Syrniki (Ukrainian Curd Pancakes)

Recipes that people torture to fit macros are awful, and I hate them.

(Does he mean the recipes, or the people? Both, damn you.)

‘Fitness food’ — a shotgun blast of macronutrients assembled with all the finesse of a blacksmith changing a tractor tyre. Usually justified with the phrase “it isn’t so bad, once you get used to it!”

That phrase isn’t for food. That phrase is for 60-rep Javorek complexes and working overtime and driving cross-country overnight and having children. There is absolutely no requirement that once food is good for you, it sacrifices being, well, nice.

Pure rock fury.

These gorgeous beasts are syrniki — Ukraininan curd pancakes. They taste absolutely brilliant, and they’re quite simple.

And while I’d rather generally remove my fingers with piano wire than give exact macronutrient profiles of recipes, because for most people I think that’s totally counterproductive, the serving you see above (two medium pancakes) has 60 grams of protein in it.

Not a misprint. Sixty.

Background

Starting from the German border, cheese culture changes as you go east. What we imagine as cheese in the French tradition drops away really fast as you go east — here in Poland, for instance, all the fancy cheese is French and all the local stuff is pre-cut slices of square block-yellow monstrosity. Eastern Europe doesn’t go in much for hard cheese.

What they do have are a massive array of FRESH milk recipes — curd cheeses, yoghurts, baked milk, buttermilks, kefir, and (my favourite) tvarog.

This is ‘farmer’s cheese’, similar to cottage cheese but a) it doesn’t taste like chalk and crying, it’s a bit smoother, and b) it has about twice the protein.

Yes, TWICE.

The word is Russian originally, but Poland (twaróg) and other countries have pinched it. It’s closely related but sometimes not 100% identical to German quark. The boundaries between these things are fluid and difficult to fully understand.

The most common use of twaróg in Poland is probably twarozek, which is a savory dip or spread made of soft cheese, chives, garlic, spring onion, and so on. I’ll be honest with you — I’ve had it in a milk bar (bar mleczny) and made it a few times, and while I see the point, it’s as exciting as a wet Saturday.

Let’s leave the finer points of difference between the products, so I don’t end up using words like thermophilic. Let’s just eat the damned stuff the best way possible — syrniki.

Recipe — Ingredients

250g twaróg chudy (This is 0% or 3% fat, chudy means thin — you should be able to find it at an Eastern European delicatessen. A ‘farmer’s cheese’ will do in a pinch… cut the salt down below if you get a salty one.

Or, you can make your own… it’s simple but it takes a day or two. Regardless, it should be fairly dry — the recipe won’t work if it’s loose. Protein content is a good indication of how much it’s been drained, mine here has 20g per 100g.)

1 egg

1 level teaspoon of salt

2 heaped teaspoons of sugar

About half a cup of normal white all-purpose or cake flour

Recipe — Instructions

Mix the twaróg, egg, salt and sugar in a bowl with focus and fury. You can’t really over-mix at this stage, so go to town. Twaróg has a crumbly kind of texture which we want to mostly remove for pancakes. Keep mixing until it’s almost completely smooth, which will take a few minutes.

(If your wrist hurts, go back in time and choose a different childhood where you didn’t grow up to be such a big sook.)

Now, add about a third of a cup of flour. Mix it gently until JUST combined. You want a fairly wet kind of dough, it should be sticky but come together well into a single clump.

I think ‘blomp’ should be the word for this, it’s halfway between a blob and a lump.

Heat a non-stick pan on your stove-top to medium-high heat, add a tiny bit of oil (you don’t need much), and swirl it until the oil is fluid and coats the surface. Turn the heat down to medium/medium-low.

Wash your hands. Leave them wet.

Scrape out half the mixture into your wet hands, using your fingers like a spatula. Roll it between your hands, and it should form a clump. Drop it in the pan, and spin it several times to get the bottom surface to seal to the pan nicely. Don’t drip water into the hot oil!

Wet your hands again.

Use your wet fingers to ‘prod’ the top of the dough ball until it starts to flatten out. When it’s pancake shaped, agitate the pan so it doesn’t stick. Do this every 90 seconds or so until it’s cooked on one side (four or five minutes). Flip it. Cook until done, another one-and-a-half to two minutes or so.

It’s hard to get it wrong, but it is possible…

Greater love hath no man that he deliberately sod up his breakfast for the edification of others.

On the left, pan too hot. See the edges blackening? You run the risk of this burning properly and turning acrid. If the edges are bubbling aggressively while it’s cooking, this is what happens if you don’t turn it down.

On the right, not enough oil. See the ‘glassy’ brown surface? It sticks to the damn pan, and it cooks at ‘two speeds’, with a browned outside and a raw inside. Remember to re-oil the pan — not much, just enough — for each fresh syrniki.

To serve? Whatever you like. I like finely sliced green apple and natural yoghurt for a bit of acidity, as these are wonderfully rich and a tiny bit sweet/salty.

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