Before I left for Latvia the first time, I figured I would try drinking kefir. I knew there were a lot of sour dairy dishes that I would be able to try and I wanted to have an idea what I was in for. So, I bought a bottle of plain kefir and took it home.
It didn’t go well. It tasted incredibly sour – so sour, I couldn’t drink it. It didn’t bode well.
I tried kefir, couldn’t drink it – but it was much milder than what I’d had in the States. It wasn’t bad, just too much for me. (To this day, my husband wonders if the bottle I bought had, in fact, gone bad without anyone knowing.) Buttermilk (paniņas) was right out. Then, one night we were at Rimi picking up food for the next day or so and he decided he felt like ryazhenka. He loves the caramelized taste of the milk and thought I might like it. I did, though I couldn’t drink much of it at once.
And that’s how I started being able to drink all these “weird” sour dairy drinks. It was all ryazhenka’s fault. By the time I left, I had developed a taste for kefir. When I came back, it was my drink of choice at restaurants and we often had a carton in the fridge.
But, I haven’t had ryazhenka again since well before we left Latvia together (and neither has he), so when we saw our favorite Russian market (European Tastees in Ivy Place on 9th East in Salt Lake City) had started carrying it, we picked up a bottle. It was expensive ($3.50 for a quart) but oh so worth it.
The price, not to mention the drive necessary to get there, put ryazhenka firmly into the area of “rare indulgence”. There had to be a way to make it.
After some research, I began to think that ryazhenka wasn’t that hard and we could have had this much, much earlier if we’d known. All it is, as the name implies, is baked cultured milk. The store-bought one had the same consistency and tang of buttermilk, so we started with that. Buttermilk’s easy to get and pretty cheap too, so if it went sour, it wasn’t a big deal.
As it turns out…
1 quart buttermilk
Preheat oven to 350F. Pour buttermilk into an oven-safe casserole dish (I used an 8″x8″ Pyrex baking dish) and place in oven. Bake for 4 – 5 hours until a thick brown crust forms on top of the buttermilk. Remove. Remove crust – ryazhenka should be the color of a latte – and pour ryazhenka into a jar or bottle and refrigerate overnight.