Submitted by Risa Strauss
My mom was born in 1935, in Brooklyn, New York. The only child, and first-generation American child, of Jewish-Polish/Russian immigrants. She grew up during the tail end of the Depression and the horrors of the Holocaust and World War II. Like many others of her time, she loved all things Assimilated American. She read Rona Jaffee, listened to Tony Bennet, Dean Martin, Neil Sedaka and Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. She wore palazzo pants, read Dr. Spock, and drank TaB. We drank TaB too. We also ate lots of TV dinners, Mrs. Paul’s Fish Sticks and Underwood Deviled Chicken spreads on white bread with mayonnaise. She was good with the holidays – well the main ones, like we always had a Seder and matzah and Maxwell House Haggadas. She did make a brisket once – in a brand new olive-green pressure cooker. But it exploded into the fluorescent light fixtures that my father had installed during the 1974 gas shortage. Unfortunately, however, great Jewish cuisine or anything that wasn’t marketed in Ladies Home Journal or delivered to our doorstep by the milkman seemed to evade her. As kids our initiation to really good Ashkenazic Jewish food came from my paternal grandmother. All she ever did was cook. I honestly don’t remember seeing her do anything else. Matzah Balls, Kreplach, Knishes, Kasha, Stuffed Derma, and Blintzes. Piles of blintzes with cheese, potato, apple, cherry. They were golden and sizzling and always served with sour cream or applesauce. My mother said they were fattening, and I shouldn’t eat them. My mother drank TaB and smoked Virginia Slims. I ate blintzes.
Fast forward to Israel, 1988. It is Shavuot, the Festival of Weeks when we celebrate receiving the Torah and 10 Commandments on Mt. Sinai. I am a citizen. An Israeli, a member of an agricultural settlement called a Kibbutz. We celebrate Shavuot with a tractor dance in the fields where we acknowledge the calendar and the harvest of wheat and we eat blintzes because they are made with cheeses. And the cheese comes from milk which helps us grow and build strong bones. And milk is like Torah which helps us grow and build strong hearts and minds.
I love that connection: Jewish tradition, food, ritual life, Jewish living – a good reason for eating. I know my mom meant well. But my pride as a Jew strengthens from centuries of life before me and the centuries of life that will follow me. Jewish food connects us to all of that. My caveat to my children: All things in moderation. Have your Diet Coke and your blintzes too – and as my grandma used to say, “Esin Meyn Kinder” – Eat my children.
Where do blintzes come from? (from Joepastry.com – a great cooking blog)
‘Pancakes come from pretty much everywhere. However, the stripe of filled and folded pancake that goes by the name blintz is thought to have originated in Central Europe…Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, that general area. Blintzes were probably a traditional food item in that part of the world for hundreds of years before they gained real popularity ’round about the year 1800. That’s when blintzes first began to appear on the European culinary map, as it were.
They were – and still are – known by many names. “Blintzes” are what they’re commonly called in America, which is their Yiddish name. However in Chicago alone they’re called everything from blini (Russian) and palainki (Czech, Slovak, Serbian, Bosnian) to palatschinken (German), palascinta (Hungarian) and naleniki (Polish). Each culture has its own variation on the recipe. Blini, for example, are made from buckwheat and are usually leavened with yeast. However, the delivery (filled, folded, fried in butter) is remarkably consistent from table to table. These days good blintzes can be found just about anywhere you find people of Central and Eastern European descent. The last time I had a really good blintz was at Veselka Restaurant in the East Village in New York (they do great pierogis and potato pancakes there, too).’
Classic Jewish Cheese Blintzes Recipe from The Washington Post: Jun 7, 2019
These generously filled, buttery blintzes were voted best among those variations made by five Washington area chefs who competed in the Tzedek DC cookoff, held at the University of the District of Columbia in 2018.
There is an assembly-line aspect to making them at home, so another pair of hands will hasten the process, or you can make the thin pancakes, which takes about 35 minutes, and once they have cooled, wrap the stack in plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 1 day in advance. The filling comes together easily. In testing, we added the extra step of straining the batter to ensure it's lump-free. Serve warm, as is or topped with fruit, sour cream, applesauce, slightly sweetened whipped cream or maple syrup. Make Ahead: The assembled (uncooked) blintzes can be frozen for up to 1 month; defrost overnight in the refrigerator. Leftover ghee can be strained and reused. Master Chef Joan Nathan recommends serving the blintzes side by side, as if they resemble the tablets of the 10 Commandments.
