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Julie Van Rosendaal goes Russian

Julie Van Rosendaal introduces us to the world of Russian cuisine.


Here's a recipe for a simple but elegant first course or appetizer that's festive and light. It's made with a delicate blini - silver-dollar sized Russian pancakes made to hold a dollop of crème fraîche and a pile of smoked salmon or caviar.

1 cup all-purpose flour (or half all-purpose, half buckwheat flour)
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup milk
3 Tbsp. butter, melted, plus extra for cooking
1 large egg
canola or other mild vegetable oil, for cooking

crème fraîche or sour cream
smoked salmon or caviar
chopped fresh chives or dill

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. In a smaller bowl, whisk together the milk, butter and egg; add to the dry ingredients and whisk just until combined - don't worry about getting all the lumps out.

Heat a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat and add a dab of butter and drizzle of oil. Tilt the pan to coat the bottom, and when the foam subsides, pour the batter by the tablespoon into the pan to make 2-inch circles of batter, spacing them an inch apart. Cook until bubbles start to appear on the surface, then flip with a thin spatula and cook until golden on the other side.

Set aside on a cooling rack as you cook them, and serve topped with crème fraîche or sour cream, salmon or caviar and a pinch of chopped fresh chives or dill. Makes about 2 1/2 dozen blini. 

Cherry Cheese Blintzes

1 1/4 cups milk
2 large eggs
1 Tbsp. canola oil
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp. sugar
pinch salt

2 cups farmers' cheese or ricotta
1/2 cup full-fat sour cream, crème fraîche or mascarpone
1 large egg
2 Tbsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla

Cherry Compote:
3 cups fresh or frozen pitted sour cherries
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1 tsp. vanilla
2 tsp. cornstarch (optional)

butter, for cooking

To make the crêpe better, put the milk, eggs, oil, flour, sugar and salt in a blender and pulse until well-blended and smooth (scrape down the sides once or twice) and let sit for 20-30 minutes. It should have the consistency of heavy cream.

To make the filling, stir together the farmers' cheese, sour cream, egg, sugar and vanilla. To make the sauce, bring the cherries, sugar and water to a simmer in a medium saucepan; cook until the cherries collapse. If you'd like it thicker, stir the cornstarch into a tablespoon of cold water; add to the cherry mixture and bring to a boil. Cook for 4-5 minutes, then remove from the heat and set aside to cool.

To make the crêpes, set a medium skillet (I like my well-seasoned cast iron skillet) over medium-high heat and drizzle with oil or spray with nonstick spray. Consider the first a practice; pour a few tablespoons' worth of batter into the pan and quickly swirl it to coat the bottom - or make an even circle. Cook until the edge starts to curl from the pan and it's golden on the bottom - at this point it will be easy to slide a thin heatproof spatula under the edge and flip the crêpe. Cook for another minute, until golden on the other side. Repeat with the remaining batter. (The crêpes can be made a day ahead; keep covered with plastic.

Filling a blintz is like filling a burrito: place a crêpe on your work surface and put about 1/4 cup filling in a strip down the middle, leaving about an inch at each end. Fold one long side over to enclose the filling; fold each short end over, then flip the whole thing over to close. Fill all the crêpes and set aside (or refrigerate for up to a day).

When you're ready to cook your blintzes, heat a good-sized pat of butter in your skillet set over medium-high heat. Cook a few at a time, without crowding the pan, until browned and crisp on both sides. Serve warm, with cherry compote on top.

Makes 8-10 blintzes.

Russian Ponchiki Doughnuts

1 cup farmers' cheese or ricotta
2-3 Tbsp. sour cream (if the cheese is very dry)
1/3 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
¼ cup raisins or currants (optional)

extra flour, for rolling
canola or other mild vegetable oil, for cooking
icing sugar or cinnamon sugar, for dusting

In a medium bowl, stir together the cheese, sour cream, sugar and egg. Add the flour, baking powder and salt and stir until you have a thick batter. If you like, stir in some raisins or currants.

Put some flour in a shallow bowl or pie plate. Scoop large spoonfuls of batter and roll in flour to coat. Heat a couple inches of oil over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking - a crust of bread should sizzle if you dip it in. Gently lower a few ponchiki at a time into the oil - don't crowd the pot - and cook until golden on the bottom. Flip and cook for a few minutes on the other side, until deep golden. Transfer with a slotted spoon to a paper towel-lined plate.

Dust with icing sugar or cinnamon sugar while still warm. Makes lots.

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