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Soviet-style Soufflé : the history of “Bird’s milk”


Bird’s milk cake was so popular in Soviet times that it was brought as a gift, one of the most beloved gifts. We will tell you why this dessert has such an unusual name and the history of its creation. Today the “Bird’s milk” (ptichye moloko) are widely available in supermarkets and stores all over Ukraine.


Of course, bird milk does not exist in nature. The expression “bird’s milk” spread throughout the world by the ancient Greek comedian Aristophanes, from whose fantastic comedy “Birds” a chorus of birds tries to seize power from the gods, promising people for worshiping bird’s milk so that they can be fed up with “boundless, unprecedented happiness.”

Any dessert has its own history, and, as a rule, its roots are lost in the mists of time. With “Bird’s milk” everything is much more complicated. 

In 1936, Jan Wedel, the owner of the E. Wedel factory in Warsaw, removed eggs from the marshmallow recipe and created sweets that resemble pastille and marshmallows at the same time. Light milk mass with a vanilla aroma, dressed in chocolate, was named by the workers of the factory “Ptasie mleczko” – “Bird’s milk” – for its amazing, fabulous, divine taste. Their recipe and name are patented, and the taste and consistency differ from the version developed in the USSR.

Patent Office news – information on the trademark “Ptasie Mleczko” (1936)
Jan Wedel

The production of “Bird’s milk” in the USSR began right after the visit of the Minister of the Food Industry to Czechoslovakia in 1967. There he was treated to a signature dessert, but they did not agree to reveal the recipe. The Minister took several boxes of chocolates with him to Moscow as samples and handed them out to representatives of the country’s leading candy factories with instructions to try to make something similar. 

Soviet confectioners did not just repeat the dessert – they improved its taste, and very quickly the “Bird’s Milk” sweets won the hearts (and stomachs) of Soviet citizens. The Vladivostok confectionery factory did an excellent job with the task of that time, “Catch up and overtake”, which produced 12 tons of candies instead of the planned 6 tons. The factory’s secret turned out to be simple: its chief technologist, Anna Chulkova, replaced the gelatin in the dessert with agar-agar.

Sweets are the inspiration for the Bird’s Milk Cake. This cake is the first in the USSR for which a patent was issued to its creator, pastry chef Vladimir Mikhailovich Guralnik. Hereditary confectioner, at the age of 16 he came to work in the elite Moscow restaurant “Prague”.

In 1978, work began on the creation of the famous Soviet cake “Bird’s milk” in the restaurant “Prague”. Together with Margarita Golova and Nikolai Panfilov, Guralnik spent half a year looking for an ideal recipe and technology.

It was sleepless nights and an intense search: the cakes were cooked, tasted, thrown away, and all over again, many times. The standard recipe did not fit, according to V. Guralnik “on a large volume – marshmallowed with marshmallow, it gets stuck in the teeth!” And I wanted the same airiness.

Success came: ideal proportions and new ingredients were found. For a cake, unlike sweets, you need whole condensed milk, sugar syrup, agar-agar instead of gelatin, protein mass and butter. The optimum cooking temperature is 117 ° C, so agar agar is ideal for boiling down the filling. Only in this way will the soufflé harden and remain airy!

For the cake, Guralnik chose a semi-muffin dough, tender, light and at the same time thin. And they decorated it in a laconic way – they covered it with hard chocolate glaze and decorated it with an ornament with birds. The cake was even shocking at the suggestion of the creator: the rectangular shape at that time was unsettled and attracted attention.

The shop of the restaurant “Prague” initially produced trial batches of 20-30 pieces, but after six months the volume increased to 500 pieces, and the queues for the “birdie” lined up at 6 am. The one could get the cake by appointment or famous coupons. 

“Bird’s milk” (Ptichye Moloko) Cake

Vladimir Guralnik did not make a secret out of the recipe; on the contrary, he generously shared his best practices. It was a real sensation, so by the end of the 80s, the cake was being prepared by other shops throughout the country, about 30 enterprises in total, but it remained in short supply for residents outside the capital of the USSR.

The shelf life of “classic” sweets is 15 days. Since the 1990s, recipes have been changed to reduce ingredient costs and increase shelf life. For sweets made with preservatives, the shelf life is set at two months.

Today, the classic version is considered not only the dessert “Bird’s milk” with a creamy vanilla aroma, but also with lemon and chocolate flavors. By the way, this cake is one of the most popular among Russian emigrants in the United States. True, it is prepared abroad using gelatin.

Both versions (Cake and candy) of “Bird’s milk” (Ptichye Moloko) are widely available to this date in supermarkets and specialty stores all over Ukraine.