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Varenyky, Not Your Store Bought Perogy

December 28, 2010

If you have ever had store bought perogies, please purge all thoughts of them and never think of them ever again.  Those bags of I-don’t-know-what in the frozen food aisle bear no resemblance to the real thing.

Varenyky is made from the most delectable melt-in-your-mouth dough imaginable and may be filled with whatever your heart desires.  The most common filling is cheese and potato, but ground pork and/or beef, onion, cabbage, cottage cheese, and even cherry for dessert are also popular.

The recipe below was taught to me by a former roommate who was Mennonite, but varenyky is enjoyed in many Slavic cuisines including Ukrainian, Russian and Polish.  The Canadian term Perogy likely came from the Polish (plural) name for this treat, Pierogi.

Set aside a whole afternoon to work on this recipe, especially if you are a solo cooker as myself.  The steps are simple, but it takes a while to stuff all of those pockets of dough.  As the dough dries out very quickly, you can’t really work solely on one step at a time to get ahead in the process.  You must make each varenyky separately start to finish.  Unless you have a little team of children perhaps and can make a little assembly line!  That would help matters greatly.  Whatever you do, eat before you start or you will certainly succumb to eating each varenyky as you finish preparing them individually!

Ingredients:

Dough:

3 cups flour

A little over 1/2 cup sour cream

1 egg

1/4 cup cold butter (do NOT substitute anything for real butter in this recipe)

Filling (don’t hesitate to try something different!):

3 or 4 potatoes

3/4 cup cheese, I like old cheddar

Toppings:

Onions

Bacon (optional)

Makes three dozen varenyky.

You will need your potatoes to cool before adding the cheese to create the filling, so start by boiling those first.  It’s always best to throw the potatoes in cold water and let everything heat up on the stove together so the outsides of the potatoes don’t get overcooked and soggy before the inside cooks.

If you are planning to top your varenyky with crumbled bacon, may as well get that started at this point as well.

Add three cups flour to a large bowl.

Add a little more than half a cup of sour cream.  Most recipes were originally measured in weight, so some items don’t translate well into cups!

Mix until crumbly.

Cut a 1/4 cup of cold butter into small cubes.  People always ask me the best way to measure butter.  If you look on wrapping paper of any brand, you will see little measure marks.  Simply slice off the entire thickness of the required measurement, and tada!  Easy, and no extra clean up!

I don’t own a lot of fancy kitchen implements, but if you are planning on making pastry more than once in your lifetime I do suggest picking up a little inexpensive pastry cutter/ blender.  I think this one cost me $6 at my grocery store, but you may even be able to find one at a dollar store.  They make short work of blending butter into flour.  Otherwise, you can use two knives against each other, pointing in opposite directions and slice through the butter and flour until fairly evenly mixed and crumbly in texture.

This is what I mean by crumbly.

Now break one egg into a measure cup, preferably a 3/4 cup measuring cup if you have one.  I don’t.  And yes, I am using the same measuring cup that I used for the flour.  It’s all going to the same place isn’t it?!

Beat the egg and add enough water to create 3/4 cup total liquid.

Add your 3/4 cup egg/ water mixture to your crumbly flour mixture.

Mix to form dough.  This takes very little effort.  I think I stirred twice and semi-kneaded with my hands twice.

The MOST IMPORTANT step in this whole process is to now cover your dough bowl with a clean WET towel.  Not dripping wet of course, you don’t want water droplets all over your dough, but seriously moist.  I often re-wet the towel part way through the process.  This dough dries out very quickly and will need to be under this wet towel at all times.

You may start the rest of the process immediately or place this covered bowl in the fridge for even a few hours if an emergency strikes or perhaps you got excited to dive right in and forgot to boil your potatoes before working on the dough.

Cut your chosen cheese into little cubes and add to your now cold potatoes.  You can shred the cheese instead, but I guarantee you the varenyky will not taste as cheesy.

Now for the assembly of the varenyky.  I like to set myself up for the process as you can see below.

I have plenty of flour on my table and extra at the side.  I have my covered bowl of dough and my bowl of potato cheese filling.  I have a little plate for placing my completed varenyky on, for easy movement to a pot of bowling water.

I also have a knife for cutting up the dough as I go, a rolling pin and a fork for securing the edges of the dough pockets.

Start by cutting your dough in three.  Replace the wet towel over the bowl of dough.

Remove one of the three dough pieces from the bowl and quickly slice into twelve.  (In half lengthwise, then in half down the middle of both, then each side in three.)  Quickly, throw all of these mini balls of dough back into your bowl, safely under the wet towel.

Grab one little ball of dough and squish it flat in the palm of your hand.

Roll the dough thinly until about the size of your whole hand with your rolling pin.  Don’t try to make the dough so thin that it may tear, you cannot make varenyky with holey dough.

Pick up the dough in the palm of your hand and place one little spoonful of filling in the center.  Do not be tempted to over stuff.  I know you still will, but after your first carefully crafted varenyky falls apart in your pot of boiling water, you will contemplate sticking to one little spoonful of stuffing.

Fold the dough over and gently pat the sides together so the edges meet as best you can and the pocket lays mostly flat.  Perfection in design is not key, perfection in taste is and we’ve already taken care of that!

Press the edges of the dough together using any method you’d like.  I use a fork, a pastry edger would likely be fantastic, but I know traditionally you would only use your fingers to create pretty pleats.  I often fork press one side, flip the varenyky over and fork press the other side.

If you are having a hard time with this step, try dabbing a droplet of water on your pinky and running this moist finger on the inner edge of one side of the pocket before pressing together with a fork.

I find I can fit about six varenyky in my big pot of boiling water without them getting so crowded they stick together.  So, after I complete six varenyky, I bring my little plate over to the stove and finish the process.

Gently place the varenyky into a pot of boiling water.  I mean a real full boil!  You don’t want soggy varenyky caused by sitting in water that cannot cook them quickly enough.

Boil for two or three minutes until the varenyky float and you can start to see the dough sort of whiten and bubble a bit.

Lay out to dry.  I lay mine on my brand new drying rack.  But I only got this rack less than a month ago.  I used to use the mini rack from the inside of a toaster over and before that, I just placed them on a plate and kept turning them and draining the water from the plate every couple minutes.  Whatever works.

After they have dried for a good five or ten minutes, you can see now how the dough is more like pasta dough than pizza dough.  The dough will get a nice sheen like a ravioli.  Many people eat the varenyky as is, but I have always preferred frying them for a little extra crispness.

Slice some onions thickly.  You want nice big pieces.

Lay the onions down first with lots of butter, then lay your varenyky on top.  Always lay your onions under your varenyky to keep them from burning accidentally.  Do not overlap the varenyky in the pan.  You will need to cook multiple batches if you are cooking for more than yourself.

Once browned on both sides, crumble some bacon on top if you like and serve with a side of sour cream for the full experience!

Please tell me you will never look back to the frozen food section again!  Jump up.

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