Lithuania: Varškės pyragas

Next is Lithuania!!

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First off, I want to say sorry for the delay. I’m actually quite late in posting this. This and the next country, Belarus, I baked a few weeks ago, back before presidential election caused this country (USA) to lose it’s mind. I have been slacking on writing these blog posts because I have been very invested in that situation, and figuring out what exactly I can do to fight the negative effects the results have caused and will cause. I’ve been pretty troubled by the whole thing, and I haven’t quite had the level of motivation I needed to write these. So sorry for the delay. But I’m making myself sit down and do it today! Today would actually be another baking day, but I only have one day off this week (today), and Thanksgiving is in four days, and it’s gonna get crazy, so I’m skipping my baked good today to catch up on blogging! (and do laundry/chores/figure out something to take to a potluck tonight.)

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Okay! This recipe was recommended to me by a lovely acquaintance of mine, Kristina, who is a native Lithuanian, now living in my home town back in Iowa. I had a lot of fun chatting with her, and hearing her recommendations of typical Lithuanian dishes! I want to make them all! But I ended up settling for this cottage cheese cake. To my fellow Americans, don’t be freaked out by “cottage cheese” and “cake” in the same sentence. Its not American style cottage cheese. In fact, I saw another blogger who tried to make this using American cottage cheese, and it didn’t work at all. The cheese required for an authentic Lithuanian cottage cheese cake is more like a crumbly farmers cheese, and might be hard to find if you’re not in Europe or have access to an eastern-European grocery store.

Kristina recommended an actual Lithuanian store/restaurant near Chicago, but I didn’t actually get to go there, because it’s out in a suburb. And since I have no car, getting there by public transit would have taken me almost 2 hours. So I did a little bit of research and found out that sometimes European stores may carry it, maybe under a different name. In Lithuanian its “Varske,” in Polish its “twaróg,” and Latvian its “biezpien.” One great thing about Chicago is that it is so international. You can probably find a grocery store from about any region of the world here. I knew there was a large population of Polish people living in Chicago, so I asked around for where the best Polish grocery stores were, in hopes that at least one of them carried this kind of cheese! Luckily, the first one I went to not only had it in stock, but had like seven different kinds! Since it was a Polish store, I was only looking for “twaróg”, and didn’t realize there was a package actually from Lithuania right beside the one that I grabbed! But in my defense, everything in that store was gibberish to me 😉 I know about three words in Polish, (none in Lithuanian) and 90% of the signs and labels in that store were in Polish. They were even calling out the ticket numbers for the deli in  Polsih! I loved it! I haven’t experienced the clueless feeling of being in an unfamiliar place since my time in South Korea, and I actually kind of love that feeling. It’s exciting! 🙂 So getting to go to this grocery store was actually the highlight of me week! The cashier couldn’t tell whether I spoke Polish or not, so he spoke to me both in Polish and English haha!
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Note: The store I went to was called Rich’s Foods and Liquors, and its in Harwood Heights, if anyone is wondering.
Note 2: If you can’t find this cheese near you, see if you can find Ricotta, a crumbly Farmer’s cheese, or Spanish “queso fresco”. Supposedly those would also work as alternatives.

Following the recipe was also a fun experience, since it used forms of measurement like “a glass” of something. A glass in my mind is like a drinking glass and would be a ton of an ingredient! Kristina said its about a cup, and I also took to the internet to make sure, and sure enough it’s about a cup, 200-250 ml. But since I was determined to be authentic, I borrowed one of my roommates small canning jars which was just the right size, and used that as my “glass.”
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A few notes about my experience making this: According to the recipe, after adding the cheese, you are supposed to mix it until it’s smooth. My batter not got very smooth. The cheese did break down a bit more, but it remained a bit lumpy, and I’m not sure how one would get it less so. I mixed this batter by hand, using both a spatula and a whisk, but I did use a hand held mixer with a whisk attachment for the stage of making it “smooth” hoping that it would help a bit. But I just left it lumpy, and I don’t think it was a bad thing?? Another note- I only baked the cake for 35 minutes instead of 40. I tend to rarely bake something for the full time limit if I’m just trying it out, and set the timer a few minutes short, and check it at that time to make sure it doesn’t get burnt or something. When I check it at 35 minutes, it was perfect, so I took it out. I guess just use your own judgement with your home oven. This recipe called for dried apricots, but said that raisins are more commonly used in this cake, so I used some golden raisins, since I had those on hand.

