Prince Igor Says,”Not for Any Kovrizhki!”

You are a prince. Not just any old prince among a bunch of other princes, but The Grand Prince of Kiev Rus, the very first one holding this title. Don’t worry, ladies, there is a princess in this story, too, Princess Olga, a formidable ruler and warrior in her own right. But let’s return to the beginning – the beginning of tenth century, when Rus is terrorized by the nomad raids. Prince Igor, like every self-respecting prince, mounts a campaign to protect his lands and his subjects from the savage Polovtsians, the khans.

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Igor “tensed his mind with battle-strength, quickened his heart
        with valor, and, swollen with the spirit of war,
Led out his brave troops
        into the Polovtsian steppe for the land of Rus.

Both Igor’s brother and his son and heir Vladimir went with him. Princess Olga was left in charge, to rule in his stead. Unfortunately, the campaign was ill-fated from the start.

“Then Igor looked up at the bright sun and saw all his warriors
        darkened from it by a shadow.
And Igor said to his retinue:
“Brothers and companions! It is better to be slain than taken captive.”

Even though at first Igor’s army seemed to be victorious, “the devil’s children” swiftly and brutally retaliated. Many Rus warriors were slain in that legendary battle, including Igor’s brother, the Fierce Bull Vsevolod. Prince Igor and his son Vladimir were, after all, taken captive. At some point during the battle, Khan Gzak’s chief archer could have easily stricken Vladimir down with his gold -tipped arrow. “If the falcon flies to his nest, -said Gzak to Khan Konchak, – let’s shoot the falconet with our golden arrows!” But Konchak was a wily diplomat, “Oh no, my brother, let’s snare him with a beautiful maiden.” And the captive princes were treated as visiting dignitaries.

I am sure you’ve heard this music before but perhaps haven’t realized that it is a scene from an opera “Prince Igor” by A. Borodin which depicts the process of seduction. You can see that Igor is quite distraught, but next to him, young Vladimir is practically salivating. No wonder – Khan Konchak has just offered “the falconet” his own daughter! “Let’s be allies, dear Igor, – he says, – all in the family, forget Princess Olga, forget those other Rus princes who are squabbling and fighting their own brothers! Stay here and be my second-in-command.”

“Dad,- begs Vladimir, – can’t you see, this girl and I, we are in love! Come on, let’s stay!”

“Not for any kovrizhki!” – growls dad, and eventually manages to escape, dragging the unwilling youngster home with him.

Now, you are a prince. You have just lost a major battle, a brother, and most of your army. You are taken captive. Instead of death or torture, you are offered an executive position and an opportunity to join the family of your captor. But you are a brave and honorable man, so your unequivocal response is… “not even for a honey cake“!  Honey cake? Yes, that’s what a kovrizhka is, the oldest known Russian recipe of a honey cake. Apparently, Prince Igor considered it the most valuable thing in the world!

So the falcon flies the nest and triumphantly comes home where his valiant and true wife greets him with a “tzarskaya kovrizhka” – a royal honey cake, about 1,5 – 2 meters (5 – 6 ft) in diameter decorated with his crest. This is the earliest recorded mention of this cake, and even that is uncertain, since “The Tale of Igor’s Campaign” quoted above (translation is © 1992 J. A. V. Haney and Eric Dahl), an epic poem by an unknown author,  appeared two hundred years later. Most of it is, understandably, a legend, but kovrizhka has remained a favorite to this day.

Kovr 1.jpg

With all its venerable reputation, it is surprisingly easy to make. There are many different variations, but the basic cake is simply a combination of honey and flour, with whatever else you want to add to make it interesting. I put my own tropical twist on it by substituting agave for honey, flavoring the batter with a combination of espresso and cocoa powder, and topping the cake with shredded coconut. Since I also used whole wheat instead of white flour, I thought that baking powder would help it rise a little.

Kovr 2.jpg

You whisk agave or honey with espresso until it foams, then add unsweetened cocoa powder and whisk some more. Then you gradually add the flour and baking powder and mix it all together. That’s all there is to it!

Kovr 4.jpg

A real kovrizhka, royal or not, still should be round, so you’ll need a round cake pan. Even round bread in Russia was called kovriga, and in a bakery, you would ask to cut a half-a-kovriga of rye and a quarter-a-kovriga of pumpernickel, for example. Huge kovrizhkas were baked and sold by piece, always cut as wedges. I didn’t, of course, make one of those monsters. I simply used a pie form and baked it first for ten minutes, then sprinkled shredded coconut on top, and baked for twenty more minutes.

kovr-fin

My kovrizhka is soft and chewy, a bit chocolaty, with a subtle nutty flavor of toasted coconut. It doesn’t spoil and doesn’t go stale. In truth, it doesn’t have a chance because it disappears faster than Prince Igor “flying from the nest.” And now you know that the most emphatic way to refuse in Russian is to state,”Not for any kovrizhkas“!

