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Saturday, July 10, 2010

Le Russe

A little word about a big cake!

In the town of Oloron-Sainte-Marie in southwest France is the patisserie shop, Artigarrede, at 1 Place de la Cathèdrale. This is home to one of the world’s greatest cakes, Le Russe. A cake with a history shrouded in secrecy and mystery.

According to legend, the cake was invented here on behalf of and dispatched regularly to, a Russian nobleman. An astonishing feat for a small patisserie in rural France but one that gave rise to guard its recipe with the up most secrecy.  A tradition upheld to this present day where its employees still must sign a secrecy agreement. Le Russe is now advertised as the Le veritable Russe (the true Russe) - indicating Artigarrede has come up against strong competition and conjecture.

Our own discovery of Le Russe came from an article in Gourmet Traveller about 8 years ago on the Basque country. An article that sent us not only in search of the mysterious cake but ever onward and upward to almost the top of the Pyrénées to the tiny mountain village of Larrau and the destination gourmet inn, Etchemaite.

We were (unbeknownst) lucky that day, Artigarrede was open. We bought many slices for ourselves and everyone we thought might like to try this famous cake. It was eye wateringly expensive, gob smackingly delicious and every mouthful savoured right down to the last speck. As the years went by we took and sent many friends to Oloron enroute to Etchemaite but sadly the shop was always closed presumably for summer holidays or some such reason so more bad luck than anything else, we supposed. Disappointment rained.

UNTIL just recently when friends from Australia stopped by for lunch enroute to Carcassonne bearing gifts of wine, cheese and a whole LE VERITABLE RUSSE - the Holy Grail itself. I was absolutely stunned.

However, my stunned state did not last long. We (the four of us) ate the whole cake in one sitting I am rather ashamed to say. We just had to make up for 8 years of longing and dreaming, who wouldn’t! 

Liz is a champion cook, food writer and food critic and together we enjoyed discussing the possible secret ingredients of Le veritable Russe. It has two wafer thin layers of a type of melt in the mouth almond flavoured meringue with an almond paste butter cream sandwiched between the two. The base is firm enough to slice through but there is no awareness of this slightly harder texture at the moment of taste.

Spurred on by Liz and Arthur’s visit and their wonderful treat I thought I’d do a little research and came up with the story that it is to the almonds in the cake that we owe the name and not to any count or Russian nobleman. The almonds came from Russia - not quite so romantic, I’m afraid. As to the secrecy surrounding the recipe, I could not come up with anything but then it is, after all, a secret!

I also found many recipes for Moroccan Le Russe cake. A similar sounding cake from my imagined ingredients and from all accounts, one that would have a similar taste, but I could not find one photograph that resembled in any way our Le Russe from Oloron-Sainte-Marie. It is, after all,  Le veritable Russe!

Link to printable version of this recipe

1 comment:

  1. I heard that the cake is made with almonds, but the filling is an hazelnut paste butter cream. But I have never tasted it.