Julia Mullen, operations manager for a medical manufacturer, lives in Centerport where she cooks for her husband and two children.
Did you grow up eating Polish food?
We have a varied background. On my father’s side of the family there are Italian, Russian and Polish relatives, and on my mother’s side of the family we have Irish, Scottish, French and English relatives. Depending on which side of the family you were visiting for the holiday, there were always plenty of different foods to choose from.
How did you first discover nalesniki, Polish crepes?
When I first moved out of my parent’s house, I stole as many recipes from my mother as possible — all the comfort food she’d make all the time. I then started remembering little things from childhood that I was investigating and trying to find recipes for. Only in the last couple years, with my parents getting older and me and my sisters taking on more of the cooking at the holidays, have I started making my family’s traditional Polish foods myself.
Have you adjusted the original recipe in any way over the years?
I always liked the way my mother made them because I like them a little less sweet, but I’ve found that my husband and kids really prefer them with added vanilla. I made them for his side of the family and they were literally eating them as the nalesniki were coming out of the fry pan. The kids were standing at the stove waiting for me to dish them out onto their plates. I had reserved a couple on another plate to bring over to the adults and they were all looking at them going, “What the heck is that?” But at the first bite, I heard, “Yum!” Everyone was grabbing for the toppings, maple syrup, and fruit afterward. The kids were reaching for the chocolate chips. Our tradition with our family was just the sour cream, maple syrup, and a less sweet version of the cheese filling.
Is it important to prepare nalesniki in a special pan?
An iron skillet is optimal for nalesniki. It heats up evenly and transfers the heat to the batter evenly so you don’t end up with it raw in one place and overcooked in another.
I experimented with a couple of pans because I didn’t have the right type of skillet for doing them at first. I had a flat bottom pan. I experimented with a fry pan that I got from Pampered Chef that had several different types of nonstick coatings built-in and baked on really well, so it’s not like a normal nonstick. If you don’t have an iron skillet, there is a way to use a nonstick pan but you have to use a very good one that heats evenly.
Could they burn if not cooked correctly?
The batter has to have a certain consistency, not too thick or thin. That’s why following the ratio of the flour to the milk is very important. Then just watch it and get a feel for the batter once you start making them. You’ll be able to get a feel for your pan and your batter, and how fast it’s cooking over time. I tend to first get the temperature underneath the pan very high and then turn it down to a medium setting. As I roll the batter, I lift the pan up off the burner and then put it down right before I have to flip it for a final time.
NALESNIKI (POLISH CREPES)
1 1⁄2 cups flour
3⁄4 teaspoon salt
1 3⁄4 cups milk (add a little at a time)
1⁄2 teaspoon Crisco (for frying)
1 tablespoon butter melted
1. Mix flour, salt, eggs and milk together to create a thick batter.
2. Set iron skillet over medium. Drop the Crisco into the pan, and roll to cover the entire bottom of the pan.
3. Using a ladle, pour batter into the pan and roll until the pan’s bottom is covered.
4. Cook until the crepe’s bottom is lightly browned, then flip. Continue cooking until the crepe’s bottom is again lightly browned. Stack on a plate and repeat the process until you have finished the batter.
5. Spread filling (see recipe below) onto a crepe and roll up. Repeat with the rest of the crepes. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
6. Just before serving, melt the butter in a fry pan, and lightly sauté each filled crepe until warm. Place heated crepes on a serving tray alongside toppings such as sliced fruit, chocolate chips and maple syrup. Makes 12-14 nalesniki.
SWEET CHEESE FILLING
1 pint ricotta cheese
1 (8-ounce) block of softened Neufchâtel cheese (or cream cheese)
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
Place ricotta and Neufchâtel in a blender or food processor and pulse until smooth. Add sugar and vanilla and mix until blended.