A favorite recipe: Tvorozhniki (a.k.a. syrniki – cheese pancakes)

Tvorozhniki topped with blueberries and sprinkled with powdered sugar

Well, for a complete change of pace, I can’t resist posting this recipe as it’s one of our family’s favorites and definitely a tasty “tradition” worth passing along. I first tasted these thick cheese pancakes during a school trip to the Soviet Union in April 1977. In Moscow, we stayed at the “gi-normous” Rossiya Hotel along the Moscow River; once the largest hotel in the world with a capacity for 4,000 guests, it was torn down in 2007 to make way for an entertainment complex.

The gargantuan Rossiya Hotel along the Moskva River; photo taken by me in April 1977

The hotel was situated on a very historically significant parcel of land in Moscow, an area known as Zaryadye. The neighborhood was originally demolished in the 1940s, much to the dismay of most Muscovites, to make room for a skyscraper. The skyscraper was eventually scrapped and the hotel built in its place.

A couple of historic Zaryadye structures that were spared during the Rossiya Hotel’s construction; photo taken by me in April 1977

A few small historic structures, including a 16th-century boyar residence and the 17th-century Church of All Saints, were left intact, thankfully. In any case, it was in that enormous Soviet hotel that I had my first taste of tvorozhniki; together with a sweet roll with poppy seeds, they were a highlight of every breakfast. Once you get the knack of making them, they’re very easy to produce.

Another glimpse of a church in the background that survived; photo taken by me in April 1977

Tvorog is a cheese slightly reminiscent of cottage cheese in appearance, but the latter definitely will not do. Given tvorog‘s absence in most US supermarkets & grocer’s, you’ll need to buy or make farmer’s cheese. I’ve heard it’s readily available for purchase but frankly I have never looked; it’s really very easy to make, and there is something very satisfying about making your own cheese.

To make farmer’s cheese, I recommend using this recipe. There are others out there, but this seems the simplest to me. All you need is a gallon of milk (whole is best) and a quart of buttermilk (or 1/2 cup vinegar or 1/2 cup lemon juice). Going the buttermilk route, you should end up with roughly 1.5 – 2 lbs. of farmer’s cheese.

  • In a large pot, combine milk with the buttermilk (or vinegar or lemon juice).
  • Stick it in a warm place (back of kitchen counter is fine) until it becomes the consistency of thick yogurt (this takes from 12-24 hours).
  • Put pot over the heat (use the lowest setting possible) for an hour. No need to stir unless you like a grainier consistency.
  • After an hour, you should find that the curds have separated from the whey.
  • Remove from heat and cool for 1/2 hour.
  • Cut strips of cheesecloth and use them to line a colander.
  • Pour the cheese and whey into the colander (get help with this part since the cheesecloth can cave into the colander if you are not careful).
  • Drain the cheese for several hours, ensuring the end product is as free of liquid whey as possible.
  • Refrigerate until ready to use.

View from west-facing entrance of Rossiya Hotel, photo taken by me in April 1977

As for tvorozhniki recipes, there are variations out there, and generally speaking, all are good. This is the one I have been using lately (and I love it!). It is a slight variation of the recipe from the excellent 1990 Russian cookbook Please to the Table with a bit of borrowing from the 1983 Russian cookbook, A La Russe: A Cookbook of Russian Hospitality.

Tvorozhniki Ingredients -Yields 12; allow a minimum of 2 per person; of course, there is no need to cook them all up at once; make half now and save the rest for another morning, but use within several days (or freeze and thaw when ready to use).

1/3 cup raisins
1 lb. farmer’s cheese
2 large egg yolks, beaten
1.5 Tbsp sour cream
1/3 cup flour, plus a little extra for dusting the pancake patties
2 Tbsp uncooked cream of wheat (not instant)
3 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
grated 1/2 lemon peel (optional, but I always try to add it in)
4 Tbsp butter

  • Combine farmer’s cheese with the raisins, egg yolks, sour cream, 1/3 cup flour, cream of wheat, sugar, grated lemon peel, and vanilla. Mix completely, and add in the salt at this time.
  • Form a large roll (like a sausage roll). Wrap in plastic & refrigerate overnight.
  • Cut 12 slices from the roll; form each into a flat round patty (about 3.5 inches across).
  • Dust both sides of each patty with a little flour.
  • Melt the butter in a large non-stick skillet over medium heat, and fit in as many patties as you comfortably can. They are done when they are golden brown (YUM!) on both sides.

Tvorozhniki served with fresh raspberries and drizzled with honey

Serve the tvorozhniki immediately with the traditional Russian toppings of sour cream and berry preserves (black currant/raspberry/loganberry) or, in their absence, experiment with honey, maple syrup, and other jams/preserves. No matter what you select, they will be delicious!

Приятного аппетита! (Bon appetite!)

Update 3/16: Since writing this post, I have made these many times. When I noticed farmer’s cheese on sale at my local store six months ago ($5/lb.), I started buying it—it’s definitely a time-saver, and the result is just as tasty. So I guess, it’s a matter of preference, and how much time you have, and what supplies you have on hand.

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