Blini has always been the most traditional, ritualistic, and ur-Slavic of foods—the stuff of carnivals and divinations, of sun worship and an- cestral rites. In pre-Christian times, the Russian life cycle began and ended with blini—from pancakes fed to women after childbirth to the blini eaten at funerals. “Blin is the symbol of sun, good harvest, harmo-nious marriages, and healthy children,” wrote the Russian poet Alexander Kuprin (blin being the singular of blini).
To a pagan Slav, the ?our and eggs in the blini represented the fertility of Mother Earth; their round shape and the heat of the skillet might have been a tribute to Yerilo, the pre-Christian sun god. Even in Soviet days, when religion was banned, Russians gorged on blini not only at wakes but also for Maslenitsa, the Butterweek preceding the Easter Lent. They still do. Religions come and go, regimes fall, sushi is replacing seliodka (herring) on post-Soviet tables, but blini remain. Some foods are eternal.
Authentic Russian blini start with opara, a sponge of water, ?our, and yeast. The batter should rise at least twice, and for that light sour- dough tang I chill it for several hours, letting the ?avors develop slowly. Russian blini are the diameter of a saucer, never cocktail-size, and these days people prefer wheat to the archaic buckwheat. Most babushkas swear by a cast-iron skillet, but I recommend a heavy nonstick. Frying the blini takes a little practice: “The ?rst blin is always lumpy,” the Russian saying goes. But after three or four, you’ll get the knack.
The accompaniments include—must include!—sour cream and melted butter, herring, smoked salmon and white?sh, and caviar, if you’re feeling lavish. Dessert? More blini with various jams.
Reprinted from the book MASTERING THE ART OF SOVIET COOKING by Anya von Bremzen. Copyright © 2013 by Anya von Bremzen. Published in the United States by Crown Publishers, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company, New York. —Anya von Bremzen