Say “pancake,” and Americans usually visualize tall stacks of round, freshly fried batter, dripping with butter and maple syrup and often made from a prepackaged mix. But every culture seems to have its equivalent, and many require so few, and such common, ingredients that they can be made straight from the pantry.
My family adores pancakes. My mom put together a cookbook of family recipes in 1990, printed on her dot-matrix machine and bound with plastic combs. It includes Linda’s Pancake Mix, a recipe from a family friend that features oats, corn, wheat, and powdered milk and was my mom’s go-to blend throughout my childhood. But it also includes Æbleskivers, Danish pancakes that remind me of holeless yeast donuts but are cooked in a special pan. They were my grandfather’s specialty; my sister inherited his pan, and my niece and nephew dip them in copious amounts of Nutella. My mom’s cookbook also holds recipes for Southern Spoonbread, a cornmeal-based baked “pancake” that’s closer to a soufflé and that we considered a dinner dish, and Dutch Babies, its flour-based breakfast counterpart that puffs beautifully, causing us all to claim a corner as it emerges from the oven. If I were to put out a new edition of Mom’s cookbook today, I would add crepes and their Russian variation, blini.
3/4 cup milk
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
pinch of nutmeg
powdered sugar to taste (optional)
lemon zest to taste (optional)
Place the butter in a 2- to 3-quart baking dish; set the pan in a 425°F oven until the butter starts to melt. When the butter begins to foam, prepare the batter: Whirl the eggs at high speed in a blender for 1 minute. With the motor running, pop open the lid, gradually pour in the milk, and then slowly add the flour; whirl another 30 seconds. Carefully remove the hot pan from the oven and pour in the batter. Return the pan to the oven and bake for 20–25 minutes, or until the pancake is puffy and well browned. Dust with nutmeg. Serve immediately with powdered sugar and lemon zest to taste, if desired. Serves 2.
Tips & Tricks
- Want to feed more people? This recipe is easy to scale up. For each additional person at your table, increase the pan size by 1/2–1 quart and add an extra tablespoon of butter. To the batter, add one more egg and an extra 1/4 cup each of milk and flour.
- If your pancake seems dense like a custard and doesn’t puff easily, try the same quantity of batter in a slightly larger pan. I typically use a ceramic or glass baking dish that creates tall, crispy corners, but a round cast-iron skillet can work well.
- I use salted butter for this recipe and find it doesn’t need additional sodium. But you can easily sub in unsalted butter and a pinch of salt.
- I learned to make blini when I lived in Russia (see below), but I still craved Dutch Babies—and didn’t have a blender. It turns out you can mix the batter quite well with a wire whisk. The results are not quite as puffy but just as tasty.
- Most of my family just piles on powdered sugar as a topping, but my dad prefers maple syrup; fruit syrups are also delicious. At Christmas, my mom always made apple Dutch babies, placing a layer of sautéed apple slices in the bottom of the pan before pouring in the batter. When I make them now in summer, I can’t resist mounding fresh berries and Fresh Yogurt in the corners.
Twice as Tasty
After my mom printed her cookbook, my family added a new recipe to its breakfast menu: Yogurt Pancakes. Tart and sweet, they weren’t as finicky as crepes but remained quite light—light enough that my dad once challenged me to an eating contest and (to my memory, at least) I won. It’s no wonder that when I started playing with wild yeast, tangy Sourdough Pancakes became an immediate favorite.
Eventually I became competent at crepes too. I went through a lot of eggs learning to pour the batter well enough to present the recipe as a language project in high school French class. When I traveled in France, I gravitated toward savory buckwheat crepes as an affordable backpacker meal.
