Russian Blini are a yearly treat in my house. I have made several blini recipes over the years and my favorite recipe is now this yeasted Blini recipe. Blini are the Eastern European version of crepes. Many Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians have a feast featuring blini once a year, just before great lent preceding Easter. The feast is called Maslenitsa or "butter week." I've celebrated Maslenitsa with family and friends many different ways with many kinds of blini over the years; from the East coast to West coast, New York to San Francisco. I've even experienced Maslenitsa in Russia as well when I studied in St. Petersburg in my 20's. Now my celebration is small with just my immediate family, but it's still just as special and fun. (Oh, and SO delicious!!)
How are Blini different from Pancakes?
Blini are like crepes because they're thin and lacy like crepes, but smaller, and a bit more dense. Most people make blini with yeast as well, whereas crepes do not have yeast. Blini are also different from pancakes in that they are served with fillings and toppings just like crepes. They are not really a breakfast food, but you could enjoy them as breakfast or dessert if you like. Instead of serving with syrup you serve them with clarified butter, yes, lots and lots of butter. Traditionally, they are served as a savory, salty and buttery entrée as you'll see below as well.
What is Blini?
Blini, pronounced, "bleeny" (hard "E" sound) is actually the plural of the word, Blin (Bleen). (That's as close as I can get to spelling out the pronunciation, but it's not exact.) The word, Blin is also a Russian slang word, meaning "darn it." I can't tell you how many times I heard Russians saying "blin" when I visited Russia and every time it made me giggle inside. And now you know! Blini are also called blinchiki (the diminutive form of the word). They are also spelled "Bliny." Blintz's are similar, but they are folded up like mini burritos with cheese and/or fruit fillings.
Eastern Slavs celebrated the end of winter with "sun shaped" thin pancakes to symbolize rebirth and the beginning of Spring in pre-Christian times. The Eastern Orthodox church adopted this tradition on the last week before Great Lent and called it Maslenitsa. Maslenitsa is also known as "Butter Festival," "Butter Week" or "Pancake Week." It serves as a way to use up all the rich dairy they could; by cooking up blini with lots of rich ingredients like, butter, eggs and cream. Maslenitsa happens at a different time each year, depending on when Easter falls. It's the Eastern equivalent to the Western Mardi Gras, although it's a completely different sort of celebration. This tradition has stuck with Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians and it's been passed on from generation to generation.
How are Blini made?
If you don't own a crepe pan, I highly suggest investing in one only because blini are so much easier to make in a crepe pan. Crepe pans are also great for many other things because of their thick even flat surface, like omelets. You can absolutely use a standard large non stick skillet, but you'll have a great advantage with a crepe pan. If you're making a huge batch of blini, you can whip out a huge batch even faster if you double cook with 2 pans. In my house, my husband and I cook them side by side with our favorite 10 inch crepe pan and a Cuisinart non-stick crepe pans.
To make the blini batter, as with anything ethnic like this, many households have different ways of preparing the batter. Many Russian and Ukrainian recipes have you let the batter rise and rest over-night and they are delicious. I like to keep things simple and in my opinion, the outcome and taste is just as wonderful! These blini can be enjoyed in just a couple hours and I think they're top notch in taste and texture.
Yeasted or Yeast Free?
Many blini recipes online do not use yeast. I feel the yeasty flavor is what separates blini from French crepes and gives blini the unique taste you 're looking for. It's also the more traditional way to make blini. Once my yeast mixture has proofed and the batter is fully incorporated with all of the ingredients, I place a clean towel or plastic wrap over my bowl and place it in a warm place in my kitchen to allow the pancake batter to rise for 1 hour. I feel this gives the batter plenty of time to do it's thing and the results are delicious.
Heat up your non-stick pan to a medium high heat. Once it's up to temperature, add about ¼ to ⅓ cup of blini batter to the middle of the pan and quickly swirl the pan to try to cover the entire surface of the pan to attempt to make a shape (This is if you have the proper sized pan). Once the surface of the blini look fairly dry, underside is golden brown and lacy, they're ready to be flipped. A thin flat spatula works best. Cook up the rest of the batter the same way, hopefully getting smoother with your technique every time.
No Perfect Blin
Keep in mind that if it's your first time making blini, usually the first blin doesn't come out well and that's okay. Most people just toss the first one out. I like to taste test it. Sometimes it takes a couple tries to get it right and trust me, if you've never made crepes or blini before it takes some practice, but don't fret, they will be so delicious! The second side will cook a little faster and once it's done, just gently slide it onto a small sheet pan or something you can keep warm in the oven. You can stack the blini as well.
How are Blini Served?
Since Blini are like Russian crepes, they are served up with filling inside and outside of the blini. Savory toppings like smoked salmon, sautéed mushrooms, finely chopped up hard-boiled eggs are the main fillings for blini. As with many Russian or Ukrainian recipes a dollop of sour cream is included as well. Also, since it's a tradition to serve blini with rich toppings, here are some I recommend.
Yeasted Blini Ingredients
- Yeast- I like to use Red Star Active Dry Yeast
- Whole Wheat Flour- Originally, blini were made with buckwheat flour, but now most people use whole wheat, but adding a little buckwheat is quite tasty if you want to try it as well.
- Milk- I like to use whole milk, but you can also use part plain kefir or buttermilk as well.
- Eggs- I use whole eggs to make it simple and I like it that way, but some recipes, split the eggs.
- Unsalted Butter- part of it is melted and part used to grease the pan.
- Salt- flaky sea salt or kosher salt is great.
- Sugar- I use standard granulated sugar.
Some Traditional Blini Toppings/Fillings
- Melted Butter- Usually this is clarified butter that is drizzled on top of the blini after you add your fillings
- Black caviar- This is not a necessity, but it is traditional. It is optional though and okay to enjoy without caviar.
- Smoked Salmon- I have had smoked salmon with blini for as long as I can remember and it is a must in my opinion.
- Hard-boiled Eggs- I have finely chopped hard-boiled eggs on the table available to anyone who wants it as a topper or filler for blini.
- Sautéed Mushrooms- Russians and Ukrainians are huge fans of mushrooms and this is also maybe not on everyone's blini table, but it is always on mine and a great option for those who do not care for smoked salmon.
- Sour Cream or Crème Fraîche- Eastern Europeans, especially Russians love their sour cream and crème fraiche is just the richer cousin. If you're trying to really impress, you can go ahead and splurge of creme, but I think just full-fat sour cream is great and that's what I use.
- Capers- Just like bagel and lox, capers with their saltiness and great for blini
- Green Onions
- Red Onions, sliced thin, raw or pickled
- Optional Sweet Fillings: Some people like to have sweet fillings as an option for "dessert" or an option for kids. In this case, some cream cheese and jam or a fruit puree is great! Add a little whipped cream if you like as well. Pretty much any way you would enjoy a crepe.