Monday, January 27, 2014

cheese blintz

cheese blintz with loose strawberry jam

Today, it’s time to correct one of the greatest oversights of the last 7.5 years on this website — sorry, no, not the grammar or excesses of commas and em-dashes, oops, there I did it again — we’re going to talk about cheese blintzes. I mean, really, what have I been waiting for? I’ve got all of the bases covered that would prequalify me for a cheese blintz proclivity: I love crêpes and Eastern European food, I’m Jewish, married to a Russian, had a deep cheese blintz addiction* when I was pregnant, and our little half-Russkie predictably cut his teeth on grandma’s homemade cheese blintzes (and Salad Olivier). And with this, I think we can isolate the real reason I’ve never made cheese blintzes for you: I don’t have to, because my mother-in-law makes them for us.

blending the crepe batter
my crepes always have funny moon shapes

But, I had an excess of farmers cheese in the fridge after I ran out of time to make these (unbearably good) Crescent Jam and Cheese Cookies before the end of the year, an intense hankering for a dessert crêpe to drizzle last week’s Dulce Manna over, it’s late in the coldest January I can remember and I’ve had it just about up-to-here with kale-tinged resolutions — cheese blintzes didn’t just make sense, the situation demanded them.

crepe don't stick to each other, so stack 'em up

farmers cheese is on the firm side
farmers cheese, sour cream, zest, vanilla, sugar

Comprised of such near-universal foods as a thin pancake and sweet cheese filling, I imagine that cheese blintzes are one of these foods that you could connect via dotted line to dozens of others in other countries and cultures. But, as the word “blintz” comes from blintchik or blini, which are Russian words for pancakes, let’s orient ourselves today toward the theirs. First, you make a batch of crêpes. For blintzes, I tend to use a slightly thicker one that’s easier to make; they rarely tear; you can stack them right on top of each other hot from the pan and they won’t stick to each other; you can make them a day or two in advance and they’ll be as good as day one when you reheat them. These crêpes are magic.

step one: line up a little filling in the centerstep two: fold one side over the fillingstep three: fold the sides instep four: finish your russian egg roll

The typical filling is farmers cheese or quark, but seeing as not everyone can find these where they live, cottage cheese and ricotta are nearby cousins, and work too. Some sugar is added, and flavorings, if you so desire (I like a little vanilla extract and lemon zest). An egg yolk can be added for richness; a whole egg for firmness (more helpful with softer cottage cheeses and loose ricottas) and from there, not everyone does this but you can bet that I do, something extra rich too. Some people use cream cheese, but I often mix in a little sour cream, marscarpone, creme fraiche, just a spoonful or two per cup of curd cheese, just enough to smooth things out and make them more luxurious. I’m not sorry.

fry them in butter. just do it.

And then they’re fried in butter and served with sour cream (yup, more dairy, just do it) or a fruit sauce. Don’t fight it. Cheese blintzes are about cold winter comfort; this is no time for half-measures even if you, like me, couldn’t resist swapping some whole-wheat flour in for the children. They hail from places where the snow seems to go on forever, places where our Polar Vortexes would seem comparatively weak, places that know how to fill bellies with warm to hold you over until it’s fun to go outside again.

cheese blintz with loose strawberry jam

* Whatever you do, do not — I mean promise me that you will not ever — go to B&H Dairy on 2nd Avenue for cheese blintz because upon going there, you will learn that they deep fry them, like a Russian Egg Roll and this is dangerous knowledge as they are deeply perfect and aggressively addictive. I had at least two a week when I was pregnant; don’t let this happen to you.

