January is the season for blinis
Blinis and fish roe are mouthwateringly delicious. Blini weeks have been a part of winter in Helsinki for over a decade. Originating from Russia, blinis are fried up into thick, fluffy and crispy pancakes that local restaurants in Helsinki serve up fresh and fast for their eager customers.
The blini season started around the same time and for much the same reason as the HelsinkiMenu, which was offered for the first time by local chefs in 2000. The idea was to highlight once again seasonal flavours and ingredients, which had been largely overlooked in previous years. At Lasipalatsi and other restaurants in Helsinki, blinis are offered on the menu during the dark winter period.
“Blinis add a festive touch to the start of the year. They are perfect during the cold months of winter,” says Petri Simonen, head chef at Lasipalatsi.
Simonen has been cooking up blinis right after Christmas since 2006. The show begins with preparing the batter.
“I start making the batter one week in advance. Whenever you use yeast the batter behaves differently – it becomes a living mass. So it is important to test the batter thoroughly before the blini season begins,” Petri says.
The perfect blini should be a couple of centimetres thick, fluffy on the inside, and crispy golden on the outside. This is only possible if the batter is allowed to rise slowly in cold conditions for at least two days. The fermentation creates alcohol, which breaks down the gluten in the batter, leading to a more balanced blini.
“When we use the batter for a long time, we sometimes a little sugar is needed. Taking care of batter is like raising children! The sugar creates the optimal colour and crispiness,” Petri reveals.
Blini master guarantees perfect blinis on every plate
Petri admits that no other type of cooking in the kitchen requires the same amount of fine tuning than frying blinis.
“Creating perfect blinis is a balancing act that requires a lot of handiwork. They also demand a lot from our waiting staff, as the blinis have to be served hot. They always leave the kitchen with a full platter, and they all disappear after a quick twirl around the restaurant!”
The head chef is impressed by the level of service required by such zakuska-type cuisine.
“It is important to keep the rhythm going. Fresh blinis are being fried up all the time; we don’t wait for orders but keep them coming all the time, as they keep going all the time.”
Petri believes that the perfect blini should be big and thick and fried on a cast iron blini frying pan. Once the pan is hot, the frying process takes eight minutes. The secret behind the beautiful surface of the blinis is clarified butter. Once ready the blinis can stand for only a few minutes beside the stove. During the peak season as many as 300 blinis a day are cooked up.
“Our aim is to offer fresher and fresher blinis to our customers all the time. It demands a lot of attention to maintain the same level of thickness and crispiness,” Petri says.
Text: Mariaana Nelimarkka