Have you ever wanted to taste the clouds? In Poland, you may find a candy considered a worthy substitute.
Ptasie mleczko is probably one of the most iconic creations from this country. Covered in rich and snappy chocolate (milk, dark, or white) is a soft and milky meringue with a marshmallow-like texture. The classic one is vanilla-flavored. However, the interior may also be of lemon, strawberry shake, caramel, or chocolate flavor.
The name Ptasie Mleczko could be roughly translated into English as bird’s milk. Not only does it convey the delicate nature of the meringue perfectly, but it also supposedly highlights the rare and luxurious character of the candy. In what way?
Bird’s milk has been linked with rarity since Ancient Greece times. In such a sense, this expression can be found, for instance, in the works of Aristophanes or Strabo’s Geographica. It is also featured in a Slavic folk story! In it, a beautiful princess decides to test the abilities and resourcefulness of her suitor. To do so, she asks him to bring her one thing she does not possess: bird’s milk. The person who came up with the name must have been proud, right?
From fairytales to reality
The person credited for the creation of this confection and its name is Jan Wedel, owner of the E. Wedel Chocolate Company. Allegedly, after he came back from his voyages to France, Jan asked himself “What could bring greater happiness to a man who already has everything? Maybe only bird milk.” And that’s how Ptasie Mleczko came to be in 1936.
Nevertheless, recipes for similar milky fluff-like desserts of various flavors also appeared in old Polish cookbooks. One such example could be The Universal Cookbook by Maria Ochorowicz-Monatowa from the early 20th century.
To protect the name, Wedel trademarked it around 1939 (not the best of years, don’t you think?).
Unfortunately for the company, the trademark did not last forever. When it expired in the 1950s (thanks to communism), a plethora of confectionary companies released sweets under the same name. Notwithstanding, Wedel’s bird’s milk has stayed on the market and survived all of the changes in Poland, both political and social.
Nowadays, they are the only ones who hold the rights to the name Ptasie Mleczko. However, this does not mean that others cannot manufacture similar products but rather that they have to come up with their own labels. For example, Milka calls their version Alpejskie mleczko or Alpine Milk.
Since its creation, Ptasie Mleczko has been a favorite holiday confection among Poles. In fact, it became so popular that the idea spread all across Easter Europe.
It was during the Soviet era, the 1960s to be exact, that the brand ptichye moloko emerged in Russia. This term is still used to refer to both candies resembling ptasie mleczko and a soufflé cake. The cake consists of big blocks of spongy centers glazed in chocolate. Instead of gelatine, the more high-temperature-resistant agar-agar is used as a thickener.
Moldavians call their ptasie mleczko lapte de pasare. In Romanian, this name also means bird’s milk. Curiously, there is a traditional Romanian dessert under the same name, but it is very different from Polish candy as it consists of merengue “dumplings” doused in vanilla custard.
In Estonia, linnupiim (also bird’s milk in Estonian) is made by the Kaley factory. Similarly to the Russian version, this candy also contains agar-agar instead of gelatin. As of now, three basic flavors were released: vanilla, chocolate, and lemon.
Nowadays, you can also get a box of Ptasie mleczko in specialty stores or international food sections of supermarkets in many countries, such as the USA, the UK, Australia, Germany, Ireland, and Canada. If you cannot spot it anywhere, it is also possible to order some online!
All in all, one might say that the name is, in reality, a gross misnomer, both in the literal and figurative sense. Firstly, there’s no bird’s milk inside. Further, the candy is not only widely available but also affordable! So much for a rare and exclusive treat.
In my experience, ptasie mleczko is more often bought than made at home. Why? Mainly because the exact recipe is protected by the Wedel company. Nevertheless, it is not impossible to make it from scratch as there are some recipes on the Internet.
Generally speaking, the fluffy inside often is said to consist of milk, icing sugar, and butter. When it comes to the chocolate ganache, it contains flour, cocoa, baking powder, milk, and butter again.
Below, you’ll find one of such approximate recipes.
- 4 tbsps of cacao powder
- 2 tbsps of butter
- 2 tbsps of sugar
- 7 tbsps of cream (30%)
- tbsp of gelatine
- 50 ml of boiling water
- 6 raw egg whites (around 200g)
- ¾ of a glass of caster sugar
- 2 tbsps of lemon juice
- 2-3 drops of vanilla aroma
- 2 tbsp of gelatine
- 120 ml of boiling water
- Into a saucepan pour cream. Add butter, cocoa powder, and sugar. Put it on medium heat. Stir the mixture until it becomes uniform (no lumps!). Set aside.
- Boil some water. In the meantime, take a small bowl and pour the gelatine into it. When the water boils, add it to the bowl. Stir until the powder dissolves completely. While hot, pour the gelatine into the saucepan with butter, cocoa, and sugar and mix again.
- This time, we begin by preparing gelatine. Pour no more than half a cup of boiling water over two tablespoons of gelatin powder and stir until it dissolves. Set aside to cool.
- Separate the egg whites from the yolks. Beat the egg whites with a mixer, gradually increasing the speed and no longer than 3 minutes. Otherwise, the air bubbles might burst.
- Start gradually adding sugar. After each spoonful, increase the speed to the max until the sugar dissolves. When you ran out of sugar, add the lemon juice, and vanilla flavoring, and mix for one more minute.
- Now, you can add the gelatin and mix the mass at a minimum speed for a quick moment.
Now when you have all you need, you can start assembling your treats. You can try to recreate the small blocks, but I recommend just making it in a cake-like manner since it’s easier.
Spread a thin layer of ganache on the bottom of a 20×30 cm baking tin lined with parchment paper. This is your bottom chocolate layer. Now, pour the meringue mousse and level its surface. Pour the rest of the chocolate ganache and even out. Place the dish in the refrigerator for 2-3 hours at least to let it all set.