Blins or blini were symbolically considered by early Slavic peoples in pre-Christian times as a symbol of the sun, due to their round form. They were traditionally prepared at the end of winter to honor the rebirth of the new sun (Butter Week, or Maslenitsa, also called "pancake week"). This tradition was adopted by the Orthodox church and is carried on to the present day. Blini were also served at wakes to commemorate the recently deceased. Traditional Russian blini are made with yeasted batter, which is left to rise and then diluted with cold or boiling water or milk. When diluted with boiling water, they are referred to as zavarniye blini. The blini are then baked in a traditional Russian oven. The process of cooking blini is still referred to as baking in Russian, even though these days they are universally pan-fried, like pancakes. Caviar, that infamous lightly salted sturgeon roe, is a bit of a dirty word these days, and not necessarily because it has long been thought of as a snack for the filthy rich. Overfishing has reduced much of the world’s wild sturgeon stocks to the verge of extinction, and not just in the Baltic and Black Seas, but in North America as well. There are now strict regulations in place, however, and imports of the endangered species, like beluga, are currently prohibited, sustainably farmed sturgeon (and caviar) is the best choice. Serves 4-6.
For the blini
- 125g brown buckwheat flour
- 250g fine white flour (if you want gluten-free pancakes, you could use rice flour)
- 30g fresh yeast
- 1 tsp caster sugar
- 450ml lukewarm milk
- 3 eggs, separated
- 2½ tbsp soured cream
- 2½ tbsp melted butter, plus extra for brushing
- 1 red onion, very finely chopped
- 1 handful curly parsley, very finely chopped
- 4 tbsp soured cream
- 90g caviar
- Put the flours in a bowl with quarter of a teaspoon of salt.
- Mix the yeast with the sugar, then add the milk.
- Leave for 20 minutes until a foam forms on the top.
- Make a well in the centre of the flours and pour in the yeast mixture, beating as you go.
- When you have a smooth batter, leave the mixture to rise for about one and a half hours. Stir in the egg yolks, the soured cream and the melted butter. Leave to prove for 20 minutes.
- Whisk the egg whites until stiff and fold carefully into the bubbly pancake mixture.
- Heat a flat griddle or pancake pan and brush with a little melted butter; it should be hot but not smoking.
- Drop a dessert spoonful of the mixture on to the pan and cook until bubbles rise to the surface and pop.
- Flip the pancake over and cook until puffed. Keep warm, wrapped in a cloth, on a plate.
- For the garnishes, put the onion in a separate bowl. Serve with parsley and sour cream in two more bowls.
- Put all in the centre of the table with the blini. Serve the caviar in a glass bowl, positioned over a larger bowl of crushed ice. Enjoy with a shot of Russian vodka.