Petrossian Blini and Caviar

There are people who think they don’t like caviar because they have tasted only the lumpfish variety, which is like eating fish-flavored salt. But top- quality malossol (low-salt) sturgeon caviar has the freshness of an ocean breeze with just a hint of the sea’s saltiness. I tasted it the first time when I was seventeen and my mother’s friend Celia brought back a small jar from a trip to her native Russia. I was spoiled for life. Newly in love, though, I actually managed to save almost half qf it for my boyfriend, who, much to my delight, thought he did not like caviar.

Petrossian, purveyor of some of the world’s finest caviar, is one of the most romantic restaurants in New York. It is situated, appropriately, in a landmark building on the corner of 58th Street and 7th Avenue. From the outside it resembles a sand-dripping castle and from the inside a Fabergé jewel box. Although Petrossian also serves excellent meals (I experienced the reenactment of Babette’s Feast there for my fortieth birthday), it is most known for its fine caviar, smoked salmon and other smoked fish. And the fabulous presentation is truly fit for royalty.

Gold serving spoons and pallets (not silver, which would react with the purity of the caviar) are used to lift the caviar, and icy vodka is ceremoniously poured to the very brim of the fluted glasses so that even one more drop would overflow. Beluga caviar is served only with toast points, as nothing must interfere with the perfection of its flavor, but the saltier pressed caviar is served with pillows of yeasty tender warm blini spread with cool thick crème fraîche.

The Petrossian blini recipe was given to me by Dro Proudian. Thousands of them are prepared each year to serve at the restaurant and also to ship mail order. These blini are so delicious they would make even less expensive caviar, such as red salmon caviar, more of a treat. What could be more perfect for Christmas Eve, or even perhaps a festive Christmas breakfast? For me, this is the ultimate way to celebrate the most important occasions.

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Rising time: 1 to 1½ hours
INGREDIENTS MEASURE WEIGHT
volume ounces grams
Blini
warm water ¼ liquid cup
sugar, divided 2 tablespoons 1 ounce 25 grams
fresh yeast or packed teaspoons 0.6 ounce 17 grams
dry yeast (not rapid rise) teaspoon 0.25 ounce 7 grams
3 large egg yolks scant 2 fluid ounces 2 ounces 56 grams
vegetable oil 6 tablespoons (3 fluid ounces)
bleached all-purpose flour 2 cups (dip and sweep method) 10 ounces 284 grams
salt ½ teaspoon
milk, warm 2 liquid cups
3 large egg whites 6 tablespoons (3 fluid ounces) 3 ounces 90 grams
cream of tartar teaspoon
Crème Fraîche 2 cups
caviar, preferably sevruga or osetra* 17.5 ounces 500 grams

*Available by mail order from Petrossian (800-828-9241).

Method

Proof the yeast: Crumble the fresh yeast into a small bowl and add ½ teaspoon of the sugar and ¼ cup of the water, warmed to a tepid 100°F.; if using dry yeast increase the temperature slightly to 110°F. Stir until the yeast is dissolved. Set aside in a draft-free spot for 10 to 20 minutes. The mixture should be full of bubbles; if not, the yeast is too old to be useful. Discard it and start again with fresh yeast.

In a medium bowl, place the egg yolks and gradually whisk in the oil to form a thick emulsion resembling mayonnaise.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, remaining teaspoons of sugar and the salt. Whisk in the yolk mixture until mixed (it will not be moist). Whisk in the yeast mixture and then gradually whisk in the warm milk, whisking until smooth. (If the milk is too hot it will kill the yeast.)

Cover the mixture tightly with plastic wrap (preferably Saran brand) and set aside in a warm draft-free place for 1 to 1½ hours or until doubled in bulk and tiny bubbles appear all over the surface.

In a mixing bowl, beat the egg whites until foamy. Add the cream of tartar and beat until stiff peaks form when the beater is raised slowly. Using a large whisk or rubber spatula, fold the whites into the batter.

Heat the pan or griddle over medium heat until a drop of water sizzles when dropped onto the pan. Spray lightly with nonstick vegetable shortening or brush with oil. Pour a scant ¼ cup of batter into each plett pan indentation, filling them about half full, or pour the batter by ¼ cups into the frying pan or onto the griddle. Cook, adjusting the heat as necessary to avoid overbrowning, until the underside of each blini is golden brown and the upper side begins to dull, about 2½ minutes. Transfer the cooked blini to a baking sheet and keep them warm in a 200°F. oven until ready to serve.

Serve the blini with the crème fraîche and caviar on the side. The blini are delicious both warm and at room temperature.

NOTE: The blini can be prepared ahead of time and frozen. Allow the blini to cool, then stack them and wrap them first in plastic wrap and then heavy- duty foil. Allow them to defrost at room temperature. Arrange the blini in single layers on baking sheets and reheat them in a 350°F. oven for about 10 minutes or until heated through. You may also loosely wrap the blinis in paper towels in stacks of four and microwave on high power for 30 seconds. I find them to be delicious at room temperature as well.

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