Sunday, March 20, 2016

When Someone Offers to Cook Me Dinner, What Do I Choose?

Blini, which are Russian yeast pancakes.  They remind me of all the traveling Bart and I did while we were living in London some years ago. We met our first blini in Moscow, when we were part of a package tour that included all our meals.  One night we escaped and went to a club filled with prosperous young Russians.  Everyone was eating blini, so we ordered them too.  We’ve been eating them ever since.

By now, the whole family likes them.  Instead of sulks and arguments at the table, everyone is filling their plates with little pancakes and covering them with sour cream, jam, smoked salmon or, on the rare occasion, a very inexpensive caviar.  Sometimes we play some Tchaikovsky to get us in the right mood.

Blini – serves 4 (adapted from “Help! My Apartment Has a Dining Room” 

2 1/4 cups milk – divided use 
1 1/4-ounce package active dry yeast 
2 cups all-purpose flour 
1 1/2 teaspoons salt 
2 tablespoons butter 
3 large eggs 
1 tablespoon sugar 
1 tablespoon canola or corn oil + more as needed 

Toppings (choose 1 or more) 
Sour cream 
Melted butter 
Smoked salmon 
Heat 1 1/4 cups of the milk briefly in a small pot, just to take the chill off.  It should be no more than lukewarm.  Pour the milk into a large bowl and sprinkle the yeast over it.  Add the flour and salt and stir thoroughly. Don’t worry if there are a few small lumps.  The mixture will be sticky. 
Cover the bowl with a tea towel or plastic wrap and set it aside on the counter for 2 1/2  hours, until the batter has more than doubled. 
Melt the butter in a small pan and set aside. 
Add the remaining 1 cup milk, eggs, sugar and melted butter to the yeast batter and stir vigorously until well combined.  Cover and set aside for 30 minutes. 
Heat the oil in a large frying pan or griddle over medium heat.  After 1 minute, flick a drop of water into the pan.  If it immediately sizzles, it’s time to cook the blini.  If not, wait a few more seconds. 
Small blini are easier to cook and turn over, so using about 1/4 cup batter per pancake, pour 4 or 5 blini into the pan.  Cook for about 2 minutes, or until the bubbles that begin to appear on the surface of the blini begin to break.  Flip the blini over with a metal spatula and cook them for 1 more minute.  The second side will not get as uniformly brown.  
Serve this batch and immediately start on the second batch.  You shouldn’t need to add additional oil to the pan, but if the batter starts to stick, add 1 more tablespoon of oil.  If you want to serve everyone at once, use 2 frying pans or keep the cooked blini hot on a cookie sheet in a 300-degree oven while you cook the rest of the batter. 
Serve with one or more of the suggested toppings.  Leftover blini can be reheated in a toaster.