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36. Gerry Dawes's Spain: An Insider's Guide to Spanish Food, Wine, Culture and Travel

"My good friend Gerry Dawes, the unbridled Spanish food and wine enthusiast cum expert whose writing, photography, and countless crisscrossings of the peninsula have done the most to introduce Americans—and especially American food professionals—to my country's culinary life. . .” - - Chef-restaurateur-humanitarian José Andrés, Nobel Peace Prize Nominee and Oscar Presenter 2019; Chef-partner of Mercado Little Spain at Hudson Yards, New York 2019


Rusos de Álfaro: An exquisite, ethereal dessert from southeastern La Rioja that is little known outside its home region, but is one of the great desserts of Spain.

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(A Work in Progress by Gerry Dawes. Text & Photographs©2010.)

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First served to me at El Crucero restaurant, Corella (Navarra), rusos de Álfaro (literally, Russians from Álfaro) is an exquisite dessert that originated at Pastelería Malumbres in the late 19th Century in Álfaro, the main town of the La Rioja Baja winemaking district.   

Rusos de Álfaro, made with meringue, butter and sugar, sometimes flavored with almond or coffee cream, are world-class, ethereal, melt-in-your-mouth pastries that are delightful way to end a meal in southern Rioja or La Ribera de Navarra.  A dozen of these "rusos" weigh only 200 grams or about 7 ounces.

Marcos Malumbres of the founding family of Pastelería Malumbres showed Martín Orlando, the current owner since 1998 of what is now known as Confitería Marcos, how to make rusos de Álfaro and other desserts.   

Orlando told, "In three generations, the way of making these pastries has not changed, but they had to change their ideas about how to achieve the ethereal texture (of the Rusos de Álfaro) using modern means (i. e., kitchen equipment and ovens)."
Rusos de Álfaro was voted the most preferred dessert of la Rioja at La 
Rusos de Álfaro.

Rusos de Álfaro

La Receta (Recipe)

Recipe as published in Spanish on and attributed to Martín Orlando of Confitería Marcos.

Ingredientes. Tal como aparecen en el etiquetado del producto, en orden decreciente:
Ingredients.  As they appear on the label of the product, en descending order.

Azúcar (Sugar)
Huevo (Egg)
Mantequilla (Butter)

Elaboración (How to make rusos):

Se prepara el merengue con clara de huevo y azúcar.
Make a meringue with egg whites and sugar.

Se escudilla para darle la presentación que deseamos.
(Se utilizan planchas cuadradas para los rusos y redondas para las tartas).
Use a baking pan for the prestentation desired, square tins for the Rusos, round ones for tarts.

Se hornea.              
Bake the meringue.

Por otro lado, se prepara la crema de mantequilla con huevo, azúcar y mantequilla.
While the meringue is baking, make a butter cream with eggs, sugar and butter.

Cuando se tiene todo preparado y atemperado se procede al montaje.
When the meringue has been baked and the butter cream is ready, you can put the whole thing together.

Se van montando las sucesivas capas de merengue y crema de mantequilla.
Alternate succesive layers of merengue and butter cream.

Los rusos de Confitería Marcos se realizan con tres capas de merengue y dos de mantequilla.
At Confitería Marcos three layers of merengue and two of butter cream are used.

Después se corta en la presentación que se desee.
Cut the pastries into the sizes and shapes desired.  They are also lightly dusted with confectioner’s sugar.

Opciones para postres caseros:
  Options for Rusos de Álfaro made at home.

En Confitería Marcos se comercializan migas de pastel de ruso, las cuáles se pueden combinar de diferentes formas para hacer postres.
  At Confitería Marcos, they sell “migas de pastel de ruso” (crumbs or smaller pieces), which can be combined in different ways to make desserts.

Martín Orlando sugiere mezclarlas con productos ácidos como los frutos del bosque o ponerles una cobertura de chocolate por encima.
Martín Orlando suggests mixing the migas with berries or putting chocolate over them.

Otros productos que tienen como base el pastel ruso: 
Other preparations that have “ruso” pastry as their base:

Tarta de ruso suprema (en la que se enriquece la crema de mantequilla con praliné de almendra).

Ruso supreme tart (in which the butter cream is enriched with almond praline).

Tarta de café: Enriquecida con pasas al ron y fideos de chocolate
Coffee tart: Enriched with rum-soaked raisins and strands of chocolate.