When you scale a recipe, keep in mind that cooking times and temperatures, pan sizes and seasonings may be affected, so adjust accordingly. Also, amounts listed in the directions will not reflect the changes made to ingredient amounts.
Tested size: 6 servings; makes 18 blintzes
For the pancakes
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 1/2 cups water
1 cup ghee or clarified butter, plus more for the pan (may substitute grapeseed oil; see NOTE)
For the filling
1 pound farmer cheese
2 large egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract and 2 teaspoons finely grated lemon
For the pancakes: Whisk together the flour and salt in a mixing bowl. Whisk the eggs and water in a large (4-cup) liquid measuring cup, until thoroughly blended. Pour into the mixing bowl, whisking long enough to form a fairly smooth batter. Pour the batter through a fine-mesh strainer back into your large liquid measuring cup, discarding the solids.
Use cooking oil spray to grease an 8-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat; the pan will be ready when a drop of water sizzles on the surface. If the water pops or jumps out of the pan, the skillet it too hot, so let it cool slightly before starting.
For each blintz, add a 3-tablespoon pour of the batter to the skillet, then quickly swirl the pan so the batter coats the bottom evenly, creating a thin, crepe-like pancake. (The batter needs to be added all at once, otherwise it will cook before you've had a chance to swirl it. An easy way to do this is to fill a 1/4-cup measure three-quarters full. It may take you a few tries to get the hang of it; just be patient.
Cook for 60 to 75 seconds, until the bottom is lightly golden. You can tell the pancake is ready by touching the center, which should be completely dry, with a thin, even drier-looking edge. Do not flip the pancake to cook the other side, and do not let the edges crack or get too brown. Use a spatula to transfer the pancake to a plate, where you will be stacking subsequent ones with pieces of parchment paper or wax paper in between, to keep them from sticking together.
Use all the batter, and you should end up with a total of 18 pancakes. Let them cool while you make the filling. For the filling: Clean the mixing bowl, then combine the farmer cheese, egg yolks, sugar, vanilla extract and lemon zest in it, using a fork to blend them well.
To fill each blintz, place the cooled pancakes on your clean work surface, with their lightly golden sides face-down. Place about 2 tablespoons of the filling in the lower third of one pancake, about an inch from the edge that is closest to you. Fold up the edge tight to the filling, then roll forward once. Fold in one side toward the center then the other, and keep folding to create a rectangular packet, turning it so the seam side is down. Repeat to form 18 blintzes. (At this point, they can be wrapped in plastic wrap, then sealed inside a zip-top bag and frozen for up to 1 month.) When you are ready to cook the blintzes, heat the cup of ghee or clarified butter just until shimmering in a large nonstick skillet (12 inches) over medium heat. Add the blintzes in batches of 4 or 5 at a time, seam sides down; this will give you space to turn them easily in the pan. Cook for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes, until the bottom of each blintz is golden brown and crisped. Use a thin spatula or tongs to gently turn them over and cook for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes on the second sides, so they are evenly browned. Serve warm.
NOTE: To make a cup of clarified butter, place 3 sticks (24 tablespoons) of butter in a saucepan over low heat. Cook without stirring until it has liquefied, then begin skimming (and discarding) the foam off the top, until the butter is clear enough to see through to the milky solids at the bottom of the pot. Strain through cheesecloth into a clean container, stopping just short of those milky solids. Adapted from Ed Scarpone, chef & culinary director for the Schlow Restaurant Group.
About the author, Risa Strauss
Risa Strauss has been the Director of Education at Beth Shalom Synagogue since August 2015 and is the Founding Director of Camp Gesher at the Katie and Irwin Kahn Jewish Community Center. A graduate of the University of Michigan, she has been a public school educator, a Jewish educator, and administrator for over 30 years. A long-time supervisor and programmer at JCC and Jewish camps in the United States and Israel, as well as a veteran camper herself, she relishes “making a difference” in the lives of young children and teens. Risa was recently named a 2019 recipient of the Covenant Award, one of the nation’s highest honors in the field of Jewish education.
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