A Baker from Belarus

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Billberry Mousse Cake 

Katerina Perera grew up in a quiet little town in Belarus, a country in Eastern Europe tucked between Russia and Ukraine. She was the only child of parents who worked hard and chose to live simply in order to give their daughter a better opportunity at life than they had experienced.

From a young age, Katerina showed an inclination towards art and even finished art school at age 15, but lacked the confidence in her abilities to pursue a career in this field. It wasn't until years later, after marriage and babies and a move to Nigeria, that she discovered her love of photography and found her way back into the world of art she had left all those years before.

Now this talented photographer and recipe developer lives in Gomel, Belaraus with her husband and two children. She spends her days tending to her small family while also testing and developing recipes for several food magazines in addition to authoring a blog filled with sweets, Chocolate Chalk.

Read on for my interview with this beautiful and talented European baker.

Katerina  Perera, author of the blog Chocolate Chalk

Katerina, tell us how you developed your talent for photography.  So,  I am a full time housewife and a self-taught baker and photographer (actually I am a bit confused to call myself a photographer, I believe I still have a long way to go, hee-hee).  I also test and develop recipes for a few food magazines. I always liked the arts but I chose not to go forward in this area when I was young, I guess because I didn’t believe in myself back then. Never would I have thought that years later I would come back to this field and fall in love with photography, discovering it inch by inch on my own. The love for photography appeared after I started baking and discovering new recipes. When I started my website, Chocolate Chalk, as a place to share my recipes, it was obvious the photographs of my dishes must look appealing and delicious. This would help anybody who came across them to want to repeat the recipes in their kitchen, too.

Apple Plum Tart 

Describe your childhood.  I grew up in a small town in Belarus with only 70K inhabitants. My favorite season was always spring to late summer, when the days were long and sunny, there was no school and I had a lot of time to spend with friends. This time was also very intense with all kinds of gardening, as my parents had two big plots of land for growing vegetables, fruits and berries. They would always take me there to help, but I am a terrible gardener from the beginning, considering I’m scared of any spiders or bugs bigger than a ladybug. So basically, I liked gardening for the first 10 minutes or so, until some insect detected me and chased me away.

Apricot Financier 

How did you get into baking?  Actually I’ve had a sweet tooth for as long as I can remember. There was always something sweet in the house for me. After going on maternity leave with my first child I started cooking more and testing new recipes. Then came baking – I designed and made a cake for my daughter’s first birthday and received a lot of WOWs and compliments. That gave me a big push and inspired me a lot.

Then shortly we had to move to Nigeria, where we spent almost four years. My husband worked there in a glass plant and I was a housewife looking after our two children. Nigeria is a very unusual, and I'd even say difficult country in terms of infrastructure and everyday little things we are used to. There is literally nowhere to go out and no social life at all, so I had to find something to entertain myself. That was when I fell into baking completely and I still love it. One good thing about being in Nigeria was I had loads of help in the house. There were people to cook and maintain the house for me while my job was only to make a dessert.

We are back in Belarus for almost a year now and I try to manage the two of my favorite things - the family and baking.

Black Currant Hand Pies 

What degree did you pursue when you decided not to follow the path of art?  My profession is a Foreign Trade Manager. After graduating, I worked in the glass industry for a while and then got married and dedicated myself to our children. At the same time, I have found something more fun for myself compared to foreign trade, that’s baking and testing/ developing new recipes for magazines. My maternity leave ends this November (here in Russian region we have really long maternity leaves – 3 years per child, yay!) and I’m really hesitating about whether I should go back to my old job or continue what I am doing now.

Cherry Clafouti

Have you had any funny cooking experiments?  As a child (I think I was around 8-10 years old then) I tried to impress my parents once and cook soup for them while they’d been at work. I had gone through the ingredient list and without reading the instructions put everything in a pot and cooked it just like that. I remember it tasted terrible, but my parents said it was delicious and cheered me up that I did that kind of gesture.


What inspires you?  I love going through all kinds of food magazines and books. I don't like repeating somebody else's recipe to the dot unless it is a basic one, so if I get interested in a dish or recipe, I try to tweak it or give it my own twist. I won't be the first to mention Pinterest, but it is indeed a huge source of inspiration. Sometimes when looking for one thing I suddenly see something else and my mind starts running with ideas and options.

Fougasse - a French version of an Italian focaccia.

