The recipe for these fluffy little pancakes came to me via my Grandma Anne, whose family hailed from a small Jewish village in Ukraine. She called them ‘cottage cheese pancakes’, which always baffled me since cottage cheese has curds and the cheese in these pancakes was perfectly smooth. Eventually, after spending time in the Soviet Union, I worked out that the original cheese involved must have been tvorog, a smooth white cheese.
Pancakes ‘Syrniki’ au fromage blanc / Ukrainian ‘Syrniki’ pancakes
Given the absence of tvorog in the United States, my grandmother used baker’s cheese, which was smooth but very dry. To compensate for the dryness, her recipe called for adding ‘1/2 eggshell water’. This drove my mother crazy. It wasn’t scientific. Worse, the recipe called for ‘1/3 cup flour, more or less’. My reading of this situation is that my grandma cooked without a recipe, by feeling, and then one day transliterated what she’d done to a recipe card for my mom — who wanted to make the pancakes to please my dad.
Here in France, I make the pancakes using fromage blanc, a smooth fresh cheese that is wetter than baker’s cheese. Hence, I do not add the 1/2 eggshell water. Other cheeses that could be used, depending on where you live, include farmer’s cheese and quark. I suppose ricotta could be used in a pinch, but it doesn’t have the tang of the other cheeses.
An acquaintance of mine here in Paris who is from Moldova but ethnically Ukrainian says she makes her own tvorog for syrniki (the word, by the way, derives from the Russian/Ukrainian word for cheese: syr). This she does by heating fromage blanc to the boiling point, then draining it overnight through a colander lined with cheesecloth.
I’m not prepared to go that far, especially as one of the great advantages of syrniki is that they can be made in a matter of minutes. The cheese is mixed with eggs, flour and a little baking powder, and the batter is then fried in butter. Presto! The pancakes are traditionally served with crème fraîche/sour cream and jam, such as strawberry in the photo. They make a lovely brunch dish — perhaps for New Year’s Day?
Happy cooking, and Happy New Year.