If you know me at all by now, you know that I love turning classics into cornets. I did it a few months ago with eggs benedict and just recently with sea urchin and squid ink, which isn’t really a classic, but it made for a classically good cornet nonetheless. This time I decided to tackle buckwheat blini, crème fraiche and caviar- the staid staple of the Russian cocktail party set. Aside from learning which parts of my forearm are perpetually destined to stick to the oven door when forming cornets, I also learned that blini is plural for blintz. I had always assumed they were two different things, despite them looking similar on the page, so I was happy to glean that little knowledge nugget. Blini and crepes are very similar, however the primary difference is that blini tend to be yeasted whereas crepes are not. While various flours are used to make blini all over the world (and especially in Central and Eastern Europe), Russians often use buckwheat.
I turned the blintz into a cornet by using buckwheat dough instead of standard wheat. If you are one to care about such things, substituting buckwheat makes these cornets 100% gluten-free. It also makes the little suckers incredibly tricky to roll as buckwheat doesn’t have the cohesive power of wheat. This results in more arm burns, because the hardest part of cornet-making is rolling the cornets onto the cornet molds once they’ve cooked just past the batter stage but before they are too crispy to form. This rolling takes place on a hot oven door because if you remove them entirely from the heat they will harden prematurely. Thus, burning is inevitable. Once you mentally get to a place where you realize it is worth sacrificing your forearms for really fucking good cornets, you will unrestrainedly enjoy these blini-turned-cones. Beauty is pain, after all.
I filled the cornets with a mixture of crème fraiche and heavy cream stabilized by one sheet of gelatin and whipped in an isi canister. I thought about filling them with straight caviar and dolloping the crème fraiche foam on top, but I decided I’d like to buy a new pair of shoes some time in the near future and if I’d blown my shoe budget on a thousand dollars worth of white sturgeon caviar, I never would have forgiven myself.
Being of the more is more mindset, I surmised that three elements- caviar, cornet and crème fraiche- weren’t enough. I love potatoes with caviar, so I made a foam out of water that had boiled potatoes and bacon. Then I dappled the crème fraiche with it and packed a healthy ceramic spoonful of caviar on top. I used a ceramic spoon because I didn’t have mother of pearl, which is the traditional non-reactive spoon to use for caviar. It is said that caviar should be served with a non-metal spoon so that the delicate eggs do not acquire a metallic taste. There is some degree of myth to this claim, however, as caviar is traditionally packed in metal tins, which fail to leave a taste imprint on the eggs.
The elemental beauty of a cornet for me lies in the fact that if you get it right, if you truly nail all of the flavors and create one of those eyes-rolled-back-into-your-head dishes, you have also created the perfect bite. It is a great feat to compose something that is so thoughtfully, soulfully designed as to be complex yet simple, intriguing and lingering yet balanced in the way a truly fine, aged wine is so. It perplexes me that the vernacular for describing wine is so rife with adjectives and yet for food, which arguably is a much larger category than wine, we tend toward cliches like “yummy” or “delicious.” A one-bite cornet that has been lovingly-constructed with attention to every detail inspires a litany of toe-curling words- at least it does if you’re not too busy eating it, absorbing it, and basking in it to say a thing.