Cuadradito de chocolate: Inspirado en un bombón italiano, se trata de una mantequilla de chocolate enriquecida con un licor de cacao.

Little chocolate ruso squares: Inspired by an Italian “bombon”, they are made with a chocolate butter cream laced with chocolate liquer. 

To make this pastry “more than the percentage of ingredients, the most important thing is the way of making it.  You have to achieve a perfect baking temperature and time and an optimum assembly of the tart (the proportion of filling to meringue,” Martín Orlando told, without revealing the proportions that he with the help of Señor Malumbre managed to perfect.

Like the article says, a maestro taught him how to do it, so they may not turn out exactly like those marvelous, ethereal rusos I had in Corella.


About Gerry Dawes  

Gerry Dawes was awarded Spain's prestigious Premio Nacional de Gastronomía (National Gastronomy Award) in 2003. He writes and speaks frequently on Spanish wine and gastronomy and leads gastronomy, wine and cultural tours to Spain. He was a finalist for the 2001 James Beard Foundation's Journalism Award for Best Magazine Writing on Wine, won The Cava Institute's First Prize for Journalism for his article on cava in 2004, was awarded the CineGourLand “Cinéfilos y Gourmets” (Cinephiles & Gourmets) prize in 2009 in Getxo (Vizcaya) and received the 2009 Association of Food Journalists Second Prize for Best Food Feature in a Magazine for his Food Arts article, a retrospective piece about Catalan star chef, Ferran Adrià. 

". . .That we were the first to introduce American readers to Ferran Adrià in 1997 and have ever since continued to bring you a blow-by-blow narrative of Spain's riveting ferment is chiefly due to our Spanish correspondent, Gerry "Mr. Spain" Dawes, the messianic wine and food journalist raised in Southern Illinois and possessor of a self-accumulated doctorate in the Spanish table. Gerry once again brings us up to the very minute. . ." - - Michael & Ariane Batterberry, Editor-in-Chief/Publisher and Founding Editor/Publisher, Food Arts, October 2009. 

Mr. Dawes is currently working on a reality television series 
on wine, gastronomy, culture and travel in Spain.


  1. Cara da Silva, author & culinarian4:26 PM

    Gerry--This is a wonderful idea and I hope it will be a book someday. But when I click in now there are just a few entries and they jump from C to R. Is that how it is supposed to be, for the moment? Cara"

  2. Hi, Cara, have another look. Now there are more. I just decided to start this thing today. I have scads of photos and experiences. This is just day one. I will add to it as regularly as I can. Many thanks for your kind and encouraging comments.

  3. I am told by my friend, Casimiro Somalo of La Rioja that I should be calling La Rioja Baja, the official name of the wine area of southeastern Rioja for decades, La Rioja Suroriental, so I guess I had better oriented myself a lot better.

  4. Great idea but the Russian dessert needs a recipe, senor Geraldo.

  5. Dear Don Miguel,

    Your wish is my command. If you manage to make these Russians from Alfaro, please let me taste your handiwork. A dozen of these things weigh only 200 grams or about 7 ounces.

  6. Anonymous1:56 PM

    Little known??? As a Spaniard from a southern area, I am afraid I must disagree. Spanish people usually know there are three main versions of the pastel ruso: the aragonés, the one from Bibao which is conceptually closer to Alfaro´s version, though less delicate by much, and the Alfaro version, which many people ask friends of theirs to buy for them when they get close to Alfaro. Another story is knowing how to prepare it at home. Alfaro´s pastel ruso is and will remain a mistery. There are hundreds of recipes in the internet. Not even one gets close in its results to the original, delicious dessert. Thank You.

  7. So go ahead and disagree, for the sake of disagreeing, I imagine. I have been traveling in Spain for more that forty years and I just heard of this dessert at when I had it at El Crucero in Corella (Navarra) in 2010. So the true 'pasteles rusos de Alfaro' are so well-known that you can only find the real thing in Alfaro and friends send friends on missions to buy them? I will be in Spain starting tomorrow. I will be traveling in Galicia, Castilla y Leon, La Rioja and Navarra. I will ask people along the way what they know about rusos de Alfaro and find out whether the dessert is as widely known as you claim. I would invite you, "Anonymous," to peruse all the cookbooks in English on Spain and tell me how many references there are to this dessert.


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