Varenets and Riazhenka

Silky divine varenets. The steps: raw or pasteurized milk is baked for hours until a deep golden skin forms. Lift off the skin and eat it, or save it for later. If you don’t have or don’t want to use an oven, an Instant Pot at 200F for 10 hours works well. Traditionally, this was made when the masonry stove in your house was cooling down.

Once you have your cooked milk, called топлёное молоко in Russian, cool it down. It then gets inoculated with sour cream, buttermilk or milk kefir. A teaspoon of any of the above added per cup of cooked milk is enough. The milk should be about 110F. Make sure your sour cream has live bacterial cultures – not just enzymes.

The more sour cream you add, the thicker it will be. Inoculate it for 6 to 8 hours exactly like yogurt, although 110F is the ideal temperature for this. Any yogurt maker will do, as will your Instant Pot or any place it can stay warm and covered for 6 to 10 hours at 85F or higher. But try to get it to 110F at least.

The baked down milk you make is never really sweet, but even after chilling down and adding the sour cream starter and inoculating it, it’s also not very sour. Just smooth and tasty. By the way, milk kefir can make this a little grainy and a little more sour, so we always use sour cream or buttermilk.

Eating varenets – actually, drinking it chilled – alone is rarely enough. It is typically eaten with other things as a snack. Sometimes these garnishes go in, or on the varenets.

This is an example of how to take varenets and turn it into riazhenka by adding heavy cream. You can actually just add heavy cream to it when eating it. The contrast in tastes and textures makes this a real joy. But add some heavy cream, about 1/4 cup per cup of baked milk, to make riazhenka. It should be much thicker.

As any cook knows sour cream cultured dairy will not curdle, so we really use it in everything. Using varenets and riazhenka as an alternative to sour cream can add a new taste to everything from salad dressings to smoothies to baked goods.

Quick riazhenka with all the garnishes: heavy cream in a bowl, the milk skins, stewed dried figs, sour cream and of course the tan colored silky smooth, thick and chilled varenets. 

Sour Cream, Heavy Cream, Baked Milk Skin, Varenets, and Figs

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Author: culturesgroup

Ken Fornataro has acquired extensive knowledge of the science and techniques that have been all but forgotten with the increasing industrialization of food. Still in his teens, he was named Executive Chef at the Hermitage restaurant in Boston.   From there he worked at prestigious and often private establishments around the world where he practiced his craft. He ran the kitchen and catering services for Troutbeck in upstate New York, using locally grown and sustainably sourced ingredients in the 1980s. At Bloomingdales flagship store in Manhattan he ran the Fresh Foods department kitchens that included a line of his own prepared, preserved and fermented foods, as well as daily preparations directed by Michel Guérard, Petrossian, and Marcella Hazen. He has worked with Julia Child, Madeleine Kamman, Aveline and Michio Kushi, Paula Wolfert, Leah Chase, Anthony Bourdain and many chefs from around the world that taught him traditional Japanese, French, Jewish, Mexican, Chinese, Italian, Nordic, Russian, Indian, and whole food cooking, preservation and fermentation techniques.

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