Bliny (Buckwheat Pancakes)

from Russian Cooking, of the Time-Life Foods of the World series

1/2 cup lukewarm water (110 degrees to 115 degrees)
1 1/2 packages active dry yeast
1/2 cup buckwheat flour
2 cups white all-purpose flour
2 cups lukewarm milk (110 degrees to 115 degrees)
3 egg yolks, lightly beaten
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 pound butter, melted and cooled
2 cups sour cream (1 pint)
3 egg whites

16 ounces red or black caviar or substitute 1 pound thinly sliced salmon, sturgeon or herring fillets

Pour the lukewarm water into a small, shallow bowl and sprinkle the yeast over it. Let the yeast stand 2 or 3 minutes, then stir to dissolve it completely. Set in a warm, draft-free spot (such as an unlighted oven) for 3 to 5 minutes, or until the mixture almost doubles in volume.

In a large mixing bowl, combine 1/4 cup of the buckwheat flour and the 2 cups of white flour. Make a deep well in the center and pour in 1 cup of the lukewarm milk and the yeast mixture. Slowly stir the flour into the liquid ingredients with a large wooden spoon, then beat vigorously until the mixture is smooth. Cover the bowl loosely with a towel and set it aside in the warm, draft-free spot for 3 hours, or until the mixture doubles in volume.

Stir the batter thoroughly and vigorously beat in the remaining 1/4 cup of buckwheat flour. Cover with a towel and let the batter rest in the warm draft-free spot another 2 hours. Again stir the batter and gradually beat in the remaining cup of lukewarm milk and the 3 egg yolks, salt, sugar, 3 tablespoons of the melted butter and 3 tablespoons of the sour cream.

With a whisk or rotary or electric beater, beat the egg whites in a large bowl until they form stiff, unwavering peaks on the beater when it is lifted from the bowl. With a rubber spatula, fold the egg whites gently but thoroughly into the batter, cover loosely with a towel, and let the batter rest in the warm, draft-free spot for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. With a pastry brush, lightly coat the bottom of a 10- to 12-inch skillet (preferably with a nonstick surface) with melted butter. Set the pan over high heat until a drop of water flicked across its surface evaporates instantly. Pour in about 3 tablespoons of the batter for each pancake (you will be able to make about 3 at a time, each about 3 or 4 inches wide) and fry 2 or 3 minutes, then brush the top lightly with butter. With a spatula or your fingers, turn the pancake over and cook another 2 minutes, or until golden brown. Transfer the pancakes to an ovenproof dish and keep them warm in the oven while you fry the remaining pancakes similarly, adding additional butter to the pan as needed.

Serve the bliny hot, accompanied by bowls of the remaining butter and sour cream. Traditionally, the bliny are spread with melted butter and a mound of red caviar or slice of smoked fish, then topped with a spoonful of sour cream. If you are serving black caviar, omit the sour cream.

Comments: Note that the preparation time is about 6 hours. Try these with cabbage soup. I use a small (2 ounce) jar of caviar, with smoked fish, and chopped onion, and I use sour cream, even with black caviar. The cheapest caviar you can find works fine. Although this all is rather expensive, it is delicious, fun, and probably in the same price range as a steak dinner.

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