Ukrainian and Other Slavic Desserts: Taste the difference!
Varenyky with cherries
Slavic desserts from all over Eastern Europe share many delicious and unique similarities; from their ingredients all the way to how they are prepared and served. You’ll find a lot of apples, cherries and breads, depending on the geographic location of the culture and their traditional access to types of ingredients. Let’s walk through a few delicious Ukrainian, Russian, Polish, and Belarusian examples of why Slavic treats can be so special.
Ukraine has a rich (and delicious!) culture. Wheat crops were incredibly precious to Ukrainian farmers, and in pre-Christian periods they sacrificed wheat in ancient festivals like Kolyada (the old Slavic winter solstice). They would cook the wheat or incorporate it into baked goods, and these desserts were a central part of their most important rituals. Some aspects of these traditions are still practised today, but have evolved through the years, and of course many desserts have been added to Ukraine’s repertoire since. Trust us, once you take a bite of these delights, you’ll never go back! Let’s explore some of these delicious sweets.
- Ukrainian Cheesecake Tarts: Ukrainian Cheesecake but with a twist: in a tart form! Tasting the same sweet and tangy cheese flavours, these tarts are light and fluffy. The crust is buttery, complementing the rich and creamy taste. The toppings vary, ranging from jams, berries, jellies and so much more. Most Ukranians go for a bitter drink, like coffee, to lessen the sweetness.
- Kyiv Cake/Kiev cake: Kyiv/Kiev Cake first appeared in the capital of Ukraine in the 1950s. This cake was so popular, you had to bring this cake back home to your friends and family. It quickly became a representation of Kiev, and rose as one of the well-loved desserts in Ukraine. This cake is light, and spongy. In between the two layers of the cake, you can taste the buttercream and hazelnut filling. Topped with chocolate icing and flower decorations, this is a classic Ukrainian cake.
Kyiv Cake/Kiev cake
- Verhuny: Also referred to as “Angel Wings”, verhuny are sweet cookies, made with non-yeast dough. They are twisted in a ribbon-like shape, giving them an elongated look, similar to an angel’s wing. Deep fried in lard, verhuny is sometimes prepared with alcohol or vinegar. To give it’s sweet taste, it is coated with powdered sugar, emphasizing the angel-like wings.
- Honey Shulyky: This is a traditional Ukrainian dessert that is served during the Honey Feast of the Saviour (Orthodox Christian holiday on July 14). The preparation is simple: cut the dry shortcake into individual square pieces. These cookies are smothered in a syrup dressing made with water, honey and poppy seeds. The cookies are soaked in this mixture for two hours, and once done, dig in!
Russia takes up such a large chunk of Eastern Europe, and they have a rich history and big influence on slavic and Eastern European food. Let’s show some love to some popular and heavenly Russian desserts.
- Sharlotka: Sharlotka, or Russian Apple Cake, is a sponge cake stuffed with chopped apples. Any type of apple is fine, you can use a sweet or tangy one. The choice is yours. Prepared with vanilla and cinnamon, it gives a flavourful aroma. Sharlotka can be enjoyed as an afternoon snack, or as a dessert topped with vanilla ice cream.
- Pastila: Pastila is a traditional Russian confectionery. They are made with two to three ingredients, none of which are with gelatin or starch. It is prepared by being dried in wooden boxes made out of alder (tree). What’s so special about pastila? It is prepared with Antonov apples, a homegrown fruit in Russia. They are tangy and fragrant, giving pastila its flavourful taste!
Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia are known as the 3 Eastern Slavic countries, so they share a lot of agricultural similarities. Let’s see which desserts are some of the most popular in Belarus.
- Draniki: Many Slavic countries share their love of pancakes. Although draniki seems quite savoury, hosting ingredients like potato, onion and pork, it is actually the national dessert of Belarus. To make it a little sweeter, it can be served with toppings like apple sauce.
- Kissel: Kissel is very popular as both a dessert and drink in Belarus. It goes by different names across Northern Europe with varying differences in the consistency and preparation. Kissel is basically a thickened fruit juice (which is why it can also be drunk!). In Belarus it may be made with mors (a lingonberry and cranberry juice), strawberry, gooseberry, and raspberry. It can be served on its own, or as a topping like on pancakes.
- Pączki: As the national dessert of Poland, Pączki is definitely one of the oldest and most popular delectable delights. Pączki are jelly-filled doughnuts that are fried and topped with powdered sugar or icing. Popular fillings are prune, rose, strawberry, chocolate, custard, and liqueur. There is actually a Pączki Day celebrated on the day before fasting for lent. Indulging in this sweet dessert is celebrated, and sales of course skyrocket. Pączki has several different pronunciations, but if you don’t want to risk messing it up, it has been westernised with the term “ponki”.
- Sernik: Sernik is a very popular dessert in Poland as it is a traditional cheesecake. It is made with a type of farmer’s curd cheese called twaróg. It would have been brought to Poland around the 17th century from Turkey, and it has been beloved ever since. Sernik is usually resting on a graham cracker base, just like other cheesecakes, and it can be found with additions and toppings like raisins, cherries, strawberries, and chocolate.
Common and Traditional Slavic Desserts
Although both Ukraine and its surrounding Slavic nations have their own speciality desserts, it is common that some delicacies overlap. Curious to know which ones? Let’s take a look.
- Kutya: Wheatberry, poppy seeds, and honey are the main ingredients in this very historically significant and ceremonial dessert. Kutya (or kutia) was prepared in ancient festivals as a sacrifice for bountiful wheat crops in the coming spring. Households would leave a bowl with spoons at the most honoured seat of their table because they believed their deceased family members visited on the evening of the Winter Solstice. Because of its powerful and traditional roots, kutya is still cherished today across most Slavic countries. In modern times, it is a very important dish in the Svayata vecherya (the twelve dish Christmas Eve Supper) in those same countries.
- Varenyky with cherries: Varenyky have many names across Slavic countries (and actually were brought to Ukraine from China in the Middle Ages), but they are probably most commonly referred to as “pierogies”. Vernyky are similar to dumplings in that they are a dough wrapped around a variety of delicious fillings. The most popular filling of perogy would have to involve cheese and potatoes, but dessert perogies can have cherries, chocolate, cream, strawberries, blueberries, and can be dipped in things like custard, whipped cream, or anything to your heart’s delight.
Varenyky with cherries
What a treat! Ukrainian desserts come in various shapes and flavours and have so much cultural significance. Let’s hold space to celebrate both their similarities and differences. Take a look at Ukrainian desserts and other Slavic sweets near you!