This Russian Bird’s Milk Cake recipe (ptichye moloko) is made with delicate mousse, covered in rich chocolate ganache, and garnished with bright berries. A true Slavic classic!
Bird’s Milk Cake (Ptichye Moloko) is a very common and beloved Russian dessert made with light, airy layers of cream, cacao custard, and chocolate ganache. Most people that grew up in a Slavic household dream about its luscious, creamy texture and pray one of their family members will bring it to the next big get-together!
Wondering about Bird’s Milk Cake history and origin? You’re not alone. The name is a bit strange and eyebrow- raising (spoiler alert: no bird’s milk is required!). It was born out of a Slavic folktale surrounding the mythological milk birds of paradise feed to their baby chicks.
According to the legend, eligible maidens would challenge their suitors to find the elusive milk and bring it back to them. This of course was impossible, but you can see just how serious these maidens were about securing their future. Today, Bird’s Milk Cake is enjoyed throughout Europe and can be found in many European specialty stores stateside. No maiden challenge required!
What is Bird’s Milk Cake?
Bird’s Milk Cake, or “Ptichye Moloko” in Russian, is a wildly popular soufflé cake that’s eaten throughout Russia and many other post-Soviet states. There are many different variations to this cake, with some having sponge cake layers and others resembling that of a dense torte. This recipe is more closely aligned with the torte variety, consisting of a white custard layer, a cacao custard layer, and a rich topping of chocolate ganache. Below, find an overview of the flavor, texture, and time.
- Flavor: This cake is a little tangy, rich with chocolate, and lightly sweet.
- Texture: Flourless and light, this cake is creamy in texture from top to bottom.
- Time: From start to finish, it takes just under two hours to make.
How to Make Bird’s Milk Cake
Making Bird’s Milk Cake requires a bit of patience, but the end result is more than worth it. Below, find a quick hitter overview of the recipe before you dive in.
- Make the Batter Base: Dissolve the gelatin into the milk in a saucepan over medium heat. Remove from heat and set aside. With a stand or hand mixer, whip together the Cool Whip, sour cream, and sugar. In small portions, beat the milk/gelatin mixture in until smooth.
- Allow the White Layer to Set: Grease the cake pan. Place half the batter into it and refrigerate until the white layer hardens (around 30 minutes).
- Make the Cacao Layer: Using the stand mixer or hand mixer, beat the cacao powder into the remaining half of the cake batter. Set aside to cool to room temperature.
- Add the Cacao Layer: Carefully spoon the cacao layer on top of the white layer. Allow both layers to set in the fridge (about 30 minutes).
- Make the Chocolate Ganache: In 30-second intervals, melt the chocolate chips and heavy whipping cream. Between each round, give the mixture a good stir. For more tips on making and using ganache, see this post.
- Plate & Frost the Cake: Loosen the edges of the cake, carefully flip it upside down onto a cake stand or serving plate, and gently remove the pan. Spread the ganache on top of the cake, letting it drizzle off the sides. Top with fruit and pop back into the fridge for 2 hours for a final set. Serve and enjoy!
Tips for Making the Best Bird’s Milk Cake
- Allow each layer to set for 30 minutes. Patience is a virtue with Bird’s Milk Cake! Allowing each layer enough time to set is crucial to creating the perfect slice.
- Use a spatula to smoothen the cacao custard layer. To ensure a smooth bottom (you’ll end up flipping the cake when you plate it), use a cake spatula to smoothen the cacao custard layer flush to the top of the cake pan.
- Smoothen the sides of the cake after plating it. Once you flip the cake upside down and remove it from the pan, smoothen out any rough edges using the flat side of a butter knife or a cake spatula.
- Make Bird’s Milk Cake a couple of days ahead. To allow the cake to really develop and set perfectly, you can make it up to two days in advance before serving it.
Springform Pan Hack: Use a springform pan to take the stress out of removing the delicate cake layers from the cake pan.
Storing Bird’s Milk Cake
The best way to store Bird’s Milk Cake is in an airtight cake container. Since it’s very delicate, you’ll want to make sure it can’t get smashed in the refrigerator. Also, covering it prevents the cake from soaking up any smells lingering in your refrigerator. When stored properly, it should keep for up to 4 days.
Why is it called Bird’s Milk Cake?
It’s called Bird’s Milk Cake due to a popular Slavic folk tale. According to the legend, birds of paradise would feed their chicks with “bird’s milk” to make them strong and beautiful. To test the love of their admirers, young women would send them off on a quest to retrieve the milk, which of course was impossible to find.
What is Bird’s Milk candy?
Bird’s Milk candy is a popular candy eaten throughout Eastern Europe and Russia. It is based on the cake and often comes with a fluffy marshmallow layer. You should try it!
Is there anything I can use to replace the gelatin?
You can replace gelatin with equal parts of agar agar. It’s a vegetarian gelatin substitute that comes in powder or flakes.
How long should Bird’s Milk Cake set before I serve it?
Bird’s Milk Cake should set for two hours in the refrigerator before you serve it.
How long does Bird’s Milk Cake last?
Bird’s Milk Cake will last 3-4 days when stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
Other Decadent Russian Cakes to Try
- Russian Honey Cake – Rich honey and caramel cake
- Chocolate Layer Cake – Chocolate and cream layered cake
- Honey Walnut Poppy Seed Cake – Moist and nutty cake
- 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
- 1/2 cup whipping cream
- In a saucepan over medium heat, whisk the gelatin into the milk until dissolved. Remove from heat and set aside.
- Using a stand or hand mixer, mix the Cool Whip, sour cream, and sugar. In small portions, add the milk and gelatin mixture until you get a smooth, consistent texture.
- Thoroughly oil all the sides of a 9-inch cake pan (very important when it comes time to remove the cake!). Place half of the batter into the pan. Refrigerate until the layer hardens (around 30 minutes).
- While the first layer is hardening in the fridge, use an electric mixer to add the cacao powder to the second half of the batter. Keep the chocolate custard at room temperature while the other layer is setting.
- Carefully apply the cacao mixture on top of the white layer. Place the cake in the fridge to set (about 30 minutes).
- Place chocolate chips and whipping cream in a microwave-safe dish. In 30-second intervals, melt the chocolate chips and whipping cream, stirring between each round. Continue the process until the chocolate ganache is smooth. Set aside and let it cool to room temperature.
- Remove the cake from the fridge. Using a knife, carefully loosen the edges of the cake. Place the cake upside down on a cake stand and gently remove it from the pan. Spread the chocolate ganache on the top of the cake.
- Decorate the cake with berries (or any other fruit of your choice). Allow the cake to set in the refrigerator for 2 hours before you are ready to serve it. Slice and enjoy!