The beginning of spring starts in Soviet Union with Maslenitz, a festival equivalent to Mardi Gras, which dates back to pagan worship of the sun god.
So now you know why the blin (singular form of bliny ) is star of Maslenitz. Blin is round, golden and warm--like the sun.
"The blin is the symbol of fine days, abundant crops, fulfilled marriages and healthy children," said Anne Volokh in her book "The Art of Russian Cuisine," (MacMillan: $24.95).
Volokh, who owns the Tea Room St. Peterburg in the Beverly Center, produced a Maslenitz celebration, similar to that done in the Soviet Union. On that day, she had her personal cook, Maria Manukian, help prepare more than 1,000 blin y , blin by blin, by hand, for the occasion. "There is simply no short cut way to make blin y said Volokh .
A Number of Misconceptions
There are a number of mi s conceptions about bliny that Volokh is determined to clear up, both in her book and in person.
"For one thing bliny are not small pancakes as many Americans think. They are 5 to 7 inches in diameter, the same size as the pan in which they cook. And they are not baked. They are cooked in a skillet, preferably cast iron, used exclusively for bliny or crepes," she said. Even more unforgiveable is using caviar with sour cream on bliny. "Never will you find such a thing in Russia," Volokh said. "This combination would be as appealing as having shrimp with caramel custard. Blin y may be eaten with sour cream, but never together with caviar."
However, when bliny are served with caviar they are first drizzled with melted butter, then filled only with caviar. Sometime other garnishes, such as caviar, smoked salmon or whitefish, herring, barbecued cod, are used.
According to maslenitsa custom, a stack of bliny (the amount depends on the appetite) is placed before guests with bliny accompaniments, melted butter and sour cream, "I've seen some people down 50 bliny at a time. But that is unusual."
A Touch of Vodka Helps
While vodka is not an absolute must to wash down bliny , it does help. "The carnival spirit would lose a lot without it," Volokh said. Vodkas that seem to go well with bliny are flavored with paprika or lemon peel or caraway seeds and are sometimes available locally.
The grand finale to any bliny party is a strong cup of tea served from a samovar with sliced lemon and preserves on the side. "Many people think that preserves are stirred into the tea, but they are actually eaten by the spoonful as an accompaniment to tea.
To eat bliny, stack three or six bliny on each plate and pass bowls of melted butter and sour cream. Some melted butter is poured over the pancake stack. Caviar is spooned onto one side of the pancake, then, with the aid of both a fork and a knife, the pancake is rolled up. One can either cut into the roll with a fork or eat the roll out of hand. Sour cream is used as a palate refresher in lieu of caviar. "Sometimes people save the sour cream for last to finish off the remaining bliny after all the caviar or other garnishes have been consumed," Volokh said.
Cooking the bliny takes a bit of practice. A crepe or omelet pan, usually seasoned and used solely for making bliny can be used. Volokh uses instant flour because the end result is closer to the authentic Russian bliny than that made with all-purpose flour. "We were delighted to find this product," she said.
Here is the recipe for the bliny from Volokh's book. According to the author, the bliny are suitable served as hors d'oeuvre or main course.
1 1/2 packages dry yeast
3 tablespoons warm water
4 teaspoons sugar
3 1/2 cups instant or all-purpose flour
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon salt
3 1/2 cups milk, about
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1 tablespoon oil
1/4 cup melted unsalted butter
Sprinkle yeast in warm water. Add 1/2 teaspoon sugar and 1 tablespoon flour. Stir until well mixed. Set bowl in warm, draft-free spot or in larger bowl containing lukewarm water. Let stand 10 to 15 minutes or until mixture is foamy and has risen.
Beat egg and egg yolk in large bowl. Stir in remaining flour and sugar, salt and 2 1/2 cups milk. Beat until smooth, 1 minute with electric mixer or 3 to 4 minutes with spoon.
Add yeast and beat 1 1/2 minutes with mixer or 5 minutes with wooden spoon. Beat in butter and oil. When batter is smooth, cover bowl with cloth and set to rise in warm place free of drafts until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.
Heat remaining milk until hot (170 to 180 degrees) and pour quickly into batter. Immediately stir batter with wooden spoon. Add more milk, if necessary, to make a pourable batter. Cover with cloth and set to rise 30 to 40 minutes.
Brush pan with melted butter. Ladle 2 tablespoons batter and pour into pan. Tilt pan so batter covers bottom completely. Cook until blin is golden, about 1 minute. Turn with spatula and cook until golden on other side, about 30 seconds. Keep warm. Continue cooking bliny until all batter is used, brushing pan with melted butter once for each bliny. Makes 25 to 30 bliny. Note: Instant flour will produce a product closer to authentic bliny than will all-purpose flour.