Ah, the beloved Coal Region favorite — pierogi. Not only do many meals revolve around pierogi, but it is the center of much social interaction, especially in generations gone by.
The “church ladies”
“Church ladies” gather in parish kitchens and turn out pierogi for fundraising sales, block parties, or church festivals by the hundreds of dozen — and we Coal Region folks are quite willing to stand in long lines at those events to get them. (You meet nice people standing in the pierogi concession line.)
Pierogi is a a traditional food in many cuisines of Eastern Europe and they found themselves becoming a staple in the Coal Region thanks to the influx of immigrants to the Anthracite region who came to America to work in the mines. What started out as a peasant food has evolved into a true classic.
Not rocket science
Pierogi are not difficult to make. I repeat – not difficult!! Therefore, I suggest you pass over the grocery-store frozen variety and, at least once in your life, MAKE YOUR OWN! This recipe for the dough includes sour cream; some recipes do not, but I believe the addition of sour cream makes a more tender dough and I had an iconic “church lady” assure me that was correct (so, that’s good enough for me).
Versatile and delicious
Pierogi are filled with savory or sweet fillings, and I have included the very popular potato and cheese filling and a sauerkraut and potato filling with the recipe. This makes a LOT of pierogi, but if you are making them, it makes sense to make a bunch and freeze some for future use. However, you can scale it down if desired. They freeze nicely and last a long time in the freezer.
*** READ BEFORE STARTING THIS RECIPE and KEEP THESE POINTS IN MIND ***
- You do not need fancy equipment to form pierogi. All you need is your hands, something capable of cutting the dough – like a drinking glass, or a pizza cutter (HINT: pierogi do not need to be the familiar half-moon shape. The dough can be cut in squares and folded over the filling to form triangle-shaped pierogi!) and a rolling pin; anything more than that, like an electric stand mixer, a biscuit cutter, or pastry brush to wet the dough edges for sealing, is icing on the cake.
- You do not have to complete all the steps involved at one time or in one day. You can make the filling(s) a day or so ahead, make the dough the evening before, and put them all together the next day.
- The water for cooking should be kept at a boil and they will float to the top when finished cooking.
- When cutting circles of dough, cut as closely together as possible to get as many as you can from the rolled out dough. The scraps can be gently gathered and placed together to roll again and cut.
- As you work the dough it will get tacky and you will probably have to add some flour to the surface in order to roll it out. But as it gets thinner, it is best only to add flour between the dough and the rolling bench and to avoid adding flour to the top of the dough. You want the top of the dough to be flour free so that it is easy to create an effective seal.
- Your pierogi should be nicely filled, with no air bubbles inside, and just enough dough rim around the edge to assure a tight seal when pinched shut. Some cooks find a pierogi press helps them attain a tight seal.
- Pierogi can be frozen raw or cooked. On a parchment-lined baking sheet, arrange raw or cooked, cooled pierogi, making sure the ends don’t touch. Place in freezer. Freeze until solid, remove them from the tray and place in freezer bags. If frozen un-cooked, boil to cook when ready to serve. If already cooked, thaw and heat through.
Handmade PierogiCourse: Snack, Appetizer, EntreeCuisine: Coal Region, Polish, Eastern EuropeanDifficulty: Intermediate
An iconic Coal Region favorite; soft pockets of dough filled with a variety of fillings, the most popular being potato/cheese or sauerkraut.
6 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup sour cream (full fat)
2 whole eggs
1 1/2 cups water
- Potato and Cheese Filling
5 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and cut into small cubes
1 medium sweet onion, finely diced
1/4 cup butter
1 pound good quality sharp cheddar cheese, grated (use really good cheese!)
1/2 cup sour cream
Salt and pepper to taste
- Sauerkraut/Potato Filling
2-1/2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and cut into small cubes
2 cups sauerkraut
1/2 cup sour cream
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
Salt and pepper to taste
- Mix the flour and salt in a large bowl. In a smaller bowl, mix sour cream, water and eggs until well blended.
- Make a well in the center of the flour,/salt mixture and pour in the sour cream/water/eggs mixture. Mix together by hand or with the dough hook of a stand mixer until it comes together adjusting with additional flour or water 1 tablespoon at a time until a pliable, soft dough is formed.
- On a lightly floured surface (or in the stand mixer) knead until the dough is no longer sticky and the surface is smooth.
- Remove from bowl, cut into four equal pieces, flatten into a disk and wrap each in plastic wrap. Place in refrigerator at least 2 hours or overnight before rolling out.
- Potato and Cheese Filling
- Place peeled, cubed potatoes into a pot and cover them with cold water. Salt the water to taste (potatoes need a generous amount of salt). bring to boil, reduce heat and cook until fork-tender.
- Meanwhile, melt the butter in a frying pan then add the onion and some salt and pepper and cook slowly until the onion is soft but not browned.
- Drain cooked potatoes and let sit to dry or return to pot and shake lightly over low heat to evaporate any remaining moisture.
- While potatoes are still warm, mash them until smooth. Add the cooked onions and butter, the sour cream, and the grated cheese and mix very well. The potato mixture will be stiff. Make sure to season well with salt and pepper.
- Cool completely or refrigerate until ready to use.
- Sauerkraut and Potato Filling
- Peel and cube the potatoes.
- Boil the potatoes in generously salted water until fork tender. Drain in a colander and allow to dry for a minute or two.
- Mash with a hand masher until fairly smoothly mashed.
- Add the sauerkraut, panko crumbs and sour cream.
- Season with salt & pepper and mix together. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.
- Assembly and Cooking
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
- Line some baking sheets with parchment to hold the uncooked pierogi.
- Take one disk of dough and, flouring surface lightly, roll out the dough to about 1/8th to 1/16th inch thickness. Make sure it is not sticking while you roll it out and move it around as you need to.
- Brush off any excess flour and use your cutter to cut circles from the rolled dough. Remove the scrap pieces and store them covered to re-roll the scraps together later.
- Brush the edge of each circle with your finger or a brush lightly dipped in water.
- Place a spoonful of filling in the center of each round. Fold the dough in half around the filling and pinch the edges closed (you can also crimp the edges with the tines of a fork to help assure sealing). Any filling at the edges will prevent the edges from sealing properly. Press out any air bubbles as you seal them up. Lay the pinched pierogi on the parchment lined trays.
- Drop pierogi, in small batches, into the gently boiling water. Once they float, cook another minute, then remove with a slotted spoon. Keep the water boiling while cooking. At this point, you will likely lose some to poorly sealed seams or breakage.
- When all are cooked, either eat or freeze!
- A popular way to serve pierogi is topped with sauteed onion in butter. Roughly chop or thinly slice some onion, melt some butter in a frying pan, add salt and pepper to taste and saute the onions until soft and lightly browned. Add the boiled or thawed pierogi, heat through and brown one side of the pierogi lightly if desired.