What are two girls supposed to do late on a Sunday afternoon when there’s an open jar of lumpfish caviar in the fridge and half a carton of soured cream left over from the birthday party the night before? Rush into the supermarket five minutes before closing and buy some more smoked salmon and blinis. And then, as the supermarket loudspeaker sounds out that the shop is closing and there’s not a single little blinis in sight, The Single Gourmet Traveller just grabs a packet of smoked salmon and runs to the checkout and thinks, I suppose we could make blinis. Then she comes back to the house where the boiler has broken down and there’s no heating (except for two little electric heaters she’d rushed out and bought) and no hot water, and she thinks again: I really can’t be bothered to make blinis. But then her lovely daughter and birthday girl says as she announces she couldn’t buy these little Russian buckwheat pancakes, Let’s make some!
We’d not made blinis before and although I knew they were little pancakes made with buckwheat flour, I didn’t know what was different about them: what made them ‘blinis’ rather than ‘pancakes’. We looked at a few books and we searched the internet. These were pancakes to which yeast is added. We discovered that Delia Smith and that great chef Thomas Keller also add potato to their blinis mixture to make them lighter; another chef added a lot of soured cream (and we didn’t have enough and neither did we want to venture out again into the cold night); and another said you had to leave the mixture to stand for an hour before using. We didn’t have enough time for that – we wanted to eat soon! Fortunately we came across a simple recipe and soon we were gathering bits together.
The birthday girl said she’d mix and I could read out the recipe from my iPad balanced on the kitchen worktop. 70g buckwheat flour, 70g strong plain flour and 1/3 teaspoon baking powder were sifted into a large bowl. Milk (175ml) was warmed in a pan – just till you could still comfortably hold a finger in it and it was warm but not hot.
Mix the warm milk with 1/3 teaspoon dried yeast. Now separate an egg and mix the yeasty milk into the egg yolk; add to the flours, whisking all the time to make a smooth batter. Now stir in 1 teaspoon melted butter. Whisk the egg whites until stiff then carefully fold into the batter, keeping as much volume as possible. Now your batter is ready!
Heat a frying pan and smear with a little light oil – you don’t want oil running in the pan, just a coating. Drop a dessertspoon of batter into the hot pan. We managed to get three blinis at a time in the pan. They were bigger than the usual ‘cocktail’ blinis I’ve bought, but once you’ve made the mixture, you can choose any size you want. Allow the blinis to cook on one side until you see little bubbles popping on the surface (as you can see in the middle photo above), then turn over and cook the other side. Transfer to a warm plate while you cook the rest.
When the blinis are cooked start assembling them. Put them on a plate then add some smoked salmon, top this with a spoonful of soured cream and then put some lumpfish caviar on the top.
Being girls who love champagne, we reckoned it was now time to pop the cork on one of the half bottles of Nicolas Feuillatte champagne chilling nicely in my fridge. I’d bought a few of these in France in the summer in a supermarket near where we were staying for the bargain price of 9€ each.
Then we carried our plates and our glasses of champagne to the sitting room which was being warmed by those two electric heaters and really, what could be more blissful than sitting with one’s daughter, with gorgeous treats of smoked salmon on homemade blinis and delightful fizz and snuggling down into the sofa for an evening together? We thought our blinis had turned out really well. They were so tasty; more so than any we’d ever bought. And when it came down to it, they were pretty easy to make too. Although the texture was good, we decided that another time (probably Christmas Eve) we’d let the batter rest for a while and allow time for the yeast to work a bit more. We might even follow Delia and Thomas one day and add some potato. But just for tonight, they were simply the most gorgeous blinis we’d had and that was good enough for us.