Pirozhki: A labor of love

Fried pirozhki were extremely popular in the Soviet era.

Fried pirozhki were extremely popular in the Soviet era.

Anna Kharzeeva
In contrast to most of its recipes, the Book of Healthy and Tasty Food’s version of the traditional small filled pies called pirozhki, calls for them to be deep-fried rather than baked, rendering them not healthy at all.

Granny’s pirozhki (small filled pies) are one of my favorite meals, and have been for as long as I can remember. They have always been the center of every family celebration – birthdays, graduations, weddings and anniversaries. Granny makes the best pirozhki, obviously, and when I was a kid I was very proud that my friends and their parents thought as much.

Granny makes her pirozhki with yeast dough and different fillings: cabbage and eggs, meat, egg and onion or apples. She never fries cabbage for the filling, instead boiling it for 5 minutes and adding a slab of butter while it’s hot instead. She always bakes the pirozhki, brushing them with egg yolk first for a nice color. Her pirozhki go very well with chicken broth, borsch or schi - and celebration, laughter and family.

To me, Granny’s pirozhki and store-bought ones have always been completely different things – I never even classified them as being in the same food family. Mainly this is because most of the other pirozhki are fried – not just the cabbage filling, but the pastry, too.

I asked Granny why she decided to bake her pirozhki instead of frying. “I think it was because of your grandfather’s stomach ulcer,” she said. “Or maybe it was because I thought baking was healthier – they used to fry them in ‘baking oil,’ and who knows what was in it. We didn’t have refined oil – I first saw it on my trip to Poland, and unrefined oil is not great for frying pirozhki. Although it’s also possible I decided to bake them to save oil – you know how much you have to use to fry pirozhki? This quite likely was the reason!”

The Book of Healthy and Tasty food’s recipe for pirozhki is for fried ones and fried ones only. It provides a selection of fillings, but I chose the most traditional one – cabbage. I made the filling according to the recipe, which turned out not as good as boiled cabbage, but still not too bad. I sautéed the cabbage in butter and also added a little cumin. I couldn’t help myself, and fried only part of the pirozhki and baked the rest. The fried pirozhki turned out great – the dough was good and the filling not too bad. And pirozhki fried at home were definitely better than store-bought ones, but I still don’t think it’s the best way to make pirozhki.

Fried pirozhki were very popular in the Soviet era.

“There were fried pirozhki everywhere – on the streets, stations, in shops – like Yelisyeevsky [a very luxurious grocery store on Moscow’s main street, Tverskaya]. It had a bread and pirozhki section where you could also buy a coffee and eat it right there. My mom never made pirozhki, as they take too long, but I got into it and developed my own recipe,” Granny said. “I started making them when we got our own apartment, in 1962, and also when electric mixers became available – it’s too hard to knead by hand! Your grandfather used to brag that his mom made pirozhki often, and he would always knead the dough by hand and was very strong and very good at it!”

Granny’s “podruzhki-staroushki” (girlfriends who are also old ladies), as she calls them, also make pirozhki for special occasions – each has her own specialty, but what unites them is that they’re prepared to spend the whole day in the kitchen to feed their loved ones. It’s an art form worth perfecting through the years. I think it’s about time I got started on that, too!

Fried filled pies (pirozhki)

The recipe from the Soviet Cook Book, page 269The recipe from the Soviet Cook Book, page 269

The recipe from the Soviet Cook Book, page 278The recipe from the Soviet Cook Book, page 278

How to make it

Ingredients (for the yeast dough):

  • 1 kg flour
  • 2u00bd cups of milk or water
  • 2-3 Tbsp. butter, melted
  • 1 Tbsp. sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 30 g yeast
1. Peel and chop the cabbage. Scald it with boiling water, drain, rinse with cold water. Squeeze tightly to get out the water.

2. Melt the butter in a frying pan. Add the cabbage. Fry 10-15 minutes, stirring frequently so that the cabbage doesn’t burn. Add chopped boiled eggs and sugar. 

3. Dissolve the yeast in water or milk. Add the butter, eggs, sugar and salt and flour. Knead well.

4. Divide the dough into pieces weighing approximately 40-50 g. Roll each ball into a flat circle with a thickness of 0.5-1 cm.

Ingredients (for the cabbage filling):

  • 1 head of cabbage (1.5-2 kg)
  • 3-4 hard-boiled eggs
  • 2-3 Tbsp. butter
  • 1 teaspoon sugar

5. Add the stuffing in the center, bring the edges of the dough together and pinch closed.

6. Place the pies on a plate or board dusted with flour and let rise. Then fry in a frying pan in butter or oil, turning from side to side until they are browned.

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