Though not well known in the U.S., there are an astonishing array of tempting desserts in Ukraine, from homemade cyrnyky (cheese pancakes) topped with strawberry sorbet to poppy seed rolls to the popular rows of truffles at the local bazaar or grocery store. None of them, however, are as beloved as candy company Roshen's Kyivc'kiy tort (Kyiv cake).
The cake is delicate and light; layers of crunchy meringue melt away in every bite, and folded into the meringue are toothsome chunks of hazelnut. The nuts soak up the flavors of the different layers of cake, softening them until they're the perfect transition between the buttercream frosting and meringue. The cake is sweetened with beet sugar, and no processed sweeteners are added.
Almost every Kyiv cake you buy in Ukraine sports an identical, intricate design because Roshen effectively has a monopoly on the cake's production. Others have tried to produce the omnipresent pastry, but the imitations are met with apathy. Production started in the 1950s at the Karl Marx Confectionary Factory (now a subsection of Roshen) in the USSR. To this day, no other dessert is as synonymous with Ukraine's capital. It's so common for travelers to hop off their trains in Kiev just to pick up a Kyiv cake that entrepreneurial Ukrainians have seized the opportunity to sell them at little stands right outside the train station. To wit: though I lived a 9 hour train ride away from Kyiv, people in my town still managed to get Kyiv cakes for their birthday celebrations—and they couldn't be purchased in our town.
The cake's designs are integral to the dessert for another reason—the rich buttercream used adds a necessary layer of complexity to the texture. The smooth, luscious frosting has a clear butter flavor that would be overpowering in any other ratio. Spread in thin, elegant lines, however, it melds all the flavors together so every layer of the cake comes together in a cohesive, decadent bite. Those with richer tastes should call dibs on the section with the buttercream flower.
I hardly expected to be able to find this treat in the U.S.; New York, however, is always full of surprises. Just two subway stops away from "Little Russia" in Sheepshead Bay is a Russian/Ukrainian grocery store called Net Cost that successfully imports Roshen Kyiv cakes. Even more surprisingly, the texture is completely uncompromised so you get the best buttery, crispy bite despite its overseas journey. The journey might actually be part of the joy of these cakes; whether it's after an overseas flight to the U.S. or a nine-hour train ride across Ukraine, the Kyiv cake is sure to please when it finally does arrive.