that concept, to my mind. Store-bought biscuits work just fine.

Condensed milk

The easiest way is to use Milk Maid or any other brand of condensed milk you can find. But if you are willing to go an extra mile, you need a tin of Russian condensed milk made according to GOST standards. GOST is a certification system developed in Soviet Union that guarantees the highest quality. Even today GOST condensed milk is the only one Russian women use in their kitchens. You can find it in International grocery stores or Russian grocery stores.

russian kartoshka dessert
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Soviet Kartoshka

Course Dessert
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 25 minutes
Servings 15 pieces

Ingredients

  • 320 gram bisquits (like Marie)
  • 150 gram butter
  • 190 gram condensed milk
  • 2 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 50 gram walnuts, chopped (optional)
  • 2 tbsp cognac (optional)

For coating

  • 3 tbsp cocoa powder

Instructions

  1. Melt butter in a sauce pan.

  2. Place biscuits into blender and pulse until they turn into fine crumbs.

  3. Mix biscuit crumbs with cocoa powder.

  4. Add melted butter and condensed milk into biscuit-cocoa mixture and mix well until you get dough-like consistency. You can add cognac and/or walnuts for added flavor.

  5. Take a little piece of dough at a time and roll it into a ball or oval shaped “potato” to make it look more like a classic version.

  6. Roll each ball in cocoa powder. When all the balls are done, place into refrigerator and let them cool. You can eat kartoshka right away, but it does taste better when you let it cool down.

Resourses:

Ольга и Павел Сюткины “Непридуманная история русских продуктов” – a great book in Russian, describing the history of Russian foods and dishes. The history part of the post is written based on a chapter of this book, dedicated to Russian kartoshka.

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AUTHOR: YULIA DYUKOVA
Yulia is a Russian food and travel blogger who found home first in Sri Lanka for 3 years, then in Brazil for a year and is currently based in Austin, Texas. She is the kind of person who starts a research of the new country by googling “what to eat in…” instead of “what to visit in…” Yulia is a self-proclaimed “food nerd” who will spend hours reading on the origins of pecan pie before trying it and who doesn’t consider waiting in line of 50 people to get a cronut a waste of time. She finds it hard to keep her delicious findings to herself and that is the reason why this blog exists.

6 Comments Add yours

  1. Kathy says:

    Yum, they sound a lot like rum balls. We use store bought vanilla wafers, but I love the idea of using left overs.

    1. I think a lot of countries have their own version of kartoshka. And it would most definitely benefit from added rum!

  2. Darryl Aoki says:

    For such humble ingredients, these look positively decadent, and sound like they’d be good with coffee or tea. (Just one for me, thank you – they also look mind-numbingly rich.)

    1. Living in Soviet Union meant you had to make do with the few ingredients that could be found in grocery stores. People were forced to be creative. But it amazes me also how something so simple can be so satisfying! Sticking with one is a good idea, but believe me it’s easier said than done 🙂

  3. Dima says:

    Too much butter. Can be half of that really. or even less. Butter was dripping and “potatoes” kept sweating butter. Had to add plain Panco bread crumbs. Otherwise authentic taste from childhood. Extreme amount of butter also made it hard to make resulting balls look good.

    1. Hey Dima! Thank you for the comment! I’ve made this recipe a couple of times before, and it turned out well (kartoshka on the pictures in this post was made according to this recipe). I might have to make it again and see where the problem might be! Thank you for sharing your results!

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