My husband is something of a Russophile, having studied the language for nearly a decade. This past weekend we had occasion to make some Russian food, and of course, Mr. R jumped at the chance to reminisce about time he spent there.
Russia is not exactly known for its haute cuisine, but there are many dishes that evoke a certain sense of nostalgia and longing for those who know them well. Blini is one of them. Just as I daydream wistfully about crêpes à nutella and the time I spent in France, Mr. R thinks of blini.
Blini are similar to crepes, and many recipes may be nearly identical, but a truly authentic blin will include yeast, which gives it a sort of leavened, bready taste quite different from the French version. You can eat them however you’d like, but in Russia they are often served with honey, or some smoked fish or mushrooms with some sour cream and dill.
This recipe is from Please to the Table by Anya von Bremzen and John Welchman. The Russians and Russian wannabes in attendance all agreed these tasted like the real thing.
4.25 cups milk
5 teaspoons sugar
2 packages active dry yeast
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons light vegetable oil, plus additional for frying
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
4 large eggs, separated
1 small potato, halved
In a small saucepan, scald 3 cups of milk over low heat. Move to a bowl and cool until lukewarm.
Add 1 teaspoon sugar and the yeast to the milk, and let sit about five minutes until foamy.
Whisk in half the flour completely and set aside, covered, until doubled in bulk (about one hour).
Beat in the remaining flour, the salt, 2 tablespoons oil, the butter, and the remaining sugar. Set aside for another 45 minutes, until doubled.
Bring the remaining 1.25 cups of milk to a boil, remove from heat, and beat into the batter.
In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until they reach soft peaks and fold into the batter.
Let rise once more for another 45 minutes, covered.
Now you are ready to fry the blini!
Heat a skillet over medium-high heat. We found non-stick coated pans to be the easiest.
Dip half a potato in vegetable oil and use to coat the pan.
Drop a scant quarter cup into the skillet and immediately tilt in all directions to spread the batter to the edges.
Heat the blin for a few minutes, until the bottom has browned and it lifts easily from the pan.
Now carefully — carefully — use a pair of tongs to lift the edge of the blin, grab with your fingers and gently but quickly flip over. Cook for another few minutes until browned.
The first few will just be for practice. Don’t get distraught! After 3 or 4 you’ll be a pro.
Stack them up and reheat in the oven if necessary.
Blini will taste good with just about anything, but we had some smoked fish, sour cream chopped dill, and vegetarian paté (recipe here) for others to garnish as they pleased.
These were labor-intensive, but so worth it. Give it a try!