Then when I lived in Russia, my teachers and friends shared their favorite family blends. We’d fry and fold up mounds of blini dense with mushrooms, potatoes, cabbage, and onion and drizzled with soft sour cream. Caviar was readily available and affordable, so any remotely special occasion called for блины с икрой и сметаной. We always made more blini than we could eat in one sitting; the crispy leftovers, fried until hot in a little oil, were almost better than the fresh ones.
butter or sunflower oil for cooking
1/2 medium onion (about 1/3 cup when finely chopped)
2 cloves raw or Roasted Garlic (optional)
3/4 cup warm mushroom stock, Vegetable Stock, or water
2 teaspoons plus 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup Sour Cream
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1/3 teaspoon dried or 1 teaspoon fresh dill
1/2 teaspoon ultrafine sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup milk
1 tablespoon butter, melted
Wipe any dirt from the mushrooms with a damp cloth or paper towel and cut them into thin slices. Finely chop the onion and any garlic. Melt some butter or oil in a large cast-iron pan or other skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté for about 5 minutes, or until translucent. Add the garlic and mushrooms, cooking for another 5 minute, or until soft. Reduce the heat to very low. Mix 2 teaspoons of flour into the warm stock, and then add it to the mushrooms and mix to the consistency of gravy. Stir in the sour cream, salt, pepper, and dill.
In a medium bowl, lightly beat the eggs and then add the remaining flour, the sugar and salt, and 1/4 cup of milk, whisking until the batter is smooth. Whisk in the remaining milk and melted butter until just incorporated, thinning the batter with a splash of water if it’s thicker than heavy cream.
Heat a lightly greased 10-inch cast-iron or other nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Scoop up a scant 1/3 cup of batter, and quickly pour it in as you would with crepes—in a circular, tilting motion that evenly coats the bottom. Cook for about 40 seconds, until the edge begins to curl and brown. Flip with a spatula, cook another 20 seconds, and then flip onto a plate. Repeat the process with the remaining batter, regreasing the pan after each blini.
Scoop about 1/4 cup of warm filling into each pancake. Fold like you would for Sourdough Cabin Bread: Fold 1/3 over and then the other 1/3 over, like folding a piece of paper for a letter, with the filling tucked in the center. Rotate 90 degrees and repeat, forming a square packet. When finished, drizzle the blini with any remaining mushroom sauce or sour cream and serve immediately. Makes 6 blini.
Tips & Tricks
- Like Dutch Babies, blini require few special ingredients and can be easily made from a well-stocked pantry. If you crave blini but don’t have fresh mushrooms on hand, many other fillings can be substituted, from sweet jam to savory vegetables.
- Mushrooms make some of my favorite blini any time of day, but sautéed potato and onion or cabbage and carrot were other popular flavors in St. Petersburg; we’d often make all of these so that guests could mix and match.
- With any filling, sour cream is key, either inside or on top. If you make your own, you can create a softer sour cream that’s closer to what I found in Russia. While there, I bought it in bags, snipped off the corner, and squeezed it out. You can also add a dollop of store-bought American sour cream or thin it for drizzling: just whip it with a little milk or cream until you get the right consistency.
- The Russians aren’t big on herbs and spices; I can never resist adding garlic, but they’d often complain it was too strong. They stick to salt, pepper, parsley, and dill, but don’t be afraid to spice these up to suit your tastes.
- I tend to fold blini and roll crepes, so I make blini slightly larger and easier to handle. For smaller blini, even appetizer sized, use less batter in a smaller pan.
- These pancakes are so filling I usually plan two per person, meaning this recipe can serve 3. But as I learned from my Russian friends, the leftovers are delicious after a second frying, so it’s worth doubling or tripling the recipe. If you do and work quickly, you can run two skillets at a time to speed up the process.
- To reheat your stuffed blini, sauté them with a little butter on both sides until they are crispy. I prefer this to warming them in the oven, where they can get soggy.
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Tried & True
These tools and supplies may help you make the recipes in this post:
- Ovenproof pans are a must for Dutch Babies. I usually grab some old CorningWare I inherited from my mom, an Emile Henry ceramic dish, or a glass Pyrex. If you’re buying pans, get the sizes ideal for the number of people you generally feed.
- Cast iron is an option for Dutch Babies and Blini. If you’re investing in new cast iron, again look for the sizes you’ll use most.
- If you’re using cast iron or another skillet you’re going to put in the oven, I highly recommend a removable silicone handle so that you don’t burn yourself while picking it up or swirling your blini batter. I use thick quilted potholders to grab hot baking pans, but it’s worth considering silicone grabbers if you don’t have a handmade source.
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