Blintzes are a traditional Jewish dairy treat of thin pancakes — almost like crêpes — filled with soft, fresh cheese and rolled up like a little package. Once assembled, blintzes are usually fried in butter and topped with jam or sour cream, fresh fruit and a dusting of powdered sugar. My great-grandmother, Bessie, was famous for her cheese blintzes and they are a family favorite.
Blinztes are associated with two different Jewish holidays: late spring’s harvest festival Shavuot, during which it is traditional to eat dairy foods, and fall’s lesser known holiday, Simchat Torah, which is a celebration of ending one and beginning another annual cycle of readings from the Torah. One rather poetic explanation for why we eat blintzes on Simchat Torah is that two blintzes, laid side-by-side, resemble Torah scrolls.
In the fall, I like to top blintzes with sauteed apples and dried cranberries. The combination of the sweet cheese-filled crepes and the tart sautéed apples is so delicious, you definitely do not have to be Jewish to appreciate them! Indeed, whatever your background, cheese blintzes are a wonderful make-ahead dish for brunch guests. Or serve them as breakfast-for-dinner. Breakfast-for-dinner is a concept that transcends religion.
It is important to note, however, that the batter for the pancakes needs to sit for at least two hours before cooking. If serving blintzes for breakfast or brunch, make the batter the night before. There is also an important difference between these pancakes and crepes: traditionally, crêpes are cooked on both sides while the blintzes are only cooked on one side.
I fill blintzes with lightly sweetened ricotta cheese thickened with a little cream cheese. Traditionally, Jewish cooks like my great-grandmother, would have used pot cheese or farmer’s cheese, which is a soft, fresh cheese, similar to cottage cheese, with small curds. Farmer’s cheese can be pretty tangy and somewhat grainy — if you can even find it. My family prefers the smooth texture and mild taste of fresh ricotta and it is much easier to find than farmer’s cheese.
Apple Cranberry Blintzes
1 cup whole milk
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
15 ounces whole milk ricotta
4 oz cream cheese, softened
2 TB sugar
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
Pinch of salt
4 large firm, tart apples, peeled, cored, and sliced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup dried cranberries
Fresh lemon juice to taste
- To make the batter, whisk together the milk, eggs, and vanilla in a large bowl. Add the flour, sugar, and salt and whisk until combined and no longer lumpy. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight. (Stir to recombine before cooking.)
- To make the crepes, heat a non-stick crepe pan over high heat. While the pan is heating, prepare 8 squares of parchment paper to hold the cooked crepes.
- Once the pan is hot, reduce the heat to medium-high. Add 1⁄3 cup of batter and immediately tilt the pan to swirl the batter to the edges. It should thinly coat the bottom of the pan. Cook undisturbed for 40 seconds to 1 minute until the edges are lightly browned and release easily from the pan and the center is dry.
- Using your fingers or a thin, flexible spatula, loosen an edge and carefully remove the crepe to the dishtowel or parchment paper. (Do not use tongs, which may puncture or tear the delicate crepe.) If the bottoms of the crepes are browning before the center is dry, flip them over and briefly cook the underside and then add slightly less batter to the pan next time. You may need to adjust the heat between medium-high and medium, as you continue to cook the crepes to ensure that they are browning but not burning on the bottom and cooking all the way through.
- Repeat with the remaining batter. Layer the finished crepes between parchment paper. (Crepes may be prepared up to a day ahead and refrigerated.)
- To make the filling, mix all of the ingredients together in a bowl.
- To fill the blintzes, place one crepe, cooked side down, on a clean dishtowel or board and spoon 2 to 3 tablespoons of filling just below the center of the crepe, leaving a border on the bottom and each side. Fold the bottom layer over the filling, then fold in each side, enclosing the filling completely, and roll up. Place the filled blintzes seam-side down in a baking dish. (These can be refrigerated at this point for up to 1 day or frozen for longer storage.)
- For the sautéed apples, melt the butter in a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Saute the apples, stirring occasionally, until they are softened, about five minutes. Sprinkle them with the sugar and cinnamon, add the dried cranberries, and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 5 to 10 minutes, or until the apples are tender and the cranberries puffed and softened. Stir in the lemon juice and keep the mixture warm.
- To cook the blintzes, melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a 12-inch nonstick skillet. Place 4 blintzes in the skillet and cook over medium heat until lightly browned, about 4 minutes. Flip and brown the other side. Repeat with the remaining blintzes, adding more butter to the skillet as necessary.
- Serve with sautéed apples.
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