It’s the final day of my nostalgic revisit of the decade I spent growing up in Moscow and the food that I believe helped define my taste buds and my approach to cooking. And, I feel I’ve kept the very best for last, the speciality that in my mind screams Russia and is perhaps their best export. Back in the 1980s, buying caviar in Moscow, even the very best varieties, was sort of like going out and buying a loaf of bread. It was cheap and abundant. My youngest sister Ellen was born while we lived in Moscow and I’ll never forget her sitting in her highchair at some restaurant and munching on blini while scooping up the precious black fish eggs in her fists and smearing it on her face (some did get eaten). My father beamed with pride as he was certain this was a sign of her worldly sophistication. I wonder if she just didn’t know much else!
Svetlana, our housekeeper for several years, and woman I credit with teaching me to love Russian food, made delightful blini. She had specialty cast iron skillets that she’d make them in which she gave to my mom when we moved away (one day I’ll sneak away with them!). Often, Svetlana had been preparing endless little blini for my parents’ guests but always kept lots on the side for my sisters and me. We’d slather them in melted butter and jam, roll them up and pop them in our mouths. I wish I could say that this is her blini recipe, but alas, other than a few notes in Russian in the margins of my mother’s cookbooks, I have nothing concrete written down from her.
To serve your blinchiki just right I suggest you hard boil two eggs (10 minutes) and pass the yolks through a fine sieve to create delicate little strands of yolk. Place this in a serving dish. Chop up the white finely and place that in its own serving bowl. Place the caviar in a bowl and set that in ice so it stays ice cold – AND always use a non-metallic server for your caviar or else it makes it go bad (I have a little horn spoon just this purpose). Now chop up a red onion very finely, set out your smetana, sour cream or creme fraiche and you’re ready to have your hot little blinchiki served.
2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup buckwheat flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon instant yeast
1 cup warm milk (110 – 115 degrees)
2 tablespoons butter
1 egg, separated
Oil or cooking spray for cooking
First mix the flours, salt and yeast together in a bowl and make a well in the center. Add the warm milk and blend well with a wooden spoon. Cover with a kitchen towel and place in a warm, draft-free area and let the sponge rise until it doubles in size, about a hour.
Meanwhile, melt the two tablespoons of butter and allow it cool. Break up and beat the egg yolk in a small bowl and add the cooled melted butter and incorporate it well. Once the sponge has finished rising, add this egg yolk/butter mixture and mix well. Now, in a separate bowl, whisk the egg white until stiff and fold into the batter. Cover again and let stand for twenty minutes.
Heat your skillet or griddle to medium heat and coat lightly with vegetable oil or cooking spray. Spoon about 2 tablespoons of batter onto the skillet (I use an ice cream scoop to keep them uniform in size). When the bubbles on the surface of the blini start to pop (after about a minute or two) turn the blini over with a spatula and cook for another 45 seconds to a minute. Transfer to a plate and keep warm in a 200 degree oven.