If you attend a potluck and no one touched the dessert table, don't worry, all those glorious cakes don't need to go to waste. Gather up the leftovers and recycle them into a Louisiana favorite, a Russian cake.
Now, Russian cake is not related to Russian tea cakes (also delicious!) but is instead a sort of trifle, hence its other name, Creole trifle. The cake is delightfully made up of scraps of other cakes, pressed into a pan, and soaked in a combination of juice and wine or rum. It's a delicious use of leftover cake, should you live in a home that has such a thing as leftover cake.
According to local legend—and a fan of the dessert writing in to the Baton Rouge paper, The Advocate—the cake's origin story began with the impending visit of Grand Duke Alexis of Russia back in 1872 to celebrate Mardi Gras. The baker charged with feeding the Russian royal had a small hiccup, though: no ingredients! Not one to disappoint a nobleman, the intrepid baker took pieces from a whole bunch of other cakes, pressed them together, and drenched the Franken-confection in a boozy syrup.
However, as Atlas Obscura points out, food historian Michael Mizell-Nelson put that theory to rest in a well-researched piece he published in 2015. According to Mizell-Nelson, Russian historian Lee Farrow, professor of history at Auburn University, wrote an entire book on the Duke's tour of the United States and found nothing to support the still-charming legend. Mizell-Nelson believes the Russian cake is more likely a version of an older dessert like a raspberry trifle, a German rum-soaked dessert known as a punschtorte, or even the molded dessert known as Charlotte à la Russe, which translates as "Russian-style charlotte." Or perhaps, the cake came to New Orleans when soldiers returning from World War II had developed a taste for trifles.
So how did it earn its evocative moniker if it had nothing to do with the Grand Duke? According to Mizell-Nelson, "quite likely the name transferred from 'Russian tea,' which in the late 1800s meant any drink containing rum." While its origins are a bit of a mystery, one thing everyone can agree on is that this "jambalaya of all cakes" is delicious.
If you want to try making a Russian cake at home, The Advocate's version calls for cake, apple juice or pineapple juice and bourbon. Nola.com has one recipe that includes 5 to 6 cups of broken cake, sweet juice, and red wine and another recipe that requires 15 pounds (!!) of cake, rum, and some light carpentry. Or you can pick one up at Haydel's Bakery in New Orleans, where they have been whipping them up for generations.