Why It Works
- Yeasted batter gives the blini tang and depth of flavor.
- Resting the batter only once cuts down on prep time without sacrificing flavor.
- Folding whipped egg whites into the batter keeps the blini light.
In restaurants, caviar on New Year’s Eve is a given, and while chefs prefer to snack on the leftovers with potato chips from the local bodega, blini are a sophisticated way to enjoy caviar at home.
I made a buckwheat flour version, but a traditional yeasted blini adds a tangy flavor and airy texture. Many recipes for yeasted blini start with making a sponge, a fermented precursor for doughs and batters that's made with yeast, flour, warm liquid (either milk or water), and often a little sugar. After the yeast has had time to do its thing, the sponge is combined with the rest of the blini batter ingredients, and the batter is set aside again for another stage of fermentation.
This double fermentation means that you're spending upwards of three hours on a pancake batter. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that, if the payoff is big enough. But, as I mentioned earlier, when you're going all out and having blini and caviar, you want the star of the show to shine.
I decided to experiment with a yeasted batter that eliminated the second fermentation step. And it worked! These blini have just the right amount of tang from the sponge fermentation, and just a hint of sweetness for balance.
Start by scalding two cups of whole milk in a small saucepan. Transfer the milk to a large bowl, and let it cool until it registers between 105°F (41°C) and 115°F (46°C)—any hotter, and you risk killing the yeast; any colder, and you'll slow down the yeast's activity.
Add a packet of active dry yeast and one teaspoon of sugar, and let that mixture hang out for a few minutes. You should see the mixture begin to foam and bubble. If you don't, there's a good chance your yeast is dead—go buy some new yeast and start again.
Next, whisk in three-quarters of a cup of all-purpose flour, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and leave the mixture in a warm place until it has roughly doubled in size.
To bring the batter together, I whisk another three-quarters of a cup all-purpose flour into the sponge, along with egg yolks, melted butter, vegetable oil, sugar, and a little salt. Treat the batter as you would a breakfast pancake batter; you don’t want to over-mix it, because gluten development will lead to tough blini. Leave it a little lumpy.
Right before cooking, whisk two egg whites until they hold soft peaks, then gently fold them into the batter.
To cook the blini, heat up a nonstick skillet or electric griddle and brush it with vegetable oil. Traditional blini recipes call for a potato dipped in oil, but as you can see, a paper towel does a much better job of spreading a thin film of oil on a nonstick cooking surface.
Can you use a cast iron skillet instead of a nonstick? Of course you can. But pancakes are one of the few things that I prefer to cook in a nonstick skillet. No matter how well you’ve seasoned your cast iron pan, it really can’t compete when you need to guarantee that nothing will adhere. (Cast iron is also a poor conductor of heat, making it more prone to hot and cold spots and thus more likely to produce unevenly browned pancakes.)
Use a spoon to portion out little silver dollar pancake–sized blini, about two and a half inches in diameter. Because these are yeasted pancakes, you can’t just go by the old rule of flipping them once you see bubbles, because they'll bubble right from the start. When you first drop the batter in the pan, you'll notice that the bubbles on the surface of the blini are reabsorbed into the batter. After a couple of minutes, though, the bubbles will stop collapsing back into the batter and will hold their shape. That’s when you want to flip them, checking first that they're a nice, pale golden brown on the bottom side.
Cook them for a couple minutes on the second side, then get them out of the pan. Wrap them in a clean kitchen towel so that they don’t dry out, and transfer them to a warm oven. Keep cooking and flipping blini until you're out of batter.
What do you pair your blini and caviar with? Chopped hard-cooked eggs, sliced chives, and finely chopped shallots are a place to start. And don’t forget the champagne.
And for the caviar, there are ultra-luxe versions, but not all options are as expensive as you might believe. For testing, I ordered a selection from Browne Trading Company, and there was a range of prices available, from $40-$300. The Prime Osetra was the crowd favorite here (the middle of the pack, price-wise).
2 cups (475ml) whole milk
1 packet active dry yeast (1/4 ounce; 7g)
2 teaspoons (8g) sugar, divided
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (7 1/2 ounces; 215g), divided
1/2 teaspoon (2g) kosher salt
2 tablespoons (28g) unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon (15ml) vegetable oil, plus more for cooking
2 large eggs (110g), separated
Sour cream or crème fraîche, for serving
Chilled caviar or smoked salmon, for serving
Finely minced shallots, sliced chives, and/or chopped hard-boiled eggs, for serving (optional)
In a small saucepan, bring milk to a simmer over medium-high heat. Transfer milk to a large heatproof bowl and let cool until it registers between 105°F (41°C) and 115°F (46°C).
Add yeast and 1 teaspoon (4g) sugar to bowl of warm milk and let sit for 5 minutes. The mixture should froth and foam. (If it doesn't, this likely means your yeast has expired; buy a new packet before making this recipe.) Add half of flour (3/4 cup; 4 ounces; 113g) and whisk mixture until smooth. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm spot until mixture has approximately doubled in size, about 1 hour.
Add remaining 3/4 cup flour (4 ounces; 113g) and 1 teaspoon (4g) sugar, as well as salt, melted butter, vegetable oil, and egg yolks. Whisk until ingredients are well incorporated but batter is still slightly lumpy.
In a small bowl using a whisk, or using an electric mixer, whisk egg whites until they hold soft peaks. Using a rubber spatula, carefully fold egg whites into batter until just combined.
Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 150°F (66°C) or its lowest possible setting. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat for 5 minutes (or use an electric griddle set to 350°F/177°C). Add a small amount of vegetable oil to the skillet and spread with a paper towel until no visible oil remains. Using a spoon, place silver dollar pancake–sized circles of batter (about 2 1/2 inches in diameter) in the skillet. Cook until the bubbles that appear on the surface of the blini stop being reabsorbed into the batter and remain distinct, and bottom sides of blini are light golden brown, about 2 minutes.
Carefully flip blini and cook on second side until light golden brown and completely set, about 2 minutes longer. Wrap finished blini in a clean kitchen towel, place towel on a wire rack set in a rimmed baking sheet, and transfer to oven to keep warm. Repeat blini-cooking process until all of the batter is used up.
Serve blini with sour cream or crème fraîche, chilled caviar or smoked salmon, and traditional accompaniments, such as finely minced shallots, sliced chives, and chopped hard-boiled eggs.
Make-Ahead and Storage
Blini are best enjoyed immediately.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 2g||2%|
|Saturated Fat 1g||4%|
|Total Carbohydrate 4g||1%|
|Dietary Fiber 0g||1%|
|Total Sugars 1g|
|Vitamin C 0mg||0%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|