“When Russians and English bite into a pancake, they bite into different national traditions.”
(“Introduction.” Food in Russian History and Culture. Ed. Musya Glants and Joyce Toomre. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1997. Xii. Print.)
Traditionally blini is prepared with buckwheat flour and yeast and is consumed during butter week or Maslenitsa. It is essentially a Russian mardi gras, the week of decadence and feasting before Lent (1), and according to NPR’s report on the event, organized fist fights and dancing bears are “not obligatory,” but also not uncommon. We didn’t technically make traditional blini, but cooking them still felt authentic because we worked with Liana Battsaligova, the Russian language assistant for Grinnell. Her confidence and previous culinary experience made us feel like we knew what we were doing. The blini itself was very interesting to prepare; using only simple ingredients, we turned what could have been basic into a divine russian treat.
- 4 eggs
- ½ cup sugar (adjust to taste)
- 4 ½ cup flour
- 1 tsp baking soda
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ gallon of milk
- 1 cup boiling water
- 1 tbsp butter
- sour cream
In a large mixing bowl, whisk four eggs with a spoon, making sure not to mix them too much. In this recipe, we added about half a cup of sugar (our pro, Liana, eyeballed it), but depending on what the blini will be stuffed with, the amount can be adjusted. For example, when making savory blini, less sugar is appropriate; sweeter blini would need more. When the sugar has been adequately mixed, add about four and a half cups of flour to the bowl (also eyeballed) and create a well in the middle of the pile. Add the baking soda and salt. Preferably, the flour, baking soda, and salt would be sifted together into the bowl; however, we didn’t have a sifter in our wonderfully cramped communal kitchen, so we couldn’t. Pour a small amount of milk into the well and stir until there are no lumps. Keep doing little by little this until about half of the gallon is in the bowl. Liana likes to add half a cup of oil directly to the batter so that less butter is necessary for keeping the blini from sticking to the frying pan. She also usually adds a cup of boiling water for aesthetic reasons, but our stove was being uncooperative and wouldn’t heat up, and so our poor blini weren’t as pretty as they could’ve been. Once the stove decides to work, turn it on medium high, and add some butter to a hot frying pan. If the butter turns brown, turn down the heat. Ladle the batter into the pan and swirl it like an omelette or crepe so it’s spread thinly and evenly on the pan. The edges of the blin (singular) will start to lift from the pan when it’s ready to be flipped. Cook the other side for about 45 seconds, depending on how hot the stove is.
The Russian proverb, “the first pancake is always a lump,” only rang partially true in our case because Liana is a goddess of blini; the first pancake was only slightly less beautiful than its younger siblings. After accumulating a satisfactory stack of blini, relax and sit down to enjoy your creation. We stuffed ours with raspberry jam and the traditional sour cream, but fillings can range from caviar to Nutella.
(1) Lent is a Catholic tradition in which the participants abstain from meat, fish, dairy, and sometimes alcohol for 40 days in order to prepare for Easter.
Rolek, Barbara. “How to Make Traditional Russian Buckwheat Blini for Pancake Week.” About.com. About Food, n.d. Web. 12 Oct. 2015.
Godoy, Maria. “It’s Russian Mardi Gras: Time For Pancakes, Butter And Fistfights.” NPR. NPR, 14 Mar. 2013. Web. 12 Oct. 2015.
“Introduction.” Food in Russian History and Culture. Ed. Musya Glants and Joyce Toomre. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1997. Xii. Print.