Zephyr: Why is this favorite Russian dessert named after a Greek god?

Learn the secret recipe and history of Russia's healthy marshmallows!

Learn the secret recipe and history of Russia's healthy marshmallows!

Victoria Drey
This delight was born in medieval Rus, widely produced in the Soviet Union, and truly loved in modern Russia. What makes zephyr so special that everyone who tries it falls in love with it forever?

Zephyr’s origins are unclear and the topic of much speculation. But one thing is for sure - zephyr is a hybrid of pastila, which is one of the healthiest confectioneries. The only ingredients are fruits, berries and honey.

Russian pastila is known since the 14th century, and about 100 years later people began adding clear egg whites so that the pastila would look more appetizing and white. It’s commonly believed that the French came up with the idea to add whipped egg whites in the pastila, and then named this new fluffy confectionary, “zephyr.” 

The name is also not random: it comes from the Greek god of the west wind, Zephyrus. Well, this particular delectable wind is very delicate, light and airy.

Some equate zephyr with marshmallows, but despite their formal resemblance they're completely different. There are no eggs in marshmallow, in contrast to zephyr.

Zephyr was one of the most loved sweets in the USSR, cheap and widely available. There were three types of zephyr:  white, pink and white-pink. People could buy it in almost every food store. The fourth type of zephyr was chocolate glazed, and it was the most rare. In fact, my grandmother said it was in such short supply that they called it “deficit.”

Ingredients:

  • 125g fruit/berry puree
  • 100g sugar
  • 1 egg white
  • + caster sugar for dusting
Almost no one made zephyr at home. When I asked granny if she ever made it herself she was truly surprised, “Of course not! There was no need because it was sold everywhere. And honestly nobody knew the recipe.”

Luckily today, the recipe is available so everyone can make and enjoy this legendary delight without leaving their kitchen.

How to make it:

For syrup:

  • 75ml water
  • 5g agar
  • 200g sugar
1. First, prepare and cool the puree. I use a mix of apples (2 parts), and cherry (1 part): apples are the best because of the high pectin content, while the cherry adds a bit of sour taste. To start, peel the apples and cut into pieces. Put a couple of tablespoons of water in a pan and add your apples and cherry.

2. Put the fruits and berries on low heat until soft. Turn off when ready, drain the excess water and make the puree with a blender. If you don't have a blender just sift the mixture. The puree should be quite thick and not runny. If the puree is too liquid, then cook a few more minutes until thick enough.

Photo: Victoria DreyPhoto: Victoria Drey

3. Take 125 grams of the puree, place in a clear pan, add sugar and cook until the sugar completely dissolves. Then leave for a couple of hours in a cold place. The puree must cool completely.

Photo: Victoria DreyPhoto: Victoria Drey

4. Put one cold egg white along with the cold puree in a bowl. Mix at high speed until the mixture turns white.

Photo: Victoria DreyPhoto: Victoria Drey

Put in the fridge. If you have a stand mixer you can simultaneously make both the syrup, and the mixture of egg white and puree.

Photo: Victoria DreyPhoto: Victoria Drey

5. Prepare the syrup by cooking the mix of agar, water and sugar in a clear pan, and slowly stir on medium heat. When the syrup boils, stir so that the agar does not burn. The syrup should become thick and flow from the spoon but not drip. It usually takes 4-7 minutes for the syrup to boil.

Photo: Victoria DreyPhoto: Victoria Drey

6. When it's ready pour the syrup immediately into the white mixture, then mix on medium speed. Turn on high speed and mix for about 5 more minutes. Here comes the zephyr! It should be quite thick, sticky and have a pasty consistence. Now fill a pastry bag with it and make the zephyr on paper.

Photo: Victoria DreyPhoto: Victoria Drey

7. Let sit for about 6-12 hours until the zephyr completely dries. Form it by taking two similar size pieces, paste them together, roll in caster sugar and dust off the extra. Keep zephyr in the fridge or freezer.

Photo: Victoria DreyPhoto: Victoria Drey

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