The Soviet Shortbread Cake With An Unconventional Baking Method

As has been proven throughout the ages, the human spirit is resilient, and people do what they need to do to survive. When something is taken away, humans rally, they get creative. Just look at what came out of the Depression Era: Meatloaf and water pie are among the many recipes that Americans are still fond of today. 

During World War II, Americans had ration books that allowed them to purchase a limited number of rationed foods, like meat and sugar, per The National WWII Museum, causing them to add fillers to their ingredients or substitute them altogether. Cookist suggests that the government highly encouraged home gardens so families could supplement their diet with home-grown goods. It was during this time that carrot cake and vegetable pies came to fruition.

Despite such recipes coming from hard times with difficult memories, they have lasting power. Even when ingredients became plentiful again, families continued to serve what they had to make do with previously, whether for nostalgic purposes or if they'd grown to genuinely enjoy them. Inevitably, the recipes ended up being passed down for generations. One such example lies in a Russian confection born out of the Soviet Regime of the 20th century, which still lives in the hearts of Russians and those with Russian heritage today.

History of anthill cake

The Russian Soviet regime began in 1921, following a devastating civil war that ended centuries of monarchy rule by the Romanovs, per History. It became one of the most powerful nations in the world, but as the leaders thrived, the citizens suffered. As a result of Joseph Stalin's Five Year Plans — which promised increased agricultural productivity — citizens were stripped of their livestock and their land was given over to collective farms. Stalin's plans failed and the abysmal harvests ultimately led to poverty and starvation. Food shortages were common even after Stalin's death and continued until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Despite the hardships, the people of the Soviet Union still had families, love, and reasons to celebrate. With limited resources, they essentially created a cake for such occasions made from cookies. According to Gastro Obscura, Russian women came up with a dessert called "muraveynik" or "anthill cake" during the Soviet regime. It fit the era because it required simple ingredients and was easy to put together.

How to make anthill cake

To make an anthill cake, cooks combined ingredients like flour, sugar, sour cream, butter, baking soda, and vinegar together to make a stiff dough, similar to a shortbread dough, per Momsdish. Chunks of the dough were rolled into large snakelike pieces and then run through a meat grinder to create strips. These strips were baked and then crushed into small pieces which the bakers then formed into a dome or hill-like structure that was secured with cooked sweetened condensed milk, giving it the appearance of an anthill. 

Russians sometimes used other types of biscuits or pieces of bread to create the confection, utilizing what they could get their hands on at any given time. The "cake" was then decorated to look like an anthill, sprinkled with cocoa powder, nuts, or seeds. Natasha's Kitchen describes the flavor of the confection as a cross between several different sweets including a cookie, coffee cake, scone, and biscotti.

Anthill cake is still an inexpensive and quick dessert to make and serve. In fact, no Russian celebration is complete without one. Many families add additional ingredients to create their own unique version, but its humble roots remain the same and remind everyone that something good can always come out of harsh times.