I am not a perfectionist. (Then again, nor am I very self-aware.) But this recipe for piroshki seemed to bring out the very best (worst?) in me.
I first made these savory stuffed pastries in March when the weather was frigid, filling large circles of pâte brisée with a mixture of mashed potatoes and mushrooms. They appealed to my love of meals in a package—Cornish pasties, Thanksgiving croissants—with a hint of chopped dill adding an exotic, eastern European earthiness. Alas, when I popped the pockets in the oven to bake until golden brown and puffy, the filling leaked from the pastry. I vowed to try again.
The recipe comes from the new Moosewood Restaurant Favorites (yes, that book again—I really love it) and it’s easy enough, though perhaps a bit time-consuming, the type of thing that’s A PROJECT—but in a good way. First, you whip up some homemade pastry dough. Yes, I just used the words “whip up” and “homemade pastry dough” in the same breath, but I’ve actually gotten pretty fast at it. (Yikes, have I become one of those people?!)
While the dough is resting, prepare the filling. The first time I made these piroshki, I mixed up a wintry blend of mashed potatoes and sauteed mushrooms. But the second time—the time I vowed to conquer the recipe—I created a springtime filling of stinging nettles, cabbage, ramps, parsley, dill, and a scoop of cottage cheese.
Maybe you’re wondering about the stinging nettles? When I saw them at the Union Square Green Market, I couldn’t resist—they reminded me of hiking in Scotland. They really do sting—according to this site, the fine hairs coating the leaves and stems act like “hypodermic needles,” injecting the skin with histamines and other chemicals that cause a painful rash. Even though the nettles I bought were babies, with no real threat to them, I still used my kitchen tongs to handle the leaves before blanching them in boiling water. Heat removes the danger, leaving a spinach-like vegetable that tastes like cucumbers.
Once your filling is prepared, and your dough has adequately chilled, you’re ready to roll (so to speak). The Moosewood cookbook suggests making large, meal-sized turnovers, about the size of a dinner plate. But after my first experience, I knew I wanted them smaller, so I divided the dough further, making sixteen dainty pockets instead of eight large ones. I rolled each ball of dough into a circle, dolloped on a scoop of filling, folded over the flap, and crimped the edges with a fork, pricking the tops to create vents so the steam could escape. I popped them in the oven with high hopes. Thirty minutes later, I found this:
You guys, I was so sad. See that filling leaking across the baking tray? It was nothing compared to the tears leaking from my eyes. (Well, not really, but allow me some poetic hyperbole here.) What had I done wrong? Why were my piroshki as explosive as the situation in Ukraine? (Hyperbole, again.) I gazed at the cooling sheet pan and felt hollow with disappointment, sad and frustrated. (That is actually not hyperbole.) I wanted to make another batch, but I was out of time and dough. Instead, I did three things: First, I ate the mashed potato mixture that had run all over the tray. Second, I stored the leftover filling in the freezer. Third, I posted about my problem on Chowhound. The consensus was this: I was overstuffing them.
Last weekend, I tried again. But this time, I was more scientific. I measured the filling in tablespoons and marked the amount I added to each pocket: One stab of the fork for one tablespoon, etc. As you can see from the photo above, there was very little leaking! However, when I ate a pirogi for lunch, I had to admit that the pastry-filling ratio was off—there was too much dough, not enough potato. I think I’m caught in the old cooking catch-22 of appearance versus taste. Am I destined for round four?
Makes eight large, or sixteen small piroshki
For the dough:
2 cups unbleached white flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 lb unsalted cold butter
6-10 tablespoons of ice water
For the filling:
2 cups peeled and diced potatoes
3 tablespoons butter
1 cup chopped onions
1 1/2 cups finely chopped cabbage
1/2 cup stinging nettles (or another green leafy vegetable, or more cabbage)
1 cup cottage cheese
1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese (4 ounces)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons chopped fresh scallions (or ramps)
Salt and pepper
1 egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon water
sesame seeds for topping (optional)
Prepare the dough. In a large bowl, combine the flour and salt. Add the butter in small pieces, rubbing it into the flour with your fingers until it’s in pea-sized lumps. Add the ice water in short dashes, kneading and squeezing lightly until the dough comes together and forms a ball. Divide the dough into sixteen (or eight) equal portions, rolling each one into a ball. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.
Prepare the filling. In a saucepan, cover the potatoes with cold water and boil until soft. In a medium skillet, melt one tablespoon of the butter and sauté the onion until soft. Add the cabbage and nettles and cook until the vegetables are tender, about 5 minutes. Mash the potatoes with two tablespoons of butter. Stir in the sauteed vegetables, cottage cheese, cheddar cheese, dill, parsley, and scallions. Taste and season.
Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Ready the egg wash and sesame seeds. On a lightly floured surface, roll out a ball of dough into a rough, 10-inch circle. Place 1-2 tablespoons of filling (or more, at your risk!) on the circle of dough. With a spoon, spread the filling into an even layer. Fold the dough over to create a semi-circle, seal with egg wash, and lightly crimp the edges with a fork. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling. Stab the tops of the piroshki with a fork to create steam vents (though I’m not sure this really helps). Brush the tops with the egg wash and sprinkle with the sesame seeds.
Bake for 25-30 minutes, until puffy and golden brown. I store these in the freezer, individually wrapped in foil, to eat with soup for a quick and easy dinner. Reheat at 350ºF for 20 minutes.