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Blintz patrol

When you've been making the same recipe for more than half a century, you don't need to measure.

Yet that's what I bothered Shirley Greenberg to do on Sunday afternoon, as she and key female members of her clan came together to make a mess o' blintzes for this weekend's Yom Kippur break-fast.

Shirley Greenberg, on a roll in her Leisure World apartment. (Bonnie S. Benwick/The Washington Post)

It's a welcome ritual at this time of year. But in truth, meatless stuffed blini find a place on the table at many Jewish holidays. They are not pretty food, but a forkful of the crisped thin, eggy wrapper, firm warm filling and an accompanying dollop of sour cream is especially easy on the insides of someone who has fasted on the holiest of Jewish holidays, the Day of Atonement. Store-bought never tastes as good as homemade.

At 86, Shirley can't spend a long time standing in the kitchen. So days or weeks before Yom Kippur, she takes a seat at her dining-room table in Silver Spring's Leisure World and presides over an assembly line.

Granddaughter Paige Schwartz, 31, of Sikesville is pouring just enough batter to coat the bottom of three small pans on the stove. One of the pans with flared sides belonged to Shirley's mother. Pairs of spoons have been thrust into bowls of an oniony potato filling and a slightly sweet cheese filling. Tidy squares of waxed paper are positioned in front of the rollers: Shirley, her daughter-in-law Eileen Greenberg of Marriottsville and great-niece Beth Greenberg Steiner, 30, of Baltimore County. Shirley's daughter Saundra Bromberg of Fairfax ferries the just-made blintz wrappers out to the table, where they land on the waxed paper with a damp smack.

"I have a few extra hands because of our pregnant ladies," Shirley says with a smile, referring to Paige and Beth, who are due in November and December, respectively.

Recipe Included

"My mother wouldn't let me in the kitchen when I was young," says the kosher grandmother of six. "I didn't learn to cook or wash a stocking until after I was married."

She got pretty good at it, I reckon. Shirley adapted an old crepe batter recipe by cutting the milk with buttermilk ("I just thought it would be good"). Her cheese filling has a little lemon juice, sugar and cinnamon; her potato filling now starts with dehydrated potato flakes ("For convenience. But they're not bad, I have to say.")

The secret to good blini lies in Greenberg's thin aluminum pans. The one at top left was her mother's. The old nonstick skillet at right doesn't work as well the lighter pans. (Bonnie S. Benwick/The Washington Post)

As the warm, eggy aroma fills the space and everyone finds their own rhythms, Shirley's a little hard to pin down about exact measurements. She says her mother went by the "right" smell of what was cooked. "And I have discovered that most of the time, that's all you need," Shirley says.

Shirley and her old best friend-neighbor Dorothee Brotman from Riggs Park used to make up to 200 blintzes, depending on how many were coming for a combined-family holiday dinner. Now the Greenberg women make about 100, which takes a few hours. Shirley likes to make extra "for my three married children and their families. Beth gets a package, too."

The blintzes are served with sour cream and fruit. They are just part of the Greenbergs' menu that adheres to the dairy side of kosher cuisine and includes bagels from the Royal Bakery in Gaithersburg ("but New Jersey bagels are best," Bromberg and her mother point out) and lox from Costco, plus homemade apricot kugel, salmon croquettes, challah, mac and cheese, rice pudding, fruit salad, various baked goods and a favorite family apple cake.

The Greenberg women make sure they stick to Shirley's plan for the day, as their matriarch makes quick, definitive judgments about the condition of the blini (lightly browned only on one side); the placement and handling of the filling (on the browned side; roll and tuck in the sides); how the blintzes should line up on baking sheets for flash-freezing (seam sides down, with space in between and layered with sheets of foil); and how they should be reheated (on an electric griddle with a little butter or margarine, placed seam sides up; keep turning them till golden brown on both sides). And everyone needs to taste at least a good pinch of blini with filling as they work.

"It's a joyous afternoon for me," Shirley says.

For me as well, Shirley. Thanks for the invite. And now I have dozens of blintzes in my freezer, ready for the break-fast on Saturday night.

-- Bonnie S. Benwick

Three-and-a-half generations of Greenberg women who make blintzes each year, from far left: Beth Greenberg Steiner, Saundra Bromberg, Eileen Greenberg, Paige Schwartz. Seated: Shirley Greenberg. (Bonnie S. Benwick/The Washington Post)

Shirley's Blintzes
Makes 48 blintzes

This recipe almost demands at least two pairs of hands: one for making the blini and one for filling and rolling them while they are still warm.

Silver Spring resident Shirley Greenberg fills her blintzes with a traditional cheese mixture or with a potato-onion mixture. For convenience, she now uses dehydrated potato flakes, but you can substitute with 8 to 10 medium russets instead.

Each of the filling recipes will make about 48 blintzes; it's easy to whip up extra batter. And if you have any leftover blini, you can use canned pie filling to fill them.

MAKE AHEAD: The fillings can be made a day in advance, covered and refrigerated. The filled blintzes can be frozen on a baking sheet, then transferred to freezer-safe plastic food storage bags and frozen for up to 1 month.

