Catherine the Great Needs a Diet (The Tsar Blini)

A petite, slender girl with a tomboy personality, little Sophie was growing up in a highly aristocratic, but dirt poor family. Parents largely neglected her while grooming her brothers to become royalty (both brothers became Kings of Sweden, one after another). Her life changed overnight, when two powerful monarchs and a French adventurer cast a net throughout Europe, choosing a bride for the heir to the Russian throne. Count Jean Armand de L’Estocq kept getting in trouble and ending up in jail for having “affairs d’amour” (love affairs) with unavailable ladies, so to speak. Fortunately, he had friends in very high places. Madame de Bourbon, daughter of Louis XIV of France and marquise de Montespan, a powerful and intimate friend, pulled him out of French jail and got him a position of a court physician in Russia. Wouldn’t you know, he promptly got into the same hot water and again ended up behind bars, by order of Peter the Great himself.  However, after Peter’s death, the royal widow, Empress Catherine I, promptly freed her favorite doctor and restored him to his former position. A seasoned seducer became fast friends with Princess Elizaveta, the future Empress, and continued having tremendous influence on her during her reign. He was the one who focused Elizaveta’s attention on Sophie of Anhalt-Zerbst, the little provincial princess, with no money and little beauty, but a peerless pedigree. He also sold this deal to Frederick II of Prussia. Sophie, accompanied by her mother, arrived to the Russian Imperial Court to audition for the part.

Actually, this was not the first time fifteen-year-old Sophie and sixteen-year-old Karl Peter, Duke of Holstein-Gottorp, met each other. She had been introduced to the Heir five years ago, when they were ten and eleven, respectively, and, as she wrote in her diary, found him “detestable.” Oh, but now the situation was different! The clever teenager, having decided “to do whatever was necessary, and to profess to believe whatever was required of her, to become qualified to wear the crown,” as she wrote in her memoirs, went out of her way to become Empress Elizaveta’s favorite and to “out-Russian” the Russians in all Russian ways. She was received by Russian Orthodox Church under the new name Ekaterina, or Catherine. Tutored by Count Lestocq, as he was known in Russia, she became adept in other ways as well. Unfortunately, the only person who detested her as much as she detested him was her husband, the future Emperor Peter III. It is said that none of her children were fathered by him. Certainly, he denied paternity of his heir, the future Emperor Paul I. It is estimated that during her long reign she had twenty two lovers.

Marina Malich

Undoubtedly a great monarch, renown as “the enlightened sovereign,” a patroness of arts and culture, a reformer of public education “for both sexes” who opened the first in Europe institution of higher learning for girls (the Smolny Institute) and corresponded with Voltaire, Catherine felt free to choose young lovers whom she promoted and enriched at dismissal. In turn, they remained loyal to her throughout her entire life. No wonder her private life is surrounded by all kinds of rumors. Was she involved with her favorite Grigory Orlov and his brothers in a conspiracy to kill her husband Peter? Maybe, or maybe not.  Was she a nymphomaniac? By today’s standards, not at all. Even by the standards of her times, any male monarch would have mistresses by the dozen parading through his bedroom – it was expected. But a woman is accused not only of promiscuity, but of bestiality! No, Catherine the Great was not killed by a stallion while having a romantic relationship with him! And no, contrary to Elvis, she did not die on the toilet. She suffered a stroke while in her bathroom, was carried to her room, and expired in her own bed.

