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The Night Witches & Vatrushka

Updated: Oct 12, 2021

Ages 9+ Total Time: 90 minutes WWII

This fantastic chapter of the history of WWII brings you into the adventures of the 588th Night Bomber Regiment of the Soviet Air Force. This all-female regiment was renowned for including only exceptionally skilled, daring, pilots. During the siege on Stalingrad, the aviators of the 588th carried out nightly attacks on the Nazi forces surrounding the city. They were equipped with light planes that hardly announced their approach until they were close enough to cause damage. Night after night, pilots flew precision-bombing missions, getting close to their targets at great self-risk. The German soldiers dreaded these raids in the dark, and knowing the pilot were all women, they nicknamed them The Night Witches. The young ladies, in turn, adopted the name with pride.

This incredible tale was introduced to me by my feminist student William, who also co-taught the class at our local library. We paired it with the Russian pastry of Vatrushka, that is mentioned in the book Night Witches, by Kathryn Lasky.

Tatyana's Vatrushka


1 tsp yeast

2 Tbsp sugar

1/4 cup lukewarm milk

1 cup all-purpose flour

pinch of salt

1/2 tsp vanilla

1 egg white

1 Tbsp butter


6 Tbsp ricotta cheese

1 egg yolk

1 Tbsp sugar

1/2 tsp vanilla


  1. Whisk together yeast, sugar, milk - and wait 5 minutes.

  2. Add flour, salt, and vanilla - and stir.

  3. Add egg white and butter - and knead.

  4. Let rise until volume doubles, minimum 45 minutes.

  5. Heat oven to 375F.

  6. Divide dough into 6 equal parts. Roll each piece into a ball, and flatten to a disc.

  7. Press the center of each disc to create flat-bowls of dough.

  8. Mix filling ingredients together and fill the center depression of each dough-bowl with the mixture.

  9. Bake at 375F until lightly golden, ~ 15 minutes.


A 45-minute Night Witches class

Baking History, Night Witches and Vatrushka
Library Class, William in the center

This class can be adapted into a shorter time frame:

  1. Prepare the dough ahead of time

  2. Introduce the topic (5 min)

  3. Shape dough, mix filling, and fill (15 min)

  4. Clean and bring pastries to oven (5 min)

  5. Bake / read from the book (10-15 min)

  6. Recap and hand out baked Vatruskas (5 min)


Knead to know more?

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