The Pierogi Recipe handed down through generations
by Gary and Chris Dyrkacz
transcribed and enhanced from Helen Dyrkaz's recipe
What are pierogi? They are the Polish version of filled dumplings. For us, they are always smothered in butter, often fried, and served with finely chopped fried onions. The image is a scan of one of our real full size pierogi. Impressive, right?
This is Mom D's revered recipe for pierogi. If you search the web, you will find many people of Polish decent have their own version, but of course this is our favorite. To those who have only tasted the commercial versions of pierogi, we can only sigh in sadness at what they are missing. Not even counting the often flat flavor of the commercial products, they are nearly all too thick and heavy in our estimation. Pierogi should be delicate, with a thin dough.
I am second generation American, and can't speak a word of Polish. So what is the big deal? As any cook knows, any kind of filled dumpling is a lot of work, and certainly pierogi are no exception. Generally, we (often two to three people) may make a couple of hundred in a day's work. For this reason, they are served only at one time of the year - Christmas Eve. (Of course, there are leftovers for the next couple of days.) In a sense, making pierogi sets the season for us. In today's hectic world, making pierogi is a chore not taken lightly. It is however, a labor of tradition that binds the memories of many past and hopefully future Christmases together with family. This provides a continuity of tradition that my family and my relatives have observed all my life. Things change around us. Families shrink, grow and change, but this tradition so far has survived all. I am fortunate that my wife, who is not Polish, loves pierogi as much as I do and is willing to go through the grief of making them.
This recipe has been distilled over quite a few years. Originally, we got the recipe from my mother, who got it from her mother. However, my mother really cooks by taste, sight and feel. For many years, my wife complained that our pierogi never tasted right, nor had the same texture as my mother's. When my father passed away, my mother needed help making them, and my wife and I volunteered. What an eye opener! All those little missing points and measurements. So here is the recipe in detail:
2½ cups of flour (could be as much as 3 cups)
1 tsp salt
2 tbs. sour cream (preferably regular)
~½ cup lukewarm water
Mom likes to sift the flour in a sifter older than me, but we are not sure it is necessary. Mix all ingredients together, and knead just a bit. The dough should not be very smooth, and it should be quite sticky. Let stand covered with an inverted bowl for ~1/2 h before using. Take either all, or a portion of the dough, and roll it out until it is 1/16" thick. You will have to use plenty of flour to keep the dough from sticking to the rolling pin and rolling surface. You can also flip the dough several times as well. (Your work surface dictates how much you can roll out at one time.) The thickness is very important.
Although I know there are many different pierogi fillings, we have three that are traditional. My mother also makes plum and cheese which she and her daughter-in-laws like, but we "boys" hate. I refuse to even consider documenting the fillings.
Although not necessary, it is a good idea to make the fillings the day before you make the pierogi and refrigerate it. This is a big cooking job. Breaking it into two days helps.
Sauerkraut (Kapusta) Filling (makes 50-60 pierogi)
4 lbs sauerkraut
2 lb yellow onions
2 Tbs. sugar
My mother uses canned sauerkraut; we prefer the refrigerated version. Drain and wash the sauerkraut to reduce the sharp acid flavor You will have to wash and taste in stages to determine how sour you want it. Be careful not to overwash. You do want a bit of tartness. Finely chop the onions. Fry them in butter until they just become translucent, then add the sauerkraut and sugar. Either add more butter for frying, or add a combination of butter and olive oil. Fry to a golden brown color. Finally, add salt and pepper to taste. Plenty of pepper is needed to give the kraut a little zing.
Potato Filling (makes 60-80 pierogi)
5 lbs of potatoes
2 lbs of onions
Finely chop the onions and fry in butter until golden brown. Peel potatoes and cut them into thirds; cook until tender. Once cooked, completely drain potatoes and mash with no liquid. Add fried onions, and salt and pepper to taste. Since this is a fairly bland filling, you will find you need a fair amount of salt and pepper.
This is one of my favorites, but most of my family don't like this filling as much as the sauerkraut or potato. I don't have a detailed recipe. Basically, do the same for the cabbage as for the sauerkraut filling. Chop a small head of cabbage fairly fine. Fry in butter until tender. Season with salt and lots of pepper.
If you are interested in other fillings or variatons on the above fillings, you can jump to our additional page. This page includes fruit fillings, and a few technique variations. More Fillings...
Making the Peirogi
This is the tough and boring part. Keep saying to yourself that the result will be worth the effort. If you can enlist the help of at least one of your kids or your spouse, it makes a big difference. If you have a neighbor who can be bribed with a cut of the pierogi, enlist their help. Please don't get the impression that this is an impossible task. It just takes time, and if your going to make a couple of hundred pierogi, you will be on your feet constantly moving between table and stove for at least 4-6 hours. There are a number of ways to proceed in the production. I will list the ones we like best.
