For many years, these little Russian pancakes topped with luscious horseradish cream cheese and smoked salmon parade around on platters at Christmas parties in offices or at home. The blini not only celebrates Christmas, but in Russia, they are an important part of everyday life from presenting one to a new mother for good luck or when someone passes away as a goodwill and happiness notion.

I like to make these pretty little blinis a one-bite size. Easy to transfer from the plate to the mouth with no spillage. Known for three contrasting flavours in one go: horseradish from the cream cheese, the smokiness from the salmon followed by a soft pillowy pancake. This is my all-time favourite party food.

Blinis need two flours: buckwheat, which is luckily already gluten-free, and plain flour to make the pancake batter. I have substituted the plain flour with gluten-free and adjusted the liquid measurements so that the blinis form and taste great. If you are not familiar with buckwheat flour, don’t worry, there is no wheat content in it. Buckwheat is derived from a plant for its grain-like seeds and is related to sorrel and rhubarb. One its own, the buckwheat flour can make pancakes taste quite dense and nutty, which is why the addition of gluten-free flour lightens the batter and balances the flavour well.

The toppings are typically served with sour cream, smoked salmon and caviar or salmon roe. I like this traditional blend, but I feel the cream cheese holds its shape better on the blini especially if made ahead of time. The extra touch of horseradish cream really lifts the flavours, just try not to add too much or you and your guests will be gasping for water or champagne to turn out the fire!

Gluten-Free Smoked Salmon Blinis

For the pancakes:

  • 100g buckwheat flour
  • 60g store-bought or homemade gluten-free plain flour
  • ½ teaspoon xanthan gum
  • 1 ½ teaspoon dried yeast
  • ¼ teaspoon salt, plus a pinch to the egg whites
  • 300ml milk, lukewarm
  • 1 tablespoon butter, melted and cooled
  • 2 eggs, separated

For the toppings:

  • 200 – 250g plain cream cheese, room temperature
  • ½ teaspoon (or more) creamed horseradish
  • ¼ lemon, juice
  • 1 tablespoon mayonnaise or sour cream
  • ½ teaspoon white pepper
  • 2 tablespoon fresh chives or dill, chopped 
  • 8 slices of smoked salmon, cut into 5cm pieces
  • 40 small pickled capers, without their stems
  • 1 small jar black caviar or salmon roe, for garnishing
  • Fresh dill, for garnishing

Step-by-Step Instructions

1. Mix the flours together with the yeast and salt.

2. Add the lukewarm milk to the flour mixture.

3. Whisk until smooth using a balloon whisk or an electric mixer.

4. Cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm area for 30 minutes to develop.

5. Add the egg yolks and melted butter to the batter, whisking well.
6. Clean a deep bowl with some white vinegar using a paper towel to remove any grease residue before adding the egg whites. Wipe the whisk attachments as well.
7. Add a pinch of salt to the egg whites

8. Start whisking on a low setting, then increase the speed until the egg whites are stiff and peaked. They are ready when the egg whites stay inside the bowl while upside down.

9. Add half of the egg whites to the batter, folding in (not whisking) by turning the bowl clockwise and folding with a spatula towards the centre of the bowl.

10. Add the remaining egg whites and continue folding until there are no more visible egg whites.

11. Allow to stand for 5 to 10 minutes.
12. Using a heavy-bottom frying pan, heat the pan up to medium heat.
13. Grease the bottom of the pan with some butter.

14. Gently ladle a few pancakes at a time onto the pan. Try to keep them the same size, about 5cm in diameter.

15. The first batch usually is your practice run, but if you aim to fry the first side for 1 ½ minutes (bubbles will start to form on the pancake) and the other side for 1 minute, you will have perfect, golden blinis.

16. Remove and place on a wire mesh to cool while continuing frying the rest.

17. When all of the blinis are fried, once cooled completely, either store them in a sealed container or start adding the toppings.

18. Mix the cream cheese, horseradish, lemon juice, mayonnaise or sour cream, white pepper and fresh herbs together.

19. Lay out all the pancakes onto your serving platter and start spooning the cream cheese mixture evenly on top of each pancake.
20. Twirl the salmon slice into a cone shape and place on top of the cream cheese.
21. Fill the salmon slice centre with caviar or salmon roe using a small spoon.
22. Add one caper and a sprig of dill for a final touch.
Makes 40 blinis
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