From the Inca Empire to Queen Marie Antoinette of France, to the Russian patissiers (pastry chefs), traveled a simple vegetable, to be transformed into a delectable pastry.
Here is this civilization which, starting in the early 13th century, in three hundred years grew into an immense empire and, by the time it was conquered by the Spanish, occupied most of South America. According to historical records, it has spread somewhat by conquest, but mostly by peaceful assimilation. The Incas had an elaborate system of religion, culture, and societal structure, yet to the European eyes, they were missing the staples of civilization: the wheel and the animals to drag wheeled vehicles, the metals, such as iron and steel, and, most importantly, the literacy. No wonder Europeans considered them savages, but objectively, “the Incas were still able to construct one of the greatest imperial states in human history” (McEwan, 2006).
Lacking metals, other than gold, which they had plenty and didn’t really value, the Incas were masters of pottery. This is a drinking vessel, a pitcher, if you will, fashioned as a king’s head.
Here is another one, and you can see the resemblance in style, but the vessel itself is far from royal. Yet, it depicts a very important vegetable, a staple food which in that area dates back to 2500 BCE – a simple potato. Tragically, as we all know, the Incas were conquered, the glorious empire and the majestic kings vanished, but the humble potato survived. It was brought to Spain, together with gold and silver, and planted there, eventually spreading across the entire Europe. It is believed that either Sir Francis Drake or Sir Walter Raleigh introduced potatoes to England, but whoever did it first, second, or third is irrelevant.
By the end of the 18th century, a French physician Antoine Parmentier in his “Chemical examination of potatoes” declared their incredible nutritional value, and the humble “foodstuff of the poor” (Bon Jardinier, 1775) made its way to the royal table. Anything that had anything to do with potatoes became so trendy, that Queen Marie Antoinette once wore a headdress of potato flowers to a ball.
Poor Marie Antoinette! When told that people are hungry because they have no bread, she naively exclaimed,”Let them eat cake!” and promptly lost her head together with potato flowers. Actually, this is one of the most mis-attributed quotes in history: nobody heard her say that, and the quote had been attributed to “a great princess,” whoever that might have been.
Marie Antoinette is dead, potato has become one of the most important food components in Europe, but the cake idea is not forgotten. One of the most popular pastries in the 60’s and 70’s Russia was called Kartoshka (potato). It looked like a smallish potato with some creamy curlicues on top, and it was full of chocolate yumminess. Little did we know that it was made of combining all kinds of broken cookies and other leftovers.
One of the Michloach Manot (food gifts) that we received on Purim contained a pack of chocolate tea biscuits. Since Passover is two weeks away, and I am trying to get rid of all bread and baked goods not acceptable on Passover, I had to use them up. So I remembered the Incas, the Queen Marie Antoinette, and the Russian pastries, and set out to make my own Kartoshka. It’s a no-bake no-brainer: pulverize any cookies or graham crackers into powder, mix it with chocolate cream and peanut butter, add some agave (if you want it sweeter) and some rum – and voila! – eat your hat, your majesty!
A couple of little secrets: first, before you start pulsing your cookies in a food processor, put them into a plastic bag and break them up. This way you won’t end up with cookie chunks. Secondly, make your chocolate cream first by stirring room temperature butter substitute (I use Smart Balance) with unsweetened cocoa powder, then add the rest of ingredients. Make sure you blend it very well!
Get ready to make your pastries. Spread some cocoa powder on a sheet of parchment paper. Spread the decoration you want to use on another sheet of parchment paper. I chose to use rainbow sprinkles, to create a festive look. Of course, you can always decorate with some frosting on top.
You know what a potato looks like! Form a potato, roll it in cocoa powder, and then dip it in sprinkles of pipe some frosting on top. They should be very soft, so refrigerate them immediately and keep them refrigerated until ready to serve.
Poor Queen Marie Antoinette who loved potatoes so much that she decorated her hat with them! Had she known about this delicious Kartoshka pastry, perhaps she wouldn’t have uttered the infamous cake advice, and maybe – just maybe! – would have kept her head!
- 2 cups biscuits or graham crackers ground into powder (gluten free, if desired)
- 3 tablespoons Smart Balance or butter substitute of your choice
- 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder and more for rolling
- 1 tablespoon peanut butter
- 1 tablespoon agave, or more to taste
- 1 tablespoon rum
- Rainbow sprinkles or frosting of choice to decorate
- Break biscuits into small pieces in a plastic bag, use food processor to pulse into fine powder. Make sure no lumps are left.
- Cream room temperature Smart Balance with Cocoa powder, add the rest of ingredients, mix thoroughly.
- Spread cocoa powder on parchment paper. If desired, spread sprinkles on another sheet of parchment paper. Form potatoes, roll in coca powder, then dip into sprinkles or, alternatively, pipe frosting designs on top.
- Keep refrigerated until serving.