Friday, February 21, 2014

Homemade Pierogies

When I was a wee little girl, I never gave much thought to where my family came from. They just were. Around 4th grade, all that started to change. I somehow finally figured out that 'mom's mom' was actually my grandmother. That meant I had 2 grandmas like everyone else, not just one like I had always assumed. I guess I assumed that because we never talked to and never saw 'mom's mom' that meant she wasn't a grandma, and in a sense, that's true. I grew up with just one grandma in my life. One grandpa, too, since 'mom's dad' died before I was born. I also had just one aunt (my dad's sister) and one uncle (her husband). My other aunt/uncle didn't seem 'real' because they lived in CA with their children, my cousins. To this day, I think I have met my cousins just once in my life, maybe twice.

Around the time I figured out I really did have 2 grandmas, I was assigned a school project to fill out a family tree. Everyone at school seemed to know that their grandparents were German, or Irish. That seemed so odd to me – my family was just American, right? So I asked my parents why we weren't anything. I remember my dad looking at me and telling me I was half Russian, a quarter German, and a quarter English and that I should talk to my grandparents about the family tree. I was pretty stunned, especially about the Russian part. After all, back in those days, they were 'The Evil Empire.' I was actually kind of embarrassed to be Russian. And German? Weren't they bad people, too? What was wrong with my family?
That weekend we went to my grandparents' and I explained my school project to them and asked if my dad was telling the truth. My grandparents confirmed that, yes, dad was correct. I was floored. Then my grandpa proceeded to tell me that my last name wasn't the 'real' last name. After WW2, he legally changed his last name because 'it was not a good time to be Russian.' I didn't believe him, I just couldn't comprehend it, so we went down to the basement and he pulled out his high school and college yearbooks and showed me his photos, complete with the 'wrong' last name.

Back then, grandpa refused to talk much about his family. I don't think I ever met any of his 4 siblings, and his parents passed away before I was born. I have since done a lot of genealogical research and 'found' my dad's 'long lost' cousins from my grandpa's side of the family and I've started to fill in the blanks. My great-grandpa was from Belarus, my great-grandma from Lithuania, they met & married in Rhode Island. Grandpa left RI after college to work in PA and he never saw much of his family after that.
Grandpa married grandma, whose family was from Germany, coming to PA back in 1835. My 'mom's mom' was English, her family came to America back in the 1600's. The other “Russian' part was from my mom's dad's family, who came over in 1900. I have not yet found a city on any documents and they have listed their place of birth as Russia or Austria-Hungary, identified themselves as Austrian protestant, listed the languages spoken as Russian, Polish, and English, and attended a Ukrainian church. So let's go with Eastern European for sure, likely Ruthenian or Ukrainian.

SP's family is Eastern European as well, likely Polish.
All of which brings me to this unbelievable fact: I grew up in Pittsburgh, I am 50% Russian/Polish/Eastern European, and until my late teens, I had no idea what a pierogie was. My first pierogie was one of Mrs. T's frozen pierogies. My mom told me her dad's mom used to make pierogies for holidays/weddings/funerals. My dad's 'long lost' cousins told me my great-grandma made pierogies and one of the cousins still makes them every Christmas. But my family never made them, never ate them. 
My first ever pierogie
This past Christmas, SP & I made a list of some time consuming, perhaps slightly difficult dishes we would like to try making this year. Yes, blog fodder, but also we get bored eating the same things. Pierogies were on that list. We figured that with so much Eastern European blood coursing through our veins, it was shameful that we had never made our own pierogies. SP remembers helping his grandma make them when he was a young boy. He told me he remembers being in the kitchen with his 4 siblings, each of them performing a pierogie task while grandma oversaw it all. 
I spent a lot of time researching pierogie recipes. I was sure I wanted to make the most authentic pierogies ever. Sadly, SP's grandma had no written recipe - she just knew how to make the dough. The dough was my biggest fear. I've had pierogies with dough too thin, too thick, too gummy, too something. I also wanted a flavorful potato filling – not just boring mashed potatoes. Those are really rather bland.

In addition to going down the Googling wormhole, I consulted SP's Polish cookbook, direct from Poland (a gift from a friend who visited Poland). There are many pages devoted to pierogies. As it turns out, due to shifting borders and neighboring influences, there does not seem to be one truly authentic pierogie recipe. The cookbook from Poland had about 20 pages devoted to pierogie dough and fillings - Polish filling, Lithuanian filling, so many fillings. It was kind of overwhelming.
I decided to make pierogies a la SP & Yum Yum. We printed out several recipes and re-read the Polish cookbook and then made some decisions. Our dough would have sour cream in it for extra flavor in the dough. We decided to go with a pierogie dough recipe from King Arthur Flour (but we saw the same recipe/ingredient ratios from several sources). Also, we doubled it. If we were going to make pierogies, we were going to make more than 1-2 dozen.

We definitely wanted a potato & cheese filling. But I wanted a tasty interior - not bland or watery or gummy. So no flour mixed into the potato. And instead of boiling the potatoes, we baked them.
Texas SIL bakes her potatoes for homemade gnocchi and she said that baking instead of boiling potatoes makes a much tastier gnocchi. I had read that in several other sources and I  remembered reading to bake potatoes for pierogie filling because the baked potato is drier and the filing won't be too soggy/make soggy pierogies.

Instead of using the electric hand mixer to make the mashed potatoes (like we usually do), we used the hand masher to smush the potatoes. SP grated 8 ounces of cheddar and used about 3/4 of that in the potatoes along with a splash of heated milk. These were nice, firm potatoes - easy to shape into a ball to place in the middle of each dough round.
I was very thorough in my pinching shut of the pierogies. I didn't want any pierogie explosions when we boiled them! Happily, none exploded. Of course we had to try a few right away, so we fried 3 with some butter and onions.
So I'm just going to go ahead and proclaim these the best pierogies ever. We are incredibly happy with the results. We've been fighting over the last pierogie at dinner because these are so tasty. Not too doughy, the filling has hints of cheese and onion, but just enough to make your taste buds want more. We definitely want to make these again – we just have to find the time. The dough is quick, but does need to be refrigerated for a while. The potato filling is easy, too, but the potatoes do need an hour or more to bake. The rolling/filling/pinching/boiling/draining part plus clean up took us 2 hours.
 How we did it:
  • Made a double batch of pierogie dough using this recipe
  • Baked 8 baking potatoes until tender - in the future, we will only bake about 6 since we had quite a bit leftover potato filling
  • Scooped out the potato, mashed it with a hand masher, about 2 tablespoons of butter, half a finely diced, sauteed onion, about 6 ounces of cheddar cheese, and about 1/2 cup heated milk (just like SP's grandma, only she boiled her potatoes)
  • Rolled the dough out to about 1/8" thick and used a 2" round cookie cutter to cut the rounds
  • Placed 1-2 teaspoons potato filling on each round, dipped finger in water and moistened edges of round, folded in half and pinched shut
  • Cooked pierogies in boiling water - they are done when they float to the top
  • Used spider strainer to lift out pierogie and transfer to colander
  • Cooled in colander for a few moments and transferred to cookie sheet lined with silicone baking sheet or parchment paper to completely cool
  • Placed one tray in freezer for a few hours then packaged pierogies in a container to keep in freezer
  • Placed second tray pierogies in a container in the refrigerator until ready to saute in butter with onions and enjoy


  1. I am so impressed that you made these from scratch! They look amazing :)

    1. Thanks! They were so good - glad I have some in the freezer!