Besides cooking, what do you love to do?  Oh, I love almost all kinds of handicraft! When I have some spare time, I love to do cross-stitch. It is a very pacifying process. It lets one pause everything around for some time and to sort one's mind out. I've got two small frames already and still have a few to do. I can imagine how pretty they will look in the house! We've moved in not so long ago, so there's still plenty blank walls around. I'm also good at crochet and knitting, but I've got my moods with that. Something must click in my head before I start doing any of those, and if I start, I can spend hours at it without being distracted by food or whatever.

Pear Caramel Cheesecake 

What is your favorite prop to use?  I love cutlery! Knives, spoons, forks of all kinds. Cutlery gives some life to food in a frame, and it helps the scene look more natural and alive. It gives more options for shooting, too. You can be cutting bread, pouring caramel on your ice cream or cutting into a slice of cake. It also makes the photograph more dynamic this way. Well, if you ask me to use only one prop for my photo shoot, I'd definitely pick anything from that.

Saffron Lemon Mini Cakes 

Tell us your love story!  I am married for almost seven years now. The story of meeting my future husband isn't romantic at all. I met him at work. At that time, I was working for a classified ads newspaper and looking for more appealing options. And there I found it, one company was looking for a Foreign Trade Manager (which is exactly what my diploma was) and I literally flew for the interview.

The interview was very friendly and successful to my mind, and then the person told me that since I had mentioned in my CV that I know English, I needed to do another short interview with their Technical Manager who didn't speak Russian. If I passed that interview, they would hire me as both a Foreign Trade Manager and an Interpreter.

The second interview wasn't so optimistic. I think the anxiety had taken my voice away, and I just sat there and nodded, answering the questions. The story has a happy ending, though. The next morning they called me and said the company couldn't progress with their morning meeting without me. And I ended up marrying the Technical Manager. Now, almost seven years later, we are still together, having two lovely children and a dog.

Walnut Poached Pear Cake 

And the magazines with which you collaborate? I collaborate with Russian food magazines at the moment. Creme Brulee Magazine headquarters are in Kazakhstan, and I'm pleased to have been a part of the team from the beginning. I do quite a bit of baking and desserts for each issue, and I'm really honored and beyond happy the editor-in-chief trusts me to choose what I think would best fit in each issue.

The other one is Honest Food Magazine, a magazine from Belarus. I joined it from day one, too. I'm very proud my country can now also offer something stylish and unique, something that creates an immediate reader's reaction and brings back good memories. Besides the recipes there (my column is about homemade bread) I also do editorial work: proof-read the articles and format the recipes to have all of them precise and uniform.

From time to time I publish articles and recipes in other Russian food magazines, on demand.

Buchteln, the winning recipe which won her a trip to Austria. 

Have you had a culinary travel experience you'd like to share? This year in June, I had the honor of visiting Austria for the first time and find out about its food traditions. It was my prize as a winner of an Austrian Cuisine Contest held by a Russian food magazine named BreadSalt. I baked traditional Austrian buns called Buchteln.  These are very airy buns filled with apricot or plum jam and served with delicious vanilla sauce. Out of 17 other recipes, the judges awarded mine as best in terms of recipe, photography and styling.

Austria really is an amazing place, with beautiful sights and kind people. Should I mention the food is delicious there, too? It was truly a great experience to be guided through lovely places, taste all kinds of delicious food and even join chefs to cook in the kitchen. I spent there only three days, but this time was enough for me to fall in love with the country and want to go back one day.

Rice Pudding with Poached Pears 


Recipe serves 6

For red wine poached pears:
·         3 hard-type pears, peeled, tails remain
·         1 c/8.8 oz/ 250 ml dry red wine
·         1/3 c + 2 T/ 3 oz/ 90 g white sugar
·         1 medium cinnamon stick
·         1 small bay leaf
·         1 star anise
·         ½ vanilla bean

Put all the ingredients but vanilla bean in a small saucepan. Split the vanilla bean lengthways in half, scrape out the seeds and add them, together with the bean, to the saucepan. Set the pan over medium heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to minimum and cook the pears for 30-40 minutes, turning them occasionally. Remove the pears from the pan, let cool. Set the wine with spices over medium-low heat and reduce for 15 minutes, until it slightly thickens. Remove from heat, let cool. Discard the spices.