A tomboy to the end, she was a woman of simple tastes in food. She liked boiled beef with pickles and cutlets made of minced game meat (http://rbth.com/arts/2014/07/09/monarchs_menu_feasts_fit_for_russian_tsars_and_emperors_38051.html).  While she preferred meat, her efforts to be completely russified became second nature. The Empress loved Russian blini, and not simple blini of which there is a huge variety, but the famous Tsar Blini. I found the original recipe in an old Saint Petersburg cook book. Imagine:

  • 1 cup best flour
  • 4 cups cream 30% fat
  • 2 cups butter
  • 10 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cup sugar

Now, scroll back up and look at the portrait of Catherine the Great in her 50’s. No wonder she gained a little weight! And nobody dared to put the Empress on a diet…

Busquit pancakes.jpg

Since my husband could also benefit from a diet while enjoying these dainty, airy creations, I used my “best flour” – organic white spelt flour. If you have a celiac disorder or an allergy to gluten, it could be easily replaced by gluten free flour. Instead of 30% fat cream (scary!), I used soy prostokvasha (for recipe, please click here).  Instead of refined sugar, I used agave, and just added some vanilla extract for flavor and baking powder for extra fluff. But what about those 10 eggs?          kulb-5

Aquafaba (liquid left from cooking chickpeas) has worked for me before, and it worked in this case, too! I whipped it real well, then introduced the rest of the ingredients, and fried on medium hot, barely misted with oil frying pan.

bsqt pnck 1.jpg

A word of caution: these blini are so fragile that you shouldn’t  even try to pick them up with a spatula. You need to fry them on both sides, so flip them onto a plate and slide them back onto the frying pan, one by one. When done, slide them onto the serving plate.

bsqt pnck 3.jpg

Here is my husband enjoying a healthy and dietetic brunch, fit for Tsars. Just like Catherine the Great, he has filled his blini with a fruit puree, in this case, my sugar free blueberry sauce. Blinis are finger food, even the fancy royal Tsar Blini, so become an Emperor or Empress for a day and dig in!

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 cup white spelt or gluten free flour
  • 1 cup non-dairy prostokvasha (clabbered milk)
  • 1 cup aquafaba
  • 1/2 cup agave
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt

PROCEDURE

  • Add a pinch of salt to aquafaba, whip to stiff foam. Add the rest of ingredients, mix gently but thoroughly.
  • Preheat small frying pan to medium, mist with oil, fry for 2 minutes. Flip onto a plate, slide back into frying pan, fry for 2 minutes or until golden brown.
  • Slide onto serving plate, serve with fruit jam or sauce, garnish with fruit or berries.

Enjoy!

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59 Comments Add yours

  1. Ali Grimshaw says:

    Your posts are so entertaining and I always learn something. Thanks for altering this recipe for those of us who are unable to eat the original.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words, dear Ali!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Dolly, how in the world did this even hold together with all this
    “4 cups cream 30% fat
    2 cups butter
    10 eggs” and only 1 cup of flour????? I can imagine it tastes royally rich!!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. In the cook book it says to stir 2 cups of cream with flour and simmer until thick., then add butter and simmer some more. Then whip eggs with sugar, add the remaining 2 cups of cream, and mix this horror together. It makes me sick just to think of it!

      Liked by 2 people

  3. susieshy45 says:

    Dolly
    Your quest for the history of recipes is amazing and commendable. Thank you for doing that.
    The recipe seems like a Russian pancake to me. I am glad you diluted the recipe to suit the modern palate.
    Susie

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Dear Susie, all blinis ARE Russian pancakes, even the yeast-based ones. Thank you for your kind comment!

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Stories, stories, stories. I love them. You are a wonderful storyteller. I smiled as I imagined the many lovers and rumours surrounding Sophie aka Catherine. She lived her life to the fullest, it seems. I tasted blinis once at a small Russian eatery in Delhi and I was sold on them. I would love to try these out.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much, dear! You are very kind! Let me know how they come out, please.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I shall. I really mean that about the book 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I know you do, thank you, dear!