INGREDIENTS

  • 1/4 cup agave or honey
  • 1/4 cup espresso
  • 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 cup white whole wheat floor
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 cup shredded coconut

PROCEDURE

  • Preheat oven to 350 F.
  • Whisk agave or honey with coffee until foams. Add cocoa, whisk together.
  • Gradually add flour and baking powder, mix thoroughly.
  • Bake for 10 minutes, top with coconut shreds, bake for 20 more minutes.
  • Cool on rack, serve cut into wedges.

Enjoy!

 

 

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80 Comments Add yours

  1. Looks very good, Dolly 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

  2. The Tale of Igor – one of the great Russian epics. My late friend Prof. Irina Borisov-Morisova Lynch could recite the entire poem in English, Russian and Old Slavonic. Thanks for bringing back some great memories.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thank you so much! I am glad my post had an unexpected, but nice effect. I’ve always loved both the epic and the opera.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I enjoyed this.
    Looks brilliant!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you so much – glad you like it!

      Like

  4. Sumith says:

    Looks absolutely deliciois Dolly!

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Brilliant reference to Prince Igor, the opera and the “kovrizhka” idiom! Will pass it on to my students of Russian. Thank you so much, Dolly!

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thank you, Sasha! Happy New Year to you and your family!

      Liked by 1 person

    2. By the way, did you know that he was buried in Korosten’? Have you seen the kurgan? And Olga Yaroslavna could do much more than cry; when she finished crying, she led the druzhina to avenge his death.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. feistyfroggy says:

    Who wouldn’t love a chocolaty honey cake? Another great post and as always, I really enjoyed the background!

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thank you so much – I am glad you like it!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Elizabeth says:

    I’m going to start saying, “Not even for a honey cake” when my family asks me to do something. Just because it will confuse them! lol The cake looks marvelous. I’m reblogging this treasure!

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thank you so much! Yes, I’ve always found this idiom funny until I researched its origins. It’s my go-to “cake-on-the-run.”

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Elizabeth says:

        I reblogged your post and it got re-tweeted! People love you cake!

        Liked by 3 people

      2. Oh wow! This is so humbling – I’ve never expected it!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Elizabeth says:

        I’m telling you, Dolly…people LOVE your recipes with stories! You should have a tv show!

        Liked by 3 people

      4. It is really hard for me to believe. I am not playing false modesty – I sincerely mean it! I can see that it is true, but it doesn’t seem real to me.

        Liked by 2 people

      5. Elizabeth says:

        I know you’re not. You just don’t realize how great your blog really is and how much people enjoy the stories and recipes. I’m not at all surprised.

        Liked by 2 people

      6. Thank you again! I guess it takes getting used to…

        Liked by 1 person

      7. Elizabeth says:

        I think you’re going to have to get used to it. I have the feeling you’re going to start really getting noticed. When you do the tv show don’t forget us little people! lol

        Liked by 3 people

      8. Dear Elizabeth, who is going to offer me “that TV show”? I’ve done enough of them as a writer and producer in my “other life” – now is the time for me to enjoy my kitchen and my laptop. And, of course, my students!

        Liked by 2 people

      9. Elizabeth says:

        Well, if you wanted to do one I’m sure folks would be happy to put it on. But since you’ve done that and like what you’re doing now I guess we’ll just have to share you a post at a time!

        Liked by 1 person

      10. I am not adverse to the idea, but I don’t see any offers, and I wouldn’t know how to start promoting myself.

        Liked by 1 person

      11. Elizabeth says:

        Do you have a You Tube channel?

        Liked by 1 person

      12. Elizabeth says:

        You need to start doing videos! People have been discovered on You Tube and made it BIG! You could tell the story as you were making the recipe. And one thing I LOVE is the videos that actually tell you to pause and write down the recipe, which they put on screen, so you don’t have to struggle to write while they’re talking!

        Liked by 1 person

      13. But that’s a whole production! Logistically, how can I video myself while I am doing something? And it is so amateurish! Even photos on my blog I taken with my phone, and I edit them in a very basic way. How can I edit videos? On the other hand, it is a challenge, and I love challenges, so perhaps I’ll try to get in touch with people at our Arts dept and see if anyone wants to make it a project for students. Thank you for suggesting it!

        Liked by 2 people

      14. Elizabeth says:

        You’re very welcome. I have the same problem trying to take photographs while cooking. It’s frustrating! But your stuff is so good I think you could really go places!

        Liked by 2 people

      15. Thank you! I am not particularly excited about “going places” (I think I’ve gone just about all the places I wanted to in my life), but it would be an interesting challenge to work on.

        Liked by 1 person

      16. Elizabeth says:

        You could try it and if it’s too much or you don’t like it you can quit!

        Liked by 1 person

      17. Ah, but I don’t function like that! I don’t fight to fight – I fight to win. If I start something, I do not give up. That means I cannot allow myself to set myself up for failure and then quit.

        Liked by 1 person

      18. Elizabeth says:

        Oh! You’re like me that way! The sign of a perfectionist. We’d rather not start at all then fail! Try. Fail. Try again. Fail better.

        Liked by 1 person

      19. No can do! Different training, different background, hard to teach old cat new tricks, and anyway, cats are not re-trainable!

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Elizabeth says:

    Reblogged this on The Comfortable Coop and commented:
    I love Dolly at koolkosherkitchen. You not only get amazing recipes but there’s always a wonderful history lesson with each one!

