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~ Cheese-Filled Blintzes with Sour-Cherry Topping ~

IMG_9008Whoa Nellie -- please hold -- wait a minute -- is Mel making blintzes or blini?  That's a valid question with an all-too-often misunderstood answer.  Most experts will tell you the name is used interchangeably all over Central and Eastern Europe, with "blinchick" being the generic word for pancake in general, and, "blintchiki" being the plural.  The slang terms "blintz" and "blin" were born from those words, and, nowadays, here in the USA, what they're called depends upon where your European ancestors came from, where they settled when they immigrated to America, and, who your American grandma got her recipe from.  As per the culinary gospel of my Russian/Slovak, Russian Orthodox grandmother, there is a big difference between the two.

In my kitchen a blintz and a blin are two different pancakes! 

IMG_8911A blintz is an extremely thin, rather large, 6"-10" round, unleavened, twice-cooked crepe-like pancake made from a drizzly, thin, frothy batter of flour, eggs, milk and/or water or club soda, sugar, salt and melted butter. A few tablespoons of the batter are swirled around in a flat skillet (or crepe pan), and, one-at-a-time, each one cooks in a matter of seconds.  The pancakes are filled with quark (curd cheese), or, cottage cheese enriched with a IMG_8930good bit of cream cheese.  FYI:

In Eastern Europe, cottage cheese is considered to be a less firm version of quark, which while similar in texture to ricotta, differs from ricotta in that ricotta is made from scalded whey.  Quark is made from fermented, soured milk.

Each blintz is folded into a neat package, to fully-encase the filling, then lightly-fried a second time, in some butter, in a skillet. The blintzes are served for breakfast or dessert topped with fresh fruit, a warm fruit sauce or cold fruit preserves and/or sour cream.

Depending upon the Eastern European country the blintzes are being made, they can be affectionately referred to as palacinki (Czech, Slovak, Croatian, Slovenien), palatschinken (Austrian), palascinta (Hungarian) and nalesniki (Polish).  My dad made the palacinki in our house, and, he skipped the cheese and the second fry.  He simply slathered them, while they were hot, with softened butter and jam or honey, then, rolled them up "cigar-style" to serve.

IMG_9045blin is a small 3"-4" round, 1/4"-1/2"-thick, 100% yeast-leavened griddlecake (resemblant of a small American pancake) made from a thick, spoonable batter of buckwheat flour, warm milk, melted butter, egg yolks and egg whites. Stacks of them are served alongside iced bowls of pickled herring, smoked sturgeon and salmon. Russian buckwheat blini are the classic foil for the classic caviar service with minced onions, sauteed mushroom mixtures and sour cream. Russian cuisine gets full credit for blini -- no one can eat just one blin.  You can argue this point amongst yourselves all you want.  I won't.   Repeat:  Blini resemble American pancakes. 

If you don't rise blini using yeast (they are NEVER made with baking powder or baking soda), and you don't make them with buckwheat flour, you ain't makin' real-deal Russian blini baby.  

So -- what's the difference between an Eastern European blintz and a French crepe?

IMG_7015While the difference between a blintz and blin is like comparing apples to oranges, you'll be happy to know that the difference between a blintz and crepe is, well, pretty much:  there is very little difference.  If you've got a spot-on classic recipe for French crepes, you've got the base for a classic recipe for Eastern European blintzes.  Here's what I do:  When I'm making blintzes, I follow my crepe recipe adding two extra eggs to the batter.  Why?  Traditional blintzes are slightly eggier than crepes (or at least the ones my Russian Baba made were) -- which makes them even easier to make than the slightly-more-delicate crepe.  When I'm serving these ultra-thin pancakes "a la France" (in the style of France), I refer to them as "crepes", and, when I'm serving them classic "a la Russe" (in the style of Russia), I refer to them as "blintzes".  In the case of crepes and blintzes, the difference is just an egg or two -- it is a very small food world indeed!

IMG_8915Part One:  Making the Blintz Batter and 'The First Fry'

IMG_6824For the blintzes:

1  cup all-purpose flour

1  cup whole milk

1/2  cup club soda, water may be substituted

6  large eggs, at room temperature

4  tablespoons salted butter, melted and cooled about 5 minutes

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

2  teaspoons sugar (for sweet blintzes only)

2  teaspoons pure cherry or pure vanilla extract (for sweet blintzes only)

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing crepe pan or skillet

IMG_6839 IMG_6832Step 1. Place all ingredients, as listed in a 1-quart measuring container.  Using a hand-held stick blender, process until smooth, about 1 full minute.  Cover container with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.  You will have 3 1/2 cups of blintz batter.

