Ukrainian Apricot Cheesecake (Syrnyk)

If I had to choose a favorite dessert, it would be cheesecake. If I had to choose a favorite fruit, it would be apricot. So, why not put the two together? The creamy cheese filling contrasted with the luscious fruit and crumbly pastry makes for a perfect summer treat.


Syrnyk, from the Ukrainian word for cheese, syr, is a local favorite. There are hundreds of variations, from the sumptuous Lviv-style syrnyk covered with chocolate glaze to the crustless cheesecake usually baked for breakfast. (Yes, Ukraine is the place where cheesecake can be had first thing in the morning.) But when I found a recipe in my great-grandmother’s cookbook for an apricot syrnyk, I was tempted enough to brave the heat wave and fire up the oven. The result was worth it.

This apricot syrnyk is baked between two layers of vanilla-scented pastry dough. The bottom layer is pre-baked in a springform. The cheesecake filling is poured in, the apricots are layered on top and then the rest of the dough is grated on top. Grating the dough makes for  a crumbly, streusel-like topping.

The most popular type of fresh cheese–and the only one used in Ukraine for cheesecake–is called syr or tworog.  It’s sometimes called farmer’s cheese, but either way, it’s a fresh, unripened cheese with a pleasant tart flavor. If you can’t find it at Ukrainian, Polish, Russian or other Eastern European stores, you can use quark or ricotta instead. Both quark and ricotta are much softer, but they can be drained overnight and used in the recipe. If you use ricotta, add more lemon zest and a bit of lemon juice, since unlike farmer’s cheese, the taste of ricotta lacks acidity.

Like all cheesecakes, syrnyk tastes best the next day, once it cools completely and the filling sets. You can use any fruit you like for the topping. For a taste of the opulent Ukrainian summer, it’s unrivaled.

Syrnyk (Apricot Cheesecake)

You can use other fruit to make this cheesecake. Plums, peaches, cherries and a mixture of berries would be delicious. In the fall, try it with poached pears, apples or quince. This time, I used apricots and at the last minute I added a handful of red currants. They’re optional, of course.

Makes a 9″ (22cm) cake. Serves 12-16.

Dough:

1/2 cup (125 g) unsalted butter, cold
1/3 cup (75g) granulated sugar
2 egg yolks
1/2 teaspoon baking power
1 1/2 cup (250g) all-purpose flour
vanilla extract, a pinch of salt
1 Tablespoon cream or milk, if needed

Cheese-apricot filling:

2 lb (1 kg) farmer’s cheese, room temperature
2 Tablespoons cornstarch
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
3 eggs, room temperature
1 cup (200g) fine granulated sugar
grated peel of 1/2 lemon
vanilla extract
1/2lb (250g) apricots, washed, dried, cut into halves, or if very large, quarters.
1/4 cup slivered almonds
Powdered sugar for sprinkling

To make the dough: put flour, salt, sugar and vanilla into a large bowl. Cut butter into cubes and rub it into the flour mixture using your fingertips until the mixture looks granular. Add yolks one by one and mix the dough until it comes together. If the dough appears too dry, add cream or milk. Divide the dough into 2 parts, one larger than the other. Wrap in plastic and leave in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.

To make the filling: make sure all of the ingredients are at room temperature. In a large bowl, whip butter and sugar until the mixture is creamy. Add cheese. If the cheese is too lumpy, pass it through a fine sieve before adding to the butter-sugar mixture. Whip until the mixture is light, about 5 minutes. Add cornstarch and mix to combine. Add eggs one by one. Mix for 5 minutes, after the last egg has been added. Add lemon peel and vanilla.

To put the cake together: Preheat the oven to 350F (175C). Butter a 9″ (22cm) round springform with butter and sprinkle it with flour.

Take the smaller part of the dough from the refrigerator and roll it out between two sheets of plastic to 1/8″ thickness. Remove the top layer of plastic. Transfer the dough to the springform and line the bottom. Remove the other layer of plastic and trim the sides. You don’t need to line the sides. Any trimmings should be formed into a rough ball and refrigerated or frozen. Put the springform into the fridge for 30 minutes.

Take out the springform from the fridge. Line the chilled dough with parchment paper or foil. Fill the inside with beans or pie weights and bake for 12 minutes. Remove the foil and pie weights. Let cool for a few minutes.

Sprinkle the baked crust with slivered almonds. Fill the springform with the cheese cream mixture. Decorate the top with sliced fruit, setting the apricots skin side down. Take the rest of the dough from the refrigerator (or freezer) and grate over the fruit using a coarse grater.

Bake the cheesecake at 350F (175C) for 1-1.5 hours or until the top is golden and the cheesecake filling is set but jiggly in the center. If the top browns too quickly, cover it with foil.

Take the cheesecake out of the oven. Let it cool completely and remove the springform. Sprinkle the top with powdered sugar. Enjoy!

