A few weeks ago, I adopted a new live creature — milk kefir “grains,” florets of a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeasts. All this time we’ve been adjusting our lives to make each other happy. I was looking for the place in my kitchen with the best temperature, calculating the best timing to feed grains with fresh milk, working on logistics for constant harvesting and processing curdled milk. In return, these fascinating creatures were happily eating, maturing, and making thicker and more delicious kefir every next day. Eager to learn, I’ve been reading about kefir, watching the progress, observing changes in kefir aromas, textures, and flavor notes.
Now, I make 2 cups of kefir ever day with two pecan-size florets of kefir grains. My room temperature is 74F, and it takes about 24 hours for milk to ferment. I gently stir milk 2 or 3 times during that period to disturb the cloud of fermented milk that is forming around the grains as they eat, so they have access to more lactose in the rest of the milk. Another jar with 2 cups of milk and 4 kefir grains florets is stored in my vegetable refrigerator at 45F. Kefir grains are supposed to be barely active there, and I change milk for them every 5 days. At the end of the fermentation process, I strain kefir and refrigerate it. What is not consumed as a drink during the week, becomes an ingredient for fresh cheese.
I am very grateful to all artisanal kefir enthusiasts, who generously share the culture “grains” and their knowledge and experience of using them with everybody interested!
Step 2 — Kefir Fresh Cheese
Dictionaries usually translate TVOROG as curd cheese, cottage cheese or sometimes farmer cheese. In some countries it is classified as fresh acid-set cheese, though in Slavic cuisines it is traditionally considered a distinct fermented milk product. It is made by warming soured milk until the desired degree of coagulation (denaturation, curdling) of milk proteins is met, and then strained.
Traditionally, raw milk is placed in a warm place (24-26C/75-78F) for 24-48 hours to ferment by naturally present lactic acid bacteria. To start the process of fermentation in pasteurized milk, we need to add mesophilic Lactococcus starter cultures. To make kefir cheese, add kefir grains to a room temperature milk. When fermented, slowly heat kefir in a water bath to 50-55C/122-131F to coagulate (curdle) milk proteins. Strain separated whey, and your cheese is ready to eat. It can be stored in a refrigerator for up to 3 days. Kefir cheese or tvorog can be used as an ingredient in sweet and savory dishes. For desserts, sugar, vanilla, and raisins are often added to the cheese. To enjoy authentic flavors, try serving it as is with a little bit of good honey on top.
Step 3 — Kefir Fresh Cheese Pancakes
Traditional syrniki are made with relatively low-moist fresh cheese and don’t need a lot of flour. Less flour helps to maintain low-carb diet and appreciate the natural taste of cheese in cooked pancakes. Syrniki are light textured, soft and fluffy, with only a hint of sweetness and vanilla. Serve them hot or warm, with a dollop of sour or whipped cream. The more elements you add, the more exciting this dessert becomes. You can add fresh seasonal or preserved berries and fruits. On top of the cream, sprinkle syrniki with sliced and toasted nuts, or cocoa nibs, or any other crunchy crumbs to add more texture and flavor variety to the dessert.
In a large pot, bring water to boiling. Pour kefir into a bowl that fits inside the pot. Turm off the heat under the pot with simmering water and place a bowl with kefir into the hot water. Let kefir curdle for about 30 minutes. n 20 minutes you’ll see soft curdled mass and separated whey. Gently break the curd with a knife to let hotter whey from the sides and bottom of the pan to the center and top layers of kefir. If you use kitchen thermometer, the temperature of the center top area should be ~50C/122F.
Place strainer over the bowl. Line a strainer with an unscented paper towel or layered cheesecloth and strain whey. Strain it longer (overnight) or use light weights to make fresh cheese drier.
for kefir cheese pancakes
Combine cheese, egg yolk, salt, sugar, baking powder, flour, and vanilla extract in a bowl and mix well. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest for 30 minutes at room temperature to hydrate the flour.
In a skillet, melt clarified butter over medium heat. Divide the cheese mixture into 6 portions and use wet hands to form pancakes. Place them into the hot skillet, lower the heat to minimum, cover with a lid, and cook for about 5 minutes.
Flip the pancakes to cook them on low heat on the other side for another 3-5 minutes, covered. Meanwhile prepare warm plates, cream, and toppings. Serve pancakes when golden brown on both sides, hot or warm.