I recently fell back in love with blini. Yes, we had been on a bit of a hiatus—I remembered them as not-always-flavorful discs, mere vessels for whatever tasty filling tops them. But true blini, made from yeast-risen batter and featuring buckwheat flour, are bursting with flavor and have a lovely texture. They make amazing appetizers and cocktail party fare, but larger-sized blini (read on!) can make fabulous brunches and even dinner entrées, especially with a crisp salad in tow. Want to get in on the blini action? Here’s what you need to know.
Traditional = Better
Blini have a long history in Slavic cuisines. Traditionally, they are made with buckwheat flour (or a combination of buckwheat and another flour), which give them a lovely color and a slightly nutty, toasty flavor. Blini have become well known enough that recipes are easy to come by. However, a lot of recipes call for a preparation similar to pancakes or crêpes, adopting the less traditional method of using a chemical leavener, like baking power. Traditional blini are yeast-risen, and benefit from the sour flavor that fermentation provides. The difference is well worth it!
One of the more common ways to see blini is as two-bite discs. This is surely an excellent way to enjoy blini, but again, it differs slightly from tradition. Traditional blini recipes show several variations—saucer-sized ones are often served folded, filled, or topped with garnishes. Entrée plate–sized blini can be filled and rolled (a bit like a blintz), or simply topped with a garnish. How you choose to serve your blini is up to you—and I think each size has a time and place. The recipe below provides guidelines for making blini in all three sizes.
Mixing the Batter
The batter doesn’t require much mixing; it’s a lot like mixing up a batch of pancake batter. The main difference comes with the yeast. In order for the yeast to do its job, the base liquid—in my recipe, milk, but for other recipes, it may be water or another liquid—needs to be warmed slightly to activate the yeast and start the process of fermentation, which will allow more flavor to develop in the finished blini. Whisk the batter until well combined, then cover with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature for 1-1 1/2 hours before cooking.
Cooking the Blini
Cook blinis in a well-greased skillet. (I like to use nonstick spray to ensure the pan is evenly coated, reducing the risk of greasy blini.) Heat the skillet over medium heat, and try to keep the heat consistent to encourage even browning. To make bite-sized blini, scoop circles of batter (about 1 heaping tablespoon each) into the pan and cook until golden brown on each side, 1-2 minutes per side. To make saucer-sized blini, scoop circles of batter (about 1/3 heaping cup each) into the pan and cook until golden brown on each side, 2-3 minutes per side. To make entrée plate–sized blini, scoop circles of batter (about 2/3 heaping cup each) into the pan and cook until golden brown on each side, 3-5 minutes per side.
Blini can feel like a bit of a project, especially if you’re opting for bite-size versions for a party. But know there are a few ways you can make your blini ahead of time. You can refrigerate the batter after mixing, allowing it to ferment/rise more slowly in the refrigerator (for up to 8 hours), before you cook the blini. Alternatively, the cooked blini can be frozen for up to 1 month, buying you a bit of time come party day. Here's how to freeze and reheat effectively: Arrange the blini in a single layer on a piece of parchment paper, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and store in a plastic zip-top bag in the freezer. Re-warm the frozen blini in a 300°F on a rack on a baking sheet for 7-9 minutes until lightly re-crisped.
Topping the Blini
The fun part! Really anything can go on top of a blini, but I generally like to start with a smooth filling of some sort (crème fraîche, sour cream, or soft cheeses are all excellent ideas). Traditional toppings include smoked salmon (I also like smoked trout or other fish), caviar, or eggs. But you can also veer off that path and go for things like roasted vegetables, pickles (pickled beets, pickled celery, even pickled eggs are awesome!), or shredded meat. I also like to add plenty of fresh herbs: dill, parsley, mint, and chives are all great ones. A hit of citrus zest looks pretty and tastes great too. Anything goes, so think of flavors and pick toppings that work for your preferred blini size.
Serving the Blinis
Blini can be served slightly warm or at room temperature. Once topped, they are best served immediately. Like all starch-based products, they can get soggy with time. If you’re planning on a party setup that involves lots of grazing, you may want to place the plain blini on a platter with the toppings arranged around them (a top-your-own blini party, if you will), so guests can assemble their own, and everything will stay fresh longer.
I always carry three kinds of hot sauce in my purse. I have a soft spot for making people their favorite dessert, especially if it's pie. My first cookbook, The Fearless Baker, is out on October 24, 2017.