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The finished batter

This cake is not super sweet, it’s pretty mild. I took it to the weekly potluck I go to, and a few people commented on how they were expecting it to be sweeter than it was (but that wasn’t a bad thing). It looks similar to a cheesecake, but maybe just a little more cakey, and doesn’t have the same cream cheese flavor, so don’t be expecting that. According to Kristina, this cake is usually eaten with jam or apple sauce. The only two things I had on hand were apple butter and apricot jam, so I tried it with both of those! I’m not sure which one I liked better. I think the apricot jam went well, since there is a little citrus flavor in the cake from the lemon zest. But I also just really like apple butter, so I thought that was good too!

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hope I’m doing this right

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Let’s do a few current events, shall we?
-Lithuania’s president is concerned about what Donald Trump being president will mean for security and alliances of the world….CAN’T SAY I BLAME HER. Here, you can read the full article if you’d like, any mention of Trump just makes me angry these days, and I need to not go on a political rant everywhere. Here, enjoy!
-11 NATO countries have sent 4,000 troops to Lithuania for something called the Iron Sword exercises. It is a training exercise meant to “test the country’s ability to rapidly deploy a large number of troops” an will last until Dec. 2nd.  This is the largest Iron Sword exercise held yet, in recent years, there have only been as many as 2,500 troops participating. If you’d like to read more about this, here’s the article.
-Lithuania fears that Russia may try to invade during the transition of powers in America, to test NATO. Since Trump has stated unpopular opinions about the relevance of NATO, and he is about to be taking office in 2 months (WHY AMERICA, WHY??), Lithuania fears that if Trump doesn’t fully support it, Russia may see it as an opportunity to test it’s stability, since America is a powerhouse and influential nation. More on that here.

Ok I’m officially sad now, lets get back to the topic of baking things and pretend reality isn’t as depressing as it actually is!!

Here is the source of my recipe, which also has it in Lithuanian: HERE

Cottage cheese cake / Varškės pyragas

500gr cottage cheese
2 eggs
1 glass sugar
2 tbsp cream
50gr butter, melted
½ glass semolina
½glass flour
1 tbsp vanilla sugar (I used vanilla extract)
1 tbsp bakıng powder
10 dried apricots (I used a few handfuls of raisins)
1 lemon zest
 
1. Preheat the oven 180C/355F and butter the cake tray (I used a 9″ cake pan).
2. Mix cottage cheese with sugar, cream and eggs until smooth. Then add melted butter, semolina, flour, lemon zest, vanilla and baking powder. Mix it well. Then chop the apricots and stir into the batter/stir the raisins into the batter.
3. Pour the batter into the cake pan and bake for 40 min. Serve it warm with your favourite jam or cream. Though it’s good just by ıtself! Enjoy!
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4 Comments Add yours

  1. vilma says:

    Hi, I am Lithuanian, born and brought up in Lithuania. In my country we don’t put lemon zest into this cake and very rarely we put raisins. It is just good and eaten without them. Also, to be authentic, we eat it usually with melted butter and soucream sauce, or just sourcream. Some people like to put any jam and sourcream on it. Hope this helps to be more authentic:)).

    Like

    1. vilma says:

      I forgot to mention, that we lithuanians don’t put any baking powder in our traditional varskes apkepas.

      Like

      1. megyod says:

        Ooh noted, thank you!!

        Liked by 1 person

    2. megyod says:

      That’s great, thanks for letting me know!!! 🙂

      Like

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