In the Kitchen: Blini

Dear Constant Reader,

Tomorrow is Mardi Gras! And Shrove Tuesday! And Maslenitsa*!

At The Manor that means pancakes. Actually it means blini. Blini are Slavic yeast-raised buckwheat pancakes that are fairly involved to make. Usually we made quick blini, which are easy and good, but don’t have the flavor you only get with a yeast batter. Then I found Ruth Reichl’s recipe, which is much simpler than traditional blini and still so delicious.

1/4 cup buckwheat flour (I use Bob’s Red Mill, my go-to for unusual grains)
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 Tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon yeast
4 Tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
1 cup milk
2 eggs

Mix together flours, sugar, salt, and yeast. The sugar is just there to give the yeast something to eat. These pancakes aren’t going to be very sweet.

Melt the butter into the milk in a small saucepan. Cool until it’s just warm. If you put a drop of milk on the inside of your wrist and it doesn’t feel hot, it’s about the right temperature for the yeast. Whisk the milk mixture into the dry ingredients.

Cover the bowl — plastic wrap is fine — and put it someplace warm to rise until doubled. My fancy new oven has a bread proof setting, but I used to set the bowl next to one of our cast-iron radiators. Rising will probably take about an hour and a half. Once it’s doubled, whisk in the eggs.

Now stash the batter in the fridge until the next day (that’s why I’m giving you the recipe today instead of tomorrow). You could make your blini right away, but they’re better if the batter rests overnight. Stir the batter well before using and let it sit at room temperature just a bit to get the chill off.

To cook, generously butter a frying pan or griddle. Really be generous with the butter. Maslenitsa means “Butter Week”. Pour out some batter into the hot pan. You can make huge blini the size of the pan or little bitty ones. Totally up to you, but they should be thin. The blini only need to cook for about a minute on a side. The first couple are going to be terrible looking, so eat them right away before anyone can see the evidence.

As the blini come out of the pan, put them into a low oven (about 200F) to stay warm.

Serve with melted butter, sour cream, jam, and/or caviar. If your blini are thin enough, you can roll them around the fillings for an elegant presentation. I usually don’t bother.

I served the ones in the photo with sour cream and homemade sour cherry jam.


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*which actually starts today, but it lasts a week.