Pyshka is a sweet roll, baked or deep-fried, with or without filling, made with yeast or as a quick bread, i.e. yeast-less. Sort of a Russian doughnut with a Polish name (most sources derive the name from Polish pączek – sweet roll). Another theory attributes the name to Russian pykchat’ which is archaic for deep-frying, but since the method of deep-frying was not discovered in Russia until 1835 (www.pekari.ru), while pyshki had been frequent already on Ivan the Terrible’s table three hundred years earlier, as recorded in the palace kitchen accounts, this one does not hold water. Neither does the legend about a Dutch captain Gregory Hanson (is that a Dutch name? Curious!) who never let a sweet roll out of his hand until one day, during a violent storm, the waters were so turbulent that he had to grab the wheel with both hands, so he pinned the roll onto one of the spokes of the wheel, and thus a doughnut was born. If you believe this one, I have a nice little bridge in Brooklyn to sell you.
For the record, pyshka is NOT a doughnut! Without getting into a pyshka vs ponchik debate, I’ll just state that the latter is definitely made with yeast and fried in oil; therefore, that’s a doughnut, no matter what you call it. My humble pyshka, however, is made with prostokvasha (clabbered milk, for recipe click here) and baked.
Before we get to the recipe, though, I want to introduce you, Beautiful People, to Pyshka the kitten. This is how she came into our lives exactly a month ago (please click on the link below to read about her harrowing escape, then come back for the recipe):
The reason for the name was her color – she looked like a delicious sweet roll right out of the oven!
All you need is some flour, sifted and mixed with baking powder, a pinch of salt, and sugar or xylitol, and a cup of prostokvasha gradually added to the dry ingredients and gently mixed in. For our purposes, white spelt flour is gluten free, but if you have an allergy or celiac disorder, do consult your doctor. My home made prostokvasha is non-dairy; you can use store bought coconut kefir, if you don’t want to bother, or use dairy kefir / buttermilk, if you don’t mind dairy products.
Turn your dough onto a well-floured board or working surface and gently kneed. It will be extremely soft and will stick to your fingers. In short, it will be as unruly as a curious baby kitten, but you’ll deal with it as best as you can by constantly dipping your hands in flour. Don’t over-kneed it, as you want it soft and airy. Flatten your dough and cut circles. Place them on a lightly misted with oil baking sheet and bake them at 450 F for about 25 – 30 minutes.
While sweet pyshki are resting in the oven, little Pyshka is resting on the coach.
When they reach her color, they are ready. Remove them and dust them with xylitol or powdered sugar while still hot.
I wouldn’t be myself if I didn’t insert chocolate somewhere, even just a few drops of chocolate syrup on the plate. As you see, pyshki are golden brown and crispy on the outside, but soft and fluffy on the inside, with those hollow spaces – a true hallmark of good quick breads. Looking at baby Pyshka who bears an uncanny resemblance to my husband’s baby pictures – same golden coloring, same bright inquisitive green eyes – and watching my husband sneak a bite of a hot pyshka set up to be photographed is the best of both worlds!
- 1 cup prostokvasha room temperature (alternative dairy or non-dairy kefir / buttermilk)
- 11/2 cup spelt or GF flour and more to kneed
- 1 tablespoon xylitol or sugar and more to dust
- Pinch of salt
- ¼ teaspoon baking powder
- Preheat oven to 450 F. Lightly mist baking sheet with oil.
- Sift dry ingredients together. Gradually add prostokvasha while gently mixing. Turn onto generously floured board, kneed softly. Dough will be very soft, almost like batter.
- Flatten dough to 1/4 inch (1/2 cm) thickness, cut circles, place on oiled baking sheet. No distance necessary.
- Bake for 25 – 30 minutes until golden brown. Remove, dust with xylitol or powdered sugar while hot.
- Best served hot, but could be reheated in oven or microwave.