Blini for carnival….and beyond

February 16th, 2010

Hot off the griddle, blinis for apéros or...supper

Often blini -  little two-bite disks of goodness – appear as cocktail party fare at Christmas and Easter, making an appearance on some platters for a Mardi Gras fest.  But a blin or two can be great comfort food any time. The vagabond has fond memories of these pancakes as an occasional late supper after a long day’s work in wintry Helsinki. Hopping off the tram in front of Sashlik, one of the city’s Russian restaurants, once I stepped through the brocade entry curtains, the February snow and slush seemed far behind.  No menu was necessary, as I knew what to order:  a side of buttery blini and a restorative bowl of beet borscht. With the blini, just a dab of smetana and chopped dill – and an icy thimble-sized glass of vodka.

These lingering images stir me on, and I return to blini-making.  Most of my recipes call for  several pounds of flour, six eggs, a half-pound of butter – too big a batch without a crowd to feed.  At last, a scaled-for-two recipe of such stunning simplicity fell out of a favorite cookbook and landed in my lap.  This will make about fifteen to eighteen small blini:  allow about three hours including cooking them – two hours for the batter to rise gives you time to clear the way, chop up the garnish and heat the griddle.

Easy blini:      3/4 cup /175 ml  milk, warmed

2 tsp. granulated yeast

1/2 cup/ 50 g. buckwheat flour

1 large egg, separated

1/4 cup / 25 g. plain flour + 1/2 tsp. fine sea salt

1/4 cup /75 ml butter, melted

2 Tablespoons thick cream

2 Tablespoons minced dill (or dried if none is available)

1/2 cup/150 ml butter, warmed/clarified for cooking

Garnishes:  chopped green spring onions, chopped hard-boiled eggs, fish roe such as trout or – best of all – vendace, white fish roe/muikkun matti

Sprinkle the yeast over the warmed milk, let it proof for 10 minutes. Put the flours in a mixing bowl, make a well and plop the egg yolk in, then whisk in the milk/yeast. Set the bowl in a warm place to rise for 2 hours, wrapped in  a thick towel. Bubbles will form and let you know it is ready:  whip the egg white and fold it into this batter with melted butter, fold in the thick cream and dill (or use fresh dill as a garnish if you prefer). Heat a crêpe pan or iron skillet, dribble on some clarified butter (use the golden top layer, it tolerates high griddle temps) and drop 1 full tablespoon of batter for each blin; flip as bubbles begin to form around the edges. Keep warm (on a covered plate or in foil) or serve at room temperature with the garnishes.  And what to drink with your blini fest?  Sparkling wine, or iced vodka is the vagabond’s suggestion.

Cook’s Notes: Buckwheat flour is essential – but if you wish, use 1/3 rye flour, 1/3 buckwheat and 1/3 white flour proportions for heartier blini. The real deal is to have them “swimming in butter”, as a Finnish friend counsels, but that will be up to you.  Clarified butter has a higher smoke point, so it is worth the extra minutes to melt and separate it for cooking them without burning.  With the addition of smoked fish (delicate trout or peppered mackerel), lemon slices, sour cream and a modest beet and apple salad, blinis become a light supper.  Watch for more of the amazing buckwheat story in March.

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