Note:  Refrigerating the batter for a minimum of 1 hour is an important step, so, don't be inclined to skip it or rush it.  Refrigeration relaxes the gluten in the flour, which produces light, airy blintzes.  It is perfectly acceptable to make your blintz batter up to a day in advance.

IMG_6851Step 2.  Before starting to make the blintzes, you must decide what size and shape you want, meaning, you'll need to choose a pan to cook them in.  In the event you don't IMG_6848have an offensively-expensive, long-handled French crepe pan, relax.  A nonstick skillet or stovetop griddle work great.  But:  the pan's size affects the amount of batter you need to add to it, and, the number of blintzes you will end up with!

Note:  I'm using the inexpensive, 6" square stovetop griddle that I bought at the grocery store to demonstrate for two reasons:  A $6.00 pan works as well as a $106.00 pan, and, if you've never made blintzes, start small.  Once you perfect your technique you can graduate to a larger pan.

IMG_6895 IMG_6870Step 3. Remove batter from refrigerator and stir. "Spritz" griddle w/no-stick spray and place over medium-high heat.  Ladle 4 tablespoons of batter onto griddle. Lift and tilt pan to distribute batter evenly.  Place on heat and cook about 30 seconds.   Batter will be bubbled and surface will look dry.

Note:  My stove is gas and I set my heat to just above medium.  Use the first blintz or two to find a setting that is neither too high nor too low.  You should hear a low sizzle when the batter is added to pan.  If the heat is "right" you won't have to adjust it for the remainder of the process.

IMG_6944 IMG_6942Step 4. Slide a long, thin, spatula under the crepe and carefully lift it up.  Be brave.  This is easier than you think.  If the spatula doesn't slide underneath easily, let the blintz cook another few seconds.

IMG_6938Place it back in the pan, second side down and cook for another IMG_692330 or so seconds, or, until, without the aid of the spatula, blintz will slide with ease onto a large plate or platter.  Once on the platter, flip blintz over (first side down and second side up).  Repeat this process, for as long as batter lasts, "spritzing" the griddle with a bit of cooking spray and restirring the batter each time you make a blintz.

IMG_8872 IMG_8884 IMG_8896The size of the classic-styled round crepe pan is 9" -10". While the cooking process is identical, a larger size blintz even cooks in the same amount IMG_8898 IMG_8907 IMG_8908of time, the amount of batter changes.  In a classic 10" crepe pan, I use 6 tablespoons of batter per blintz.

Note:  Blintzes can be prepared several hours and up to 3-4-5 days in advance of serving.  Once cooled, just cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.  I have not had good results freezing them, so, there is no need to waste your time with that experiment.  When serving, if blintzes are stacked, the first side (the smoother, slightly darker side) is referred to as the "top".  If blintzes are filled and folded, the first side (the smoother, slightly darker side) is referred to as the "outside".

IMG_8954Part Two:  Making Filling, Folding Blintzes, &, 'The Second Fry'

IMG_9185When it comes to the cheese filling, I am not nearly so opinionated. Every cook in every family makes their filling a bit differently, and, while I know for a fact the Eastern Europeans of our past did not use ricotta or mascarpone (in place of quark or cottage cheese mixed with cream cheese), or, creme fraiche (in place of sour cream), I also know that in today's food world, those soft-cheese substitutions are IMG_9193perfectly acceptable and tasty.  

That said, I can't end this discussion without mentioning farmer cheese (or farmer's cheese) -- which is essentially cottage cheese that has been pressed to remove the liquid. Farmer's cheese is what my grandmother used to fill her blintzes and her pierogi too.  It has almost the same consistency as whole milk ricotta with the tasty tang of cream cheese -- I adore it.  If you can find it, make it your #1 choice.

That said, do not substitute other types of generically labeled farmer cheese -- those that are dry and crumbly (resemblant of feta or queso fresco), or, firm but springy (like colby or cheddar).    

