April 10, 2009

Hrudka (Slovak egg cheese for Easter)

The Slovak traditions for Christmas and Easter have imprinted certain taste memories that I can't avoid craving every year. One of the things I wonder why I desire is hrudka. Hrudka is also called cirek, sirets, sirok, sirecz, as well as just Easter egg cheese (by those who have trouble trilling their Rs) and it is basically a ball of scrambled eggs served at Easter. Some people put a slice of it on sandwiches but I always ate it plain with salt.

My family is always generous and I know that there would be a ball of hrudka for me to take at Easter. But this year things are a little crazy with our move coming up and I don't know for sure what our plans will be. Plus, the hrudka my family makes has cow's milk and my son has never been able to taste it. So this year I asserted my independence and made my own. It was fairly easy and the flavor only barely changed with my soy milk substitution. That is it still tasted like a ball of scrambled eggs. What can I say, it's tradition and somehow makes sense to my springtime taste buds.

I also was inspired by the posts on Bittersweet, a vegan blog. There she made soy cottage cheese spread and used the soy whey in bread for the following post. It's probably terrible for me to un-veganize an idea but in this I'm trying to respect the gifts of the eggs and not let any part go to waste. So I used my whey in the traditional paska (Easter bread), now made non-traditional with my dairy-free soy milk. Using the whey is apparently common but it's not something my grandmother did so I didn't know about it before. I'm waiting to taste the bread until Easter morning but it looks gorgeous this year and has a richer smell than my previous versions with just soy milk. Now that I've had my hrudka fix I can start playing with homemade soy cottage cheese!

Hrudka (Slovak Easter Egg Cheese)
Adapted from the recipe found in "Our Best to You", the 1st edition Sacred Heart Byzantine Catholic Church cookbook of Livonia, Michigan. The original recipe was submitted by Mrs. Helen Rapasky. Hrudka is served for Easter along with ham, kielbasa, beet horseradish, and paska (Easter bread). Some people put it on a ham or kielbasa sandwich but I always eat a slice plain with a little salt. This savory version is what my family makes but sweet variations are common, some are listed at the end of the recipe.
Makes 1 large ball of cheese, ~1 3/4 pounds

1 dozen eggs
1 quart milk (dairy-free for us, I used soy)
1 teaspoon salt

-Set up a large double boiler or make one using two pans or a pan and a bowl. I used a large stainless steel bowl over a saucepan. Fill the lower pan with an inch of water. Bring the water to a boil and turn down the heat so that it is strongly simmering.
-Off the heat, beat the eggs in the upper pan or bowl and then add the milk and salt. Beat all the ingredients to combine and then place over the pan of simmering water.
-Cook the egg and milk mixture stirring frequently with a wooden spoon until the mixture curdles, this will take approximately 20-30 minutes. You'll see curds separated out and leave a thin, watery whey. Stop once it seems like no more whey is being produced, IE coming out of the curds.
-Line a colander with a square, double layer of cheesecloth and place over a large bowl or pot. Pour the curds and whey carefully onto the center of the cheesecloth.
-Gather the cheesecloth together to form a large ball with the curds. Twist the top and press to remove more whey and then tie with kitchen twine.
-Tie the ball to a wooden spoon and suspend it over a pot to drain further and cool. Other directions recommend tieing the ball to your kitchen faucet to drain.
-When the ball is mostly cooled and not dripping any more whey place it in the fridge to set overnight. You can save the whey to make paska (Easter bread), links to paska recipes follow.
-After chilling overnight, remove the cheesecloth. Store in the fridge wrapped with plastic or waxed paper. Serve slices on sandwiches or on their own sprinkled with a little salt.

Hrudka variations:
I have never had anything but the plain unsweetened hrudka but sweet recipes are common, just Google hrudka recipe. These recipes have anywhere from 1 tablespoon to 1 cup of sugar added to the one dozen egg recipe and most of the sweet versions also have vanilla extract. There are also recipes that call for any one of the following: cloves, caraway seeds, cinnamon, pepper or saffron. For a drier cheese you can bake the drained ball for 15 minutes at 350 degrees F. Baked ball of scrambled eggs sounds even more bizarre to me.

Paska bread recipes:
My grandmother never used the whey for her paska bread but I like the idea of not wasting it. Plus, since I'm using soy milk in place of the traditional cow's milk I'm hoping it will add more flavor to my bread. I used the paska recipe from the same Sacred Heart church cookbook but only made the plain dough. The plain dough gave me enough for three small loaves. Here is another simple paska recipe that is similar to others from my grandmother's church cookbook. For something different you could try this paska recipe using whey and whole wheat flour.

Cooking the hrudka (counter clockwise from top left): starting cooking the egg and milk mixture, curds begin to form, curds and whey
A closeup of the hrudka curds and whey
The colander and cheesecloth ready to strain the hrduka curds from the whey Hanging the hrudka
This year's paska bread

Crossposted on Michigan Lady Food Bloggers (MLFB)