Hand Pie Two-Fer: Pierogis

Another lesson that life’s mysterious, coincidental turnings follow you wherever you go. Via an odd chain of events we were invited to help a family here in St. Louis with their annual Christmas tradition: pierogi making. Seems their German-Polish Oma is 100 years old this year, and at long last just a bit too tired to make them. How do you say no to that?

Oma had her (mother’s) recipe committed to memory. Without her handy we had to put together our own (with many nods to family tradition, obviously). The end result was great. Recipe and photos up shortly!

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Making Bourekas

Biting into a boureka, you have to shake your head in wonder. How can a little bit of filling inside a little bit of dough be so hugely satisfying? No wonder they’re such a successful street food. I think I could eat half a dozen of these on any sunny afternoon.

As mentioned earlier, you can technically make a boureka out of just about any dough. However flakes really are the essence of a boureka, and nothing delivers flakes like puff pastry. I’m going to sound like the worst sort of dough-rolling snob when I suggest that you use home made, but it’s the kind of touch that really puts a preparation like this over the top. Make a large batch, keep it in 16-ounce pieces in the freezer, and you’ll always be ready when the boureka urge strikes. But if that sounds like too much, and no doubt it does, you can’t go wrong with a little store-bought. I promise not to tell.

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Making Caribbean Fruit Cake

For all those Scrooges out there who claim not to like fruitcake, it’s time you gave the Caribbean version a try, as something special is going on here. It’s the browning in part, which adds a slight bitter note — a welcome twist to the normal fruitcake sweet explosion. The fresh citrus zest brings a delicate little twang to the party, and hello — the wine and the rum. That’s good livin’, Jamaica style. So throw on your favorite Wailing Souls record and let’s get after this.

Begin by gathering your ingredients, preheating your oven to 275 degrees Fahrenheit, and lining two 9″ x 2″ lubricated cake pans.

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Confirmed: Caribbean Fruitcake Formula Works

I don’t normally do this, but I wanted to confirm, for those out there who have yet to make their fruitcakes (and who have invested upwards of fifty bucks in fruit and booze), that the formula I put up does indeed produce some very fine cakes. I never doubted it for a second of course. I just had nothing to do this evening and felt like typing. Just make sure your layer pans are indeed nine by two inches tall.

I made mine today. Right now they’re curing, and I hope to get the posts up in the next couple of days. But if you’re out there (and I know there are at least three of you) wondering whether you have to worry about your holiday cakes succeeding, you don’t. Follow the directions and all will be well. So take that off your pre-Christmas worry list.

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A Brief Hand Pie World Tour

Reader Claudia asks if I wouldn’t mind giving some examples of what I mean when I say that a hand pie can be traced to most every wheat eating culture in the world. I think I said Eurasia (and nearby) but Claudia, I would love to.

Looking to Britain first, we’re really shooting fish in a barrel. Just citing the examples made on this blog we’ve got Cornish pasties and pork pies. There are countless others, steak & kidney pie being among the most famous. The Scots have their own version of the hand pie called bridie.

Nipping down to Spain we of course have empanadas and little regional delicacies like Murcian meat pies. France has plenty of pies in its baking canon, though they usually call their double-crust pastries tourtes or galettes. They can be sweet or savory, large or small. They have many types of turnovers also.

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What’s the difference between “spoiled” cream and “cultured” cream?

…asks reader Adam, who’s looking to make his own cultured butter. Great question, Adam. The difference is that one sounds more appetizing than the other. Practically speaking, they mean pretty much the same thing. But I’d hasten to add that if you’re planning to make your own cultured butter it’s always better to “spoil” your own milk or cream with a culture you know is safe rather than take a chance on a spoiled dairy product that’s inhabited by God-only-knows what. There are quite a few types of microbes capable of growing in milk or cream, and not all of them are harmless. 

I’d suggest inoculating your cream it with a heavy dose of store-bought buttermilk, sour cream or yogurt. A tablespoon or so per cup is usually enough to crowd out anything else that might consider making a go of it in the fermentation bowl.

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Where do burekas come from?

Probably Turkey. However there is some interesting literature out there on the subject. Some of it argues that burekas have a sort of pre-history as small portable pies eaten by nomads wandering the Asian steppes some 1500 years ago. That theory may or may not be accurate. Burekas are hand pies, and some form of hand pie can be traced to most every wheat eating culture on or near the Eurasian Continent.

Did Culture X invent the hand pie? Or did they just come up with their own word for it? Perhaps they invented the pie and the word. Or were conquered by a people who did. Or perhaps Culture X and Culture Z invented their pies and words independently. One can go mad trying to pin down definitive answers to these sorts of questions. Of all forms of history, food history is by far the most nebulous and speculative. Mostly because the archaeological evidence was long ago digested.

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Bourekas Recipe

A boureka recipe is all about the fillings, since the wrappers are predetermined. You’ll want filo or puff pastry. The former is arguably more traditional, the latter is arguably more popular. I’ll go with puff pastry since I make it at home and usually have some hanging around in the freezer. The essential point here is that you want something flaky, since that’s really the defining feature of this sort of pie. Any of these fillings will stuff about a pound of wrapper. Speaking of which, you’ll need:

16 ounces puff pastry
egg wash
sesame seeds for sprinkling

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On Sugar Bloom

Reader Alicia reminds me that I forgot to talk about sugar bloom in yesterday’s post on chocolate bloom, where I flapped my fingers for some half a dozen paragraphs on the subject of fat bloom alone. Thanks for the assist, Alicia!

Sugar bloom is similar to fat bloom in that it creates an unsightly grey crystalline film on the surface of a chocolate bar. It’s familiar to anyone who’s ever refrigerated or even frozen chocolate for any period of time. Sugar bloom happens when droplets of water come into contact with the surface of a piece of chocolate. When that happens, the sugar near the droplet dissolves into the water, becoming syrup. In time the water evaporates, however, leaving tiny sugar crystals behind.

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On Chocolate Bloom

Following last week’s discussion on how to “bloom” cocoa powder, several readers wrote in with questions about chocolate bloom. They wanted to know what it is exactly and how it works.

Simply put, “blooming” is a term used to describe what happens when some of the substances that make up chocolate leech out of it, pool up on the chocolate’s surface, and crystallize into tan or grey-ish films. This generally has the effect of ruining the chocolate’s texture, and really its flavor too, since the smoothness, snap, and meltability of chocolate have a great deal to do with how we experience it.

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