My love for most traditional carb-loaded Jewish foods began at first bite. Challah, matzo balls, kugel, they’ve all always topped my list for ultimate comfort and I don’t discriminate if they’re store-bought or freshly made from scratch. This has sadly not been the case with cheese blintzes. Until I started making them at home, I really didn’t even understand what all the hype was about.
Growing up, I had only ever had these little guys at brunch buffets, where chances are they were frozen at some point and possibly spent too much time in a warming tray. These are not the right ways to treat a dish that should have a golden brown crispy exterior, inner folds of soft fluffy pancake, and a sweet melty cheese filling. But I’ve learned, there are few things better than a fresh blintz straight out of the pan that hasn’t had the chance to even think about getting soggy.
These unleavened crepe-like pancakes have roots in Eastern Europe. Their relatives include blini, Russian leavened pancakes, and blinchiki, Russian unleavened pancakes which, in similar fashion to blintzes, are often filled with meat, potatoes or cheese. The cheese variety is particularly popular around this time of year because of the dairy meals that we eat in celebration of Shavuot.
The following recipe is for a blintz that’s elevated to a new level by way of rosemary and rhubarb. Rhubarb is at the height of its season right now and has a fresh tartness that blends perfectly with sweet strawberries. The rosemary is subtly infused into the milk which is used in the crepe batter, and its fragrant qualities go beautifully with the fruity sauce. The filling is made of airy ricotta and a bit of tangy creamy cheese, and it’s sweetened with honey.
Now not to take away from the family time or meaning behind the holiday that we’re celebrating, but these elegant blintzes might end up being the life of the party.
Makes 10, or about 5 servings
2 sprigs fresh rosemary, plus more for garnish, if desired
1 1/2 cups whole milk
3/4 cup buttermilk
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup all purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
A pinch of kosher salt
About 1/4 cup vegetable or canola oil, for cooking and frying the blintzes
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 1/2 cups whole milk or part-skim ricotta cheese
Juice from 1/2 lemon
1 large egg
2 tablespoons honey
1/4 pound rhubarb, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces (about 1 cup)
1/2 pound strawberries, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces (about 1 1/2 cups)
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
Juice from 1/2 lemon
To make the blintzes:
First, infuse the milk: In a small saucepan, place the rosemary sprigs in the whole milk and bring it to a simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Keep a close eye on it so that it doesn’t boil over. When it comes to a simmer, remove it from the heat and let it cool, uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes. Use tongs or clean hands to remove the rosemary sprigs and then measure out the milk. (If there are any stray rosemary pieces, you can pour the milk through a sieve or strainer.) You’ll want 1 1/4 cups milk total, so depending on how much evaporated during the simmering process, you may need to pour some out or add a bit more (non-infused) milk.
In a blender, combine the infused milk with the remaining blintz ingredients (except for the vegetable oil) and blend until no lumps remain.
Heat a 9 or 10-inch skillet over medium heat and coat the bottom with a thin layer of oil. I find it’s easiest to do this using a heat-proof pastry brush. Add 1/3 cup of batter to the pan and tilt it so that it distributes evenly into a circle-ish shape. Cook for 60-90 seconds until the top is set, the bottom begins to brown, and the blintz wrapper comes away easily from the pan. Use an offset spatula or regular spatula to remove it from the heat (correct, you’re not cooking the other side), and then place it on a plate. Repeat this process, adding more oil as needed to the pan, and stacking the cooked blintzes separated by sheets of parchment so that they don’t stick to one another.
To make the filling:
Whisk together all ingredients. If your cream cheese hasn’t had time to fully soften, you can microwave it for 10-20 seconds.
Place one blintz, browned side up, on a work surface covered in parchment. Spoon 1/4 cup of the filling slightly below the center line of the blintz. Fold the bottom third of the blintz up over the filling and then fold in the sides. Bring the top third of the blintz down over the filling to seal. Set aside and repeat with remaining blintzes.
Heat 2 tablespoons of oil over medium high heat until shimmering. If the oil starts to smoke, reduce the heat. Gently place the blintzes, 3 at a time, into the pan and fry for 2-3 minutes, until the bottoms turn golden brown. Gently flip them over and fry for another 2-3 minutes.
Transfer to a plate. Top with the strawberry rhubarb sauce (directions below), garnish with rosemary sprigs if desired, and serve immediately.
To make the sauce:
It is best to make this ahead of time or, if you are good at multitasking or have someone to help, while the blintzes are being made, so that it’s ready as soon as the blintzes come out of the pan. If making ahead of time, it can be made up to 3 days in advance and stored in the refrigerator. Reheat in a saucepan or microwave before serving, if desired.
Combine all ingredients in a large saucepan and simmer over medium high heat for 10-15 minutes, stirring often, until rhubarb is tender. Let cool for 10 minutes and spoon over the blintzes for serving.
Photos by Molly Yeh