Every so often, my husband makes too much kefir for the amount we drink each day. He makes about two quarts a day and every couple of weeks we have too much for our fridge. I'm always happy when this happens because it means we get to have fresh kefir cheese, and, when I can convince him to set the next day's kefir aside for more cheese, it means pankūkas! Pankūkas, also known as pancakes, or even Russian syrniki, are wonderful, wonderful munchies that I haven't found an easy way to make here in America. In Latvia, these little gems are made from biezpiens, which is a fresh cottage-type cheese. It's very dry, somewhat crumbly and made from uncooked milk (so it's different from ricotta); the closest we have in America is quark. What's a particle doing in the kitchen? Not much, apparently. At least here in the West, quark is unheard of, although Wikipedia notes that it's available in some areas of Canada as "baking cheese". After hitting several Russian markets in Salt Lake, I gave up. It's just not commercially available. When we bought our live kefir grains from the Kefirlady, she sent along a packet of instructions, including how to make some basic cheeses, including a basic cheddar-type hard cheese. We were new to the kefir-production gig and we screwed up a few batches while we figured out just what we were doing. One of those accidents resulted in a very hard separation of curds from whey, so after he (grumblingly) fished out the stressed grains, we ladled the curds into a colander lined with cheesecloth and let it rest overnight. In the morning, we found a thick cream cheese-style cheese that tasted divine. We added some salt and herbes de provence, then set about repeating it. This time, we fished the grains out and left the batch of kefir to set and separate naturally. The next morning, we ladled it into the cheesecloth-lined colander and waited again. Success! But, I asked, what if we pressed this? What would happen? So, we dug up a mixing bowl with a lid, filled it with water and set it atop the cheese. The great thing about this type of cheesemaking is that it's 5 minutes of work for every 12 hours. The bad thing about this type of cheesemaking is the waiting for results. In the morning, we lifted off the bowl and stared at the result. It looked, it felt, it even tasted like biezpiens! It wasn't, we knew, but if it looked like a duck and quacked like a duck, we could probably make pankūkas from it. By the way, you can try this too! You can do the same thing with buttermilk from the store. Just make sure you place a large bowl underneath your colander and leave it in the fridge. It'll take 24 hours, start to finish.

Fresh Buttermilk Cheese [printable recipe]

Pour buttermilk into a cheesecloth-lined colander set in a large bowl and let it drain overnight in the fridge. The next morning, empty the bowl, make sure the cheesy mass is still wrapped up well and set the smaller bowl of water (with its lid on tight!) on top. Let it drain until dinnertime in the fridge. Hopefully at the end of it, you will have a nice, thick cheese.

I've never tried making this with buttermilk, but it should work similiarly to kefir. From: The Cook's Thesaurus. A few days ago, I managed to convince my husband to make two batches of kefir we didn't need to drink so we could drain and press it into submission. He experimented a bit and wound up with creamy biezpiens instead of nicely dry, but we decided it would probably do. And, the impatient person I am, I wanted pankūkas for lunch that day.

Plain Latvian Pankūkas [printable recipe]

Combine egg, salt and cheese in a medium bowl. Add just enough flour to obtain a very thick dough-like batter. (The drier the cheese, the less flour is needed.) Set a nonstick pan with about a tablespoon of oil over medium to medium-low heat, then pat out rounds of dough with your hands into 1/2" thick pancakes. Drop them on the pan, careful not to crowd them. Cook, flipping once, about 3 - 4 minutes per side until golden brown and delicious. Remove to a plate, covering to keep them warm while the rest of the batch is cooked.

Bacon & Onion Pankūkas [printable recipe]

Fry bacon and onions until nicely cooked - browned on the edges, soft, crispyish bacon. Prepare pankūkas as above to a dough-like consistency then mix in well-drained bacon and onions. Mix well. Cook 1/2" pancakes about 3 - 4 minutes per side over medium to medium-low heat until golden brown and delicious.

  1. Kefir cheese isn't commercially produced here. You might be able to make it from (plain) commercial kefir, but I've never tried. It is, however, possible to make buttermilk cheese using commercial buttermilk.
  2. According to Cook's Thesaurus, it's also possible to drain and press cottage cheese to obtain biezpiens as well. You could probably make it from very well-drained ricotta too.
  3. You can also try these commercially produced cheeses: drained and dried small curd cottage cheese, queso fresco or queso blanco, fromage blanc... Any wet cheese will take a sizable quantity of flour, so dry and drain the cheese as much as possible.
  4. Sweet pankūkas can be made with raisins and dusted with powdered sugar.
  5. I always have my pankūkas with Thai Sweet Chili Sauce.