I don’t recall how this tradition started, but at some point after we arrived to the United States, my grandmother Fira started baking a Russian cake called “Annushka” once a year for my birthday. She’s had the recipe for this honey-based cake in her recipe notebook for at least 40 years. Maybe she made it once, and I loved it, so she started baking it for me. I loved this tradition.

My favorite cake stopped being a part of my birthday celebrations once I adopted the Paleo lifestyle about 8 years ago (all of that flour, sugar, honey, and condensed milk!) Honestly, I didn’t really miss it because I only baked Paleo treats once in a while.

Since I adopted the Keto / Low Carb High Fat (LCHF) lifestyle about a year and a half ago, I’ve been having a lot of fun modifying old family recipes. Keto / LCHF allows dairy, if you aren’t sensitive to it, so it’s a lot easier to modify recipes that call for butter, sour cream, etc., which this recipe does. I am actually sensitive to dairy, so I still rarely make dairy-based desserts. They’re mostly for my husband who handles dairy fairly well.

Annushka Russian Cake Recipe Notebook
“Annushka” cake recipe in my grandma’s 40-year-old recipe notebook

This year for my birthday, I thought it would be a great idea to bake this Russian cake for me and then share it with those who would appreciate all of the effort, trial and error, and creativity that it takes to modify a recipe. It’s a lot of work to make it gluten-free, grain-free, sugar-free, and have it taste so much like the original! And on top of it, I get to share this recipe with all of you! A win-win all the way around 🙂

It was hilarious and frustrating, I must admit, when I first tried to modify this cake earlier this year. I visited my grandma to bake it with her. I brought all of my substitute ingredients: almond flour, coconut milk, low-carb sweetener, etc. The recipe in her notebook doesn’t have all of the details, of course, such as at what temperature to bake the cake layers. It also lists Soviet measurements such as “one package of butter.”

Me: “Grandma, how much was one package of butter in the Soviet Union?”
Grandma Fira: “Do you think I remember??!! I’ve lived in the U.S. for 30 years now!”
Me: “Well, approximately?”
Grandma Fira (after showing me in the air with her fingers): “About this much, I think. I don’t remember!!!”
Me: “But you baked this cake last about 7 years ago. How much did you use then?”
Grandma Fira (clearly frustrated): “I’m going to turn 90 years old this year; I don’t remember!!!”

Discussing Annushka Russian cake recipe with my grandmother
My grandma Fira teaching me how to make Russian cake “Annushka”

She actually has pretty good memory, but maybe not when it comes to baking cakes 🙂 So, here I was trying to convert from grams to ounces and American-sized cup measurements and Googling the typical temperature at which one would bake cake layers. I’m still amazed at what it takes to modify a 40-year-old Soviet recipe to be a healthy, modern-day awesomeness. Oh, yeah, the recipe also calls for margarine in the cake batter, which just like in the U.S., was considered “healthier” back in the day. Needless to say, I’m using grass-fed butter instead.

This “Annushka” Russian cake is very typical of Russian cakes (tortes). It’s a layered cake with a Russian-style frosting made from butter, sugar, and nuts. The flour, sugar, honey, and condensed milk were substituted, of course. Ahhh, this cake is soooo good…quick and easy to make, too…why wouldn’t folks just bake low-carb desserts??!! The longest part is making a coconut-milk-based condensed milk using a low-carb sweetener, which can be made ahead. And that takes only 15 minutes!

“Annushka” in the Russian language is a diminutive of “Anna,” so it’s an endearing nickname for Anna, for those who are curious. I’m so glad that this cake can once again be part of my annual celebration!!! Enjoy 🙂

Annushka Russian Cake Slice
I can have my favorite cake for breakfast guilt-free!

Ingredients

For the homemade coconut-milk-based condensed milk:

1 (13.5 oz.) can of full-fat, unsweetened coconut milk (I use Native Forest brand, which typically has the cream and liquid already separated in the can when you open it, without requiring refrigeration)
2 tablespoons low-carb sweetener (I use Lakanto® Classic White or Golden Monk Fruit Sweetener, which is available on Amazon.com)

For the cake:

1 stick butter, softened (preferably grass-fed or French)
2 eggs, preferably pastured (I use pastured eggs from Vital Farms, which are available at most grocery stores in our area)
1/4 cup full-fat sour cream, preferably pasture-raised (I use Organic Valley sour cream from pastured cows)
3 tablespoons honey-flavored low-carb sweetener (I use All-u-Lose® Natural Honey Flavor Sweetener, which is available on Amazon.com)
1 cup blanched almond flour
3 tablespoons low-carb sweetener (I use Lakanto® Classic White or Golden Monk Fruit Sweetener, which is available on Amazon.com)
1 teaspoon baking soda

For the frosting:

3/4 cup homemade coconut-milk-based condensed milk
2 1/4 cup (200 grams) walnuts, chopped
1 stick butter, softened (preferably grass-fed or French)

Directions

For the homemade coconut-milk-based condensed milk:

  1. Separate the cream part of the coconut milk from the liquid part. Discard the liquid or save for other uses.
  2. In a small pot, bring the coconut cream to a gentle boil over medium heat, whisking occasionally to prevent it from burning.
  3. Whisk in the sweetener.
  4. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes, or until the coconut milk is reduced to about 3/4 cup.
  5. Remove from heat and pour into a bowl. Let it cool completely.

For the cake:

  1. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350° F.
  2. In a large bowl, mix softened butter, eggs, sour cream, low-carb sweetener, and honey-flavored low-carb sweetener until a smooth consistency.
  3. Mix in almond flour and baking soda until well combined.
  4. Lightly grease two 9-inch by 9-inch round cake pans with butter.
  5. Divide the cake batter evenly between the two cake pans.
  6. Place both cake pans in the oven and bake for 12-15 minutes, or until the cakes are golden brown. Ovens vary, so start checking for doneness at around 12 minutes. Insert a toothpick into the cake — it should come out clean.
  7. Remove the cake pans from the oven, place on a wire rack, and let cool completely.
  8. Remove the cake layers from the pans once cooled.

For the frosting:

  1. While the cake is baking, make the frosting.
  2. In a bowl, mix softened butter and homemade coconut-milk-based condensed milk until a smooth consistency.
  3. Mix in the chopped walnuts with a spatula or a spoon.
  4. To assemble the cake, spread the frosting on top of the first cake layer.
  5. Place the second cake layer on top of the first.
  6. Spread the frosting on top of the second cake layer.
  7. Spread any leftover frosting on the sides of the cake.
  8. To make a 4-layered cake, double the recipe.
  9. Cut into cake slices and serve, or refrigerate in an enclosed container. Let the cake come to room temperature before serving.

TIP:
Natural low-carb sweeteners vary. If you use a different sweetener, you may need to adjust the quantity depending on your sweetness preference.

VARIATION:
To make this cake dairy-free, you could try using coconut milk yogurt instead of sour cream and coconut oil + palm oil shortening instead of butter. If you do, let me know how it turns out in the comments below 🙂

Looking for more Russian recipes? Check out From Russia With Love. Love guilt-free desserts? Find more here.

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