Easy Ryazhenka (Cultured Baked Milk) Pancakes

Nothing says “GOOD morning” like a hot stack of pancakes! Whether they’re buttermilk, blueberry, or banana chocolate chip, kid’s love ’em and this recipe literally takes 5 minutes to whip up… but there is a “secret” ingredient: Ryazhenka.

pancake-1One morning, as I had my flour, baking powder, sugar and salt all whisked together, I realized I was out of milk. Darn. Always the problem solver, my eye caught the carton of ryazhenka chilling in the back of the fridge and that morning, Easy Ryazhenka Pancakes were born. I’m not sure if I am the first person to add ryazhenka to pancake batter, most likely not, regardless, these are my spin on my favourite, classic buttermilk pancakes. (Recipe follows below)

pancake-2But first. You’re probably wondering what ryazhenka is? I did too. My introduction was at in eastern European market that I frequent when I impulse purchased a carton of Ryazhenka, I think it was the words, “probiotic cultured beverage” scrawled along the carton that grabbed my attention. If it’s probiotic, it’s got to be good for you amiright!?

Out of the carton it poured a thick texture, the kind that coats your lips, and it was creamy in color with a slightly sweet caramel flavor. I would describe it as a close relation to kefir or buttermilk, only not as sour, slightly more sweet sans any added sugar.

A quick Google search told me that ryazhenka is a baked milk that is popular in Ukranian and Russian cultures. Originally it was made by placing a clay pot filled with milk in a brick oven for a day until it became coated with a brown crust, hence “baked milk.” The scientific process explains that the milk’s prolonged exposure to heat causes the Maillard reaction: A chemical reaction between amino acids and reducing sugars that gives browned food its distinctive flavor. I learned that, this same reaction also occurs in bread crust, bakery products and coffee, seared steaks, pan-fried dumplings, cookies and other kinds of biscuits, breads, toasted marshmallows too.

Now that I was using ryazhenka, I wanted to know if this Ukraninan/Russian baked milk was actually healthy. I found that it’s packed with billions of gut-friendly bacteria and is naturally high in protein and calcium. Full of essential vitamins (including B12 and B2), it’s also free from any artificial colours, flavours or preservatives and is naturally low in lactose. Even better, despite its slightly sweeter taste, there’s absolutely no added sugar. Great!

I also learned that in Russia ryazhenka is a popular children’s drink, served alongside a piece of sweet bread or dried fruit. But, adults love the creamy and thick texture too, and pour it over muesli or granola or simply drink it on it’s own as a satisfying and guilt-free snack. Some even swear by it’s cosmetic benefits. For softer skin, a liter of ryazhenka can be added to bath water. It’s said that skin will look smooth and healthy after soaking for just 15 minutes. Repeat monthly for best results.

If you’d like to try fresh ryazhenka, but can’t get your hands on any, it’s easy enough to make at home. Traditionally, sour cream is used to trigger fermentation, but you could also use kefir or buttermilk. Note: sour cream cultures will make a creamier and thicker texture.

ryazhenka-beets-n-bonesRyazhenka or Russian Cultured Baked Milk

Prep time 5 mins | Cook time 6 hours | Total time 6 hours 5 mins
Recipe and photo via Valeria from Beets ‘n Bones

Ingredients:
-Whole fresh milk, any amount (raw or pasteurized; the reason I say ‘fresh’ is it shouldn’t show any signs of souring, otherwise the milk will curdle)-1 tablespoon sour cream (or kefir) per 2 cups of baked milk. Kefir grains can be used as well, if you don’t mind straining them afterwards. I would use no more than 1 grain per quart of milk.

Preparation:
  1. Put milk into a slow cooker and leave the lid slightly open (to allow moisture to escape); turn on low and leave for 8-10 hours, or until a golden crust forms. I heard cooking it on high for 4-5 hours works well also, but haven’t tried it myself.
  2. ALTERNATIVELY:Put milk into a Dutch oven, place on the middle rack of your oven and turn it on to 225ºF. Bake uncovered for 6-8 hours, or until the top crust turns golden brown color.
  3. Remove the crust, and eat it – it’s amazingly delicious!
  4. Cool baked milk in refrigerator in order for the fat to harden so you can remove it. (This step isn’t necessary but it makes the texture of ryazhenka creamier and more appealing). Strain through a fine strainer into a glass jar.
  5. Add a tablespoon of sour cream (or kefir) for every couple of cups of baked milk (the amount you add doesn’t matter that much, it will ferment even with a very small amount). Cover tightly, and leave at room temperature until it thickens (anywhere from 4 to 12 hours). Higher temperature will speed fermentation. The final product will be thick enough so that a crust (if you were to put it back in) would stay on top without sinking.
  6. Ryazhenka keeps well in the fridge for a 2-3 weeks.
  7. If you prefer pourable consistency – shake it well. Unshaken it has a thick yogurt-like texture.
Notes
Allow 5-24 hours for room temperature fermentation.

Pancakes.JPGEasy Ryazhenka Pancakes

Makes 6-8 Pancakes
Ingredients:
1 cup All-Purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1  cup ryazhenka
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 large egg
1 additional tablespoon butter
Assorted toppings, such as butter, maple syrup, confectioners’ sugar, honey, jams, preserves, sweetened whipped cream, or chocolate syrup

Preparation:
In a small bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt; set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together buttermilk, melted butter, and egg. Fold dry ingredients into milk mixture; mix until just moistened (do not overmix; a few  lumps are fine).

Heat the additional 1 Tablespoon butter in a large skillet over medium heat.

For each pancake, use a 1/4 cup measuring cup to drop batter onto the skillet into rounds. You should be able to fit 3 to 4 pancakes in a large skillet).

Cook until surface of pancakes have some bubbles and a few have burst, 1 to 2 minutes. Flip with a spatula, and cook until browned on the underside, 1 to 2 minutes more. Serve warm, with desired toppings.

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