Maybe only in Odesa would you find Jewish challah – braided bread – on the menu at an Italian restaurant, and at Bernadazzi, one of Odesa’s best restaurants, I found just that.
500g / 3½ cups strong white bread flour, plus extra for dusting
7g / ½ oz fast-action dried yeast 2 teaspoons fine salt
50g / 2½ tablespoons light brown sugar
160ml / ⅔ cup water
50ml / 3½ tablespoons vegetable oil, plus extra for oiling
1 egg, beaten
For the top:
1 egg, mixed with 1 teaspoon milk
1 tablespoon black sesame seeds
½ teaspoon flaky sea salt
Attach the dough hook/blade to your mixer bowl. Combine all the ingredients for the dough, initially keeping the salt away from the yeast, in the bowl. Process gradually until the dough forms a sticky ball. This usually takes a couple of minutes. Or, to knead by hand, mix the dry ingredients in the bowl and the wet in a mixing jug. Make a well in the dry mix, pour in the wet ingredients and mix until you have a shaggy dough, then knead for 5–10 minutes until smooth and a little sticky. Have a large oiled bowl ready and knead the dough on a floured surface for 2 minutes, then place inside the bowl, rolling once in the oil, and cover with a damp cloth or cling film (plastic wrap). Leave for an hour somewhere warm until doubled in size.
Take the dough and, on a lightly floured surface, split into 3. Using your hands, roll into three oblong pieces around 50cm/20-in long, making sure they will fit a baking tray. If you find you cannot gain the friction needed to roll out the ropes, instead of flouring the surface dampen it slightly with a damp cloth; this can help. Take the three pieces and join them, by pinching and tucking under, at one end, and then plait. It’s important not to do this too tightly as the dough will rise. Pinch and tuck under when you come to the end. Carefully transfer the plaited loaf to a lightly greased baking tray, cover with a damp cloth and leave to prove for at least 30 minutes but no longer than an hour.
Preheat the oven to 190°C/375°F/gas mark 5. Brush egg wash over the risen loaf and scatter over the sesame seeds and sea salt. Bake for around 30 minutes, keeping a close eye, until golden, then remove from the oven, place on a wire rack and allow to cool completely before slicing and eating.
Beets are for more than borscht. They also make vivid salads, which the Russians take in various directions, mixing in walnuts and prunes for a touch of the sweet, or onions and garlic for a savory edge. This refreshing version gets a nice kick from horseradish and vinegar, along with tartness from grated apple. The quality of the sunflower oil is crucial here — only a good, nutty oil will bring out the best in the other ingredients. Like borscht, this salad tastes even better on the second day, or even the third.
700g/½ pounds beets
1 large carrot
2.5cm/1-inch slice of horseradish
1 tart apple (such as Granny Smith)
32g / ¼ cup minced red onion
½ teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons cold-pressed sunflower oil
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 tablespoons sour cream
Preheat the oven to 190°C/425°F. Wrap the beets in aluminum foil and bake until tender, 45 minutes to 1 hour, depending on their size. Let cool.
Peel the beets and put them through the grating disk of a food processor. Peel and grate the carrot, horseradish, and apple. Transfer the grated vegetables and fruit to a medium bowl. Add the onion and season with the salt and pepper. Stir in the oil, vinegar, and sour cream and mix to combine. Chill before serving.
An indisputable family favourite, this simple-looking but mighty-tasting cake has graced the festive table on a number of occasions: from most of the winter holidays to Easter weekend, and on occasional lazy Sundays. Made up of pretty much nothing else but honey, butter and pine nuts, to me this cake encapsulates the key flavours of Siberia (the land of honey and pine nuts!). Aside from its buttery richness and the slightly bitter crunch of the pine nuts, what I love about this cake is its versatility; add some orange or lemon zest, drizzle with olive oil and decorate it with rosemary, and your classic Siberian cake turns into a luscious Mediterranean treat.
250g pine nuts
250g unsalted butter, softened, plus extra for greasing
200g caster sugar
4 tablespoons clear honey, plus extra to serve (optional)
115g plain flour
Icing sugar, for dusting (optional)
Preheat the oven to 160°C/350°F fan/gas mark 4. Spread the pine nuts out on a large baking sheet and toast in the oven for a few minutes until golden brown, stirring occasionally. Set aside to cool.
Increase the oven temperature to 180°C/Gas Mark 6. Grease a 24cm cake tin. Cream the butter and sugar together using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment – or an electric hand mixer – until pale and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, while you continue whisking on a lower speed. Then mix in the honey and fold in the toasted pine nuts, reserving a handful.
Pour the cake mixture into the prepared tin, sprinkle the remaining pine nuts on top and bake for 30 minutes, or until a cocktail stick inserted into the middle comes out clean. Let the cake cool on a wire rack and serve with an extra drizzle of honey or a dusting of icing sugar.