I have been watching my mother and Baba (grand-mother in Ukrainian) make pierogies for as long as I can remember. My mother has told me she remembers watching her dad eat up to 66 at a time! Those were different times, when people actually needed to consume more calories because their employment was usually physical labor. I think if I consumed that many at one sitting, I would explode; and I will admit to definitely being a glutton when it comes to pierogies. Maybe it’s because I worry that I won’t have them again for a very long time? Yes, that is my excuse.
Don’t get offended by this, but I have to say it: my Baba’s and mom’s pierogies are the best. I think it’s one of those things that because eating this food item holds so many wonderful childhood memories, nobody else’s pierogies can beat it. Don’t get me wrong, I will eat pierogies at any chance they are presented to me, and some other friend’s Baba’s have come close, but the clear winner usually rests in my mom’s freezer. And most of the people that I know that love pierogies say the same of their family’s, and I won’t argue with that.
When we had the shop here in Mexico, I started attempting my mother’s pierogies. One occasion when we were home for a visit, I asked if she could make the dough so that I could try and measure it out so I could make it back in Mexico. “But I don’t measure”, was her reply. “I know, but I’d like to try and measure what you’re doing so I can copy it”. She looked very concerned that my measuring would get in the way of her super soft dough.
It didn’t. I had a lot to learn. The first year I tried on my own, I found that some batches were so tough I couldn’t roll them out. I tried to convince myself it was okay, but when I actually ate a few perogies with said dough, I could barely get my teeth through it. Clearly, a soft dough matters. But I kept trying until I got the hang out it.
Growing up, we had strict rules about pierogi night. They were cooked and served one way and one way only: boiled, tossed with onions in a ton of oil, served with salt, pepper, and sour cream. There were no sides. There was no dessert. They were only to be fried the next day, if you were fortunate enough to have leftovers. Frying them the day of was unheard of and if you mentioned it, you would have gotten a dirty look and perhaps asked to exit the kitchen. Don’t mess with family tradition.
My mother used to leave them all on the counter, dusted with flour, using about 3,000 tea-towels. These days, we freeze them individually as we go along, which gives us more for a later time. Currently, we are making pierogies and selling them to make some extra cash during this pandemic. I used to be terrified of making the dough without my mother present. Now, I’ve realized the fear was all in my head.
In the past few years, my mother started adding sour cream to her dough; she is sure that it makes it much softer and easier to work with. And, as hard as this is for me to believe as it is NOT how it was growing up, she now fries bacon along with the onions when she serves them. This fact actually hurt my brain when it first happened, but I never refuse bacon, so I kept my mouth shut.
Inside the potato and cheese filling, my mother also used to buy a chunk of pork fat, or what she used to call ‘shvsrke‘. Since we would never be able to find that here in Mexico, she will just save the bacon fat and add that, even using diced up pieces of bacon for the filling. The fat gives it a distinct flavor. Try to ignore the fact that it’s not healthy and just do it. Just this once. And every time you make them. Unless you are a vegetarian. Then you can do what you need to do!
These amounts won’t match perfectly, you will have leftover filling so you may want to make another batch of dough.
They take some time, but they are worth it. And just think, you don’t have to make appetizers or dessert because nobody’s stomach will be able to handle all that food.
Oh, and do your guests a favor, tell them to wear their stretchy pants.
**** Notes for making pierogies NOT in a humid environment. Recently I was making pierogies in my hometown of Toronto. I discovered two things that pierogi dough doesn’t like: cold ingredients, and a lack of sour cream. If you are not making these in a warm, humid place like where I live, please leave out your dough ingredients on the counter for about an hour to warm a little. Also, you will need to almost double the amount of sour cream to the measurements listed below for your dough to be soft and lovely.
- 4 1/2 cups flour
- 1 egg, room temp
- 1/4 cup (unflavored) cooking oil
- 3/4 cup room temp water
- 1/2 – 1 cup sour cream, room temp (in warm, humid weather 1/2 cup is good, in cold, dry weather you will need 1 cup)
- 1 kg potatoes
- 250 grams cheddar cheese, grated
- 1/2 large onion, diced
- 4 bacon slices, diced (optional)
- salt and pepper to taste
- vegetable oil
Filling: Peel potatoes and boil until soft, then mash. While potatoes are still warm, add cheddar cheese, salt and pepper to taste and combine well until cheese is fully melted. If potatoes are still lumpy, use a fork to break them up a little. Fry bacon and set aside to cool a few minutes. Chop bacon and add to potato mixture. Fry onion in bacon grease (adding vegetable oil only if you need it) about 5-7 minutes or until soft and add to potato mixture. Add salt and pepper to taste. (Season it well, potatoes soak in the salt) . Set aside to cool. (This can be prepared the day before, the colder the mixture is the easier the dough is to fill).
Dough: Make sure dough ingredients are at room temperature. Add all ingredients to a large bowl, and combine for about a minute. Turn onto a floured surface and knead about 5 minutes by hand until smooth. (If it’s dry, add 1 TAB sour cream, if it’s wet, add a little flour). The dough should not stick to your hands or the counter when kneading is finished. Cover. Rest 30 minutes.
Flour your working surface well. Roll out dough until about 1/4 inch thick. Cut circles to size you desire. (My cutter is 3/2″). Put a heaping tablespoon of filling in middle. (Yes, it looks like a lot, but the dough is elastic and it will make them nice and full). Bring one end of circle to the other, pinching as you go. Pinch tightly, or else they may open when boiling. Set aside, not allowing one to touch the other, on a floured baking sheet (see pic in story).
Fresh pierogi can sit, covered, for a few hours. Or if you prefer, freeze on the sheet until each pierogi is hard, then transfer to a freezer bag.
Set a pot of well-salted water to boil. If boiling frozen pierogies, do NOT thaw. When water is boiling, turn the heat down a little and place some pierogies into the pot (not too many or they’ll stick) and give them a gentle stir so they don’t stick to the bottom. Bring them back to the boil (putting the lid back on helps this). Once they return to a boil, remove lid. They will float to the top. Boil for 4-5 more minutes (or until desired consistency), then strain. Toss with a little oil so that they do not stick.
Serve with fried onions, bacon, salt, pepper, and lots of sour cream.
Makes about 50 pierogies