        Liked by 1 person

  5. kelleysdiy says:

    You come up with the most interesting stories….and food!!!! I have never heard of clabbered milk…what is aquafaba?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The link to clabbered milk is in the post. It is even healthier than yogurt and very easy to make at home. Aquafaba is the liquid left when you cook chickpeas or, alternatively, open a can. It whips into a foam, almost like eggs, but it has no fat or cholesterol and quite a few of important nutrients.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. You never seize to amaze me Dolly with your wonderful stories. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, dear Myra!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. What an interesting story… I am just embarking on kosher etc… My father was Jewish.. I am messianic. … Nd most greatful for your posts:)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much for your kind comment! If I can help in any way, please don’t hesitate to ask, and if you don’t want to ask in a public forum, feel free to e-mail me. Blessings to you and yours!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Wow! Dolly, I have always loved your art of story telling and how efficiently you manage to link your story to the recipe.Its definitely a talent and I admire it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much, dear Anuradha, you are so kind!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Joëlle says:

    Thank you Dolly for another amazing post 👏. Let me quote my husband, whom I read it to, when I reached the part about your husband’s need to diet “It’s always the husband who gets it in the end…”. 😅
    I listened to the story of Catherine the Great on the BBC a couple of months ago; well, let me tell you, I am sending them an email telling them to hire you for future historical episodes!
    I thought blinis were only salty, but I was apparently wrong. Someone once told me the plural of “blini” is “blins”. Is that right?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. In English, plural nouns are made by adding -s, which will make it “blins.” In Russian, though, plural of “blin” is “blini.” Since it’s highly unlikely that anyone would eat just one, in all Russian cookbooks the blini recipes are called “Blini” in plural, including “The Tsar Blini.” Incidentally, you might be interested to know that the original recipe was renamed after the revolution, to eliminate “Tsar,” and in the later cookbooks it is called “Bisquite blini.” To make that incredibly rich concoction with very little flour stick together, they simmered flour with cream and then also added butter, almost like you would make eclairs, and then added the rest of the ingredients and fried the blini. This method made them double-cooked, i.e. “bisquite.”
      Your husband has a nice sense of humor! 🙂 As to BBC, I am afraid I speak with the wrong accent, but thank you for your kind recommendation!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Joëlle says:

        Looking at her late portrait, I’m sure Catherine couldn’t be content with only one blin!!!

        Liked by 2 people

      2. LOL Exactly! Neither was my husband…

        Liked by 2 people

  10. Joëlle says:

    Correction: it’s one “blin” and several “blini”. Let me know if I got it wrong!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You got it right, but nobody eats just one, so they are always discussed in plural.

      Liked by 2 people

  11. These blini looks very good, Dolly 😀
    I will try them out and I will exchange the soy for almond milk instead. This use to function in most recipes for me.
    Interesting story.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, dear Irene! I have never made prostokvasha with almond milk, but I have with coconut milk, and it comes out great. You have to use coconut cream or yogurt first, to make a starter, though.

      Liked by 2 people

  12. lilyandardbeg says:

    I’m not sure what is better: the story or the recipe! I like fat but as I’m a vegan I do appreciate the alternatives in your recipe (will I dare to make these? they seem too fragile for my heavy-handed cooking). And the story is so great that you could be an editor of a gossip magazine about long dead ‘celebrities’. I love the post 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s a brilliant idea! If I didn’t despise gossip magazines, I’d probably consider starting a dead-celebrities one online. These blini are pretty fragile, but remember the Russian saying, “The first blin is always is mess”? Just do it – what have you got to lose?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. lilyandardbeg says:

        To be honest, it’s thanks to you and your stories that I have finally understood the concept of gossip magazines. I would probably start reading them if they were all about dead tsars, princesses and poor but smart young men and women who bend their fate so that it serves them…
        I think I’ll have a go at the blini 😉 I’ll eat them anyway, pretty or not 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I am not sure whether I should take is as a compliment, but I’ll be bold and take it!
        Good luck with the blini, and don’t worry about the looks; enjoy the taste!

        Liked by 1 person

  13. Balvinder says:

    My interest in aquafaba is growing with each one of your post. The blini looks good. i make something similar with gram flour with no egg.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. But if you have no egg and no aquafaba, what gives you the foamy texture?

