By now, many of you are familiar with Tillie. I've recreated several of her recipes here over the years. And why not? Tillie Gould was my grandmother--my Nana. I was in my 30s when she died and for most of my life we lived in the same city. She was a wonderful cook and baker--and she spent a lot of time teaching me how to make her traditional Eastern European Jewish dishes. She wasn't the easiest person to get along with but she was special to me. I even got her to create a cookbook for me. This small denim looseleaf binder is filled with her handwritten recipes and I treasure it--even if, because she wrote it toward the end of her life, the recipes aren't exactly complete or accurate. They remind me of my childhood and how lucky I was to grow up in an era when family gatherings mattered and were centered around traditional foods.
Last week was Yom Kippur and my parents and I were invited to a break-the-fast dinner at family friends. I decided to share a dish I haven't had since I was much much younger--Tillie's Blintz Casserole, which is perfect for this type of evening that's focused around dairy and fish dishes. Nana used to bring this to our house for Shabbat dinner and we loved its creamy sweetness. It's a little reminiscent of a soufflé. You make the blintzes--here with ricotta cheese--and then pack them into a single layer in a casserole dish. Over the blintzes you pour a rich sauce made with eggs, sour cream, a little sugar and vanilla, and orange juice. Thanks to the eggs, the sauce puffs up and browns around the blintzes, which have also cooked and form layers of crepe and cheese.
Tillie taught me how to make blintzes when I was a teenager, and they were something I'd make for my college roommates. Later, when I lived on my own I'd make batches and freeze them. Then I got out of the habit. They sort of fell away from me. So revisiting this dish last week was like time travel.
Now I made them for a holiday, but this is a perfect brunch dish--and you can also fill the blintzes with applesauce or berries or preserves (think blueberry or sour cherry, say) instead of cheese. Also, here I used ricotta because it's easy to find. But hoop or farmer cheese are more traditional. Serve the casserole plain or with your favorite jams.
Tillie's Blintz Casserole
3 eggs, beaten slightly
1 1/2 cups water
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons canola oil
1 pound ricotta cheese
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon sugar or to taste
6 eggs, beaten
1 1/2 cup sour cream
4 tablespoons fresh orange juice
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
To make the blintzes: Make the crepes by beating the 3 eggs slightly. Add the water and teaspoon of sugar and beat together. Slowly beat in the flour until smooth. A few lumps are okay.
Return the skillet to the heat and let the crepe cook until the edges curl up slightly and the surface is cooked entirely--you won't be flipping them to cook on the other side. Use a spatula to help you turn out the crepe onto the wax paper on the plate. Then brush the pan again and repeat until you use up all the batter. You should have a dozen crepes. You can make these a day ahead. Just cover the crepes and store in the refrigerator.
To make the filling, blend together the 2 eggs, ricotta, cinnamon, and sugar.
Make the blintzes by placing 2 tablespoons of the filling in the center of the crepe. Fold the bottom half over the filling. Then fold the sides in. Then fold the top down over the center.
For the casserole, preheat the over to 350˚ F. Place each blintz seam side down in a buttered casserole dish.
Mix together the eggs, sour cream, orange juice, sugar, and vanilla.
Pour the melted butter over the blintzes, then pour the filling over the blintzes to cover.
Bake at 350˚ F for an hour.