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February 13, 2013

A healthy take on haute cuisine: blini and caviar

Watching the Oscars, like the Super Bowl, has become almost an unofficial holiday, an occasion when tens of millions of us get together for an old-fashioned TV viewing party, complete with abundant food and drink.

But the two events require rather different menus. The noshes on Super Bowl Sunday would be a tad too rustic for the refined experience of the Oscars. An Oscar party calls for slightly more elevated fare, and I can think of no hors d'oeuvres more appropriate than blini topped with caviar.

Back during the early '80s, I worked at a restaurant in New York that served great buckwheat blini (basically, tiny savory pancakes) topped with osetra caviar and creme fraiche. The blini recipe was pretty involved, and not the healthiest choice. The batter called for both yeast (and the time it needed to do its job) and whipped cream.

For my Oscars party, I wanted to develop a simpler, leaner version of that pancake, but I had a hard time finding buckwheat flour. Instead, I came up with a flavorful alternative using whole-wheat flour and buttermilk. All I had to do was adapt one of the zillion recipes for buttermilk pancakes made with white flour.

Happily (if unsurprisingly), the whole-wheat flour made the blini taste subtly like wheat, which I prefer to the blandness of a white flour pancake. I also was happy to swap in buttermilk, which is low in fat, for the heavy cream we used to use. In combination with the baking powder and baking soda, the buttermilk made the little pancakes light and airy.

Be forewarned, though, that this batter is thicker than your usual pancake batter. I managed to lighten it up when I was testing it by adding more buttermilk, but decided finally that doing so masked the taste of the wheat. So I kept it as is. By the way, be careful not to over-mix this batter; it'll turn out tough. Better to take it easy; it's OK if there are a few lumps in there.

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