It’s a little difficult to imagine having to line up for hours to buy a special type of cake or confectionary. And I’m not referring to the likes of Dominique Ansel Bakery in New York.
Queuing for hours was a very common activity in the iron clad USSR, post-WWII. Hard times, methinks.
The government had control over everything, even down to the way a particular cake was to be made and sold. State run factories produced such food items from a single recipe, so no matter which town or city you were in, that cake was exactly the same and without any home-cooked or personal flourishes.
They may be vague memories, but owner of Izba Russian Treats – Olga Rogacheva – remembers what it was like in the years before the Iron Curtain came down.
Olga’s love for cakes and baked treats is pretty strong. It was not long after moving here from Russia’s second largest city of Yaroslavl several years ago that she opened her own bakery in Sydney’s Newtown.
Olga’s two chefs, which so happen to be French, do most of the baking; knocking out a steady stream of sweet and savoury breads and pastries, cakes, pies and pirozhki. Whilst all the traditional Russian ingredients aren’t available in Australia, what these guys produce is still the real deal.
The blini is a staple to many Russian families and here at Izba there are two varieties to choose from. Made using buckwheat flour, the gluten-free, slightly-sour pancakes are filled with either stewed beef & caramelised onion or sweetened cottage cheese & sultanas (11). We can confidently vouch for the sweet version – soft and delicate and served with homemade cranberry jam and sour cream.
I couldn’t help but scoff a little sample of the gluten Putin (8.5), a triple layered creation featuring layers of flourless sponge, raspberry-chocolate ganache and gooey caramel. Talk about a sugar hit!
For a great value feed there are the few pies that are big enough for two. A chicken, a mushroom, and this salmon pie (9.5). It’s basically a cross-section cut from a much larger pie with hearty layers of buckwheat, chopped egg, spinach, goat cheese and hot smoked salmon. Those unfamiliar with the taste of buckwheat may find it a tad rich.
With freshly baked koshka, piroshki and poppy seed plushka peering at you from the top of the counter, it’s easy to get carried away with trying more than intended.
One of Russia’s sweet signatures is the honey cake (5) – a layered creation that dates back to the 1800’s, when it was made for the Empress that had an aversion to honey. The layers of soft biscuit-like honey pastry and whipped vanilla sour cream are surprisingly low in sugar, which to me, means you can try another piece of cake!
Perhaps a tiny kartoshka (4.5) cone of buttercream and ground biscuits, coated in cocoa? Nah, I had to try the Izba (9).
It gets its name from the traditional wooden cross-log hut that was first built in the 8th century – an architectural marvel of old-time Russia.
The cake takes its cues from this traditional wooden hut with amarena cherries that are rolled in dough and stacked into an izba shape with vanilla-laced sour cream. The cream itself isn’t too sour, and instead the tartness comes from the juicy cherries. It has a very soft mouth-feel and is surprisingly not overloaded with sugar; reminding me of the elaborate torte I used to eat as a kid.
One thing, for sure, is there’s bound to be something to satisfy anyones sweet tooth at this little piece of Russia on King Street south.
Izba Russian Treats, 157 King Street, Newtown