Ryazhenka is the best thing that can happen to you as far as Russian dairy products are concerned. It tastes like nothing on earth - as a fermented product ryazhenka though is not sour at all. Quite the opposite, it is very smooth, creamy and even slightly sweet. Depending on its consistency, which can be runny or quite thick, ryazhenka is something in between a drink and a dessert.
Nobody knows for sure when and who firstly came up with this unique recipe, but originally it was invented in Ukraine and then spread all over the Slavic region. The name ryazhenka comes from an Old Slavic word meaning “to fry” and is relevant to the cooking process used in its recipe. In Ancient Rus they mixed milk with cream in special earthen pots and left them in a stove for hours on low heat until ryazhenka thickened enough.
Ryazhenka is made of so-called “baked” milk, which is quite widespread in Russia though hardly known in non-Slavic countries. It is made by simmering milk on a low heat for several hours. Today you can buy it almost everywhere in Russia, though some still prefer to bake milk by themselves. If you have never tried baked milk imagine regular cow's milk with a hint of caramel taste and color. This surprising flavor without added sweetener comes from the natural sugars that develop in the simmering milk.
For me, ryazhenka is the best late supper, breakfast and even lunch. It is really healthy and a very clean product without any external bacteria. Another great thing about it is that ryazhenka is itself a perfect ingredient for baking. My granny taught me to use ryazhenka instead of milk, yoghurt or kefir in pancakes and waffles and this became one of my baking secrets. Believe it or not, but since then I am always asked what makes my pastry so special. Seemingly quite complicated to prepare, ryazhenka is an extremely simple dish to make – just assemble the ingredients, find a spare 10 minutes to prepare and forget about it for several hours while it ferments.
In case you cannot find baked milk in your local grocery you can make it out of regular milk. Pour milk into a pan and bring it to the boil. Then put the hot milk in the oven, turn it on to 100°C (215°F) and bake for 5-6 hours until a golden-brown crust forms on top. All you have to do is to remove the crust and enjoy your caramel flavored baked milk.
To make ryazhenka heat baked milk to 35-40°C (100°F) in a pan.
Take about 3 tablespoons of fresh sour cream and mix it with 100ml of warm baked milk until it is smooth in texture. Here you have your zakvaska – a fermented base that transforms milk into ryazhenka.
Pour the zakvaska into the pan with the remaining warm milk and mix until you have an even consistency. Put the ryazhenka in plastic or glass pots and leave at room temperature covered in a towel or blanket. Wait until the ryazhenka thickens - usually between 4 and 10 hours but best to check hourly. As soon as you notice the ryazhenka has thickened, put it in the refrigerator and allow it to cool. If leaving ryazhenka at room temperature for too long it becomes sour.
The texture of ryazhenka depends on the amount of sour cream. The more sour cream the thicker the ryazhenka. Personally I prefer it slightly crusty on top and sticky inside.
Check out our text on kefir, a healthy and mildly alcoholic drink with a sour and slightly bitter taste.
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