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Worldwide Gastronomy Habits & Trends

Blini as the symbol of the sun for early East Slavic people | Recipe for Eastern European pancakes

ByDominika Margolt

Dec 16, 2022

What are blini?

Blini (you may also encounter the spelling bliny, as in Polish) (Russian: блины) or blin (the singular form) are Eastern European, or arguably Russian pancakes. They are traditionally made from wheat or buckwheat flour and usually served with smetana, tvorog, or caviar. However, other garnishes are also possible.

In the West, the term blini refers to small, being 5 to 10 cm in diameter, savory pancakes made with leavened batter. Nowadays, the term most often refers to pan-sized leavened thin pancakes, although smaller leavened pancakes are called blini as well, and historically, they were much more common. In fact, those thin pan-sized pancakes resemble closely what is known worldwide as crêpes. A French person could get offended seeing their traditional beloved pancakes stolen by Eastern Europeans. Interestingly, Some cookbooks and restaurants use blin and blintchick as in Russian in order to refer to crêpes.

An evolved variant form of blini are blintzes. Those thin pancakes usually made of wheat flour (instead of buckwheat flour), folded to form a casing for cheese or fruit, and then baked or sautéed.

Etymology and usage in modern Russian

The Old Slavic term for the Russian pancakes was probably mlinŭ, but the word changed over the years. While in modern Russian the word bliný refers also to the introduced foreign pancakes in general, meanwhile the term Ру́сские блины́ (read: Rússkiye bliný, English: Russian pancakes) is often emphasized in Russia for differentiation.

Aside from referring to pancakes, the word blin is used as a linguistic signal in communication. People use the word when they talk to others and are searching for the right words. Besides, it is also used to express dissatisfaction as an euphemism for “damn”.

History of blini

In pre-Christian times, blini were considered by early East Slavic people to be a symbol of the sun, due to their round form. They were traditionally prepared at the end of the winter season to honor the rebirth of the new sun. The time was called the Butter Week, or Maslenitsa, also called “pancake week”. This tradition of the dairy festival at that time of year was adopted by the Orthodox church, which except for feasting served a practical purpose. It was a way of using up dairy products before the start of Great Lent. This tradition is observed by Western Christians as Pancake Day. Another kind of blini, called drochena, was also served during wakes to commemorate the recently deceased.

Traditional Russian blini are made with yeasted batter, which is first left to rise, and only then is it diluted with milk, soured milk, and cold or boiling water. When boiling water is used, they are referred to as zavarniye bliny. A lighter and thinner form made from unyeasted batter is also common in Russia. Those usually require the use of flour, eggs, milk or soured milk, kefir, ryazhenka, and varenets. Traditionally, blini are baked in a Russian oven. Therefore, the process of preparing the dish is still referred to as baking in Russian, even though they are currently pan-fried, just like pancakes or  crêpes. All kinds of flour may be used, from wheat and buckwheat to oatmeal and millet, although wheat is currently the most popular, which substituted the traditionally used buckwheat flour.

Jewish version

A somewhat similar Jewish dish exists, and is a very popular traditional dish called blintz. They were popularized in the United States by Eastern European Jewish immigrants. Blintzes constitute a very important part of Jewish cuisine in some regions. They are traditionally served for several holidays in Judaism, such as Shavuot. Blintzes which are stuffed with cheese and then pan-fried in oil are served on holidays such as Hanukkah, because oil played a pivotal role in the miracle of the Hanukkah story. Blini and blinchiki are usually stuffed before frying a second time, wrapped around stuffing or simply folded and eaten with a dip. Possible fillings include chocolate, mushrooms, meat, rice, or mashed potatoes.

Recipe for buckwheat blini

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup of buckwheat flour
  • ¾ teaspoon of salt
  • ½ teaspoon of baking powder
  • ¾ cup of milk
  • 2 tablespoons of milk
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon of melted butter
  • 1 tablespoon butter

Instructions:

  1. Combine the flour, salt, and baking powder in a bowl.
  2. Then whisk milk, egg, and a tablespoon of melted butter together in a separate bowl. Mix everything into the flour mixture until the batter is fully combined and completed.
  3. Heat 1 tablespoon butter in a large frying pan over medium-low heat. Preparing several blini at a time, drop batter, one tablespoon at a time, onto the heated pan. Fry for 1 to 2 minutes. Flip and continue frying until the blini become brown.
  4. Repeat the action with the remaining batter.

Final advise

These small traditional drop scones made with buckwheat flour are often served as canapés with sour cream and various other toppings. Larger blinis are also frequently served with fruit purée or chocolate sauce.  These small blinis can be easily frozen if not required immediately, or if an excessive amount has been prepared.