Saturday, 12 May 2012

Syrniki - russian quark pancakes

I guess I should begin by apologising for another pancake post right after the last one. But then again, who wouldn't love pancakes? To celebrate the weekend, and to make up for calories lost to rather heavy cardio lately (because the tub of Ben&Jerry's I had yesterday didn't quite do it...), I wanted to make a mean weekend brunch. When it comes to cooking, and particularly weekend brunches, I definitely don't have a problem trying to think up things to cook. Quite the opposite, my problem is that there is only two possibilities for weekend brunch each week, which leaves me with an ever growing list of recipes I want to try out, or old favourites I want to revisit and maybe pimp a bit. 

Talking about long lists, I have to go off on a tangent here for just a second. If you haven't used Evernote, I want to take a few sentences to introduce you to the software that is currently the only thread of sanity keeping my crazy life together. Basically, it's a software that allows you to organize notes into notebooks, tag them with key words and attach documents and figures. It's fully searchable, you can use it online but there are also apps for the iPhone and iPad (and apparently for Android as well, Google tells me). And the best thing, it's free! Well, it's free to a certain amount of data a month, but for my use it's good enough. The only downside with free Evernote is that you need to have access to the internet to see your notes. I always keep forgetting this. For me that only makes it useful in the UK, as I tend to turn off roaming when I go abroad (oh, the joys of a scientist's salary, you can't even afford to go online... sigh). There are also other apps in the Evernote family such as the very imaginatively named Web Clipper which allows you to save webpages, draw (Skitch) or study more efficiently (Evernote Peek). There even seems to be an Evernote food app, which I only discovered now as I was browsing the Evernote webpage while writing this post. I'm not sure what the Evernote food app would have that would make it better than Evernote proper but I'll have a look at that later. What I love about Evernote is that I can make my notes wherever I am, online on my work computer or using the app on my phone. I have standard notes like grocery list, ideas for presents etc which I can update as soon as I remember that I need to buy something, or find a good idea for a present. Then I just pull out the appropriate note when I'm at the grocery store, or it's time for someone's birthday. I also keep a list of recipes I want to try. As soon as I come across a good recipe in a food blog or a magazine I clip it or take a picture of it and save it. Then I have a library of easily browsable and searchable favourite recipes when I plan next week's menu, with all the ingredients already listed so I can just copy and paste to my grocery list.

But this wasn't supposed to be about making notes, it was about that oh so lovely lazy weekend brunch. This time I chose to cook syrniki, russian quark pancakes out of two reasons. I have been craving them ever since I saw the recipe posted on one of my favourite food blogs, Kauhaa ja Rakkautta a few weeks ago, and because I had a tub of quark in my fridge which was about to go off. So this recipe is stolen from that blog, and the blogger actually has adapted it from the oh so glamorous Pirkka magazine. For the non-Finns (if anyone besides my mum and sis actually read this...), Pirkka is the monthly magazine of the K-food chain, one of the two largest grocery store chains in Finland. You get the magazine if you sign up for the K-food chain loyalty card. It's one of those silly magazines that mostly contain adverts for new products disguised as articles, but I always loved browsing it when it arrived. Even now, when I go back home to my mum's place, I love to read it. The foodaholic in me loves to read about new food products. Also, the recipes in the magazine are often very useful, the type of quick and easy everyday food recipes you need to spice up your food life, instead of always cooking those same old dishes. And again, I was off on a tangent, I seem to have a problem staying focused today.

