It’s the second week of the Winter Olympics being held in Sochi, Russia and the competition is fierce as each country strives to up their medal count before the closing ceremonies. Maybe you’re planning a big closing ceremonies party or maybe you just need something to munch while you cheer on your favorite athlete. Perhaps you’re in a festive mood. Maslenitsa is a traditional holiday in Russia celebrated from February 24th – March 2nd. We’ll get to that in a bit. Either way, this week’s recipe is sure to please. In honor of Mother Russia, we’re exploring the ancient origins of Russian blini. We’re going to give you two modern blini recipes, one savory and one sweet, so you’ll be prepared no matter what you’re craving.
The blin is an iconic Russian food. Thin pancakes fried on a hot frying pan, blini are eaten and cherished throughout the region. Their origin can be traced back to ancient times when oat jelly was fried to make a thick, flat cake. Oat jelly was similar to porridge. Oatmeal was soaked in water for 12 hours, boiled down, strained and allowed to cool. It then formed a jelly that could be warmed up and mixed with milk and salt. Frying the jelly and making it into a blin created a hearty and transportable food source.
Blini quickly became an integral part of the Russian culture. It followed a person from birth to death. A woman was given a blin just after giving birth because it was believed to be lucky for the newborn. As well, blini were always served at funeral feasts. Blini became so important that even their preparation was sacred and somewhat mysterious. A good housewife would take her ingredients and go off to the “lakeshore or forest’s edge” to prepare her blini, the better to keep her concoction’s secret. Races were even held in which contestants would run while flipping the frying blini in their pans.
Blini became even more important during the festival called Maslenitsa. This festival began as a pagan celebration of the coming of the sun and the banishing of winter by the sun god Yarylo. The blin with its round shape and yellow color was the perfect symbol of the sun and was the sole food source during the week-long festival. The more blini a woman made, the richer and more fruitful would be the harvest of the spring and summer. Eventually, the Christians inherited Maslenitsa from the pagans and it became a celebration to anticipate and precede The Great Lent. The traditions and modes of celebration have remained much the same throughout the centuries. Blini are made every day of the week with the first pancake traditionally being given to a poor beggar in honor of deceased relatives. Since meat is forbidden during the week, blini are eaten morning to evening.
Today, blini are made with a variety of delicious fillings—some savory, some sweet, but all hailing back to their humble and ancient origins. Enjoy these two blini recipes and celebrate the rich history of Russia!
Blini with Horseradish Cream and Roasted Peppers
For the blini:
- 4 ounces of buckwheat/whole wheat flour
- 4 ounces of plain flour
- A pinch of salt
- 2 free-range eggs, plus 2 free-range egg whites
- 1½ ounces of fresh yeast
- 2 teaspoons of caster sugar
- 1 pint/ 5 fluid ounces of warm milk
- 1 tablespoon of melted butter
- vegetable oil, for frying
For the topping:
- 4 red peppers, roasted, peeled, seeds removed
- 4 ounces of sour cream
- 1 tablespoon of creamed horseradish from a jar
- 1 tablespoon of chopped fresh tarragon
- ½ lemon, juice only
- 12 black olives
- freshly ground black pepper
- For the blinis, sift the buckwheat (or whole wheat) flour and plain flour into a bowl and mix with a pinch of salt.
- Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and add the two whole eggs and one of the egg whites. Whisk from the center outwards to create a thick paste.
- In a separate bowl, combine the yeast, sugar and milk and leave to stand for a couple of minutes.
- Gradually pour the yeast mixture into the flour and egg mixture, whisking constantly, to make a smooth batter.
- Add the melted butter and stir well.
- Cover the bowl with saran wrap and leave in a warm place for one hour.
- Just before cooking the blinis, whisk the remaining egg white in a clean bowl until light, then fold into the batter.
- Heat a little oil in a frying pan over a medium heat. Pour enough batter into the pan to make a 10cm/4in diameter blini.
- When bubbles start to appear on the surface of the batter, turn the blini over and cook the other side.
- Remove the blini from the pan and keep warm while you make the rest of the blinis in the same way.
- For the topping, slice the roasted red peppers into strips.
- Spoon the soured cream, horseradish, tarragon and lemon into a bowl and mix well.
- Spoon one tablespoon of the cream mixture onto each blini and top with some of the red pepper pieces.
- Top each blini with an olive and season with freshly ground black pepper.
Blini with Fruit Filling
- 4 1/4 cups of milk
- 5 eggs
- 1/3 teaspoon of salt
- 2 tablespoons of white sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
- 1/8 teaspoon of citric acid powder
- 4 cups of all-purpose flour
- 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil
- 1 cup of boiling water
- 2/3 cup of butter, divided
- 1 cup fine-quality apricot preserves
- 1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice
- Confectioner’s sugar for dusting
- Beat together the milk and the eggs. Stir in the salt and the sugar and mix well. Add the baking soda and citric acid.
- Blend in the flour. Add the vegetable oil and pour in the boiling water, stirring constantly. The batter should be very thin, almost watery. Set the bowl aside and let it rest for 20 minutes.
- Melt a tablespoon of butter in a small frying pan over medium-high heat. Pick the pan up off the heat. Pour in a ladleful of batter while you rotate your wrist, tilting the pan so the batter makes a circle and coats the bottom. The blini should be very thin.
- Return the pan to the heat. Cook the blini for 90 seconds. Carefully lift up an edge of the blini to see if it’s fully cooked: the edges will be golden and it should have brown spots on the surface. Flip the blini over and cook the other side for 1 minute.
- Transfer the blini to a plate lined with a clean kitchen towel. Continue cooking the blini, adding an additional tablespoon of butter to the pan after each 4 blini. Stack them on top of each other and cover with the kitchen towel to keep warm.
- Purée preserves and lemon juice in a food processor until smooth. Spread 1/2 tablespoon preserves on each blin and fold three times to make a triangle shape. You can also fold up all 4 sides, like a small burrito. Dust with confectioner’s sugar.