Tuesday, May 17, 2011
Growing up, there were only about three sources for pierogies.
You could buy Mrs. T's frozen pierogies in the grocery store. They were our everyday pierogies. We ate them relatively often and as far as I know there was only one type of filling available - potato and cheese I think. I may be wrong but they certainly did not have the variety of fillings they sell today (no jalapeno, spinach, feta, bacon, etc).
In the summer, most local churches raised money by throwing church picnics, multi-day festivals with music, games, and lots of food. Most of the local churches had members with Eastern European backgrounds so there were usually pierogies sold and they were mainly served deep-fried. Again, they were almost always filled with potato filling.
On Christmas Eve, pierogies were the star of the meatless meal. You wouldn't serve Mrs. T's at this meal anymore than you would serve Stove Top at Thanksgiving. I'm not sure what resources my mother used but she would somehow contact a pierogi maker, place her order, and usually one night after we were out Christmas shopping, we would stop at some random house to pick up the pierogies. I don't recall ever seeing her walk in a house - it was always dark and she'd just disappear from the car and come back with bags of pierogies. Of course, there were always potato pierogies on Christmas Eve but also cabbage and early on farmer's cheese pierogies (eventually we stopped getting these whether by choice or lack of supply, I don't know). I think at least once we got some prune filled ones.
The pierogi market has really blossomed over the years. Eventually more brands became available, some of them cheaper, mass-made Mrs. T's varieties and others are from smaller companies with better fillings and higher price tags. You can get store-brand pierogies now. I even bought some pierogies from my son's baseball fundraiser. They were sold along with the frozen pizzas, strombolis, pretzels, etc. These days, we can buy our Christmas Eve pierogies right in the supermarket.
So, why bother making them myself? 'Cause I wanna. I've always wanted to master pierogi making. I had one sort-of-failed attempt years ago. One thing especially that has been on my 'list' for years was to find farmer's cheese to make cheese pierogies. You just can't find it locally. I finally found some - a HUGE package of it in Wegman's. It was almost $20 worth of farmer's cheese, which they probably would have repackaged into smaller amounts if I had asked but I knew with $20 worth of farmer's cheese, I would not be putting off making pierogies.
First, I made the fillings:
To start off, I chopped an onion (a yellow onion, not a sweet onion) very finely in my mini chopper. I sautéed it in butter until the onion was translucent and just about to brown. I set this aside.
For the potato filling, I prepared some Honest Earth instant mashed potatoes as directed (with butter, water and milk). I know, all the work of making pierogies from scratch and I used instant potatoes? Yes, I like that brand (from Costco) a lot so I was brazen. They only contain potatoes, butter and salt. I added about half of a block of Kraft Cracker Barrel Extra Sharp cheese, shredded, some of the sautéed onions, and some white pepper. I felt them mixture was still a bit loose so I opened another bag of the instant potatoes and added more until the mixture was as thick as I wanted. Next time I will make the potatoes with less liquid than the directions call for.
For the cabbage-sauerkraut filling, I removed the core from a head of cabbage and sliced it thinly. I sautéed it in butter and oil, with some salt, lots of pepper and a dash of sugar until it was cooked down well and beginning to caramelize. I drained some sauerkraut really well and added it to the cabbage, to taste. I didn't want it to overpower the cabbage (I didn't rinse the sauerkraut but I should have). I cooked that together for a while and then added some sautéed onions and cooked it a bit longer.I know some people who like all sauerkraut, and some who prefer all cabbage, but I like a mixture.
The farmer's cheese filling was one pound of farmer's cheese, 1 whole egg, 1 egg yolk, a teaspoon of salt and some white pepper.
I don't have any complaints about my fillings. They all turned out to be just what I personally wanted, definitely for the potato and the cabbage but I'm not sure about the farmer's cheese only because I'm not sure what I wanted. It's just been so long since I last had them, I'm not sure if they were the same or not. The flavors were about the same as cottage cheese and noodles. Cottage cheese and noodles are readily available and much cheaper so I won't consider it the end of the world if I can't make more farmer's cheese pierogies in the future. If I did want to make more cheese pierogies, as a substitute I would probably use drained cottage cheese, blended until it's smooth. I would describe farmer's cheese as having the flavor of cottage cheese with the texture of ricotta cheese, but dryer.
For the dough, I chose four different pierogi dough recipes. Two of them used sour cream. Two of them I made in the bread machine as an experiment, using the pasta dough setting. I had to run it through twice and each setting was 14 minutes. (Not worth it - I could have mixed them both by hand in that amount of time.) I screwed up and grabbed the self-rising flour for the bread machine doughs, which I didn't realize until much later.
At this point, I don't know where the other dough recipes are but the 'winner' was one that I found on AllRecipes.com and made by hand:
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup warm water
1 egg, beaten
1.In a large bowl mix together the flour, salt, and baking powder. Make a well in the center.
2.In a separate bowl mix together the vegetable oil, warm water, and beaten egg. Pour into the well of the dry ingredients. Knead dough for 8 to 10 minutes.
3.Cover dough and let rest for 2 hours. Roll out and fill as desired.
This dough was pretty easy to work by hand, it rolled out nicely, it had good stretch, fried up well. The other doughs weren't failures, even the ones with the wrong flour, but this dough was my favorite. Was it good enough to stop trying other recipes? I'm still debating that. Maybe.
The doughs do better sitting overnight so it was fillings and doughs on the first day and the second day I rolled, cut, filled, sealed, boiled, rinsed, dried, froze and packed.
I used a glass to cut the dough since I didn't have a biscuit cutter the right size. I used water to seal the dough. I pressed the edges together until I was sure it was sealed well and then I pressed the edges together some more. I'm happy to say that I didn't have any leaky pierogies at all. I boiled them until I thought they were done (I think this part will take more experience to get it right). I rinsed them, dried them off and froze them flat on a cookie sheet before bagging them and keeping them in the freezer. From there they just needed to be thawed and pan-fried. You don't have to pan-fry them - you can just heat them up and top them with melted butter and sautéed onion but I prefer them pan-fried.
**Edited to add that they can be deep-fried too and of course, the freezing stage is optional and not necessary if you are going to eat them right away.
They are a lot of work but it's not that difficult. The ingredients (outside of farmer's cheese, not a necessity) are cheap so companies with big machines can sell them cheaply. But I can see why the smaller operations have to charge so much.
So that was my second foray into pierogi making and I think it was a success.