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Thank you so much, you are so sweet!

      Like

  9. Patricia says:

    A lovely story, opera and honey cake. I guess a sweet tooth is a sweet tooth no matter what country you live in. Well done. :o)

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thank you so much, Patricia!

      Like

  10. Oh my goodness, does this look amazing! And so simple, too! My dad’s birthday was a couple of days ago, so we still have a little banana-cream pie leftover from that, but if I do make this and substitute white flour for wheat, would it be the same?
    -Amy

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Traditionally, it has always been made with white flour. Whole wheat is my substitution, so of course, going back to the original recipe would only be great!

      Liked by 2 people

  11. havent heard of these before. looks tasty!

    Liked by 3 people

  12. Tali says:

    As usual, I enjoyed your story tremendously. You are a very talented story teller!!
    The cake sounds very intriguing with so few ingredients. Although I’m not a big fan of honey cakes, I may have to give this one a try 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you so much, Tali! I hope you had a great Chanukkah! It’s a good cake to include a piece in a child’s lunchbox. It doesn’t spoil, it doesn’t go stale, and it doesn’t crumble. I think that’s why it was so popular for traveling and for gifts.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, dear Sally!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you so much, Sally! Sorry, I just found your comment.

        Like

  13. Another wonderful story, and recipe! May you never run out of them!
    A 6 ‘ honey CAKE?? She was my kinda Princess!!!

    Liked by 3 people

      1. You’re welcome, Dolly!

        Liked by 1 person

  14. I wonder how successful I might be if I substituted gluten-free flour. I don’t eat the other kind any more for health reasons, and your version looks scrumptious. (What’s not to like about coffee and chocolate flavored ANYTHING?!)

    I loved the story, but I REALLY loved the embedded video. Kismet was the first professional play I ever saw (in Washington, D.C. when I was only a girl, a present from my mother – starring Alfred Drake). I was enchanted – and must have listened to the score over a hundred times in my life. But, until I read it hear, I never realized the themes were from an opera.

    I was a theatre major, so I must have been exposed to that information but my steel sieve brain didn’t seem to record it for memory retrieval. (I can, however, sing the entire score from memory, and it was my dream to play Lalume, but it was never produced during my many years as an actor, that I was aware)

    There is so much for which the arts must thank your country of origin – from theatre to novels to ballet to opera. I wonder if there is something about struggle that sharpens creativity.
    xx,
    mgh
    (Madelyn Griffith-Haynie – ADDandSoMuchMore dot com)
    – ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching co-founder –
    “It takes a village to educate a world!”

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I am thoroughly convinced that struggle and strife facilitate creativity. As to gluten, I think it will work. I also try to reduce, if not eliminate gluten for my husband’s sake, but we need to have something baked from real grain, in order to make a blessing. I even bake spelt challahs.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Challah french toast – heaven on earth!
        xx, mgh

        Liked by 1 person

  15. Hey I have nominated you for the Bloggers Recognition Award.
    Check out the post😆
    http://wp.me/p7XKmi-ag

    Have a good day

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you very much for the honor! I am not sure I have time to accept, but I will definitely try. It make take some time, though, as it is the beginning of a semester, and I am quite busy.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. Joëlle says:

    Like Elizabeth, I love reading the stories that go with your recipes! I knew the music but had never seen it choreographed before and didn’t know it was about seduction.
    Your comment to Madelyn about strife facilitating creativity rings true to me. Having to cook gluten-free and dairy-free has done wonders for my aging brain 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your kind words, dear, but “aging”? My son just turned 46. Who is talking about aging?

      Liked by 1 person

  17. Jess Wen says:

    I didn’t realise there was such a rich back story behind such a thing as cake! And I played Borodin with my orchestra, it was an incredible piece 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is, and it is also an incredible experience to be a part of an orchestra, isn’t it? As a piano major in a college, I could only be a part of a small ensemble, like a trio, for instance, and I always imagined how it would be to “live the music” together with a full orchestra.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Jess Wen says:

        Orchestral playing is a lot of fun! Even as a pianist, you could play some concertos with orchestra to get the orchestral experience 😉

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Oh I did, that was an established routine for the final graduating exam. That was a totally blissful feeling, sort of dissolving into music, not at all like playing concertos with someone else playing the orchestral part on the second piano.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Jess Wen says:

        Wow beautiful… 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  18. June 2017 Share and Inspire Others! – Food/Ingredient starting with E #newly #released #recipes #participate http://bit.ly/2smzRSP
    Just released – Thank you for your paticipation and hope to see you again next month, and please do pop in as we have new tried and tested recipes daily

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Congratulations for getting it out early this month!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. My pleasure, I usually start to draft as I receive the entries, although this month it did not happen, so took extra work to get them all done in one sitting, but glad I could get it out early as this then provide all extra time to do the “share”.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. You have some very interesting items there, and I hope everyone appreciates the lay out and editing effort you put into it every month – awesome!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Mwah – thank you so much for your always very kind words and appreciation my dear Dolly. ♥

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Have a great day – much love! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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