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Sour Cream Cake (Smetannik): Russian Recipes Revisited

It's almost the end of December, so it's time for the monthly Russian Recipes Revisited post!

Today I bring you a recipe for Sour Cream Cake, aka Smetannik (in Russian, sour cream is smetana).

Growing up in Moscow, Russia, children's birthday celebrations weren't spent at a restaurant and involved way more than two hours, a cake and a clown. Anna and I (since we are twins!) would have our close friends over to our house, eat a ton of food our mom has prepared, play games, go out for ice cream and come back for cake and tea. These birthday parties often lasted at least four to six hours. Good times!

The cake that my mom often made for our birthday was smetannik: Sour Cream Cake. You are shocked I am a fan of the cake, right? After all, I often go for dessert that has dark chocolate in it. But this cake brings such fond memories from my childhood.

My mom has been baking this cake for celebratory occasions ever since we moved to the States, but because my entire family is in Seattle, while I'm in DC area, I miss out on many slices of this particular cake. Finally, after many phone calls and pleas, my mom agreed to write down the recipe for the cake and send it to me.

Yes, that's my mom's handwriting with a few notes from me. You can tell beautiful handwriting is not our strongest suit ;)

I read over the recipe, called my mom with questions about a few steps, nervously listened as she made suggestions and edited some of the directions, and then I started to FLIP OUT! Will I be able to make this recipe? Will it turn out as delicious as my mom's? Will it be good enough to bring to a friend's house for Christmas dinner?

Let me just say that I was a nervous wreck until I took a bite of the cake and realized that I succeeded!!!

This recipe is not a 100% perfect. One of my cakes totally burned on the bottom. I'm not sure if it's because of the unevenness of my oven or because of the cake pan I used. But all in all, I'm happy with the final result.

NOTE/Warning: you want to have two full days to make this cake!

Sour Cream Cake (Smetannik)
Makes 2 cakes

For the cakes
1 1/2 cups sugar
5 eggs
8 ounces unsalted butter
1/4 cup honey
4 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda

For the sour cream "frosting"
32 ounces sour cream (full fat!!)
2 cups sugar

For the topping
You can use 1 1/2 cups of toasted walnuts per cake or 1 bar of dark chocolate, grated, per cake.

1. Preheat the oven to 400F. {If I were to make this again, I would probably do 375F.}
2. In a large bowl, add sugar and beat in one egg at a time with a hand-held mixer.

3. Melt the butter and let it cool.
4. Meanwhile, whisk together flour and baking soda.
5. Add honey and cooled butter into the sugar/egg mixture and combine.
6. Incorporate the dry ingredients into the wet ones.

7. Line the bottom of the two 9" round baking pans with parchment paper. {I used one cake pan and one spring form; the cake in the cake pan burned on the bottom, while the one in the spring form didn't.}
8. Divide the cake batter equally between the two pans. Wet your hand with cold water and carefully smooth out the batter until it's even.
9. Bake the cakes for about 30 minutes.

The cake in the picture below is the one that burned on the bottom. What did I do? I called my mom and started FREAKING out!!! That's my typical response to when things don't go my way. My mom tried to calm me down, but it wasn't working.

I was not happy the cake was burned on the bottom. I was not happy the top of the cake was too rounded instead of flat. I was FREAKING out about cutting this not-so-tall cake into THREE layers.

My mom offered to go on Skype with me so she could actually look at the cakes, but I was not having any of this.

I told her I was not discussing the matter at hand any more.

I never claimed to be calm and collected.

After hanging up, I turned on Latin music and got to work.

Back to directions...

10. Let the cakes cool and remove them from the baking pans.
11. Level off the top of the cakes and trim the edges (remove the crust). If your cakes burned on the bottom as one of mine, cut off the burned part.
12. Breath!

13. Using a long serrated knife, divide each cake into three layers. This will not be easy. But I did it, and so can you!

14. Combine the sour cream with sugar.

15. For each cake, put the bottom layer on a plate and make holes in each layer with a fork. Spread the sour cream sugar mixture and allow the cake to stand for 30 minutes. Repeat with the remaining layers and top each cake and the sides with sour cream sugar mixture.

16. Let the cakes stand for 1-2 hours in your kitchen before moving them into the refrigerator for at least one day!
17. On the day you will be serving the cake, "dust it" with either dark chocolate or toasted walnuts. My mom also decorates the top of the cake with jarred pitted sour cherries or halved mandarin slices.

Isn't it a beauty? I think it was worth all the freaking out and self doubt I went through.

The cake is not really tall, but it's pretty filling. The layers are saturated with sour cream mixture and the added crunch of the shredded dark chocolate brings another dimension to the cake.

This is the second cake with toasted walnuts:

Phew! I think this took almost as long to write up as it did to make ;)

Please let me know what other Russian Recipes Revisited you may like to see in 2013!

Special thanks to my mom for sending me the recipe and doing her best to be patient with me.


discojing said...

I love family traditions like these!

Rhea Yablon Kennedy said...

That looks great! I'm glad you stuck with it.

Olga @ MangoTomato said...

well, this is a blast from the past ;)

Evi said...

On my list of "to-make"! I'll have to ask my mom if there is a similar Polish one! =)

Olga @ MangoTomato said...

ooh maybe we could do some recipes that exist both in Russian and Polish cuisine!? And then post them at the same time on our blogs?

Belinda @zomppa said...

Definitely sounds like the perfect way to celebrate a birthday! Your mom's handwriting is beautiful!! (can't say the same for yours...haha...100x better than mine!)

Megan said...

I love that sour cream-sugar mixture with bananas... and I kind of want to put bananas in your cake now. :) I love everything you went through to make this cake -- though I know it was frustrating... it sounds so worth it.

Olga @ MangoTomato said...

No! No bananas allowed! :) but I do use that mixture for dipping berries.

Margaret High said...

ooooh, I might have to make this. I spent almost a year in Russia after high school and I can still read that recipe a little bit, but my Russian is almost lost to me. This cake looks familiar to me - I wonder what taste memory I will have if I taste it?
I remember the street ice cream in St. Petersburg. It was "plum" flavor and filled up a cone. It was so cheap and quite different from American ice cream, but I loved it. Even in the winter.

Olga @ MangoTomato said...

Hi, Margaret. What a lovely comment: thank you!
I've actually never been to St. Petersburg, and don't remember the plum flavored ice cream. But I hope you do make this cake and see what memories it brings back. Please keep me updated.
If you have any other ideas for my Russian Recipes Revisited series, let me know!