‘I am going on a kefir diet’
I recall my mum saying on numerous occasions when I was growing up, in her Goethe-hell-like attempts to become more svelte.
Needless to say it is the Boxing day today and so I’m in a post-gorging guilty pleasures mood.
I have written about kefir before here – the popular Russian yoghurt like dairy drink. The healthy benefits of kefir (fermented dairy drinks are digested much easier and can be digested even by many of those who are lactose intolerant) were widely circulated. I also always thought that there was something cleansing, purifying about the ingestion of this white drink with a light fizz at the end.
Champagne on a detox of a kind.
But when kefir was the drink of the adults (at least dieting Soviet women adults) – ryazhenka, or baked milk was the choice of the children.
Ryazhenka is another ancient Russian (some say rather Ukrainian) fermented dairy product.
Sometimes ryazhenka is translated as baked milk because to prepare it you first bake milk in a low heat oven. This turns the milk into a beautiful cafe con leche colour. The taste too becomes more mellow, creamier. However, to turn it into ryazhenka you then add a bit of sourcream and leave the milk to ‘sour’ for 12-24 hours.
The result is a thick, naturally quite sweet, yoghurt like substance, that is as versatile as yoghurt but, I find it has a more complex, tenderer flavour. Made at home of course ryazhenka is also infinitely better for you too.
Ryazhenka with a spoon of sugar mixed in used to be the Soviet child’s treat.
I am fascinated by the variety of Russian dairy products. I often remark with a disdain and surprise that the ex-Soviet lands don’t have a culture of cheese making. Not the way the French or even Brits do.
But then I realise that instead what we do have is an incredible number of fermented but fresh dairy products that do not required maturing. Fresh cheese, or curds, is a staple of Slavic (and Baltic) cuisines.In Tallinn supermarket shelves bulge under numerous types and varieties of tvorog, savoury, sweet, glazed, you name it. Then kefir and baked milk already mentioned, then prostokvasha (soured milk), sour cream, creams of different fat contents (some just used to add to coffee).
Why is it that we don’t make more mature cheeses? Lack of patience? Too severed climate?
Here’s how I made my ryazhenka – simple to no end. I keeps too for days in a fridge.
This is one of the ways I served it – as a dessert with orange zest, Vana Tallinn liquer and little sweet mushroom I bought in my local Lithuanian shop. Lovely.
I think ryazhenka is a beautiful and original Eastern-European version of English custard – you could serve it with a cake, over pancakes, in trifles.
How to make ryazhenka:
You will need about 1.2 lt or 2 pints of whole milk (ideally organic and unpasteurised, how I did here)
3 to 8 tbs of sourcream (I used raw by Hook and Son in Sussex, sold in many farmers markets including Borough market)
Turn the oven to 140 (if fan assisted) or 160 C.
1. Poor the milk into a heavy, thick bottomed casserole or saucepans and put in the oven for a couple of hours.
the mixture will form a brown skin after a while. you can just leave it but best to stir it in a couple of times and the skin gives additional flavour to ryazhenka (if you don’t like ‘bits’ in the finished result you can just take it out but I don’t).
2. after 2-2.5 hours the mixture will take on a creamier, slightly more tanned colour. take it out of the oven and cool for an hour or so (until you can easily put your finger into the mixture). you don’t want it to be too hot as the added sourcream might curdle.
3. add your sourcream and mix. you can add just a couple of table spoons of the cream as it will start the fermentation process, but if you add more, the consistency of the finished product will be much thicker which I prefer. so I put about 150 ml of sourcream this time, the resulted ryazhenka was as thick as really lush whipping cream.
4. cover the pot and wrap it in a blanket or several towels. put somewhere non draughty and let to ferment over night, anything from 8 to 24 hours. you can test and taste after 8 then 12 then 18 and then 24 hours and see what you like. once happy, chill.