We recently went to a friend’s house to have cocktails on his terrace overlooking a small lake. We were surprised to find champagne, ice cold vodka and homemade blini with caviar. Blini, which is the plural of blin, are small, rich pancakes similar to French crépes. We decided to try to repeat the experience when some special friends came over for drinks this week, and it was a real hit.
Blini are a traditional Russian and Ukrainian dish which have been eaten in those countries for over 2,500 years, as documented in old coins and medals. Although they are eaten throughout the year, they are most commonly enjoyed just before the beginning of Lent to celebrate the end of winter. They are always served with sour cream or crème fraiche, caviar, and finely chopped onions and hard boiled eggs. The egg yolk and white are always separated. Don’t ask why, that is simply the way it’s done.
In Russia and the Ukraine, the traditional liquid refreshment is always ice cold vodka. However, as a curtsy to modern tastes, especially among the ladies, champagne is also an excellent choice.
Not surprisingly, the proper way to assemble and eat a blini can be confusing. The best way is to take the blini, add a dollup of sour cream, put caviar on top of the sour cream and then add onion and egg as you wish. The proper way to eat a blini is to fold it in half like a taco, get near your plate so you don’t spill and enjoy. Finish with a nice taste of vodka or champagne and you will understand why this dish is so popular.
You have to be careful if the champagne is too good. Women tend to swoon.
Here is what you need for a party of up to eight people:
For the blini: (this recipe is based on the one found in Joy of Cooking with some modifications)
Makes 24 blini
- 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
- 2/3 cup whole wheat or buckwheat flour
- 2 tbsp. sugar
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 tbsp. dry yeast
- 4 tbsp. butter
- 1-1/2 cups of whole milk
- 3 eggs
- Heat the milk over medium heat; add the butter cut into pats and stir until the butter has just barely melted. Do not get the milk too hot; it should feel hot but not scalding to your pinky. If not, let it cool.
- Sprinkle the dry yeast over the milk, stir and let sit for 5 minutes. (BTW, the reason you don’t want the milk too hot is because it will kill the yeast if the temperature is over about 120 degrees F. If the milk is too cold, less than 100 degrees F, the yeast will not “bloom”.)
- Mix the dry ingredients – flour, salt and sugar.
- Separate the egg yolks from the whites. Lightly beat the yolks with a fork.
- Add the buttery milk and the egg yolks to the dry ingredients and whisk gently.
- Cover with plastic wrap and let the batter sit for 1-2 hours.
- When the batter is ready, beat the whites until they have small peaks and fold into the batter.
- Add a pat of butter to a large frying pan over medium-low heat. Add two tablespoons of batter for each of the blini. Flip when you see browned edges and bubbles on the top. Add additional pats of butter as needed.
- Keep the blini warm in a glass dish covered with a dish towel or in an oven at 200 degrees F.
For the accompaniments:
- 4 oz. caviar
- 1-1/2 cups of crème fraiche or sour cream, diluted with 3 tbsp. of heavy cream. Crème fraiche is not readily available and sour cream diluted with a little heavy cream works very well.
- 1 Spanish red onion – finely diced
- 3 eggs – hard boiled and finely diced with the yolks and the whites separated
- 2 bottles of good champagne (try the great American champagne from New Mexico – Gruet
- 1 bottle of cold vodka (store it in the freezer)
The only issue with the accompaniments is hardware. You need to find some dainty bowls and small spoons for the onion, eggs and caviar. It is best to set the caviar bowl into a larger bowl which has ice to keep it chilled. (There are caviar bowls you can buy on Amazon) The vodka and champagne also need ice buckets. Improvise as needed.