31 Jan Ryazhanka – Ukrainian Cultured Baked Milk
In the world of traditional Eastern European dairy, Ryazhanka stands out as a gem from Ukraine that embodies the essence of simple, rustic cooking. This fermented milk beverage, with its roots deeply embedded in Ukrainian culture, is one of my favorite examples of the ingenuity of ancestral cooking methods that can be used in modern cuisine.
At its core, Ryazhanka is incredibly simple. It’s made from two just ingredients – milk that has been simmered first and then slowly baked and then cultured with a dollop of sour cream or kefir. This process imparts a distinct caramelized flavor with subtle tanginess, and a rich, velvety texture. Unlike its cousins yogurt and kefir, Ryazhanka is characterized by a subtle sweetness and a gentle tang, a result of the natural fermentation process. This slow transformation of milk, which takes place over several hours in a warm environment, not only enhances the flavor but also increases the nutritional value.
The process of making Ryazhanka begins with heating the milk just until it reaches a boiling point and then slowly baking in a low oven (200F) until the flavor gets rich and caramel-like, about 8 hours. In traditional Ukrainian kitchens, this meant placing a pot of fresh milk into a pitch (a type of ancient clay oven) and allowing it to bake gently for several hours. This method infuses the milk with a unique caramelized flavor and imparts a rich, creamy texture. The milk transforms, taking on a golden-brown hue, indicative of its newfound depth of flavor.
Once the milk has been baked, it is allowed to cool to room temperature before being mixed with a small amount of already-made Ryazhanka or sour cream. This mixture is then left in a warm place to ferment, a process that can take up to 12 hours. During this time, the magic of fermentation turns the baked milk into Ryazhanka, a drink that is not only delicious but also packed with probiotics, beneficial for gut health.
Ryazhanka is much more than a fermented milk drink; it’s a rich source of calcium, vitamins, and protein. Its nutritional benefits make it a valuable addition to any diet, contributing to overall health and well-being.
Traditionally, Ryazhanka is savored in its pure form, chilled, and often accompanied by a spoonful of honey or a sweet pastry. Its versatility also extends to culinary uses, where it can be a base for custardy desserts, or even used in baking, adding a unique flavor to cakes and pastries. Personally, I love making Ryazhenka Ice Cream as it always reminds me of my childhood favorite treat – Burnt Cream Ice Cream.
The creation of Ryazhanka is a beautiful reflection of Ukrainian culinary heritage, a practice that extends beyond mere sustenance. Each batch tells a story of the land, the seasons, and the people who have passed down this timeless tradition through generations.
- 1/2 gallon whole milk
- 1/4 cup sour cream or another cultured dairy product like buttermilk or yogurt
- Begin by preheating your oven to 200°F (93°C). While the oven is warming up, pour the milk into a wide, heavy-bottomed pot. Heat it over medium-low heat just until it starts to simmer. Be attentive here; you don’t want the milk to come to a full boil.
- After reaching a simmer, remove the pot from the stove and transfer in your preheated oven. leave the pot uncovered. This slow baking process will take about 8 hours. During this time, the milk will gently reduce and caramelize and will form a thick dark film on the surface, giving the ryazhanka its characteristic flavor and color.
- Once the baking time is complete, carefully remove the pot from the oven. Let the milk cool down to about 110°F (43°C), which is warm to the touch but not hot.
- Remove the thick brown layer that formed on top and transfer the caramel colored dairy into a clean jar. Stir in the sour cream (or your choice of cultured dairy) with a small amount of the warm milk to make it smooth. Transfer the jar into a stainless still yogurt maker or place it in dark and a warm spot in your kitchen. You can even wrap it in a blanket. We want to slow down the cooling process, just like when you make homemade yogurt.
- Let ryazhanka sit undisturbed for about 8 to 12 hours for the fermentation process to occur. The milk will thicken slightly and develop a tangy flavor. After fermentation, stir the ryazhanka thoroughly. Refrigerate ryazhanka for at least 4 hours. This cooling phase stops the fermentation and sets the final texture of the ryazhznka.