Russian Maslenitsa, which is often translated into English as Butter Week, Pancake Week, or Cheesefare Week, is a one-week folk and religious holiday before commencement of the Orthodox Lent, and which in 2013 is celebrated from March 11 until March 17. Before the advent of Christianity in Russia, around the time of the spring solstice people celebrated the imminent end of winter and the long-awaited beginning of spring. Each day of the Maslenitsa week had its own name and traditions associated with it. Usually, a human-like effigy of winter was made out of straw and other materials in the beginning of the week, and was burnt at the end of the week to symbolize the end of winter. In addition to that, glistening pancakes, round and hot like the sun, were cooked in every home and consumed in abundant quantities. The holiday was accompanied by joyous celebrations, singing, dancing, snowball fights, sliding off ice mountains, and visiting family members. During these festivities men would also choose future brides and arrangements for marriages would be made, and single young girls would steal shy flirtatious glances at young men. With the advent of Christianity in Russia Maslenitsa started being celebrated right before the beginning of Great Lent, during the seventh week before Eastern Orthodox Easter. Maslenitsa was the last week to enjoy eggs and dairy products, while consumption of meat and fish was already prohibited.
In the modern-day Russia not everyone celebrates Maslenitsa the entire week and not everybody observes the Great Lent. However, this celebration of arrival of spring is always accompanied with delicious bliny, or pancakes. Just as French crepes, Russian pancakes are very thin. For food lovers, here is a very easy and quick way of preparing bliny, which was shared by our student Lana Davis, who also happens to be an avid fan of culinary arts, travel, painting, and languages:
- 1 small peach or strawberry yogurt (feel free to use plain yogurt)
- 500 ml milk
- 1 tbsp sugar
- ½ tsp salt
- 3 tbsp oil
- 3 eggs
- about 1½ cups flour (to be adjusted)
To prepare the batter, in a large bowl combine yogurt, eggs and milk; beat them with a mixer at medium to high speed. Add 1 cup of flour and continue mixing at lower speed until the mixture forms into smooth batter without lumps. Add sugar and salt. Stir well and start baking.
You will need a skillet with a heavy bottom, preferably non-stick. Add 2 tbsp of oil and heat up the skillet on medium to high heat. Add the first batch of batter (approximately half a ladle) and quickly swirl the pan around to evenly spread the batter over the surface of the pan. Cook for 2-3 minutes on one side, then, using a thin spatula, carefully flip it over and cook on the other side. The first blin/pancake is most likely to be shapeless and too greasy, so you can through it away, but it is a necessary procedure to prepare the skillet. The first pancake also indicates whether you need to adjust the batter: if the batter is too thick, add a little bit more milk; if the first pancake tears easily, it means you need to add some more flour.
Once bliny are ready, serve them hot with jam or honey, caviar and champagne, smoked fish, Nutella, or just with a cup of hot tea. Bon appétit, or, as we say in Russian, ПРИЯТНОГО АППЕТИТА!