I have a long and abiding love for pierogies. (See here for proof.) I have always eaten the frozen variety due to a woeful lack of old Polish grandmothers in my family. Strangely, it never occurred to me to make my own. I’m aware that ‘making your own’ is kind of my thing.
…and then a student in my international foods cooking class mentioned that she was interested in making Russian dumplings that were similar to pierogies. With the Olympics on twenty-four hours a day in my home, the proverbial light bulb went “BOINK” over my head. Duh.
“Let’s make some Russian pierogies!” I said to myself. (…And just like that a food blogger started an international incident.)
So I taught my classroom full of students how to make Vareniki: mashed potato filled dumplings. <
Let me tell you, I have loved the frozen pierogie world dearly, and I can promise they will still be on my table from time to time, but after having a go at making these Russian ones, I rather suspect that any mass produced ones will pale in comparison from here to eternity.
Because I chose to prepare my homemade dumplings the same way as I usually prepare frozen pierogies, I was able to make a pretty solid comparison in the differences between the final products. Homemade dumpling dough has a lightness of texture that is simply unmatched by its commercial counterparts. They’re not at all chewy or gummy, but airy. If you opt to pan fry them in butter after boiling, as I prefer to do, you’ll find the homemade Vareniki gets far crispier on the bottom, but remains light and pillowy over the un-fried portions.
- Yes. I call for a lot of butter and not much else in the mashed potato portion of the recipe. Butter is almost always dreadfully under-added in most mashed potatoes and the extra buttery potatoes make these Vareniki extra special.
- These mashed potatoes are also a bit thicker than your average mashed potatoes. This helps keep them from running out when sealing the vareniki and when cooking them! Besides, remember all that luscious butter?
- I shaped them in the Ukranian manner (fold the dumpling dough in half around the filling, seal into a half moon shape, then pull the bottom corners together to make it look like a giant tortellini. Those are my words. Not the Italians’. [International Incident #2] You can form them the Ukranian way or simply leave them in the half moon shape. It didn’t take that much extra time and I loved the look and texture of the final product the way I made it. You decide!
- After forming the Vareniki, you have a couple of options. You can lay them out on a parchment lined cookie sheet, cover them lightly with plastic wrap, and freeze until solid then transfer to a zipper top bag to stay frozen for up to three months.
- Oooooor, you can boil them immediately. You can stop there and serve them as is with sour cream and spicy tomato sauce in the traditional manner OR you can do what I do and fry them in scandalous amounts of butter (because we’ve already gone there, what’s a little more?)
- 6-8 white potatoes, peeled and cut into quarters or eighths
- Water for boiling
- 1 ½ sticks butter (3/4 cup)
- ½ cup caramelized onions
- Salt to taste
- 5 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cup water
- 2 eggs
- 1 stick butter, softened to room temperature
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 batch caramelized onion mashed potatoes
- Optional: 4 tablespoons butter for frying, sour cream, and chopped chives for serving.
- Bring a pot of water to a boil and generously salt it. Add the potatoes and boil until very tender. Drain as much of the water from the pan as you can, keeping the potatoes in it. There should be no pooled water in the pan. Add the sticks of butter and caramelized onions, mash until the potatoes are smooth and the butter has melted and incorporated completely. Taste the potatoes and adjust with salt if necessary. Eat as is or use as stuffing in Vareniki.
- Combine the flour, water, eggs, butter and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook or a large mixing bowl. Mix vigorously until a shaggy dough forms. If there are big pockets of dry ingredients at the bottom of the bowl, you may need to add water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until you have a cohesive dough. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and knead until the dough is silky and smooth. Place in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap or a tea towel, and let rest at room temperature for 30 minutes to allow the dough to relax and fully hydrate.
- Divide the dough in half and keep the half you’re not working with covered with a towel or plastic wrap. On a lightly floured counter top, roll one half of the dough out to an even 1/16 to 1/8 of an inch thickness. Use a 3 or 3 ½ inch round cutter to cut circles of dough. Reserve the dough scraps to re-roll and cut more circles from when you’re finished. Scoop about 2 teaspoons of the mashed potatoes into the center of each round. Lift and pinch two opposite sites to seal them around the potato filling. Use your fingers to crimp the rest of the half-moon closed. If desired, bring the corners from the straight edge of the half-moon together at the bottom of the dumpling, making it look like a large tortellini. Lay the finished dumplings on a clean platter in a single layer. Repeat with the remaining dough and mashed potatoes until you’ve exhausted one or both of them.
- Bring a large pot of water to a vigorous boil and salt it generously. Carefully lower several of the Vareniki into the pot, taking care not to overcrowd the pot. Gently stir to keep them from settling and sticking to the bottom of the pot. Boil the vareniki until they float, then use a slotted spoon to remove, drain, and transfer them to a plate. You can either serve them as is or take them to the next level by melting 4 tablespoons of butter in a stainless steel or cast-iron frying pan over medium heat.
- Add the boiled vareniki to the melted butter in a single layer. It will probably fizzle and pop, but should slow down relatively quickly. Let the vareniki fry in the butter, undisturbed, until they release easily from the pan and are golden brown on the underside. Serve hot, topped with sour cream and chopped chives or green onions.