See my post, On Baked Milk and Slow Cookers, for how to use a slow cooker to "bake" the milk before culturing.One night, when we still lived in Liepāja, we were at Rimi picking up food for the next day or so and my husband 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. (It actually wound up being my gateway to drinking kefir!) But, I hadn't had ryazhenka again since well before we left Latvia together (and neither has he), so when we saw our favorite Russian market1 had started carrying it, we picked up a bottle. It was expensive2 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 cooked cultured milk. Although many of the recipes out there on the Net call for boiling the milk and then cooling it to a culturing temperature, I found I didn't get consistent results. Honestly, this would eliminate what I feel is the best part of ryazhenka - the caramelized flavor. Boiling also came very, very close to simply creating another batch of buttermilk -- which is not the same thing at all. And when you factor in the pain of cleaning burnt milk off of the bottom of a pot (we don't have a dishwasher), it's more than I want to do. Much easier just to turn on the oven and forget about it for a few hours. 1. European Tastees in Ivy Place on 9th East in Salt Lake City 2. $3.50 for a quart, ouch!
Yield: About 1 quart
Preheat oven to 350F. Pour milk into an oven-safe 13x9 casserole dish and place in oven. Bake for 4 - 5 hours until a golden brown crust forms on top of the milk. Remove from the oven, let cool slightly so that the crust can be removed. The milk should be light tan. Continue to cool to between 105F and 115F.
At this point, the baked milk is rather good - very sweet with caramel notes. You can stop here, cool it completely and chill.
While the milk is cooling, get your vessel ready. I use a Yogotherm, a styrofoam contraption designed for culturing yogurt. You can use anything similar that will help the milk hold on to its heat as long as possible - a Thermos, insulated carafe, bowl wrapped in towels and a heating pad set on low (Alton's yogurt maker), etc. Pour the milk into the vessel and stir in 1/4 cup of buttermilk. Cover or seal the vessel and leave it in a warm place for 10 - 12 hours (i.e., overnight).
The next day, you should have ryazhenka! Pour off the ryazhenka into a bottle or pitcher and store in the fridge. It will be thick-ish, much like drinkable yogurt.