During the Soviet regime, housewives could cobble together a simple dessert called muraveynik with limited ingredients and little technical skill. Russian home bakers simply piled inexpensive pantry staples into a small hill, which earned it the name “anthill cake.” The towering confection wasn’t really a cake in the traditional sense. It was made up of a basic shortbread dough, which bakers ran through a meat grinder and baked into twisted, snake-like cookies. They’d then break up and mix the cookies with boiled, sweetened condensed milk, likely from an iconic blue-and-white can of sgushyonka (“s-goosh-YON-ka”). In times of extreme poverty, any biscuit, cookie, or bread could be broken up and mixed with small portions of condensed milk.
Despite its inception during times of scarcity, many Russians recall the crunchy, rich dessert with a nostalgic fondness. As such, love for anthill cake continued after the Soviet era and is still celebrated in Russian recipe books of homemade favorites. Families have their own unique versions, and variation depends on availability of luxury ingredients. Today, bakers mix in melted butter with a heavy hand, building cakes into grandiose mounds decorated with chocolate, nuts, seeds, and whatever else suits their fancy. Remember, just because it’s a Soviet-era creation doesn’t mean it has to honor Stalinist architecture.