For rice pudding:
·         ⅔ c/ 5 oz/ 150 g short- or medium grain rice
·         3 T/ 1.4 oz/ 40 g mixed brown, red and wild rice (optional, or substitute for white rice)
·         1¼ c/ 10.6 oz/ 300 ml water
·         3½ c + 2T/ 29.3 oz/ 830 ml light cream
·         2 T/ 25 g white sugar (1)
·         2 t maple syrup
·         1 vanilla bean
·         2½T/ 20 g corn starch
·         2T + 2t/ 40 ml milk
·         2 egg yolks
·         1T/ 10 g white sugar (2)

Wash both rice types thoroughly, put in a big saucepan and fill with water. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then reduce the heat and cook for 10-15 minutes, until almost all liquid is absorbed. 

Add the cream to saucepan together with sugar (1) and maple syrup.

Split the vanilla bean lengthways in half, scrape out the seeds and add them, together with the bean, to the saucepan. Increase the heat to medium and let the contents come to a boil, then reduce the heat, cover the pan with a lid and cook for further 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally until the rice is done.

In a small bowl, mix the cornstarch and milk and add to rice, stir well and continue cooking for another couple of minutes, until it thickens. Remove the saucepan from the heat and let it cool a little.

In a medium bowl, beat the egg yolks and sugar (2) with a balloon whisk until incorporated and light. Slowly pour the mixture into the pudding, stirring vigorously. Return the saucepan to a low heat and cook it, stirring, until it thickens, 5-7 minutes. Remove from heat, discard the vanilla bean.

To serve:
·         handful shelled unsalted pistachios, chopped
·         handful pomegranate seeds

Serve pudding warm or cold, with pear halves, sprinkled with pistachios, pomegranate seeds and drizzled with wine syrup.

Nut and Caramel Tart 


The recipe makes one 8″/ 20 cm tart, serves 12

PâteBrisée shell:
·         1 c/ 3.9 oz/ 110 g all-purpose flour + for dusting
·         ¼ t salt
·         ⅓ c/ 2.8 oz/ 80 g unsalted butter, chilled, cubed
·         1 T + 1 t/ 20 g ice water

In a bowl of a food processor, combine together the flour, salt and butter. Process it into pea-sized crumbs. With the processor running, slowly pour in the water. Stop the processor when the dough forms into a ball. Shape the dough into a disk, wrap it into cling film and chill in the fridge for 30-60 minutes.

Dust the working surface and roll the dough out into a rough 9-12″/ 25-30 cm circle, ⅛″/ 3 mm thick.

Roll the dough around the rolling pin and transfer it to an 8″/ 20 cm tart pan. Unroll the dough and remove the rolling pin. Quickly line the bottom and sides of tart tin with the dough. Using the rolling pin or knife, cut the excess dough off. Poke the dough surface with a fork. Chill in the freezer for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 345⁰F/ 175⁰C. Line the chilled shell with parchment paper, fill with weights (ceramic baking balls/ beans/ rice). Bake in the hot oven for 15-20 minutes, then carefully remove the paper with weights and continue baking for another 15-20 minutes, until fully done and light golden brown. Remove from the oven and let the crust fully cool in the pan.

·         3 c/ 10 oz/ 300 g blanched unsalted assorted nuts (almonds, pistachios, peanuts, cashews, hazelnuts)
·         3½ T/ 3 oz/ 85 g glucose syrup*
·         ⅔ c/ 4.2 oz/ 125 g white sugar
·         1 T/ 20 g unsalted butter
·         ½ c/ 4 oz/ 120 g heavy cream, heat up, do not boil
·         ¼ t salt
[*Glucose syrup may be substituted for light corn syrup, simple syrup or honey.]

Roast the nuts in a frying pan (do not add oil). Let them cool completely, then fill them into the tart shell.

In a small saucepan set over high heat, warm up the glucose syrup. Gradually add in the sugar letting it melt fully before adding more.Continue heating the mixture to 350⁰F/ 177⁰C, then reduce the heat to medium. Quickly stir in the butter with a balloon whisk, then gradually pour in the hot heavy cream (Be careful! The caramel will bubble up rapidly and release a lot of steam!), stir in the salt. 

Continue stirring the caramel with whisk for a few more minutes, until it reaches 248⁰F/ 120⁰C.

Pour the hot caramel over the nuts in the shell. Important: try to coat all the top nuts with the caramel as it sets quite quickly and you will hardly be able to make any adjustments. Let the tart cool completely at room temperature, then remove it from the tart pan.

The best taste and texture of the tart is the day it was made. Store at room temperature for up to 2 days. Do not refrigerate.

All photography courtesy of  Katerina Perera and used with permission.


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  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

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