Anyways, back to quark pancakes. Finnish cuisine is strongly influenced by our geographical neighbours, and from the Russian kitchen we have the influence of using a lot of dairy, particularly soured dairy. The selection of dairy products in Finnish supermarkets is (in my very unbiased opinion) superior to anywhere else in the world. There are so many different types of flavoured and unflavoured creams, soured creams (different types) and quarks. I don't understand why the Brits, who seem to love their cream, haven't discovered the joys of flavoured creams. Back home we have savoury ones, like cheese, pepper or my personal favourite goat's cheese and tomato as well as sweet ones. Just imagine topping your cupcakes with caramel or strawberry flavoured cream. There is also a huge selection of flavoured quarks, such as berry, white choc and lemon, lime and many others. And on top of all this, you get many of the varieties lactose free. The positive side of me being thousands of kilometers away from all those yummy dairy temptations is that it has been easy to reduce the amount of dairy in my diet, and I have to admit it has had some very positive effects on my health (this despite that I have the genetics to prove that I'm lactose tolerant). Anyways, the point of this rant was that growing up eating Finnish food, I am very used to having a lot of different dairy choices available. So, although I'm happy that there is (one brand) of quark available in my supermarket, at the same time it's very depressing seeing that one lonely quark sitting there among all the gazillions of cheddars. And it's a depressing, fat free variety. I would prefer to have one with a bit of fat in it, but even fat free quark is better than no quark. Ok, rant over, I guess everyone is now aware of my feelings about Finnish dairy.

So how about those syrniki, what on earth are they? The one and only official source for  information, Wikipedia, tells us "In RussianBelarusianLithuanianPolish, and Ukrainian cuisinessyrniki (Russian: сы́рник[и]; Ukrainianсирники;Belarusianсырнікі) are fried quark pancakes, garnished with sour creamjamhoney, or apple sauce." My mum used to make these quite often at some point, I think actually that might have somehow magically coincided with the time the recipe was published in the Pirkka magazine... This is one of those foods that I really liked, but didn't get around to ever making myself. You know how you just forget about some foods if you don't actively make them. Then, one fine day you stumble upon the recipe and just remember such a food actually exists, and start craving it like crazy. Hopefully this has inspired you to try syrniki, you should be able to find quark at least in bigger supermarkets. And syrniki can almost be thought of as health food (cough, cough...). Well, at least compared to normal pancakes is that they have more protein thanks to the quark, and less carbs as there is less flour than in normal pancakes. Talk about rationalising...

Syrniki (makes about 16 small pancakes):
250g quark
3 eggs
65g white flour
30g sugar (this makes rather sweet pancakes, decrease or leave out if you are not a fan of sweet things)
10g vanilla sugar (again, optional, or replace with a splash of vanilla extract, or some vanilla pod seeds if you happen to have enough money to have vanilla pods hanging around unused)
14g melted butter

The batter is pretty  stiff, so the pancakes will keep their shape while cooking.
The howto:
Mix all ingredients, and let the batter stand for at least 15 minutes. This is not absolutely necessary if you just can't wait for your pancakes, but it does improve the texture of the batter and makes it a bit easier to cook. A pancake pan is optimal for cooking, but the batter is rather thick, so you can make small pancakes on a large pan as they will keep their shape rather well. I use about a topped tablespoon of batter per pancake. The batter doesn't contain much flour, so it takes a bit of patience to cook. Just make sure to stick to medium heat, and make sure the pancakes are properly cooked (turning a bit dark on the underside, with small bubbles forming on top) before you flip them over. That way they will not break during the flipping. Serve with berries, jam, fruit and/or maple syrup. Maybe even Nutella, ice cream or whipped cream if you are feeling very decadent.

The pancakes are ready to be flipped when they are golden
brown on the underside, and bubbles form on top.

One serving (1/3 of the recipe, or about 5 pancakes) contains 326 kcal (13g fat, 28g carbs, 19g protein). This is using low fat quark, and allowing for 1 additional tbsp butter for cooking the pancakes.

The verdict:
I cannot imagine a pancake I wouldn't like, and these are absolutely yummy. I just wish I could eat the whole batch in one go! The consistency is very different from traditional pancakes, they are much softer and more spongy. I think they are actually best eaten after they have cooled a little, that brings out the flavour of the quark much better. If you happened to like quark after trying these little dreamy things, check out my previous post about a quick and easy quark berry dessert.

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