Maslenitsa: How to Make Traditional Russian Pancakes

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Russia is the biggest pancake loving nation in the world, and when we say Russians love pancakes we really mean it. It’s the only country that not only has a holiday dedicated to crepes but an entire weeklong festival called Maslenitsa.

For seven days straight, somewhere between February or March, Maslenitsa festivities take place all across Russia and its many regions to celebrating the passing of Winter and the arrival of Spring. Also known as ‘butter week’ or ‘pancake week,’ the traditional Russian festival is famous for its pancakes (blini) with various fillings and toppings from traditional sour cream and honey, to gourmet caviar and salmon, as well as all things sweet.

If you’ve never tried Russian crepes before, you’re missing out, because they are exceptionally delicious and unlike any other kind of pancakes you’ve ever had. You might have been wondering what is a blini, is it a crepe, is it a pancake? Well, it walks the line between both! They differ from French crepes since they are slightly thicker, but about the same in diameter; they are also different from American-style pancakes since they are much thinner and wider. The typical toppings and fillings used for Russian pancakes are also quite different. You will never see pancakes served with syrup at a Russian restaurant, or cheese, fruit, or ham and bacon. It’s common to make a burrito-style wrap out of them. Sweet fillings include jam, cottage cheese, honey, and condensed milk. Savory fillings are often things like potatoes, meet, sautéed cabbage, smoked salmon, or caviar. But the most common – and traditional – way of eating them, is simply served with a side of sour cream and jam. Hot black tea or milk is a must-have to go along with Russian pancakes, although coffee is an acceptable option.

February 20, 2017 is the beginning of Maslenitsa festival in Russia and a great reason to finally try this delicious and versatile treat. It’s quite easy to make at home too! You only need a few very simple ingredients to make traditional Russian pancakes – milk, eggs, and flour form the basis of the recipe.

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Russian Pancakes “Blini” in 10 easy steps:

Ingredients:
(makes 10-15 crepes)

  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups of whole milk room temperature
  • 1 tbsp. sugar for savory pancakes or 2 tbsp. for sweet
  • 1/3t salt
  • approx. 2 cups of flour
  • 2 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • Butter (for frying and oiling the pancakes)

Instructions:

  1. Whisk eggs, milk, sugar and salt
  2. Gradually start adding flour in equal parts to the milk and egg mixture; mixing well until no lumps are visible and batter is runny like kefir or thin sour cream (but not as thin as milk). Don’t stress about this step, you can always adjust as you go.
  3. Stir in oil
  4. Let rest for 20-30 minutes in a room temperature.
  5. Preheat a medium 10″ or 12” non-stick pan over medium heat and rub with butter.
  6. Use a 1/4 cup or 1/3 cup measurer to scoop the batter into the center of the pan and quickly tilt the skillet from side to side to spread evenly and make a thin layer.
  7. When small bubbles form on top and the sides of the pancake start to look dry and a bit golden (1-2 minutes), flip the pancake over with a thin spatula and cook for 30-60 more seconds. Flip the pancake onto a large plate and spread a pat of butter on top. You can either fold the pancake over or keep them all in a flat stack.
  8. Repeat until batter is used and remember to rub the pan with butter each time before you pour the batter.
  9. Serve warm and enjoy with the toppings of your choice.

Sure, making perfect Blinis sound easier than it actually is and if you didn’t nail the recipe from the start, don’t worry, you are not alone. Even a lot of Russians are not natural blini makers themselves. But while it doesn’t take an experienced cook to make Russian crepes, it will definitely require some practice and these tips below should help you troubleshoot any problems you might face.

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Tips:

– Using a heavy cast iron skillet or a good non-stick pan will prevent batter from sticking

– Using butter for cooking instead of oil adds to the taste, just make sure to rub the pan with butter every single time to prevent dryness and sticking to the pan

– Every stove is different. Some won’t get hot enough on medium while other will get way too hot. So don’t be afraid to play with the heat.

– Start with 1/4 cup and see if the batter seems too thick, then add some milk. If it’s too thin, add more flour instead. If it flows freely but doesn’t properly cover the pan, use 1/3 cup per blini. The right consistency for batter is runny like kefir or thin sour cream, only in this case your crepes will turn out thin and delicate. If the batter is too thick the pancakes will have a more “rubbery” texture to them.

– Letting your batter rest for 20-30 minutes before cooking is an important step that will make your pancakes fluffy and “bubbly”.

– A good trick for making your pancakes softer and fluffier is adding a teaspoon of soda to the milk and egg mixture (before adding flour). But first you have to “put it out” with a teaspoon of vinegar in a separate small bowl.

– It’s all about technique and practice. It’ll take a minute before you master a perfectly round thin crepe. So, be patient, practice makes perfect.

True, it might take a few blinis to get the hang of it, but once you do, you’ll be banging them out like a pro. Happy Pancake Week!

Image #1 by Un Bolshakov
Image #3 by Catherine Bulinski

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