      Like

  14. Elizabeth says:

    I am still a tomboy and I definitely need to lose weight so I feel absolutely royal after reading this! The blini look so delicious! I’m going to try them but I’ll make Pete come help! He can flip them in the pan (or should we not do that because of the delicacy of the blini?).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am with you on both counts (my doctor read me the riot act yesterday), but you definitely don’t flip them – they are very fragile. Slide them onto a plate gently, then flip them from the plate back onto the pan.
      Enjoy!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Elizabeth says:

        After I sent the comment about flipping I realized there’s no way I should if you suggested sliding them on a plate. I want to make these Sunday morning for a very special breakfast!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Well, flipping is what we do all the time, with or without blini, but I am a curious cat: what’s special about this Sunday morning?

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Elizabeth says:

        Nothing. I just thought it would be nice to have a special breakfast and the blini really are special!

        Liked by 1 person

      4. It’s always nice to have a special breakfast! I make a special brunch every Sunday.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Elizabeth says:

        Sundays in usually recovering from making family dinner or making it. But I can’t resist those blini!

        Liked by 1 person

  15. lghiggins says:

    What a fascinating history lesson! And I learned something new about cooking–aquafaba (new word for me) as a replacement for eggs!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words! Yes, we learn something new every day; I my self only started experimenting with it a couple of months ago, and I love it.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. Very interesting history and goes so well with great, interesting eats. Funny how Celiac/gluten has never (as I know of) been a problem as. today. Hmm!

    Like

    1. Many problems have not been recognized until very recently, and many problems probably did not exist until recently. I don’t know whether celiac /gluten belongs to the first pr the second category, but it is definitely a very real issue.
      Thank you so much for your kind comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  17. sweets67 says:

    These look really delicious!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much – I am glad you like them!

      Like

      1. sweets67 says:

        Can you imagine if wordpress had a button to smell what others bake?

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Give it a few more years, and someone will invent it, I am sure!

        Liked by 1 person

  18. You are obviously an excellent wife, as well as an excellent cook! Actually, these blini sound alot like my Hungarian grandmother’s palacsinta. Wishing you and yours a Happy Passover! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t know about being an excellent wife, but thank you so much for your sweet comment! Actually, I have a Placinda post (that’s how it’s called in Yiddish), but we make it differently. If you are curious, here it is: https://koolkosherkitchen.wordpress.com/2016/11/24/placinda-flaky-pumpkin-pie/
      Thank you for your warm and wonderful wishes!

      Liked by 1 person

  19. How interesting–I just had someone email me yesterday asking whether I was familiar with aquafaba, which I wasn’t! The recipe she was asking about was using the liquid from commercially canned chickpeas, which wasn’t making sense to me because I think those are cooked, drained, and then packed in a saltwater brine. But perhaps I’m wrong. Are you cooking dried chickpeas and using the aquafaba from that?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I use aquafaba left from cooking dry chickpeas; however, I’ve seen many recipes that list liquid from cans. I prefer not to use cans so when I started experimenting with aquafaba, I tried using the liquid left from cooking, and it worked.

      Like

  20. Sounds great! I’m with you on the canned beans. I’ll certainly give it a try and pass along the info–and the link to your delicious looking recipe. Now if only I could get my hands on some decent caviar–I haven’t had any since I lived in St. Petersburg more than a decade ago, and it’s my favorite for blini!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dear Julie, thank you so much for your kind comment! As I understand, you are traveling in the U.S. quite a bit. Any large metropolitan city has at least one, if not several, Russian deli where you find an assortment of the best caviars – and I am with you on that, I also love it!

      Like

      1. Thanks for the tip! I’m living in NW Montana now, and the nearest big city is Calgary, but I’ll definitely put it on my shopping list for city trips.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Here is a link for caviar-by-mail-order. The prices are very reasonable, less than we pay in store, and the brands are very good.
        https://www.red-caviar.com

        Like

      3. Thanks, Dolly! I’ll put it to use.

        Liked by 1 person

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