Blintzes are one of Shavuot’s most popular dishes. Long associated with Ashkenazi cooking, the light and airy hug of the blintz pancake envelopes pillowy fillings such as whipped farmer’s cheese or fruit compote. To call it a crepe is like calling chicken soup consommé. It sounds more fancy, but it lacks the tradition and warmth.
For Florence Tabrys, a Holocaust survivor, blintzes were a lifeline to her former life near Radom, Poland. I spoke to Florence when writing my first book “Recipes Remembered, a Celebration of Survival,” a compendium of stories and recipes I gathered from Holocaust survivors. I learned that as a child, Florence and her sister were separated from their parents in 1942 and sent to work in a munitions factory. They were eventually moved to Bergen-Belsen where they remained until liberated by the British army. Florence never saw her parents again, but the memories of her childhood’s favorite foods sustained her throughout the years. Her sweet and creamy cheese blintzes became a family tradition; she would prepare them in large batches and freeze them so they would always be at the ready.
Topping blintzes is always a game of chance. For those growing up in Poland, most likely it was whatever was on hand from yesterday’s breakfast or Sabbath lunch. Hanna Wechsler, a survivor of Auschwitz, described her mother’s “naleshniki” as a cross between a thin crepe and a traditional blintz. She remembers her mother filling them with strawberry preserves, chopped nuts, and a touch of sugar, then topping them with a strawberry sauce. Hanna described her experience in Auschwitz to me in the most poignant way. Her mother would sneak out of the barracks and bring back food that had been stolen from the camp’s kitchen to sustain Hanna. She said, “My mother gave birth to me every day we lived in Auschwitz, because without her I would not have survived.”
As an homage to these remarkable women I present Florence Tabrys’ creamy cheese blintzes topped with Hanna Wechsler’s strawberry sauce. Enjoy them on Shavuot and all year long. And remember, the thread that weaves Jewish food is vital but fragile, and needs to be lovingly maintained.
Note: The strawberry sauce will keep for 1-2 weeks in the fridge. You can also follow the same preparation using frozen blueberries or raspberries.
For the blintz batter:
- 6 large eggs
- ½ cup warm water
- ½ cup whole milk
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
For the blintz filling:
- 1 (4 ounce) package cream cheese, softened at room temperature
- 1 cup (7.5 ounce) package farmers’ cheese
- 1 tsp melted butter
- ¾ tsp ground cinnamon
- ½ cup sugar
- 1 egg, beaten
- butter for frying
For the strawberry sauce:
- 1 (16 ounce) bag frozen strawberries
- 3 Tbsp sugar
- ¼ cup water
- 1 tsp cornstarch
- juice and grated peel of half a lemon
- To make the strawberry sauce, in a medium saucepan, cook the strawberries, sugar, water, and cornstarch, over medium-low heat, until the berries are very soft, about 15 minutes. Puree the berries and stir in the lemon juice and grated peel. Serve hot or cold over blintzes.
- Prepare the blintzes batter by whisking together all the ingredients. The batter should be thinner than a pancake batter, and a golden color. Refrigerate the batter while you prepare the filling.
- For the filling, combine all the filling ingredients and gently blend until smooth.
- Heat a pat of butter in an 8-inch nonstick skillet. Ladle about ¼ cup of batter into the center of the pan and quickly swirl the pan in a circular motion to evenly distribute the batter. Fry for 1 minute and then flip the blintz over. Cook for just a few seconds on the flip side and remove to a waiting paper towel. Cover with a second paper towel to prevent the blintz from drying out. Wipe the pan clean of the residual butter, add a fresh pat and follow the same process until you have used all the batter.
- When cool to the touch, begin filling the blintzes. A large tablespoonful plopped right in the middle of the blintz should do it. Fold the blintz by bringing the two ends to the middle, and then fold the two sides into the middle, creating an oblong little package. Their irregular shape lets people know they are homemade, so don’t fret if they don’t look perfect. (You can freeze the prepared blintzes and fry them at a later time.)
- Fry the filled blintzes. Heat several pats of butter in the same skillet and fry them for several minutes or until golden brown.