One year ago: Egg Salad with Pickled Celery and Coarse Dijon
Two years ago: Lasagna Bolognese
Three years ago: Mushroom and Farro Soup
Four years ago: Ricotta Muffins
Five years ago: Bittersweet Chocolate and Pear Cake
Six years ago: Key Lime Cheesecake
Seven years ago: Icebox Cake

Cheese Blintz

This recipe is flexible enough that you can adjust it to your tastes and what you have around while hopefully not being so flexible that you’re unnecessarily worried about which way to get started. (Hint: Just do what sounds best.) If you have a crêpe recipe you like best, go ahead and use it here instead, but if you’re a crêpe newbie, I think you’ll find this one remarkably easy. Use a small skillet if you have one; I think 6 to 7-inch is the ideal crêpe size for blintz, but am limited to 8- to 9-inch crêpe due to the skillets I have. As for fillings, you can use no egg or yolk, or, you can add a yolk or two for richness (great with more dry cheeses) or a whole egg for firmness (great with wetter fillings, like a loose/watery cottage or ricotta cheese). You can add more sugar (up to 1/4 cup) to the filling if you like a sweet blintz; I prefer just a tiny amount, since we always use sweet toppings and I prefer a taste contrast.

Favorite toppings, from the archives: This Sour Cherry Compote, this Strawberry-Rhubarb Compote, this Strawberry Coulis, this Blackberry Sauce, or, if you, like me, canned a copious amount of strawberry jam that never set last summer, this is the most heavenly place to enlist it.

Yield (with 8-inch crêpe and 3 tablespoons of filling in each): 12

Wrappers
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 cup milk (fat level shouldn’t matter, but I use whole)
4 large eggs
1 cup all-purpose flour (I swap 1/3 to 1/2 regularly with whole wheat, and did so here)
Few pinches of salt

Filling
2 cups farmer’s cheese, quark, a thicker cottage cheese or ricotta
6 tablespoons sour cream, mascarpone, creme fraiche or softened cream cheese
2 tablespoons granulated sugar (or more to taste, see Note up top)
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract (if desired)
Few gratings fresh lemon zest (if desired)
2 large egg yolks or 1 large egg (optional, see Note up top)

Make wrapper/crêpe batter: Combine wrapper ingredients in a blender, or in a bowl with an immersion blender, or whisk by hand until smooth. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour or up to two days.

Cook wrappers/crêpes: Heat a medium skillet or crêpe pan over medium-high heat. Once heated, brush pan lightly with melted butter or oil. If batter has gotten too thick to pour thinly in the fridge, you can add an additional tablespoon or two of milk or water to thin it. Pour 3 to 4 tablespoons batter into skillet, just enough that it coats the bottom in an even layer when you swirl it around. Let cook, undisturbed, until the crêpe becomes a little golden underneath or at the edges. (We can cook these more pale than dessert crêpe, because we’re going to cook them again before serving.)

Here’s my crêpe-flipping technique: I use a small offset spatula (my first kind of favorite spatula) to loosen the edges and get underneath the crêpe enough to lift it. Then, in the lifted space between the crêpe and the skillet, I put a flexible fish spatula (my second favorite kind of spatula) further underneath, remove the “lifting” offset spatula, and then use the bigger one to flip it in one movement. If it lands off-center, just shimmy the skillet until it goes back into place.

Cook the crêpe on the reverse side for another 20 seconds, then slide onto a plate to cool. Repeat with remaining batter, brushing the skillet with additional oil or butter as needed. You can stack the crêpe on top of each other even when they’re hot; they will not stick.

Either use the crêpe right away, or cover the plate with plastic wrap and use them in the next 2 days.

Make filling and fill wrappers: Mix all filling ingredients together until smooth. Place 3 tablespoons or so filling across the center of the top wrapper/crêpe in your stack. Fold the bottom part of the wrapper up and over it; fold the sides in over the bottom and filling, then fold the pancake up to form an egg roll-like shape filled pancake.

You can use these blintz right away, or refrigerate them for up to 2 days or freeze them between layers of waxed paper for up to 2 months.

Serve the blintz: Heat a pat of butter over medium heat in a skillet. Fry blintz until browned on both sides. Transfer to a place and serve with sour cream or a fruit sauce or jam or your choice.


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