A lot of my cooking energy in a given week goes into making sure I’m not wasting the things we have in our fridge. Anyone I’ve lived with could tell you that I have a somewhat obsessive aversion to wasting food. I will put together really strange meals in an effort to ensure that nothing in our fridge goes bad. Seriously, I have been known to clean out my mother’s fridge for her when I go home and it took Jeff years to convince me to throw away leftovers from a dish that no one really liked. It’s a work in progress.
In this weekly battle to prevent wasting through food spoilage, dairy is my real enemy. We eat a lot of cheese and yogurt so that’s not a problem, and cream and buttermilk and sold in small enough containers that I can generally find something to put them in before they go off. But milk, milk is my real nemeses. Maybe it’s different in your house, but we don’t really drink milk on its own (unless there are warm cookies nearby) and depending on what store I end up at when I need to buy milk, it can be hard to buy anything less than a quart. That’s a lot of milk to use up within a week to 10 days.
If you, like me, have a hard time using up leftover milk, may I introduce you to the Blintz: the plumper and more Jewish version of the crepe. A blintz is really just a crepe that’s been rolled around a cheese filling; traditional blintzes use farmers cheese (a soft fresh cheese) but I use ricotta because I am more likely to have it around the house and because it’s just as good.
The filling part of blintzes is the easy bit; it’s the crepe bit that gets most people anxious and jittery. Crepes are intimidating but most of that is the French-ness. French food is complicated and tricky and must be made precisely, right? Actually, no. Crepes are pretty easy to make if you know the following three things.
One: You must, must, must let the crepe batter rest in the fridge so that it can both relax and so that the flour can be fully hydrated. Without a rest, the batter will not coat the pan well.
Two: Crepes will tell you when they’re ready to flip. If you are using a nonstick pan the crepe will release itself when it’s ready to flip. To check if it’s ready, shake the pan vigorously for about 10 seconds (with a kind of scrubbing motion, as if the pan is a sponge that you are scrubbing against the floor. But don’t shake it while it’s touching the burner- the noise is awful). If the crepe releases itself from the pan when you do this, it’s ready to flip and – bonus! – it’s also now much easier to get a spatula under the crepe. If it doesn’t release from the pan when you do this give it 30 more seconds over the heat and try again.
Three: If you’re not sure how much batter it takes to coat your pan, start with too little. It’s easy to add more to cover any spots you can’t coat; it’s hard and kind of gross to pour off extra batter so that the crepes don’t turn into pancakes.
Sure you can leave it at just crepes and fill them with whatever you want, but the blintzes are creamy and soft inside and slightly crispy outside since they are browned in the pan after being filled. Below are recipes for savory and sweet blintzes since I can’t pick a favorite. I prefer to eat savory one’s first and then finish with the sweet – dinner and dessert all in one recipe.
Adapted from Mark Bittman’s crepe recipe in How to Cook Everything
2 cups milk
1 ½ cups flour
2 tbs butter, melted and cooled to room temp
1 tsp kosher salt
½ tbs sugar
Savory filling –
1 cup ricotta
¼ cup minced chives
1-2 cloves garlic, crushed into a paste
1 tsp kosher salt
Sweet filling –
1 cup ricotta
2 tbs sugar
Zest of one lemon
In a large bowl, whisk the milk, flour, butter, eggs, salt, and sugar together for several minutes until thoroughly combined. You can also do this step with a blender. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for at least an hour, even better if you can leave it overnight.*
When the batter has rested sufficiently, heat a medium non-stick pan over medium heat and melt a little butter in the bottom. Add enough batter to just cover the bottom – for my 8 inch pan that means just under ¼ cup of batter but you may have to figure this out by trial and error. Swirl the pan in a slow circle to coat the bottom evenly and then let it sit over the heat for about two minutes. Shake it vigorously, as described above, to see if it unsticks from the pan and is ready to flip. When the blintz moves freely around the pan, flip it over using a spatula or with a wrist flick.** Cook it for an additional minute or two until it lightly browns in some spots. Continue cooking the blintzes until you run out of batter, re-buttering the pan after every third or fourth blintz.
To fill the blintzes, take one and put a dollop of filling (about 2-3 tbs) in the bottom third of the blintz. Fold the bottom over the filling and fold in both sides so that it doesn’t fall out the sides. Then roll the blintz away from you so that it is rolled up like a burrito and none of the filling can come out. Continue filling blintzes until you have used up all the crepes or all the filling.
Heat the nonstick pan over medium heat again and add some butter. When the butter is melted, place the rolled blintzes in the pan, seal down to brown. Cook them for 2-3 minutes until the bottom is well browned, then gently flip them and cook for another 2 minutes on the other side until it is brown. Serve the crepes on their own or with a salad. And if you choose to top the blintzes (with pan roasted mushrooms on the savory and fresh strawberries on the sweet), no one will complain.
* If your melted butter is not completely cooled when you whisk it in (not pointing fingers, we’ve all been there), it may solidify slightly when you mix the batter and it will solidify even more when refrigerated. That’s not bad but you will have little butter chunks floating in the batter which can look a little weird. Don’t worry; they’ll melt when you cook the crepes.
** A lot of people say that the first crepe is always a throw away and that’s pretty true. But there will also probably be one or two other throwaways during the process so don’t let it derail you. I generally ruin at least one in the middle of the batch and another one near the end when I am getting bored of crepe making in addition to that poor first one. Just fold it up and eat it plain, no one will ever know.