Now an international favorite, bliny are one of the oldest Slavic foods, dating back to the heathen tribes that worshipped the sun and created pancakes in its image. These earliest pancakes were called mliny, from the verb molot’ (“to grind”), and the word is still preserved in the Ukrainian, Serbian and Croatian tongues. Light and porous, bliny are designed to soak up lots of butter.
Traditionally, one is expected to gorge on bliny. Literary and actual precedents are numerous in Russian life: Gogol’s Chichikov of Dead Souls finishes off nearly fifteen of the pancakes while visiting the widow Korobochka, dipping them repeatedly in melted butter and gobbling them down three at a time, while the downfall of the nineteenth-century gourmand Lyapin was in the two dozen bliny he once consumed before dinner.
To ensure perfect blin, Russian cooks use a special pan. Once seasoned, this pan is never washed, just wiped out with salt. The old-fashioned bliny pan was clever indeed: four to six small indented pans were joined by a long central body with a handle, so that mounds of bliny could be turned out very quickly. But a good cast-iron frying pan will work just as well. Simply be sure to add more butter to the pan after each blin so that the next one won’t stick. (Russian cooks use an onion half or a raw potato or a stale crust of bread to daub on the butter.) If, however, the first blin you make turns out badly, don’t despair. The Russians have a saying for this (as for every) eventuality: “Pervyi blin komom”—“The first blin’s a lump.” In other words, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. I myself like to consider this first blin the cook’s prerogative and pop it right into my mouth.
Dissolve the yeast in
Melt the butter and mix it with the egg yolks and the sour cream. Add this mixture to the sponge, along with the remaining
Beat the cream until stiff. Beat the egg whites until stiff but not dry and fold them into the cream. Fold this mixture into the batter. Then let the batter rest for 30 minutes more (if the batter seems too thick at this point, a little warmed milk may be carefully added).
Heat one or several cast-iron pans. Brush with butter (and a little vegetable oil, if desired); when the butter is hot, the pans are ready.
Cook the blin for just a few minutes, until bubbles appear on the surface, then turn and cook the other side until faintly browned. The bliny are best served hot from the pan, but if they must be held, pile them in a deep dish, brushing each one with butter, and cover the top of the dish with a linen towel.
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