Smile Politely

That’s rye we eat dessert

When you think of sensory food memories, you may recall the deep cocoa flavor of your grandmother’s chocolate cake, the crunch of movie theater popcorn on your first date, or the smell of Thanksgiving dinner. Food connects us — to people, places, memories, and history. That’s where rupjmaizes kārtojums, the Latvian dessert made with rye bread, comes in, at least for our family.

I admit, when I started this recipe excavation I wasn’t on a genealogical dig to better understand my husband’s heritage. It was really that I purchased a great loaf of rye bread at Rick’s Bakery in Urbana, and I knew our two-person household couldn’t finish it by eating tasty sandwiches before it went stale.

Having watched one too many food competition shows over the holidays, I wondered what one could make by putting already-baked rye bread in desserts, and if anyone had already done such a ludicrous thing (and also put a recipe for it in a convenient place online for me to find). This led me to the classic Latvian rye bread dessert — rupjmaizes kārtojums, translated to mean layered bread — not only did I find a rye bread dessert, I found a tasty classic.

The finished product doesn’t look a lot different than a trifle or a layer cake (thus explaining the name). So what is it that makes this dessert Latvian? It’s all in the rye bread.

But Latvian rye bread varies a bit from other rye bread that you may recognize from the traditional North American grocery store. Breadmakers use a sourdough starter and all (or mostly) rye flour for a dark, sweet and sour taste, with a note of caraway. I knew I was not working with an authentic Latvian loaf, but for this experiment, I figured it would work.

I found a few different recipes in English and Latvian, but each recipe prepared the rye bread the same way, and each layered it with a dairy layer (whipped cream, mascarpone, etc.) followed by a fruit layer (jelly, crushed cranberries in sugar, strawberries, etc.), and repeated. This meant … well, you could do it any way you want as long as you layered it. It also means everyone’s vecmāmiņa (grandmother) probably makes their own special family recipe.

My suspicion while I was making this dessert was that, in the end, it would turn out like a classy version of the parfaits I like to make during the summer: layers of Grape Nuts or granola, Stonyfield French vanilla yogurt, and macerated fresh fruit, so I wondered if I didn’t already have my own version of the dessert in my repertoire. I couldn’t have been more right.

Rupjmaizes Kārtojums
(serves 4)

Bread layer:
6–8 slices of bakery-sized dark rye bread, preferably Latvian
2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp vanilla sugar

Dairy layer:
1/2 lb. mascarpone cheese (average package size)
2 tbsp sugar
4 tbsp cream
1/2 tsp vanilla

Fruit layer:
1/2 cup mashed cranberries (or other fruit)
2 tbsp sugar (or to taste)

Remove crust from bread, chop in food processor (or grate on grater) until large crumb size. Mix the breadcrumbs, sugar, and cinnamon, and toast the mix in a non-stick skillet until completely browned. Stir frequently to toast evenly and break clumps. Spread into a thin layer on a sheet pan and cool.

Mix the cranberries and sugar. Set aside.

Mix mascarpone cheese, sugar, cream, and vanilla. Set aside.

Divide the breadcrumbs into three parts and the dairy and fruit layers into two parts.

Layer the breadcrumbs, dairy, then fruit, repeat, and top with the final layer of breadcrumbs.

If you want to see the layers of your creation, put it in a glass bowl or dish. I separated them into individual servings.

Another recommended dessert if you have Latvian rye bread (or other dark rye) on hand, is Maizes Zupa, a bread pudding.

As I learned more about Latvian food, it made me wonder about our other food genealogy. My husband’s Polish heritage, my German and Native American roots. If they taste this good, we may continue to explore for awhile.

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