Autumn bakery: Make an ideal cowberry pie from Soviet “drowned” dough

Victoria Drey
No joke – this old-school recipe calls for literally drowning your yeast dough in ice-cold water so that it activates perfectly.

The process of yeast dough rising has always been a kind of culinary magic for me: what can be more exciting than putting the dough in a warm corner for a couple of hours and watching it slowly increase in size and become soft and airy? Until recently, I was absolutely sure that this was the only way to acquire just the right amount of yeast dough. That’s why I was sincerely surprised when my grandmother told me that in Soviet times they often used a different technology – instead of letting the dough rise in a warm space, they put it in a bowl with ice-cold water. Initially, the dough sinks to the very bottom of the bowl, but in about 20 minutes it finally rises to the surface. Due to the peculiarities of this process the dough was named “drowned”. 

Nobody knows for sure who and when this unique recipe first appeared. In the USSR “drowned” dough became very popular because it takes about 40 minutes to make, while the basic yeast dough recipe sometimes requires more than two hours. The secret is in the special process of yeast fermentation: water enriches the dough with gas much faster than when exposed to air. I’m not going to lie: putting the dough in the water for the first time is… unusual. I was scared that the dough might become sticky and unusable. But it surprisingly worked! So I ended up with an ideal yeast dough that was very easy to work with and rose in the oven perfectly.

For the filling, I chose my favorite seasonal berry – cowberry, which has always been considered one of the most tasty and healthy berries in Russian cuisine and even folk medicine. In autumn, we usually preserve pots of cowberry varenye, jams or at least some packs of frozen cowberry to eat as is, add in tea, porridges and pastries. Its unique sourish taste perfectly complements any type of sweet bakery; so, coupling it with “drowned” dough resulted in probably the most delicious cowberry pie of all time. 

Ingredients for the dough:

  • 300g plain flour;
  • 150ml milk;
  • 50g butter;
  • 1 egg;
  • 15g fresh yeast;
  • 2 tbsps sugar;
  • ½ tsp salt.

Ingredients for the filling:

  • 250g cowberry;
  • 2 medium size apples;
  • 100g sugar;
  • 2 tbsps cornstarch;
  • + 1 yolk for smearing.


1. To make the “drowned” dough all the ingredients must be room temperature. In a large bowl mix lukewarm milk, sugar, 3 tablespoons of sifted flour and yeast. Here, I use fresh pressed ones, but you can replace them with around 5g of dry yeast in case you cannot find fresh ones.

2. Set the mixture aside for 15-20 minutes so that the yeast activates – soon you’ll notice a light foam on the surface. This means the yeast works properly. 

3. Next, into the yeast mixture add an egg, melted butter, a pinch of salt and the remaining sifted flour, tablespoon by tablespoon. First, knead the dough with a fork, then dust the cooking surface with some flour and continue kneading with your hands for 5-7 minutes.

4. The ready dough should not stick to your hands but it should still be soft and elastic. Here comes the most intriguing part – “drowning” the dough. 

5. Take the largest bowl and fill it with ice-cold water. I add ice cubes to make it even colder. Drown the dough and wait for 10-20 minutes. When the dough rises to the surface, take it out of the water immediately and dry with a clean kitchen towel. 

6. Prepare the filling: pare and cut the apples into cubes and mix with cowberry, sugar and cornstarch. Apples make the sourish berry filling more rich in taste, so I always add them when baking anything with cowberry. Feel free to use frozen berries – just let them thaw and drain on a strainer before cooking. 

7. Back to the dough – dust the ball with some more flour and knead it once again. Now separate 1/3 of the dough, set it aside under plastic wrap and start working with the bigger part. Roll it out into a large round sheet. 

8. Cover the bottom and board of your baking form, which is smeared with some butter, with the sheet that has the dough, and spread the apple-berry filling over the bottom. 

9. The smaller part of the dough will be used for the top decoration.Here, I make a classic lattice crust, but you can create any design you prefer. For the lattice, roll out the dough into a sheet and cut into 10 strips. 

10. Now, place the lattice on top of the pie. I also made a couple of lovely braids from the remaining dough. Cover your pie with a kitchen towel and leave for another 15 minutes. 

11. Finally, gently smear the surface of the pie with egg-wash (1 yolk + 2 tablespoons milk or water), and bake it at 190°C for 25 minutes until golden-brown on top.

12. Let the pie cool so that the filling sets, and enjoy a generous piece with a cup of black tea – priyatnogo appetita

Read more: How to make the most realistic shortcrust “mushrooms” – a Soviet guide

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