Thursday, April 9, 2015

At last: Slovenian Syrniki or Curd Cheese Pancakes (with a Passover option)

I first wrote about syrniki, or curd cheese pancakes, in the fall of 2013. I had just discovered them at a local farmers' market, where a Russian Jewish vendor was selling his homemade version. My first attempt at recreating the dish, while tasty, seemed too much like an American-style pancake. Ever since then, I have been trying to perfect my recipe.

In English, syniki are usually referred to as cheese pancakes, but a more accurate description might be cheese patties, croquettes, cutlets ("kotlety") or latkes, the familiar Jewish term. Since so many Eastern European groups have a similar dish, it seemed odd that Slovenians hadn't joined the party. I could have sworn I'd come across a recipe in one of my vintage cookbooks, but it was nowhere to be found.

I set out to figure out a recipe on my own. I was determined to duplicate the thick, mildly sweet patty sold by that Russian vendor.

Fortunately, I had access to the key ingredient: tart, homestyle farmer cheese or curd cheese. Belfiore, a small local company here in Berkeley, makes a very authentic version of Russian-style farmer cheese. Eastern European and Russian groceries offer even more choices. Here's a sampling:

For my second attempt, I started out with some leftover cheese filling from a tasty Slovenian blintz recipe. That filling, I realized, was very similar to most of the the authentic Russian recipes I'd seen: a single egg for a pound of cheese, along with a little sugar.  I just had to add some flour, along with a few other options I'd come across: a touch of cinnamon and vanilla, some lemon, and a little baking soda for leavening. This recipe came much closer to the farmers' market version.

I continued to experiment and learned that baking soda isn't absolutely necessary. The key is to use just enough egg and flour to serve as a binder for the cheese. The amounts can vary, depending on how much moisture the cheese contains. 

After all this experimenting, I finally found that elusive recipe for Slovenian syniki. It was hiding in the pastry section of my 1950s copy of Woman's Glory.  The ingredient list was essentially what I had figured out on my own, with cottage cheese instead of the more authentic farmer cheese:

1 lb cottage cheese
1 T. sugar
1/4 cup flour 
1 egg
1/4 t salt

The 1950s instructions suggest draining the cottage cheese, forming the mixture into "croquettes," rolling them in flour, and then frying in deep hot fat.

I took a look at the modern online site Kulinarika and found a similar recipe for "srniki" or "palačinke s skuto":

500 g cheese (translated as ricotta)
2 eggs 
2 T. sugar
3 T flour
1 T. baking powder (perhaps it should be teaspoon?)

This modern Slovenian recipe suggests making smaller patties (20-25 in all), coating in flour, pan-frying, and keeping warm in a 200 degree oven.

This week, I came up with my latest version of syrniki. It was a Passover variation, with matzo cake meal substituted for the flour. I thought I'd created something new, but an internet search revealed that Passover cheese latkes have been a Jewish tradition for a long time. This time around, I made one more discovery: The patties are much easier to shape if the batter is chilled.  In fact, this step is essential with the Passover version, since it takes a little longer for the moisture to be absorbed by the matzo meal.

Below is my master recipe, with a few variations noted.

Syrniki, or Curd Cheese Pancakes

1 pound (or 500 g) farmer cheese or curd cheese, preferably Russian-style
1 egg, well beaten
4-6 T flour
2 T sugar
1 t. vanilla (optional)
pinch of cinnamon (optional)
grated lemon rind (optional)
pinch or two of  baking soda dissolved in lemon juice (optional)

To make Passover cheese latkes: Substitute matzo cake meal for flour
Possible cheese substitutes: ricotta or cottage cheese, drained and sieved

Mix all ingredients together well, adding flour until you have a stiff batter. The texture should be closer to a drop biscuit than a conventional pancake batter. If possible, chill the batter for a half hour or more before shaping.

To shape: Drop heaping tablespoons or quarter cup scoops of batter onto a plate that is covered generously with flour or matzo meal. With floured hands, form into patties that are 1/3 to 1/2 inch thick. Coat well with flour. You should have 9-12 patties. If desired, chill.

Fry patties in oil until browned on both sides. Keep warm in oven until serving.

Serve with Greek yogurt or sour cream, fresh fruit, or preserves.



  1. They look great!
    I'm trying to remember where I had them--think Georgia when it was in the former Soviet Union--some variation and the only city with good food!

    1. Thanks for commenting, Pia! One of my Slovenian friends says Georgian food is wonderful!