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Raised Buckwheat Cakes (Buckwheat Blini)

On the griddle, these buckwheat cakes have an aroma that’s intoxicating enough to raise the dead.

About 3 dozen 4-inch cakes or 4 dozen 3-inch cakes


30 minutes to prepare (including a 20-minute rise for the sponge), followed by an overnight rise for the finished batter; 10 minutes to cook


Call them blini, call them pancakes, these melting, zephyr-light cakes with a lacy, crisp surface and a dark, woodsy phalanx of buckwheat, brown butter, and ale will leave you speechless, whatever their appellation. Yeast is the elevating dimension in these griddlecakes, producing a supple, elegant rise, a blisteringly crisp patina, and vaulted fermentation flavors that leave baking powder in the dust.

Serve the pancakes hot off the griddle with sweet orange butter and sugar, butter and jam, sautéed apples, or whatever you fancy. Or take them into the evening and serve them as hors d’oeuvres, slightly warm, with smoked salmon or trout, crème fraîche, and chives. All that aside, we really like these pancakes best in their natural state: bright hot with butter and slipping from our fingers—a saucer of sugar on hand to cushion their fall.

Cooking Remarks

We wrote this recipe for a slow, cool overnight fermentation to give the batter maximum flavor impact and a jump on breakfast in the morning. If you want to cook and serve the cakes later in the day, make the batter in the morning and give it a good 6- to 8-hour rise in the refrigerator. You can make the cakes a few hours ahead and reheat them, uncovered, in a 200-degree oven for 20 minutes, but they will not be as fine.

equipment mise en place

For this recipe, you will need a digital kitchen scale, two smallish saucepans, two medium mixing bowls, a whisk, a rubber spatula, a stand or hand mixer, a 1-ounce ladle or tablespoon measure, a heatproof basting brush, a well-seasoned 9- or 10-inch cast-iron skillet or similarly sized cast-iron griddle, and a metal spatula.

  • for the sponge:

  • for the batter:

    • 8
      ounces (16 tablespoons) unsalted European-style butter
    • 3
      large eggs, separated, whites reserved
    • 2
      tablespoons dark brown sugar
    • Scant 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
    • ½
      cup brown ale or dark beer, room temperature
    • 5.2
    • Pinch of cream of tartar
  • for the orange butter:

    • 3
      ounces (6 tablespoons) European-style unsalted butter, room temperature
    • 2
      tablespoons orange blossom honey
    • 1
      teaspoon grated orange zest
    • 1
      teaspoon orange-flower water
    • teaspoon fine sea salt

    Make the sponge: Heat the milk in a small saucepan until bubbles appear around the edges and a plume of vapor rises from the top. Pour it into a medium bowl and let cool to body temperature. Sprinkle the yeast over the top. Wait 5 minutes, and then stir. Whisk the flours into the milk and beat until smooth. Cover with plastic wrap and let the sponge rest until puffy and fragrant, about 30 minutes.


    Make the batter: Melt the butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Part the foam with a spoon and skim off 2 tablespoons of clear butterfat; reserve. Heat the remaining butter over low heat without stirring until it turns nutty brown, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool to lukewarm.


    Whisk the egg yolks together in a medium bowl, add the brown butter, sugar, and salt, and whisk to combine. Whisk in the ale. Using a rubber spatula, scrape the sponge into the liquid ingredients and whisk until smooth. Whisk in the buckwheat flour. The batter should have the consistency of a thick, satiny cake batter. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.


    The following day, remove the batter from the refrigerator (it should be pitted with small bubbles and issue a pleasantly fermented aroma) and allow it to come to room temperature. Remove the reserved egg whites from the refrigerator as well and allow them to come to room temperature.


    Make the orange butter: Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl and mix with a rubber spatula until evenly combined.


    Set a well-seasoned 9- or 10-inch cast-iron skillet or similarly sized cast-iron griddle over medium-low heat. Let it heat for about 10 minutes. The skillet is hot enough when droplets of water flicked onto its surface sizzle on contact. Melt the 2 tablespoons reserved butterfat.


    To finish the batter, turn the egg whites into the clean bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment or into a clean mixing bowl. Beat the egg whites on low speed until foamy, then add the cream of tartar. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until they form soft peaks but are not Styrofoamlike, about 60 seconds. Remove the bowl from the mixer. Stir one-quarter of the whites into the batter with a whisk. Fold in the remaining whites.


    To cook the cakes, dip a heatproof basting brush or wadded paper towel into the melted butterfat and brush it across the surface of the hot skillet. Drop the cakes one at a time into the pan, using a 1-ounce ladle for larger cakes or a tablespoon measure for smaller. When the pancakes are nicely browned on the bottom and have begun to bubble on top, 2 to 3 minutes, flip them with a metal spatula and brown the other sides, 1 to 2 minutes longer.


    Transfer the pancakes to a plate and gloss them with orange butter. Give them to someone to eat. Regrease the skillet and cook the next batch of cakes.