Thursday, March 7, 2013

Bliny: Russian crepe-style pancakes

Bliny
It's Maslenitsa week next week! We must prepare. Maslenitsa in the Russian Orthodox tradition is the week that precedes the 40 days of the Great Lent, when no meat, fish, dairy or eggs are allowed. Therefore, Maslenitsa is the time when people traditionally make bliny - large, thin, crepe-like pancakes that are slathered with generous amounts of butter. In fact, the word Maslenitsa comes from the word maslo, which means "butter." Maslenitsa falls on the end of winter, so it is also the time to celebrate the coming of spring. In the end of the Maslenitsa week a large doll representing winter is often burned on the town square, amidst celebration, to say goodbye to the cold days and to greet in the spring. Both the idea of feasts and the public celebration makes the festival similar to Mardi Gras.


Bliny are traditionally served with jelly, sour cream, honey, plain or cooked condensed milk (the same as used in Banoffee Tartlets) and yes, caviar. The bliny (by the way, the singular form of bliny is blin) that I have seen in many US cookbooks - small, thick pancakes served with sour cream and caviar or salmon roe - are really olady, pancakes. Bliny are large and thin, which also makes them perfect for wrapping around savory fillings, such as meat or tvorog, farmer cheese (more about it here). This time I simply made toffee sauce by combining cooked and regular condensed milk.

Bliny have a reputation of being hard to make. There is even a common expression in Russian, pervy blin vsegda komom - "the first blin always comes out in a lump," meaning do not get discouraged if your first effort is less than successful. But with modern non-stick skillets making bliny is not hard at all. All it takes is a little practice and patience. And if you quickly eat your first lumpy blin - who's to know it wasn't perfect! I prefer to use two skillets at the same time as it makes things go so much faster. I have also tried three skillets and nope... couldn't keep up :).


Bliny can be made with yeast, baking soda or no leavening at all. For the liquid, milk, buttermilk (kefir - more about it here) or water can be used. I have even seen (and tried) recipes using carbonated water because the bubbles help create tiny holes in the bliny, making them lacy. I find that regular white flour works best, but it is also possible to substitute some of it with buckwheat or other types of flour.

The recipe below is adapted from the one I got from my friend's mom. Over the years, I have experimented with dozens of recipes but now I think my search is over. These are perfect. They have a nice sweetness to them (in fact, I prefer to eat them with nothing at all, just enjoying their buttery goodness), but they are also not too sweet to be used with savory fillings.

When growing up, we never used knives or forks when eating bliny. You just fold a blin into a nice triangle and dip the tip into your accompaniment of choice (even melted butter!). I still like to eat them this way: there is certain tactile pleasure in touching these soft, warm cakes before taking a bite. I hope you will go for it... and enjoy.


Bliny

Makes 20

2 cups flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
5 tablespoons vegetable oil (flavorless; do not use olive oil)
3 cups milk
3/4 cups water

1 stick butter

Mix flour, sugar, salt, eggs, oil and 1 cup milk until smooth (immersion hand blender works great). Mix in the rest of the milk and the water. Cover and refrigerate the batter for 15 minutes.

On medium high, heat a nonstick skillet. Run the stick of butter around the bottom of the skillet to grease. It only needs to be done once.

Using a ladle, pour a few tablespoons of batter onto the center of the pan. Swirl the pan so that the batter coats the bottom of the pan evenly. You will get a feel of the right amount of batter to use after a few tries. Once the edges of the crepe begin to brown, run a spatula around the sides to loosen. Use your fingers to flip the crepe over. Cook a few seconds more then invert onto a plate. Generously grease the crepe with a stick of butter before stacking the next one on top.


15 comments:

  1. Respect!! I'm giving up meat, eggs and dairy for lent, and finding that difficult enough without going completely vegan. Any recipes suggestions would be brilliant. I think I could go a fortnight vegan... but not a whole 40 days ;-\

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I am not religious but I know vinegret is often made during lent: http://redstartolonestar.blogspot.com/2012/09/vinegret.html.

      I admire your resolve... good luck!

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  2. nom nom! traditional dishes can sometimes be perfect..so wrong to ingnore them! this russian recipe looks stunning dear :)
    xxxFiC.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you Katerina. I am all for comfort food!

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  3. I'm dying to try my hand a crepes, these look so good, especially with that toffee sauce. Do you think buckwheat flour would work in these?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Sue! If you've never made crepes I would start with regular white flour, just because the crepes will be easier to handle. Buckwheat makes them less elastic and more likely to tear as you are trying to flip them. Also, I would substitute only part of white flour with buckwheat.

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  4. Privet, Alina! What a beautiful blog! I admire your photography!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Looks simple and so delicious! Do you have the recipe for the toffee sauce too? I'd like to give those a try on a sunday morning :-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This is Dulce de Leche mixed with regular condensed milk. You can buy it canned, made by Nestle, in stores: http://www.walgreens.com/store/c/nestle-dulce-de-leche/ID=prod6064924-product

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  6. I'd really like the recipe for the sauce as well!!!

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  7. My results were glorious. I made them tis morning following your recipe. They tasted like awesome. However, now that I reread your blog, I completely missed the part about refrigerating the batter for 15 minutes. Was that an important step? I'll do it next time I cook a batch.

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  8. This recipe is just perfect! Made them for my kids with fresh fruits and melted chocolate!
    THANKS!

    ReplyDelete

I greatly appreciate your comments. There is nothing I like more than the two-way communication with my readers. Because I hate word verification I won't make you look at those squiggly letters... but I do have to moderate to protect from spam :).

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