For the cheese filling
7 1/2 ounces farmer cheese, such as Friendship brand
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1 pound pot-style cottage cheese, such as Friendship brand (may substitute dry, small-curd cottage cheese or ricotta cheese)
1 large egg
1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Ground cinnamon

For the potato filling
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
5 cups cooked potatoes (see NOTE)
4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

For the blini
6 large eggs
1 cup low-fat or nonfat milk
1 cup low-fat buttermilk
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups flour
Butter or margarine, for the skillet

For the cheese filling: Combine the cheeses, egg, lemon juice to taste and vanilla extract in a mixing bowl. Mix well, taste and season with sugar (start with a tablespoon for a slightly sweet filling) and cinnamon as desired. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

For the potato filling: Heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until it is softened. Remove from the heat.

Prepare the potatoes using either method (see NOTE). Transfer to a mixing bowl; add the cream cheese and cooked onion. Stir to incorporate, then season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover until ready to use.

For the blini: Combine the eggs, milk, buttermilk, salt, oil and flour in a blender. Puree to form a smooth batter, stopping to scrape down the sides of the blender jar as needed to make sure all the flour is incorporated. The batter should be smooth and fairly thin. Transfer to a bowl.

Lay a clean dish towel near the stovetop. Have 2 small (6-inch) skillets or crepe pans at hand, preferably with thin walls. Coat the inside with a thin film of butter or margarine and place over medium heat.

When the skillets or pans are hot, use a 1/4-cup measure to scoop about 3 tablespoons of the batter into a skillet; tilt so a thin, even layer of batter covers the inside bottom; let any excess drip back into the batter bowl. Cook for about 30 seconds, or just until the edges look dry and have a few bubbles. The blini will have a matte finish. Use a round-edged knife or spatula to loosen the edges of the blini.

Remove from the heat; invert the skillet or pan over the dish towel and rap it sharply that will let the blini fall onto the towel. (The blini may have a slight tail from where the excess was poured; this will help in the rolling.)

Use a little butter or margarine to grease the skillet or pan, then return to medium heat. Repeat with the batter. Once you establish a rhythm, cook in both pans so that one blini is ready just as you have started another one. (After about 10 blini, you may not need to keep re-greasing the skillets or pans.

When ready to assemble, lay a piece of wax paper on the work surface. Have a rimmed baking sheet at hand, the bowl(s) of filling at hand and the just-cooked blini at hand.
Place a heaping tablespoon of the filling on the blini near the edge that is closest to you. (If the blini has a tail, position it so it is the first flap to roll over the filling.) Roll forward, tucking in the sides as you go. Place on the baking sheet seam side down. Repeat to use all the blini, using plastic wrap or aluminum foil to create layers as needed.

Freeze until firm, then transfer to freezer-safe resealable plastic food storage bags.

To reheat, the blintzes can go straight into the pan or they can be transferred to the refrigerator to defrost overnight. Lightly grease a large saute pan with butter or margarine and place over medium heat. Add 5 or 6 blintzes and cook for a few minutes until lightly browned on one side, then turn them over and cook until lightly browned on the second side and the filling is pliable inside.

Serve warm, with sour cream on the side.

NOTE: For the potato filling using dehydrated flakes, bring 4 cups of water, 2 tablespoons of margarine and 1 teaspoon of salt to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to low; stir in 1/2 cup milk and 2 3/4 cups of dehydrated potato flakes until well combined. Cover and remove from the heat; let sit for 5 minutes. Proceed with the remaining filling ingredients.

If using russet potatoes, peel 8 to 10 medium ones and cut into large chunks. Cover with several inches of water in a large saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Cook until tender; drain and cool slightly. Mash them together with 1/2 cup milk, 2 tablespoons of margarine and 1 teaspoon of salt. Proceed with the remaining filling ingredients.

Per blintz (with cheese filling, using nonfat milk): 70 calories, 4 g protein, 4 g carbohydrates, 4 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 40 mg cholesterol, 135 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber, 0 g sugar

Per blintz (with potato filling, using nonfat milk): 60 calories, 2 g protein, 6 g carbohydrates, 4 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 30 mg cholesterol, 120 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber, 0 g sugar

By Bonnie S. Benwick  |  September 14, 2010; 2:00 PM ET
Categories:  Recipes  | Tags: Bonnie S. Benwick, recipes  
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We had blintz-making Sundays when I was growing up. We were a well-oiled machine -Mom made the batter, Dad poured it into the several pans we had going (yes, with a tilt and swirl!), and my sister and I were responsible for determining when the bledlach (never called them blini) were done and overturning them onto the wax paper. My mother made the filling and rolled them up. She made dozens of cheese blintzes (I have no idea how many we made) and a few dozen potato ones for my uncle who loved them. We did it all day and it is one of the best memories of my childhood. Plus, we had a ton of blintzes in the freezer and life was very good.

Posted by: ldf1 | September 15, 2010 11:07 AM | Report abuse

This recipe is fabulous! And easy! I used a smallish nonstick frying pan and made the batter in my food processor; no problem. What a treat, I will definitely be making these again.

Posted by: adavidson | September 17, 2010 9:12 PM | Report abuse

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