January 23, 2022

Drink Like Chekhov and Make This Conventional Baked Vodka Zapekanka

5 min read

My introduction to the wild, wild world of previous Russian drinks got here not from bars however from books, the place I first encountered phrases that left me equally bewildered and intoxicated.

Take the curiously named kislye shchi in Nikolai Gogolโ€™s Dead Souls. The identify interprets actually as โ€œbitter cabbage soup,โ€ which made no sense to me in its context as a sleep tonic for the novelโ€™s hero, Chichikov. Solely after puzzling over its different widespread translation as โ€œa bottle of picklesโ€ did I uncover that this tonic is none apart from a glowing malt beverage, one which the aristocracy as soon as quaffed like champagne.

A second discovery occurred courtesy of one other nice Russian author, Anton Chekhov, in his quick story โ€œThe Siren,โ€ the place the narrator waxes poetic about one thing known as zapekanka. In trendy utilization, that phrase refers to a baked casseroleโ€”consolation meals within the type of mashed potatoes and meat, or kasha and mushrooms, or any variety of different combos, none of them drinkable. However that doesnโ€™t match with Chekhovโ€™s description, the place he makes use of the phrase zapekanochka, an affectionate diminutive type:

โ€œAfter the roast you’re feeling full, and also you fall into candy oblivion,โ€ continued the secretary. โ€œYour physique feels good, and your soul is transported. For even larger delight you’ll be able to drink about three photographs of zapekanochkaโ€ฆhome, do-it-yourself zapekanochka is best than any champagne.โ€

Iโ€™ve by no means come near being transported from a casserole, so I needed to dig deeper. Solely then did I be taught that zapekanka also can confer with a once-beloved spiced vodka that’s baked within the oven to accentuate the infusion course of. Heady stuff certainly!

Until 2020, when it finally saw the light, the United States defined vodka as โ€œneutral spirits so distilled, or so treated after distillation with charcoal or other materials, as to be without distinctive character, aroma, taste, or color.โ€ However the Federal Authoritiesโ€™s official description nonetheless defines vodka as impartial. Should you, too, consider this spirit as colorless and odorless, zapekanka will make you suppose once more.

This type of vodka is a beautiful shade of amber and redolent with spices (although there may be additionally a fruity summertime model ready with contemporary berries). Initially zapekanka was made in an enormous, wood-burning, Russian masonry range after it had been fired for bread baking. Some previous recipes name for baking the vodka at a excessive temperature simply after the bread has been pulled from the oven, whereas others suggest a gentler infusion after the oven has cooled all the way down to a temperature appropriate for culturing dairy merchandise. Conventional recipes suggest utilizing an earthenware pot and sealing the lid tightly with rye dough. Heavy glass bottles have been additionally generally used, by which case the complete bottle was encased in dough.

Picture Illustration by The Each day Beast/Darra Goldstein

N.P. Osipovโ€™s The Old school Russian Housewife, Housekeeper, and Cook dinner, printed in Saint Petersburg in 1790, gives a recipe for a potent drink. Its proportions additionally recommend how a lot Russians love their vodka, because it requires a whole vedro, or bucket, of vodkaโ€”the equal of three.25 gallons. To accentuate the spicy profile of the completed drink, Osipov begins with a base of anise-infused vodka. He then provides an astonishing variety of flavorings: cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, pepper, ginger, bitter orange peel, star anise, anise, coriander, mastic, caraway, saffron, rosemary, wild pepper, mace, mustard, dill seed, styrax (an fragrant resin), cubeb and 12 wheat or rye berries. (It sounds similar to some trendy gin recipes that decision for an entire spice rack of botanicals.)

The recipe instructs the cook dinner to go away the vodka to infuse in a single day within the oven. After eradicating it the subsequent day, it’s positioned instantly in one other sizzling oven after the bread has completed baking. This course of is repeated for a full 12 days to yield what have to be an exceptionally highly effective drink, one that would transport you all the way in which to Australia.

Later recipes, which presuppose smaller kitchens and fewer workers, typically start with lemon-flavored vodka and are significantly extra reasonable of their infusion strategies, normally calling for the method to be repeated over a interval of solely three days as an alternative of 12. These later recipes additionally name for the addition of honey or sugar after the vodka has infused, however I discover that the nice and cozy spices already make the vodka sufficiently candy. In any case, in contrast to different infused vodkas, zapekankaโ€”whether or not sweetened or notโ€”is served as an fragrant digestif after the meal as an alternative of as an appetite-piquing drink beforehand.

Like Gogolโ€™s kislye shchi, zapekanka has largely disappeared from Russian tables, which is a disgrace, particularly because itโ€™s surprisingly straightforward to make at residence. The streamlined model I provide right here is easy to make and requires no wood-burning Russian range. My recipe may be very cardamom ahead, if solely as a result of I like cardamom, however you must be happy to make use of fewer pods or to play with any mixture of spices that you just desire.

Simply attempt to wait a minimum of per week earlier than serving the zapekanka to permit its flavors to mellow.


For the vodka:

  • 1 bottle (750-ml) Excessive-quality vodka
  • .25 tsp Black peppercorns
  • 4 Giant allspice berries
  • 1-inch piece Cinnamon stick
  • 1 tsp Coriander seed
  • 10 Entire cardamom pods
  • .25 tsp Coarsely cracked nutmeg
  • 1 tsp Dried bitter orange peel
  • 1.5 inch Chunk contemporary ginger root, peeled and sliced

For the dough:

  • 1.5 cups Rye flour
  • .5 cup Water


  1. Pour the vodka right into a small (1-quart) earthenware casserole with a lid. (I exploit a bulbous bean pot.)
  2. Barely crush the peppercorns, allspice, cinnamon stick, coriander seed and cardamom pods in a mortar and pestleโ€”don’t grind them. Crack an entire nutmeg with a mallet to interrupt off some small, coarse shards. Add all of those spices to the pot, together with the orange peel and contemporary ginger. Cowl with the lid.
  3. Preheat the oven to 175ยบF. Make a stiff, barely sticky rye dough by mixing collectively the flour and water in a small bowl. Press the rye dough all around the edges of the lid to seal it tightly. The dough needs to be about one-and-a-half inches thick.
  4. Place the pot within the preheated oven and instantly flip off the warmth, leaving the vodka within the oven to infuse for eight hours or in a single day (precise timing isnโ€™t essential). Take away the pot from the oven and let the vodka stand at room temperature for an additional eight hours.
  5. If any cracks seem within the dough from the temperature change, restore them with a little bit newly made dough. Then repeat the method, letting the vodka infuse for an additional eight hours in a heat oven and once more for eight hours at room temperature.
  6. Line a fine-meshed sieve with cheesecloth and place it over a bowl. Take away the dough seal from the pot and pressure the vodka by the sieve, then pour it right into a clear bottle and shut with a tight-fitting cap. Retailer the zapekanka in a cool, darkish place for as much as a number of years.

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