Movie Bites: Babette’s Blini Demidoff au Caviar
‘Babette’s Feast’ is cinema’s ultmate food tribute. Among the culinary delights onscreen are these buckwheat pancakes with sour cream and caviar
Babette’s Feast (1987) is considered by many (including me) to be the ultimate tribute to food on film. Danish writer and director Gabriel Axel, who died in February, will be remembered for his take on the transportive power of food. Set in 19th-century Denmark, it tells the story of how Babette (Stéphane Audran) escapes the counter-revolution in Paris and comes to live with the devout Christian sisters Martine (Birgitte Federspiel) and Philippa (Bodil Kjer) in a stark coastal village on the Jutland peninsula.
Babette has been living with the sisters for 14 years as their cook when she wins 10,000 francs on the lottery. She decides to use the money to prepare an unforgettable meal to thank the sisters for their kindness over the years, and to mark what would have been the 100th birthday of the sisters’ father. She orders her ingredients from Paris and, as box after box of extravagant produce arrives, the sisters become more and more concerned that this meal will be a total sinfest. They plot with the other invited guests to eat the meal but to not take any pleasure in it.
Babette serves dish after miraculous dish to her gathered guests. They get through the Blini Demidoff au Caviar (buckwheat pancake with sour cream and caviar) and the Portage á la Tortue (turtle soup) stone-faced, but they start to crack at the sight of the Caille en Sarcophage avec Sauce Perigourdine (quail wrapped in puff pastry with foie gras and truffle sauce – OMG). Everything is paired with rare wines, champagne and spirits, and as the salad and cheese courses are served, the guests have thawed. By the time the Savarin au Rhum avec des Figues (rum sponge cake with figs and glacéed fruit) arrives, they have succumbed to the spiritual lift that can come from eating a truly great meal. Babette finally reveals that before coming to Jutland she was head chef at the famous Café Anglais in Paris where a private dinner for 12 cost 10,000 francs. When the sisters realise Babette has spent her lottery winnings on their meal, they cry out that she will be poor for the rest of her life. Babette replies: “An artist is never poor.”
(makes about 24 little blinis)
25g salted butter
100g buckwheat flour
100g self-raising flour
1 tsp of baking powder
Pinch of salt
Goatsbridge Irish Trout Caviar (85g for €12.95 plus shipping from their website goatsbridgetrout.ie)
Melt the butter in a small saucepan and set aside to cool. Sieve the buckwheat flour, self-raising flour and baking powder into a mixing bowl. Add the pinch of salt and mix.
Measure 300ml of milk into a mixing jug. Break in the two eggs and add the melted butter. Whisk until well mixed. Gradually add the milk mixture into the dry ingredients, whisking until you have a smooth batter.
Heat a bit of olive oil on a frying pan over a medium to high heat. Fry a tablespoon of batter for about one minute on each side, until golden. I usually do four blinis at a time, so as not to crowd the frying pan, and repeat until the batter is finished. Set each cooked blini aside.
Serve each blini with a layer of smoked salmon and a dollop of crème fraîche topped with your choice of caviar.