First, start a large pot of water boiling, add at least a couple of tablespoons of salt. This is for cooking the pierogi.
Next prepare more fried onions and get ready to melt butter. (The fried onions at this stage can be optional). Have breadcrumbs ready.
You have to decide how big you want the pierogi to be. There are some general limits. With the thinness of the dough, too large a pierogi will not survive cooking and handling. Too small and they are difficult to fill, and the ratio of dough to filling is too high. My mother, for many years now, has used a regular 2 lb can that has the open side rim removed, providing an extremely fine cutting edge. My father did this. I am not sure how he managed to get a perfectly smooth cutting edge, but I suspect he used his metal cutoff saw.
We have used a hamburger patty maker with an edge I sharpened. This is a dumb little device my wife picked up ages ago. It is a flat cylinder with a little wiper in it. The idea was to pack the meat into the thing and then use the wiper to release the patty. Thus, you ended up with uniform patties. We used it a couple of times for hamburgers, but, sharpened, its best use is as a pierogi cutter. An inverted glass also works, but not as well.
At any rate, you want circles that are between 3 and 4 " in diameter. Cut out the circles and examine to see if the dough is still about 1/16 " thick. If it is not, roll out the individual circles separately. We use a pasta maker machine to do this. If the circles don't look fine enough, we pass them first one way and then rotate 90 degrees and pass them through again, using the next to the finest setting on the machine. Great device!
Add a dab of filling to each circle. A heaping teaspoon is plenty, but use your own judgement here. Now take your finger, dip it into warm water and coat ~3/8 " edge of half the pierogi circle with water. Make sure the half edge is completely wet. Then take the opposite dough edge and fold and stretch it over to the wet edge. Pick up the pierogi and with your fingers seal the edges tightly together. Make sure no filling has gotten on the sealing edge. Be very conscientious about this sealing operation. It's heartbreaking to see all the filling in the cooking water after all this work. If the pierogi looks to thin, my mother will dip the thin surface in flour before placing into the water.
As an alternative to the last procedure, we have been using a simple dumpling maker thing, which is a thin walled cylinder fitted with a spring-loaded, crinkled edge, hollow piston inside. (Pampered Chef - Cut n Seal). The idea with this device is that you have two pieces of dough with the filling in between and use this device to cut the circle and press the spring loaded piston to seal the edges. We roll out the dough the same way. The filling is placed on the rolled dough about 1" apart. Leave about 3 " of dough for the overlap. (See drawing.) The outer portion of the dough is then rolled over the fillings. Now the dumpling maker is placed over a filled area and the piston pressed down to seal the edges. The outer cylinder is then pressed down to cut the dumpling from the dough. This does save time. Note that the dough is rolled over enough so that this still produces a "half moon" shaped piergo, so only half the pierogi is being sealed, just as with the hand method. Because of the crinkling and pressure applied, water is not needed to seal the edges. Depending on the dough size, we usually can lay down one more row of fillings on the remaining dough and fold again.
The remaining dough pieces are combined and rolled out again. We often use the pasta maker for this second rolling operation, ending up with a long strip of dough. A single dough batch will make approximately 22-28 pierogi.
Once a batch is finished place carefully in the boiling water. Total boiling time is 10-12 minutes. Turn or at least stir the pierogi after about 5 minutes. When finished, remove to a colander and rinse with cold water, then place on a cookie sheet to cool. On a good day we will have under 5 pierogi break out of say 160. A bad day is over 10 break.
Another alternative for cooking is to steam them. We have used a wok with a bamboo steamer, and this seemed to work well also.
Finally, we're ready for storage. The following is only necessary if your going to freeze them. (We always do since, we may make these one to two weeks ahead of time.) Melt butter, (a lot of butter). Brush the bottom of a bowl, pan, casserole dish or whatever your going to store the pierogi in, with butter. Put in one layer of pierogi, brush with butter. At this stage you also can sprinkle with breadcrumbs and fried onion. Brushing each layer with butter is important; it will keep the pierogi from sticking together.
In this state, the pierogi can now be frozen. We usually freeze the pierogi in the baking dish that will be placed in the oven to reheat. That way you do not have to worry about separating them later. To eat: Take them out of the freezer at least a day in advance and let them completely thaw. Carefully layer them in a large baking dish. Cover the dish with foil, and heat for ~40 minutes at 275 F. Serve with melted butter, and fried onions. When we are not serving a large crowd, we will lightly fry them before serving. They also microwave nicely; cover with plastic wrap so they don't dry out.
Compared to many recipes I have seen on the web, I know mine is very detailed. It's a failing of mine, but I really would like people to try the real thing. For me, the detail makes the pitfalls easier to jump over. If you do try this recipe, please feel free to drop me a note, and let me know how they turned out.