Syrniki are small, thick Ukrainian/Russian sweet cheese pancakes. They might not have a lot of ingredients and look a bit unassuming, but these little bites are soft, fluffy and deliciously good.
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Despite having probably spent almost as much time over the years in Russia as Germany and Spain, I have shared a whole lot more recipes from the latter two. In all honesty, that’s in part because I have a pretty mixed relationship with food in Russia.
I did indeed enjoy some lovely food including warming soups, homemade jams and elegant appetizers. But I also had some pretty questionable meals while volunteering at a camp in my late teens. We also had a number of challenges when I was there as a student, including very limited fresh produce beyond potatoes, carrots and cabbage.
Granted, some was timing and a lot has changed. And I’m sure many people had some pretty poor food experiences visiting Scotland, where I’m from, in years gone by, too (which is thankfully now much better).
But also what I think was true for both in the past was that the best meals were cooked at home. These little bites would be a perfect example. I doubt you’d find them in many restaurants, but they are a regular home treat for many in both Russia and the Ukraine.
What are syrniki made from?
The name “syrniki” (or syrnyky in Ukraine) comes from the Slavic word for cheese – “syr” (сыр, like pronounced “sear”)since that’s at the heart of these pancakes.
One thing that stood out when I was in Russia as a student was the range of dairy products. Not lots of types of cheese, but things like kefir, sour cream and others. The university cafeteria had a row of dairy-based drinks to choose from, and dairy would appear in many dishes too.
Tvorog, a kind of curd cheese, is the main ingredient in these little cheese pancakes. To that you add just a little flour and egg to keep them together and some sugar to gently sweeten them. You can add grapes, too, if you like, and sometimes vanilla.
Tvorog is soft but relatively dry, creamy and with a slightly tangy flavor. Some translate tvorog as “cottage cheese” but it’s a little different. Cottage cheese uses rennet while tvorog is made with an acidic addition such as vinegar or lemon. A better translation or equivalent is farmer’s cheese or quark.
If you can’t find it – often you will only get it in specialist Eastern European stores – you can use farmer’s cheese or quark. You can also make it yourself using milk and vinegar and/or lemon juice. Another alternative is using ricotta, but you will probably want to drain it a bit first and the flavor is slightly different.
An unusual method
One thing, other than the flavor and texture of course, that makes these pancakes stand out is how you make them. The mixture is relatively thick and so you handle it almost more like a cookie dough. After you mix all the ingredients, you then take spoonfuls, round them off, and pat them with flour.
This flour coating then crisps up a little and browns when you fry the pancakes. At the same time, the inside is still light and soft since it’s mainly cheese and egg. So you get a lovely balance of flavors and textures. You can probably see now why some describe them as a cross between pancakes and cheesecake, or a sweet cheese fritter.
How to serve these cheese pancakes
You can serve these in much the same way as you would serve any sweet pancake. A little syrup would go pretty well. Typically, though, you would serve these with jam or some fruit compote and, of course, a little of the local favorite sour cream (smetana) on the side.
The mix of fruit, sour cream and puffy pancake is incredibly tasty, so I definitely recommend trying!
Syrniki are light, gently sweet and wonderfully soft little bites. They pair perfectly with fruit in pretty much any form to make a delicious breakfast or try them for dessert. They’re easy to make and a wonderfully comforting treat.
Try these other pancake recipes:
Syrniki (Ukrainian/Russian cheese pancakes)
These fluffy, gently sweet cheese pancakes make a delicious breakfast treat.
Services: 2 approximately
- 8 oz farmer’s cheese/quark 225g (tvorog)
- ¼ cup all purpose flour 35g plain flour
- 2 tablespoon sugar
- 1 egg
- ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
To coat pancakes
- 2 tablespoon all purpose flour plain flour
- 2 tablespoon oil approx, or around 1 ½ tablespoon plus a little butter
Place the cheese, flour, sugar, egg and vanilla for the pancake mixture in a bowl and mix everything together so that the ingredients are well combined but try not to over-mix.
Place the additional flour for coating in a small flat bowl or plate. Using either a cookie scoop or a dessert spoon, take a spoonful of the pancake mixture and then lightly round it off in your hands to form a round patty. They are usually on the thick side compared to regular pancakes, but also not just a slightly squished ball.
Place the pancake into the flour for coating to coat underneath, carefully turn it over to coat the other side then gently shake off any excess. Set aside on a plate and repeat forming and dredging in flour with the rest of the mixture. You should get between around 7 and 11 pancakes, depending on quite how big you make them.
As you are working on forming the pancakes, warm a small skillet/frying pan over a medium heat (non-stick or cast iron is best). Add the oil (and butter, if using) and let it warm.
Once the oil is hot, add a few of the pancakes to the skillet. If you’re using an 8in (20cm) skillet you probably want to only cook around half at a time so that you don’t overcrowd the pan.
Cook the pancakes for around 3 – 4 minutes until the underside is gently brown then turn and cook another 2 – 3 minutes on the second side. Remove from the skillet and drain on kitchen paper to remove excess oil. Cook the rest of the pancakes.
Serve warm with eg berry compote, jam and (optional though popular) sour cream/creme fraiche (smetana).
See also below re making your own.
I have made these on the smaller side given the size of my scoop so got 11, but slightly bigger is more typical.
calories: 370calories | Carbohydrates: 35g | protein: 21g | Fat: 17g | Saturated Fat: 2g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 4g | Monounsaturated Fat: 10g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 82mg | Sodium: 77mg | Potassium: 56mg | fiber: 1g | Sugar: 17g | Vitamin A: 119UI | Calcium: 16mg | Iron: 1mg
I’ve drawn on a few recipes, along with what I remember from years gone by, in making these, particularly this Vitalinka recipe and this Babaganosh recipe. I also adapted this Olga in the Kitchen recipe to make my own tvorog. I made mine with 4 cups milk, 1 tablespoon white vinegar and 1tbsp lemon juice which yielded almost exactly the right amount for this recipe.
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