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Anastasia – the last of the Romanovs of Imperial Russia. On the night of July 16 (or 17, according to some reports), 1918, Bolsheviks, under orders of the Supreme Soviet Council of Russia, Yakov Yurovsky, led Anastasia, her family, and some of their servants to a basement in Yekaterinburg, Russia under the pretext that they were being protected from counter-revolutionaries. They were then met by a volley of gunfire from a group of executioners who cornered them downstairs.  

However, rumors began to circulate stating that while the Romanov family was killed that night, one member may have survived – Anastasia.  According to the 1997 animated film, Anastasia, she found her way out of Yekaterinburg and lived her life as an orphan somewhere in communist-controlled Russia. But was it true? Did a young girl survive that night and escape from the basement?

Let’s break it down!

Part I: Breaking Down History

Not at all. Actually, Grigori Rasputin was a Russian mystic who was able to improve the condition of Alexei (Anastasia’s brother), who suffered from hemophilia. His abilities made him a favorite in the Imperial court and made him increasingly influential in Russian politics, to the detriment of the country and its people. Due to this, he was eventually assassinated to protect the monarchy from further scandal.

Sadly, no. According to reports of what occurred the night of the execution, Anastasia was with her family in the basement of Yekaterinburg and was one of the last to die, along with one of her sisters. She had survived the initial volley of gunfire due to the jewels that the family had sewn into the lining of her clothes, essentially providing her with “armor.” However, once the smoke cleared and her captors had found that she survived, she was finished off with bayonets.  

For years, the location of the disposal site of the bodies remained a mystery. On August 23rd, 2007, the partial skeletal remains of two individuals were found in a bonfire near Yekaterinburg. Further DNA testing by archaeologists determined that the remains belonged to Alexei and one of the Tsar’s daughters. Since the bodies of 3 of the Romanov sisters were found in 1991, the discovery of the 4th body confirms that all 4 of the sisters were executed.

Since the death of the Tsar’s family, several women had come forward claiming they were the Grand Duchess Anastasia, who had survived the night of the executions. The most famous impostor was Anna Anderson, who the story of the movie “Anastasia” was based on. After claiming that she was saved by a Bolshevik soldier after her family was killed, she had escaped to the West. Several investigations and interviews by family members and acquaintances of the Romanovs showed, that while she resembled Anastasia and was knowledgeable of small details about the lives of the Romanovs, she could not remember major events in Anastasia’s life and was not fluent in English, French, and Russian, all of which the Grand Duchess knew well. Anastasia’s uncle, the Grand Duke of Hesse, had a private investigator look into “Anastasia.” He determined that she was actually Franziska Schanzkowska, a Polish-German woman who disappeared in 1920 with a history of mental illness. Later DNA testing confirmed that her DNA matched the mDNA of Karl Maucher, a great-nephew of Franziska, allowing scientists to prove that she was not a Romanov.

After the discovery of the Romanov’s remains, they were interred in the Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral in St. Petersburg, Russia. In 2000, Anastasia and her family were canonized as passion bearers in the Russian Orthodox church.

Part II: Recreating History – Medovik (8-Layered Honey Cake)

Now that we broke down the historical accuracy of Anastasia, why don’t we recreate some history! Medovik is a layer cake that was popular in the Russian Empire. Created in the 19th century, this cake is made with honey and smetana, a type of sour cream. This dessert would have been very prevalent in the Russian court as one of the many things that the imperial family would have eaten at the time. Since smetana is not something found easily in local markets, you can substitute regular sour cream.

Here is the recipe:

Ingredients:

For the cake layers:

  • 4 tbsp. honey

  • ¾ cup granulated sugar

  • 2 tbsp. unsalted butter

  • 3 large eggs, room temperature, beaten with a fork

  • 1 tsp. baking soda

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour

For the sour cream frosting:

  • 32 oz. sour cream

  • 2 cups powdered sugar

  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream

For the topping:

  • ½ lb. fresh berries (optional)

Steps:

For the cake:

  1. Add ¾ cup sugar, 4 tbsp honey, and 2 tbsp unsalted butter to a medium saucepan and melt them together over medium/low heat, whisking occasionally until sugar is melted (5-7 mins).
  2. As soon as the sugar is dissolved, remove from heat and, while hot, add in eggs slowly while whisking vigorously until all of your eggs are incorporated.
  3. Whisk in the baking soda, then fold in your 3 cups of flour until the dough reaches a clay consistency (it should not stick).
  4. Cut the dough into 8 equal pieces.
  5. On a well-floured surface, roll each piece out into a thin 9″ circle (about 1/8″ thick). Place a 9″ plate or base from a springform mold over your rolled dough and trace around it with a pizza cutter to get a perfect circle. Keep the scraps for later.
  6. Transfer the dough to a large sheet of parchment paper and bake 2 at a time at 350˚F for 4-5 minutes or until golden. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely before stacking. Repeat with remaining layers.
  7. Bake the scraps separated evenly on a sheet of parchment. Once the scraps are baked, cooled and firm, crush them with a rolling pin or pulse them in a food processor until you have fine crumbs.

For the frosting:

  1. Beat 1 cup heavy cream until fluffy and stiff peaks form.
  2. In a separate bowl, whisk together 32 oz. sour cream with 2 cups powdered sugar. Fold the whipped cream into the sour cream.
  3. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Assembling the cake:

  1. Spread about 1/3 cup frosting on each cake layer. Press the cake layers down gently as you go to keep the layers from having air gaps. 
  2. Frost the top and sides with the remaining frosting.
  3. Dust the top and sides with your breadcrumbs.
  4. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. 
  5. Enjoy with berries on the side!

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