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Blini could be called pancakes with pedigree. They are Russian in origin, and made from a yeast-risen batter that creates puffed tiny pancakes. Typical toppings include sour cream and roe, or caviar, making them fairly standard on menus or at catering events of a certain caliber — especially when more expensive caviar is used.
Blintzes, though similar in name, should be distinguished from blini. Generally, blintzes are a much thinner pancake, without yeast, that may be very similar to the crepe. These tend to be stuffed with fruit, savory ingredients or ricotta cheese, and browned in oil, and are called in Russia, where the blini originates, blinchiki.
Sometimes spelled bliny, these Russian pancakes — when referred to singly — are called blin. In American cookery no such distinction may exist for most chefs. Blini may mean one cake or more. There’s also some dispute as to what ingredients are most important in the blini. In particular, there are chefs who advocate for wheat flour, while others prefer using buckwheat. Chefs may adapt recipes and add other flour types to create differently flavored cakes.
Most blini benefit from being served shortly after they are cooked, though you can buy some pre-cooked versions if you don’t have much cooking time on your hands. Though standard toppings include roe or sometimes smoked salmon or foie gras, there’s no need to save these pancakes for savory dishes alone. They can be delicious served with a little butter and jam, or even simply eaten plain. Some cooks find them so good they need to expand their recipes to account for “missing” cakes as they prepare them.
You’ll find numerous recipes online for these yeast-raised pancakes. A good tip is to always looks for recipes that ask you to thin the batter with water or other liquids like milk and eggs (either hot or cold). Since these pancakes are different than most others by using yeast as a leavening agent, they can be difficult to cook without being appropriately thinned.
Note you’ll also need to plan for some extra time when preparing recipes. You’ll usually need to allow the yeast and flour mix to sit for about an hour before adding the final ingredients or thinning the mixture. Choose a warm dry place during the rising process or you’ll end up with pancakes that fall flat.
As for size, you can usually get perfectly sized blini by using about one generous teaspoon of batter for each cake. This will give you cakes that are about an inch (approximately 2.54 cm) or slightly more or less, in diameter. Do remember to keep the cakes small since they will cook more evenly to a golden brown, and they will be perfectly sized for one or two bite appetizers.
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