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

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24 Comments

  • rosarita: This sounds so delicious! Apricots are my favorite fruit, also, and they are being harvested in Michigan right now. Just the essence of summer. July 9, 2018 at 10:19am Reply

    • Victoria: Apricots have such a beautiful perfume, especially when they’re ripe. But the nice part of baking them is that cooking enhances the flavor even of the lackluster variety. July 9, 2018 at 2:57pm Reply

  • Sandra: I have never made cheesecake but this sounds amazing!
    I have been busy baking too, but mostly trying my hand at arabic flat bread, Barbari July 9, 2018 at 11:41am Reply

    • Victoria: How do you make Barbari? July 9, 2018 at 2:58pm Reply

      • Frantz: Isn’t barbari , Persian? July 13, 2018 at 8:35pm Reply

        • Victoria: Yes, it’s Persian. One of the most common breads in Iran, originally from the eastern provinces. July 14, 2018 at 1:04am Reply

    • Sandra: I learned by watching you tube videos honestly.
      Yes its Persian not technically Arabic. But the recipe is similar to arabic flat bread

      Victoria: were you happy with Belgium taking the bronze in the World Cup? They played so well July 16, 2018 at 8:49am Reply

      • Victoria: They’re similar. I wish my oven had an even higher temperature setting to make proper Barbari, but the homemade one is still delicious.

        Yes, happy, but I think most people here felt that they should have played well enough to get the gold. It was a very disappointing loss to France, so the bronze was not much of a consolation. July 23, 2018 at 5:02am Reply

  • Toni Kennington: This is definitely a prize winning cheesecake!
    It is my favorite dessert also. We just had a simple one for our Fourth of July meal baked with red and blue swirls.

    I don’t feel guilty having it for breakfast and look forward to trying your recipe. The only problem will be trying to get 12-16 servings! July 9, 2018 at 1:10pm Reply

    • Victoria: I mean, it’s supposed to make 12-16 servings, but around me it rarely makes this many. 🙂 And yes, no need to feel guilty about having a slice (or two) of cheesecake for breakfast. July 9, 2018 at 3:00pm Reply

  • Mary K: This sounds wonderful! The apricots would be perfect. I like the idea of cheesecake for breakfast. July 9, 2018 at 5:21pm Reply

    • Victoria: Apricots and cheesecake marry well, but I’ve also tried this recipe with blueberries and it was excellent. July 10, 2018 at 2:11am Reply

  • Laura: Hmm reminds me of Mira-Bai a wonderful but sadly discontinued apricot fragrance by Chopard. There are so few really apricoty fragrances these days… Bottega Veneta is not apricoty enough, the buttery leather runs the show. Lovely recipe. Any apricot fragrances to go with it? July 10, 2018 at 7:30am Reply

    • Victoria: That’s a good question. I’d say, Hermessence Osmanthe Yunnan, because it has a delicious apricot-tea note, and it would be a good complement. July 10, 2018 at 11:19am Reply

  • Inma: Dear Victoria,
    Cooking again with pleasure after many years of just “having to” do it.

    It is, in part, thanks to your articles about cooking.

    So, thank you! July 11, 2018 at 9:30am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you, Inma! I’m very happy to hear this. Do you have favorite dishes to cook these days? July 13, 2018 at 3:18am Reply

      • Inma: Yes,
        Very easy beans, lentils, chickpeas and pasta salads. And gazpacho, which is a tomato cold soup, also very easy, refreshing and typical of my region in the south of Spain: very red tomatoes, garlic (I am making it without it these days), cucumber, salt and olive oil. That’s for me because there are so many recipes! July 14, 2018 at 1:37pm Reply

        • Victoria: All sound so delicious, especially gazpacho. It’s sweltering here today. July 15, 2018 at 10:34am Reply

  • Andy: This looks delicious! I was wondering if homemade farmer’s cheese will work in place, since I can’t find any in stores (recipes seem to involve adding vinegar to boiled milk, curdling, and straining the curds very thoroughly). I could strain ricotta, but I figured that if the straining will anyways be necessary, I might as well try making my own and learn a new skill. I’m not sure how similar this product would be to syr, but it might be worth a try anyway. July 11, 2018 at 2:04pm Reply

  • OnWingsofSaffron: Yesterday, I baked your Ukrainian cheese cake with apricots. The minute I saw those grated crumbles, or „Streusel“ as we say in German, I was fixed. Due to lactose issues in the family I made it with silk tofu and soya cream cheese in lieu, and as I didn‘t have any vanilla, I grated a tonka bean. Despite all the changes the cheese cake is delicious and we are looking forward to another helping right before the finale of the world football this afternoon ⚽️! July 15, 2018 at 7:57am Reply

    • Victoria: Tonka bean would be excellent addition. Tonka bean and apricot is a pairing I’d like to see in a perfume.
      Very happy to hear that you tried the recipe and enjoyed the cake. Enjoy the game! July 15, 2018 at 10:40am Reply

  • Liina Bachmann: This looks and sounds delicious. I am spending the coming weekend with my mother and will to try this recipe.
    I am always very confused about how to translate the different dairy product names into English. But I do think that the wide variety of different dairy products is one of the best things about Eastern European cuisine.
    My mother makes the cakes with quark (I think!). It is has a similar texture to ricotta is but sourer and sometimes with added sweeteners or vanilla/raisins. Usually, she uses rhubarb or red currants or other berries – whatever is in season and can be picked form the garden. But will try with apricots this time! July 23, 2018 at 4:25am Reply

    • Victoria: I love all of the fresh cheeses available across Eastern Europe. You can eat them with fruit or jam or make them into a savory dish. The combination with rhubarb and red currant that your mother makes sounds delicious to me. I will have to try it! July 23, 2018 at 5:04am Reply

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