In the practice of food styling, props are meant to complement the recipe, build a story, and make the food look as delectable as possible. Typically, the recipe is chosen first and the styling decisions are made after. But, once in a while, a very special ‘prop’ comes along and begs to be found a recipe for.
On a recent Saturday, my friend Paige and I braved the cold to pay the Chelsea flea market a visit. I was on the hunt for unique tableware – as I am often wont to be. There weren’t a ton of tableware vendors that day but the one booth that was there was all I needed. They had beautiful things from all over the world – hand-painted saucers, crystal glasses, delicate silverware. The ceramic teal-patterned cup and saucer sets, stacked flirtatiously one on top of the other, stood out most to me. The man at the booth saw me eyeing them. “Austrian,” he said.
Isn’t this the most darling little teacup you’ve ever seen?!
Giddy as a schoolgirl, I took one of those sets home. I imagined the cup in Austria, sometime in the ’20s, in a well-to-do home. I imagined the cup being brought out for afternoon tea. I imagined it gently held with bourgeois fingers. I imagined it alongside traditional cookies, candied nuts, dried fruit and grapes. This cup must’ve overheard a lot of gossip.
Excited to share the cup with the world, I immediately knew what I would make for it. Soon after I was on the phone with my mom, getting her recipe for chocolate kielbasa – a popular Russian/Ukrainian confection. Chocolate kielbasa is not a meat product. It gets its funny name for its resemblance to smoked kielbasa. It is made with crushed cookies, walnuts, cocoa, butter and a bit of alcohol. Chocolate kielbasa is the perfect dessert for lazy people – it requires no baking and is truly easy to make. It is also a great party dessert (if you’re serving buffet-style or passing out food), since it’s a finger food, and can be made up to two weeks ahead (as long as it’s wrapped really well – you don’t want it to taste like the fridge). It’s also more whimsical than, say, cupcakes – your friends will love it.
- 1 package (200g) Maria cookies*
- ½ cup chopped walnuts
- 1 heaping tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 tbsp sugar
- A pinch of salt
- 5 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
- 2 tbsp whole milk
- 1 shot (1½ oz) vodka, whiskey or cognac
- *Usually found in the Mexican section of the grocery store; may substitute with another plain cookie
- Begin by crushing the cookies. Stack 4-5 cookies overlapping each other on a work surface and crush with a rolling pin, rolling back and forth until cookies are evenly crumbled and have the texture of sand.
- Transfer ground cookies to a large bowl and repeat with remaining cookies.
- Add walnuts, cocoa, sugar and salt to the bowl and stir to combine. Then add melted butter, milk and liquor. Stir really well until the mixture begins to stick together. If it seems too dry, add another splash of milk.
- Lay a large piece of plastic wrap on a work surface and transfer half of the mixture to the center of plastic. Begin pressing the mixture together to form a log. Once formed, fold the plastic over the log and continue shaping until it is round and the mixture is tightly packed. Wrap ‘kielbasa’ in the plastic wrap and place in the freezer. Repeat with second half of mixture. Freeze for at least one hour before consuming. Store leftover ‘kielbasa’ in the freezer.