IMG_89352  cups of a soft farmer's cheese or whole-milk ricotta (1, 16-ounce container of either)

8  ounces cream cheese, at room temperature, very soft

1/2  cup large-curd cottage cheese

2  teaspoons pure cherry extract or vanilla extract

IMG_89401  large egg 

1  large egg yolk

IMG_8943~ Step 1.  On high speed of electric mixer, beat all ingredients until smooth, 1 minute. You will have 4 cups of filling. Cover and refrigerate 2 hours (or overnight) -- so the cream cheese can chill and stiffen.

IMG_8945 IMG_8948 IMG_8949 IMG_8951 IMG_8954~Step 2.  One at a time, pick a blintz up off the stack and flip it over so the smooth, pretty outside is facing down.  If you made large 9"-10"-round blintzes, place 5 tablespoons of the chilled filling in a 4"-5" strip across the center.  If you made smaller 6"-square blinzes, place 2 1/2 tablespoons of the filling in a IMG_89552"-3" strip across the center. Lift the side closest to you up and over the top of the filling.  Fold the left and right sides of the blintz over the first flap and towards the center.  Roll the blinze over, seam side down. Repeat this process until all or the desired number of blintzes have been filled and formed into even-sized packets (these pictured here today are 4 1/2" x 2 1/4").

Note:  Blintzes can be fried immediately or covered and refrigerated for several hours or overnight.  Some cooks will tell you that, at this point, the filled blintzes can be frozen.  While they can indeed be successfully frozen, I find that freezing compromises their texture somewhat.

IMG_8959 IMG_8965 IMG_8974 IMG_8980~Step 3.  You can fry as many or as few as you want in an appropriately sized nonstick skillet, or, for a large batch, an electric skillet.  As an example:  melt 2 tablespoons salted butter in a 10" skillet over low heat.  Increase heat to medium and add 2 blintzes, seam side down.  Fry until lightly golden on both sides, turning only once, about 2 minutes per side.  Serve immediately:

IMG_8983Part Three:  Topping and Eating the Blintzes

6a0120a8551282970b01538fc594ba970b-800wiWe've arrived at the best part. When it comes to sweet cheese-filled blintzes, feel free to use your favorite fruit sauce, fruit jam or fruit preserve recipe (peaches, plums, blueberries and strawberries are excellent choices).  Because sour cherries (pie cherries) are commonly used in many Eastern European recipes (chilled cherry soup, cherry-filled piroshki, cherry PICT0008pound cakes, cherry pies, tarts and cookies, and, in savory sauces for game birds like duck and goose too) they are my all-time favorite topping.  Fortunately for me, we've got a "bird cherry" tree (sour cherries are nicknamed "bird cherries" because once they ripen, they must be picked ASAP -- or the birds will eat every last one of them). We have one sour cherry tree, which thrives in our climate, and gifts us every year with an overwhelming amount of fruit -- 125 pounds of cherries this year alone!

PICT0001If I do say so myself, ~ 'Tis True: Sour Cherries Do Make the Best Jam ~, and, mine, which has a good dose of cherry brandy added to it, is the ultimate topping for my blintzes.  I add it to my custard to make a sublime sour cherry ice cream, and, when I add a bit of my duck stock to it, it becomes a superb sweet and savory sauce for all sorts of poultry and pork too.  Once you pit the cherries, it's really easy to make and you can get the recipe by clicking into Categories, 8, 9, or 22!

A sparse sprinkling of Confectioners' sugar is shameless...

IMG_8991... and a spoonful of my sour cherry jam is sinful! 

IMG_9027Cheese-Filled Blintzes with Sour Cherry Preserves:  Recipe yields 2 dozen, 6" square blintzes or 1 dozen, 10" round blintzes, 4 cups filling, and, my recipe for ~ 'Tis True:  Sour Cherries Do Make the Best Jam ~.

IMG_9055 IMG_9060Special Equipment List:  1-quart measuring container; stick blender; 6" square or 10" round crepe pan, preferably nonstick; long, thin spatula; hand-held electric mixer; rubber spatula; plastic wrap; appropriately sized nonstick skillet or electric skillet (controls the heat perfectly); spatula

PICT0520Cook's Note:  After they are pitted, I love to freeze these cherries in 2-pound bags.  I make cherry pie with them all year long.  You can find the recipe, ~ I Can't Lie:  This is Real Sour Cherry Streusel Pie ~, by clicking into Category 6.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/2015) 


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