THE RUSSIAN FOOD NETWORK
Recipe: Lark-shaped Buns (Zhavoronki)
Step 1 – Prepare sweet raised pirozhki
- 1 pkg active dry yeast
- ¼ cup warm water
- 1 cup milk
- 8 tablespoons butter, cut into bits
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoon sugar
- 1 whole egg
- 2 egg yolks
- 4 ½ to 5 cups flour
- 1 whole egg beaten
Also calls for:
- Pearl (crystal) sugar
- Sliced blanched almonds
“Dissolve yeast in warm water. Heat the milk to luke warm and add the butter to it. Stir the milk and butter mixture into the yeast. Add salt, sugar, egg and egg yolks, mixing well. Gradually stir in enough flour to make soft dough. Turn dough out onto a floured board and knead it lightly until elastic. Place in a greased bowl, turning the dough to grease top, and cover with a clean towel. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, approx 1 1/2 hours. Punch dough down and divide into 48 balls of equal size.”
—From RusCuisine.com (http://www.ruscuisine.com/recipes/breads-and-pastry/n--478/)
Step Two – Out of each piece, fashion a lark-shaped bun as follows:
Separate each ball of dough into thirds. With one third of the dough, make an oval body for the lark. With a sharp knife, make a diagonal slash part way through the dough, extending from the bottom of the oval about two thirds of the way up. This will represent a wing.
Flatten the second piece of dough slightly. Cut it into a broad triangle. Attach the triangle to the under side of the oval on the right-hand side, so that the point of the triangle is hidden. These are the tail feathers. With a sharp knife, make a few horizontal cuts in the tail part way through the dough.
Take the last third of the dough and shape it into a circle that is elongated at one end. This is the head. Attach it to the upper left-hand side of the oval body, with the elongated part sloping downward. Place a currant in the head for an eye.
Step Three – baking
Transfer the “lark” to a greased baking sheet. Repeat the process with the remaining pieces of dough.
Let the buns rise, covered, for about 20 minutes, or until doubled in bulk.
Brush the buns with the beaten egg; decorate them with pearl (crystal) sugar and sliced blanched almonds.
Bake in a preheated 350o F oven for 20 minutes, or until golden.
Transfer to a rack to cool.
NOTE: If the pieces of dough do not adhere well, brush them with a little cold water to make them stick.
A synopsis of your research on the recipe and the area where the recipe originated:
“In old Russian, larks were seen as the harbingers of spring” (A Taste of Russia, p. 137). The lark-shaped buns were baked to welcome and celebrate the arrival of spring, also in hopes of having a prosperous planting season. The rolls are traditionally consumed in the ten days before a Russian celebration, Maslyanitsa (literally: butter week), which is meant to celebrate the changing of seasons from winter to spring. The celebration itself is a combination of older pagan traditions and modern Christian traditions. Generally, all of Russia partakes in this event, though the actual ritual varies from region to region. The lark-shaped buns also symbolize the return of birds with the coming of spring.
Your description of the experience of preparing and the tasting the recipe: Preparing the recipe was not too difficult. For anyone who is interested in an easy Russian recipe to make, I recommend trying this. The ingredients were not difficult to find and the process was just like baking any sort of baked good from scratch. The most time-consuming part of the preparation was forming the lark shapes, but that part can actually be bypassed for sake of time. It does not factor into taste, and is mostly just used to symbolize the coming of spring in Russian culture.
Because of the simplicity of the recipe, I did not have to make any alterations to the ingredients. I do not know enough about baking to suggest any substitutions or added ingredients, plus I found the buns to be quite good on their own. If anything, I would suggest adding something to make them sweeter, but I do not think that is necessary to enjoy the recipe. The almonds on top are also a nice touch.
Getting the buns to form correctly will take some work, so if you plan to attempt this, do not expect them to come out perfectly. Some of the lark pieces fell apart throughout the process, and not all of the buns came out the same size. I have heard this is a common problem when working with yeast.
Like a wine recommendation to accompany a dish, make a recommendation of a reading from Russian literature that would accompany the making or the tasting of the dish you prepared.
It is worth mentioning that the cookbook this recipe was taken from specifically mentions Ivan Goncharov’s novel, Oblomov, in which the main character remembers his mother baking the lark-shaped buns as spring arrived. From my own experience, I would suggest reading Gogol’s A May Night or The Drowned Maiden while eating the buns. Of the works by Gogol, this story is particularly fairytale-like in style and suits the sugary sweetness of the lark-shaped buns. The tone of the story seems to relate to springtime, even if it is not directly mentioned, because of the maiden and her importance to the plot.