What have we here?
These are Russian pirozhki - individual pies or meat pockets, as I sometimes see them called. They can be either served as a hearty appetizer, or alongside a lighter, thinner soup (or a thicker, heartier soup, if you are like me). They also make a great take-along lunch or snack.
Mine are filled with a mixture of caramelized (sorta) onions and browned venison, but the possibilities abound. Other common fillings are mashed potatoes, stewed cabbage, and browned ground beef, but you can pretty much use whatever suits your fancy. All of the above fillings usually include caramelized onions in one form or another.
When it comes to the dough part, there are as many recipes for the crust as there are for the filing – some use yeast, some are shortening-based (like mine). Most of the time they are baked, but can also be deep-fried. I prefer baking mine.
However, I can’t lie to ya on this one – these guys are kind of work – you either have to be very adventurous or very nostalgic to make them on a regular basis. They also have a tendency to disappear shortly after emerging from the oven. Oblivious to both of these obvious facts, Jacob loves them, and I make them for him as a special treat, you know, once every several years. Although, if you come to think of it, these are not considerably harder than their larger cousins – pasties, and I make those all the time. So not sure why am I complaining.
In a twist typical of my life’s trajectory, I haven’t actually made these until I came to this country, when, early in my marriage, and before any children, I felt like impressing my new husband with the treats from the Old World. Which is why he married me in the first place – you see, geography is his big thing, which is good, because, when I met him, there was none of these “and where is this… country you are from?” questions.
Anyhow, here’s how I make my pirozhki when I am on the good end of my reproductive cycle (read “in a good mood and feeling generous”):
The crust/dough is made up of 2.5 C of all-purpose white flour (you mean there are different kinds out there?), 2 T butter (either cold or softened works), about 1 1/4 C of sour cream, and about 1 t of salt. This time, however, I didn’t have quite enough sour cream on hand, so I supplemented the 3/4 C that I did have with the additional half-an-half, mostly because I don’t normally buy half-and-half and had to find some use for a stray container that serendipitously made it to my fridge. I didn’t exactly measure the half-and-half – but that’s the thing about making dough – doesn’t matter what you do, as long as it comes out the right consistency in the end.
I then mixed everything together in a Kitchen Aid (but you can also do it by hand with a wooden spoon, obviously), switching briefly to a hook attachment towards the end, which is not visually documented and made very little difference. Really.
Dump it out onto a floured surface.
Knead briefly, and shape into a ball. Do you know how to knead by the way? Just fold the dough over on itself and press down, repeating this process several times and stopping before it begins to tear. Which I didn’t. The finished dough will spring back when pinched. And if it does start to tear, don’t worry – it will still work.
Now let it rest while you prepare the filling(s).
Now I’ve got a teeny-tiny confession to make: I was originally planning to make a ground beef/caramelized onions filling, but I forgot to take the meat out of the freezer in the morning, and didn’t realize that until it was about time to make supper. Fortunately for me, I had three lovely hunks of venison thawing out in the fridge to be made into pastrami, and decided to use one of the pieces for my pirozhki. By the way… while it pleases the ego to shoot a bit macho buck, the does are better eatin’, if you are allowed to shoot them in your area. If you are not allowed to shoot them, they are still better eatin’, but you are just not getting any.
I trimmed this beautiful piece (it is beautiful, really, once you cut it open) of most of the connective tissue. Connective tissue is tough and will not dissolve unless you subject it to the prolonged hours of cooking, which was not going to be the case with this dish.
With a very sharp knife, I sliced the piece lengthwise at first,
then stacked the resulting slices into stacks of 4-5 and cut those lengthwise as well, then crosswise, resulting in not-so-neat little cubes.
Then I turned my attention to this beautiful cippolini onion I got from my friends over at the Small Family CSA farm, and…
chopped it! You would have never guessed, would you?
Then I melted some butter in a cast-iron skillet until merry bubbles covered the surface and heavenly fragrance filled the air, but before the butter turned brown, followed by a not-so-pleasant odor (I generally try to avoid that point).
At this point I dumped in the onions, throwing in another tablespoon of butter on top for good measure,
and cooked them until they turned this lovely color.
Then I heated some oil in another skillet and briefly seared the venison cubes – you don’t want to do it for too long, because you don’t want to make them tough and chewy – just until they lose their pink color.
I then dumped both into a bowl,
added salt and pepper to the mix, and stirred everything together.
Now on to the well-rested dough I moved. Just like me this morning.
Now fold the dough in half over the filling, pinch the edges,
and roll the future pirozhok over onto its back, so the seam is at the top.
Repeat with the rest of the dough. Note that the word “finesse” is not in my cooking vocabulary, and I am not generally after uniformity of performance and elegance of presentation. You see, I hold a belief that life is too short, aesthetic excellence is superficial in the big scheme of things, and the taste of my food more than makes up for its visual imperfections.
I do like bold, saturated colors, however, so I decided to glaze them with straight-up yolks, instead of the usual whole beaten eggs.
I smeared the yolks on top with a pastry brush, and stuck the thingies into the 400-degree oven for 30 min. And half-an-hour later…
For dessert I served Bananas Foster which I’ve never made until this day, I am not sure why! It’s extraordinarily simple and extraordinarily delicious.
Note: I didn’t do the flambeing part of the recipe, what with the recent experience of watching my house on fire (which was not the result of over-adventurous cooking). So I merely added a splash of rum to the pot when I was cooking the bananas.
- 2.5 C flour
- 1 1/4 C sour cream or until the desired consistency is achieved
- 2 T of butter, either cold or soft (use soft if you are mixing the dough by hand)
- 1 t salt (roughly?)
- several egg yolks, for brushing
Make a soft dough out of all the ingredients except egg yolks, shape into a ball, and let rest.
Prepare any of the following fillings:
1) A mixture of finely cubed, seared meat and caramelized onions.
2)Mashed potatoes with caramelized onions.
3)Stewed cabbage – I’ll let you google/figure that one out yourselves – I never made it.
4)A mix of browned hamburger, caramelized chopped onions, and hard-boiled eggs (or skip the eggs).
5)Any other filling that might please your palate and imagination.
Divide the dough in half, rolling each half into a thick rope. Using a sharp knife, cut each rope into uniform pieces. Roll each piece into a circle, place the filling in the center, fold the dough over the filling, and pinch the edges together. Roll each meat pocket onto its back so the seam is at the top. Place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, brush with the egg yolks, and bake at 400 degrees for 30 min.