How to Make Perfect, Just-Fluffy-Enough Blini

This infinitely customizable appetizer is a crowd-pleaser—if you get the base right.

October  8, 2020
Photo by Julia Gartland

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 disks, mere vessels for whatever tasty filling tops them. But true blini, made from yeast-risen buckwheat batter, are actually 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 nearby. Want to get in on the blini action? Here’s what you need to know.

A little dollop goes a long way Photo by Julia Gartland

What Are Blini?

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.

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Blini have become well known enough that recipes are easy to come by. However, a lot of them call for a preparation similar to pancakes or crêpes, adopting the less traditional method of using a chemical leavener, such as baking power. Traditional blini are yeast-risen, and thus benefit from the sour flavor that fermentation provides. The extra step is well worth it!

Mini blini let you sample more toppings. Photo by Julia Gartland

How to Make Blini at Home

1. Figure out what size you want to make

One of the more common ways to see blini is as two-bite disks. 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. 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.

The yeast takes a rest so it can rise later. Photo by Julia Gartland

2. Mix 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, which activates the yeast and starts the process of fermentation. This allows 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 to 1 1/2 hours before cooking.

Wait for that specked brown.

3. Cook the Blini

Cook blini 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-size blini, scoop circles of batter (about 1 heaping tablespoon each) into the pan and cook until golden brown, 1 to 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, 2 to 3 minutes per side. To make plate-sized blini, scoop circles of batter (about 2/3 heaping cup each) into the pan and cook until golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes per side.

Lox is a good, no-fail option to keep in your fridge the night before serving. Photo by Julia Gartland

Can I Make Blini Ahead of Time?

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 tightly in plastic wrap, and store in a plastic zip-top bag in the freezer. Reheat the frozen blini in a 300°F oven on a baking sheet for 7 to 9 minutes, until the edges are crisp again.

And why not some smoked trout, too? Photo by Julia Gartland

What to Top Your Blini With

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
  • Soft cheeses

Traditional toppings include:

  • Smoked salmon (I also like smoked trout or other fish)
  • Caviar
  • Eggs

You can also veer off that path and go for things like:

  • Roasted vegetables
  • Pickles (pickled beets, pickled celery, even pickled eggs are awesome!)
  • Shredded meat

I also like to add plenty of fresh herbs:

  • Dill
  • Parsley
  • Mint
  • Chives

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.

Gimme! Photo by Julia Gartland

How to Serve the Blini

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.

Our Go-To Blini Recipes

Buckwheat Blini

Blini—like the ones in this recipe—are traditionally made with buckwheat flour, which is a gluten- and grain-free four that has an earthy-meets-grassy flavor with the slightest hints of hops. You'll want to let the batter rest for 2 hours (so it can ferment) before cooking up golden-brown batches on the stove top.

Blini with Herbed Sour Cream & Caviar

This blini recipe is classic-ish, with tangy sour cream, caviar, and lots of fresh herbs. You could easily spend a fortune on caviar, but there are plenty of domestic options you can use here that won't break the bank. According to one Martha Stewart article, "Hackleback is considered a good substitute for osetra caviar. It's black, with a nutty finish." You can also try options like wild salmon or trout roe, which have a bright orange color and similar briny pop.

Blini with Horseradish, Beets & Smoked Trout

With bright bursts of pickled beets, spicy horseradish, and citrus zest, this is one appetizer (or dinner, if you'd like) blini that won't fade into the background. The smoky savoriness of the trout works especially well with all these zingy components, and the fluffy-crisp blini hold everything together for the perfect bite.

Blini with Crème Fraîche & Smoked Salmon

A tried-and-true combo—smoked salmon plus something creamy-tart (oh, and don't forget the dill)—shines in these little blini; we could probably eat seven of them in a row. It's an excellent any-time-of-day snack, or perhaps a light breakfast or brunch, that you can prep well ahead of time and serve on the fly.

How would you top a blini? Let us know in the comments!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

I always have three kinds of hot sauce in my purse. I have a soft spot for making people their favorite dessert, especially if it's wrapped in a pastry crust. My newest cookbook, Savory Baking, came out in Fall of 2022 - is full of recipes to translate a love of baking into recipes for breakfast, dinner, and everything in between!

1 Comment

Steph December 11, 2018
How many of the tiny blini does this recipe make?