Curd Cheese Doughnuts | Varškės Spurgos [Recipe]
When I first heard about curd cheese doughnuts I thought they sounded very strange. I had a vision of a chunk of cheddar sandwiched between two sides of a sugary ring doughnut, similar to a filled bagel. I’d been making cheesecake with cream cheese (which is really just curd cheese blended with cream) for years, so I don’t know how it was so difficult for me to get my head around. It wasn’t until I tasted one of the little fluffy delights freshly made at a farmers’ market here in Lithuania that I was sold on the idea.
Lithuanian curd cheese doughnuts are actually much easier to make than their American counterparts as they don’t use any yeast and so don’t require any time to rise. Instead, they get that wonderful airy centre from a combination of whisked egg and a little baking powder. The batter can be whipped up and ready for frying in less than 15 minutes.
The hardest part about making these doughnuts is probably going to be sourcing Lithuanian style curd cheese. Also known as quark in English, curd cheese comes in a variety of styles and can vary considerably from country to country. Lithuanian curd cheese is quite dry and fine. It is available in many countries in Baltic, Polish, Russian or Eastern European food stores. Look for “varškė” (Lithuanian), “twaróg” (Polish) or “biezpienu” (Latvian). It comes in a variety of packaging, from loose bags to little blocks a bit like Philadelphia cheese.
Recognising that true Lithuanian curd cheese might not be universally available, I set to finding some alternatives. I have often seen Lithuanian curd cheese translated to English as cottage cheese but really the two are nothing similar. Cottage cheese is usually covered in a milky liquid and the pieces are quite large. That said, the tastes are similar so I decided to test the recipe using cottage cheese, strained and mashed to resemble the consistency of Lithuanian curd cheese. The results were not good. While the flavour was similar, the batter was too wet and so the balls did not hold their shape. They were also quite heavy with grease. I tried to adjust the consistency with more flour but the resultant batter was gluey and the doughnuts tough and chewy. My conclusion – cottage cheese does not work as an alternative to Lithuanian curd cheese in these doughnuts.
I asked a group of Lithuanian cooks in the US what they used as alternatives to curd cheese and suggestions included farmer’s cheese, ricotta and Spanish queso fresco. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get my hands on any of these to test them, so I can’t vouch for the results.
Lithuanian doughnuts are much smaller than American doughnuts and are almost always round balls. They are so light and airy it is very hard to eat just one!
Curd Cheese Doughnuts | Varškės Spurgos
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INGREDIENTS: For the dough: 400 g | 14 oz Lithuanian style curd cheese 50 g | 2 oz sugar 4 eggs 200 g | 7 oz plain flour (all-purpose flour) 1 tsp baking powder To fry: 1 litre | 1 quart sunflower oil Note that you will need either a deep fat fryer or a sugar (candy) thermometer to perfectly fry your doughnuts. To serve: Icing sugar (powdered sugar), for dusting
METHOD: Place the curd cheese, sugar and eggs in a mixing bowl. Whisk together until smooth, pale and creamy – about 5 minutes. I use an electric hand mixer for this, but you could also use a stand mixer or even a hand whisk. Do not use the blade of a food processor as this will blend the ingredients but not incorporate the air required for a fluffy doughnut. Add the flour and baking powder and gently fold into the cheese mixture with a metal spoon. Attach a sugar (candy) thermometer to the side of a 2 litre (2 quart) saucepan, add the oil and heat over a high heat until the temperature reaches 170˚ C (340˚ F). If using a deep fat fryer ensure your oil is clean and has not previously been used for frying meat or other strong-tasting foods as this will alter the taste of your doughnuts. Taking 1 tablespoon of dough at a time, form the dough into small balls about the size of a golf ball or table tennis ball. This quantity of dough should make 20 40 g (1.5 oz) doughnuts. Use slightly damp hands to smooth the edges of the balls so that they form an even crust. When the oil has reached the required temperature, carefully drop your dough balls into the oil with a metal spoon. Don’t overfill the pan as the doughnuts will move about and expand while cooking. For this size saucepan I recommend no more than 4 doughnuts at a time. Cook the doughnuts for 7 minutes, ensuring the temperature of the oil does not fluctuate – adjust the heat as needed to maintain the temperature. Due to the baking powder, the doughnuts will “fizz” quite a bit and move around the pan. They will also turn themselves over several times during cooking, ensuring even cooking on both sides. (If you notice that any of your doughnuts are not flipping by themselves, just tip them over with a metal spoon.) When the doughnuts are cooked, carefully lift out of the oil with a metal spoon. Transfer to a plate lined with a paper towel to drain and cool. Continue to cook the doughnuts in batches until they are all cooked. Note that the mixture keeps well in the fridge for 1-2 days, so if you prefer you can keep some dough and make a fresh batch of doughnuts another day. Allow the doughnuts to cool for at least 20 minutes before eating. This ensures that the outside is dry and crisp and the inside light and fluffy. Just before serving, dust the doughnuts generously with powdered sugar. These doughnuts are best eaten on the day they are made. However, they will keep until the next day if stored in an airtight container once fully cooled. Ideally, don’t dust them with sugar before storing, but instead dust them just before serving. When the oil has fully cooled pour it back into the bottle (or better still, into a glass bottle), close the lid tightly and save for another use.