Thursday, June 4, 2009

Syrniki - Russian Cheese Pancakes

My attempt at making syrniki, bite sized cheese pancakes topped with raisins, is a tale of frustration, confusion and the Fall of Man in the kitchen. It is a sordid tale, not for the faint at heart. An epic struggle worthy of Mother Russia, the source of his recipe. Tolstoy only wishes he could have written this novel.

Well, short story. Is there anything shorter than a short story?

Oh, yeah. Blog post.

Okay. You're right. Tolstoy would have done it much better than I could. I told you this recipe had driven me into madness.

When I read the recipe in my Personal Trainer: Cooking program for the Nintendo DS I thought, “This is basically a cottage cheese pancake. That's sounds good. I've got all the ingredients on hand. I'll give it a try.”

This is how it starts, you know. The decent into hell. A small temptation leading to larger sins. But my stomach was growling and my mouth salivating. I was weak, and plowed forward into this evil recipe.

Equipment needed
Mixing bowls
Silicone spatula
Frying pan
Kitchen scale
Measuring spoons

10 1/2 ounces cottage cheese
2/3 cup sugar
3 tablespoons beaten egg
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon cooking oil
3 tablespoons raisins

The Sordid Tale

“Wait,” I thought. “10 1/2 ounces of cottage cheese? 3 tablespoons of beaten egg? Who thinks in these terms? Chemists, maybe, but cooks? Who came up with this recipe?” This would not be the last time I wondered about this.

First, as the recipe directed, I put the cottage cheese into a mixing bowl and broke it up with the rubber spatula. I don't have a kitchen scale so, I estimated how much cottage cheese actually made up 10 1/2 ounces. In retrospect, I probably should have separated more of the whey than I did. The recipe didn't tell me to, though, and I didn't think about it.

Next I added the sugar and lemon juice and began mixing them in. Gradually I added the egg, mixing well, and wondered again, “3 tablespoons? Who came up with this thing?” not for the last time.

I had a little trouble with this. The eggs slopped out of my tablespoon measure and onto the counter, quickly taking a detour to the floor. “@&$%!” I cursed, taking my first steps into madness. I cleaned up the counter and floor and then beat another couple of eggs into submission.

Setting that aside, and quickly repenting for swearing, I took another large bowl and combined the flour and baking powder. I made a well in the center and added the cheese and egg mixture all at once, mixing it all into a thin batter. “This looks pretty thin,” I thought to myself. “A lot thinner than any pancake batter I've ever seen. I wonder if I should add more flour?” Ignoring my instincts, I forged ahead into the darkness.

Next, I put the frying pan over low heat and added the cooking oil, as per the instructions. Five minutes later I wondered when the oil was going to heat up. “What's going on? @&$%!” I cursed, again. “Is my stove messed up?”

I turned the heat up to medium and waited a little longer, just so I could get the oil up to a high enough temperature that I could actually fry something, and then reduced the heat to medium-low.

Adding the batter, one tablespoon at a time, to the frying pan, I waited for the “happy sizzle” sound I am so used to. I didn't get one. “Rats!,” I cried, trying not to swear this time. “What's going on?” Still, I decided to be patient and see what would happen.

Next, I put a few raisins on top of each bit of batter. “These will look pretty,” I thought. Oh, no, my dear brothers and sisters. This was but another temptation along the way to the Fall.

Ten minutes later, the four pancakes I had poured finally were ready to turn over. Oh, I had checked them before. But no. These didn't “nicely brown,” as the pictures showed. Oh, no. “Nicely browning” these cakes were not. They went from white to white with near black caramelized regions in nothing flat.

As I tried to turn them over, they squished themselves together into a sausage like mass. “@&$%!,” I repeated, furthering my trek towards into the depths, and vowed to do better with the next batch. “Who the @&$%! came up with the recipe?” I wondered, not for the last time.

I also wasn't going to wait twenty minutes for four pancakes, so I turned up the heat.

After more failed attempts at 'nicely brown' and more cursing, I started getting better at turning them over. As the first two batches were done, I got daughters involved with the tasting.

“Oh, these are sooooo good Dad!” they said. I had to admit, they didn't look like the pictures in the recipe, but they were pretty good, if a little squishy when compared to normal pancakes.

After each batch was done, I started eating them out of reflex. These were good. I started to realize that I was eating them faster than I was sharing them. Once again, bad behavior had led me to even worse behavior. “Who came up with this recipe?”

After taking pictures of the last batch, I attempted to repent. “Hey kids, do you want any more of these pancakes? There's four left.”

“No thanks, Dad. But make 'em again sometime, will you?” the girls responded, sweetly.

Rats. Just like any other addict, I couldn't make myself feel good if they wouldn't partake of the addicting substance with me. I ate them all in a moment of guilty gulping.

Looking back at the last hour of my life, the troubles, the cursing, and my need to repent, I said, “I don't know if I'll make these again, sweetie. They were kind of a pain.”

I told myself I would repent of cursing and being selfish, and never dip into the depths of that particular tempting recipe again.


Who came up with this recipe?


Cori said...

The next time you try making these, I'd recommend that you try straining, rinsing and drying small curd cottage cheese very, very well. The type of "cottage cheese" used in these types of pancakes is very much not like our "cottage cheese" which is combined with cream. It's much closer to "quark" or "curd cheese" and resembles small, dry curdles of soft, fresh cheese.

Honestly, I've had the best luck making this type of cheese myself from kefir! It's nearly impossible to find the right type of cheese in this region. It's worth the effort because these types of Eastern European pancakes are extremely tasty!

John Newman said...

Wow! A fellow Tooelean! Thanks for the head up, Cori. I'll give this recipe another try.

I've never tried making cheese myself, but I've always wanted to. If you've got some good web resources for that, I'd love it you'd share them here.

Cori R. said...

I wish I had some great sites on cheese to share, but almost all of the blogs I follow don't discuss cheese except as an ingredient. I primarily use a couple of books and info from friends and family back in Latvia.

However, if I may insert a shameless plug here.. ;-) I'm in the process of starting up my own food blog and will have a few cheese-related entries posted this month. You're welcome to come take a look though it's still under construction. The first post, as it happens, is on ricotta. :)

John Newman said...

I'll do you one better. Hey everybody, go check out Cori's excellent post on making your own fresh Ricotta!

Now I have to find my calculator so I can do metric to standard conversions.

Cori R. said...

*laughs* I'd better hurry up and finish my next post!

Welllll, you could do that or just use the ratio - 1:4 buttermilk to milk. A quart to a gallon, a pint to 2 quarts, etc.. A pinch of salt to taste when done, et voila!