More about garlic, onions, and olive oil

I have no idea what set off this baking frenzy, but I suspect it’s related to the recent cooler weather that really requires that we keep two stoves going in our house. My new cookstove has a terrific firebox and oven, and I’m enjoying both.

Today I baked piroshki. I lived for about 15 years in San Francisco or its immediate environs. This was in a time before there was a Thai or Vietnamese restaurant on every corner. But the city had strong Chinese, Japanese, and Russian sectors, and I lived for years near Clement Street, famous for its Russian bakeries. I fell in love with piroshki, and when I moved away was determined to learn to make them.

Every culture, I think, has its equivalent of the sandwich, that mixture of bread and filling that we drop in our lunch boxes every day to take to work. Cornish pasties are one example; piroshkis are another.

If your not familiar with the breed, picture a hamburger sandwich of sorts that is totally enclosed by the bun. But other cultures use meat and vegetables differently, so the filling of a piroshki is a precooked mixture of whatever you have on hand. Usually it’s meat and some sort of vegetables, but I’ve also had them filled with steamed cabbage and onions and other assorted vegetable fillings.

They come in two forms–baked and fried. I prefer the baked–less greasy and better for you. The hardest part of learning to make them was finding the right dough recipe. James Beard’s Sourcream Bread (from Beard on Bread) exactly fills the bill. It’s a substantial bread that holds up, but the crust stays soft, making them wonderful to grab and eat, hot or cold. This is due to the fact that essentially all of the liquid in this bread recipe is sour cream (not the fat-free stuff, either–it’s the fat that makes it stay soft). So it’s probably not a heart-healthy meal, but I make them only a few times a year, so I refuse to stress out over this.

It’s another one of those all day projects like yesterday’s French bread. You mix up the dough and set it aside to rise the first time. While the dough is rising, you precook the filling. My family’s preference is for ground meat with complementing vegetables (onions are essential, garlic is optional) sauteed in a little olive oil. You make the filling at this point to set it aside and let it cool a bit. Hot filling would kill the yeast action in the dough. When the dough has risen to double or triple in bulk, you slap it around a bit, divide it up (one recipe of Beard’s bread and a pound of ground or chopped meat with some assorted vegetables makes about 18 of these things, approximately 1/3 cup of dough to a pastry), then pat each portion of dough into a little oval, put some filling in the middle, and seal the thing up. Then you put it on a greased cookie sheet where it will be joined by eight of its companions (for a total of nine in rows of three) for a second rising (about an hour and a half). Pop the sheet into a moderate oven (about 350 degrees F) and bake for 20-25 minutes or until browned. Remove from baking pan to cooling racks.

Then try to avoid overeating. . .


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