Zefir is a popular Russian confection, prepared from 4 ingredients – baked apple flesh, sugar, egg whites and agar-agar. It was, and still is, my favourite confection, only to have it now, I had to learn how to make it myself. Recipes, adapted from industrial factory manuals, are readily available, and I did not encounter any problems, when making my own apple zefir with sugar. The texture of zefir is similar, but not quite the same, as in marshmallows. Without any additives, colourings and flavourings zefir can be considered all natural, in a way even healthy confection, if we are going to disregard its sugar content. But if we are talking about sweets – sugars, be they refined, unrefined, dry, or in the form of any natural syrups or honey, are eventually going to produce glucose and fructose in different proportions.
Zefir is made by several stages of whipping cooked apple puree with sugar and egg white. At the end of the process, whipped mixture is cooked by adding hot sugar syrup with dissolved agar-agar in it. The resulting mixture is piped out in the form of semi-spheres and is left to set for 12-20 hours and to form the skin on the surface of the confection. It is later dusted with sugar and two halves are put together to form a ball.
Zefir can be stored at room temperature, and its texture will harden a bit, the skin will become a thin crust and the insides might become slightly chewy. It is a delightful confection, which I like to give a touch of pink colour, by using liquid from preserved Morello cherries to add to agar-agar, instead of water.
Using honey as a sweetener, which is technically an over-saturated liquid, to make zefir is not an easy task. Several problems had to be addressed. Zefir recipe is very strict in liquid to sugar ratio, which is nearly impossible to follow if liquid sweeteners are used. Simple calculations to adjust moisture content in honey do not fully address all issues, zefir never forms the skin and stays wet on the surface. Strict limitations to the ingredients in this blog did not allow me to use any powder substances to treat the surface to make it dry. I made several attempts to make zefir. The first experiment produced zefir with good texture and taste, which I absolutely killed by using the only applicable option to dry it – the mixture of cinnamon powder and almond meal. I was able to make zefir dry and glue two halves together, but the taste of the confection was completely ruined by strong cinnamon flavour, which totally overpowered the gentle taste of the confection.
The second and third time I opted not to use anything for dusting and just left the surface slightly, or not so slightly wet. I simply allowed some space between each confection when placed them in a box. I used pure apple puree and the colour of zefir was practically white.
I am glad to report that I have finally managed to overcome several problems caused by the use of the liquid sweetener – organic honey. To address the remaining problems and still be able to use some liquid in the recipe to add to agar-agar, I had to change (reduce) the moisture content in fruit (apple+plums) puree. Normally I get 250g puree from 500g fresh fruit pieces. Traditionally cooked apple flesh is obtained by baking whole apples and separating flesh from skin and core. I have found that microwave cooking is faster and more practical approach to achieve the desired texture of fruit purees. I can offer now the reliable recipe for sugar free zefir, based on apples, plums, egg white and agar-agar, nothing else.
Different sizes and shapes of zefir were the result of trying to kill two birds with one shot. I wanted to use zefir as a mousse layer in my Paleo version of Black forest cake. I had to be well prepared to pipe zefir itself, perimeter of the cake decorations for both sponge layers, the mousse layer on top of sour cherries spread, and accomplish it all before the mixture started to set.
I am glad it all went without any major trouble and I was able to do all piping for the cake,
assemble the cake,
and pipe out all the mixture, before it was set in pastry bags. I hope I can be forgiven for not so pretty shapes, I miscalculated the type of the nozzle which I used for zefir, and I was in a real hurry to get the mixture out. On the positive side, I managed to get the consistency of the mixture right, and though the skin as such was not formed on zefir surface, but the surface itself of the set confection was dry to touch.
enough for the cake and the whole board full of zefir
- 30g egg white, divided in two equal portions (egg white of 1 large/extra large egg)
- 410g cored and peeled apple flesh and pitted plum flesh with skin (3 Granny Smith apples and 2 plums), after cooking gives 155g apple and plum thick puree
- 360g organic honey, 210g and 150g separately
- 8g agar-agar (for the softer texture you can get away with 7g)
- 50ml water
you can use only apple, without plums, zefir will have distinct apple taste and pale white colour
- peel and core apples, slice pitted plums, register the weight of the glass bowl
- use 400-410g of diced apples and sliced plums, place them in a glass bowl
- cook them 10min in microwave on high
- blend with stick blender
- cook fruit puree 7-10 min (depending on microwave power) to have 155-160g of thick puree
- prepare measured honey portions 150g and 210g
- add 150g honey to the warm/hot fruit puree
- whisk fruit puree and honey together, put aside and let it cool
- place agar-agar into small sauce pan with a spout
- add 50ml water room temperature
- gently heat it for 1 min, set aside
Everything up to this moment you can do at your own pace. Next steps have to be well organised, everything have to be prepared. Once you start to whip fruit puree with honey and egg white, the process can’t be stopped, until you pipe zefir.
- prepare piping bag(s), fit them with tips you are familiar with, the one in the photo below, does not give the best shape, but provides fast evacuation of the mixture from the bag
- prepare large size chopping boards, lined with baking paper (you will need 3 or 4 surfaces to pipe all zefir, the number of individual semi-spheres depends on their size)
- whisk half of egg white (15g) in a separate bowl, put aside
- transfer fruit puree and honey mixture into a bowl of benchtop mixer
- add the second half of egg white, mix it in with a whisk and start mixer on high
- beat the mixture for 3-4 min until it becomes pale and triple in size
- add whipped egg white
- continue running the mixer on high
- while mixer is running, add 210g honey to the sauce pan with agar-agar
- heat on a low/medium heat, constantly stirring
- lumps of agar-agar will start to dissolve
- cook the syrup until the boiling point and 1 min after that, the syrup should be without any lumps and reasonably runny
- if it takes a long time to cook the syrup, you can stop the mixer, when the mixture is becoming very stiff
- pour very hot syrup into a mixing bowl, very close to the wall, or let syrup run down the side of the mixing bowl, while the mixer is running on medium speed
- when finished pouring, run mixer on high for 2-3 min (no photo for that), the bowl with be 3/4 full
- transfer the warm mixture to piping bag(s) fast
- pipe zefir out on the baking paper
I used 2 separate piping bags, one for zefir and one for the cake. Let zefir set for 10-20 hours and transfer it to prepared boxes, lined with baking paper.
Trying to achieve two goals simultaneously resulted in some compromises. If I was using zefir only as a mousse for the cake, I would prefer its texture to be a touch softer. But I was making sure, that my priority was the quality of zefir with stable texture and dry surface of the confection, without liquid drops appearing on the surface later.
Cake recipe with preparation of all layers of the cake and discussing different options for those layers is going to be published in the next post. But you can have a look at this very pretty cake now.