Pierogi – Polish Filled Pasta

Pierogi  are  little semicircular parcels of pasta which are made with a multitude of fillings.

Even though I make these myself, it is the dish I always crave when I go to Poland.

There are several theories as to how pasta style dishes came into Poland.

The general word for pasta especially noodles is makaron , which certainly has its roots in Italian; and as Italian cooking has influenced Polish cooking  from the 16th century I used to think that was where the dishes originated. I find it amusing that ravioli  in Polish are called pierogi włoskie (Italian pierogi).

After doing some research it seems however that pierogi were around in Poland in the middle ages, they are mentioned in the 13th century and the name comes from an old Slav word for feast or festivity.

Many people believe that they came to Poland from the Far East through Siberia and Russia.

When I was in China in the 1990s, imagine my surprise when I was on several occasions offered dishes which were called Jiaoxi  (dumplings) and they were exactly the same shape and size as pierogi and cooked in the same way!

Whatever the origins, the Poles have made pierogi their own; there are lots of traditional fillings, both savoury and sweet, and several ways of serving them.

In a pierogi cookery book I bought in Poland there are around 40 traditional ones and more than 20 new style ones.  In a pierogi restaurant I went to in Kraków there were around 30 options on the menu.

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Home-made  pierogi

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pierogi

Pierogi are made from a thinly rolled out dough using a circular cutter, about 7 cm in diameter, we used to use a medium sized wine glass.  A largish teaspoon of the filling is placed on the circle and this is then folded in half and the edges pinched together to seal them – this is done to give them a slightly crimped edge.

You learn from experience how much filling to put into the pierogi as too much will make it hard to seal them and if not properly sealed they will burst on boiling.  Do not worry if you have a few mishaps – it still happens to me even with experience – it is hard to salvage one that has gone wrong – just accept that there will be a few that you do not cook.

Pierogi Dough

Pierogi dough is made from flour, egg  and water and I have  seen many variations of the recipe.  The following is my mother’s and I think it is the best I have ever used and tasted.

She never used whole eggs, just the yolks and this gives a dough which is soft and not tough and can be easily rolled out.  The recipes which use whole eggs give a tougher dough which is much harder to roll out.

My mother originally used plain flour and added a tablespoon or two of fine semolina but now that strong flour or even pasta flour is readily available this is what I use the most.

Another point is that flour does vary and it is possible to add more flour to the dough as you are mixing it but you cannot add more liquid if it is too dry!

As you mix the ingredients in the first few minutes you should be able to tell if it will be too dry and you can add some more water initially but once it is all mixed together you cannot – if it goes wrong – just start again.

The quantities that I have given work well and but you should allow for extra flour if needed.

Ingredients

  • 500g pasta flour or strong flour or plain flour & 2 tablespoons of fine semolina
  • 300 ml water
  • 1 tablespoon oil – sunflower or light olive
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 egg yolks

Method

In a jug or bowl mix together the water, oil and yolks.

Put the flour and salt into a large bowl and make a well in the centre.

Pour the liquid mixture into the well and then with your hands incorporate the flour into the liquid until you have a large ball of dough.

Turn this out into a floured board and knead the dough for a few minutes until it is a smooth ball.

You can then use the dough straight away, cutting it into 4 quarters and rolling out a quarter at a time on a floured surface until the dough is thin.  You can pull it out a bit at the beginning to give a more rectangular shape of even thickness.

You can cover the dough with a cloth and place it in the fridge till needed.

You can freeze the dough for a few days for later use, it is best to cut it into quarters and wrap these in cling film or plastic and place these in another bag or container.

Shaping The Pierogi

Rolled out the dough until it is thin and use a circular cutter, about 7cm in diameter, to make lots of circles.  You can re-roll the cuttings to make more circles until all the dough is used.

 

A largish teaspoon of the filling is placed on to the dough circle and this is then folded in half and the edges pinched using your thumb and first finger to seal them – giving them a slightly crimped edge.

This quality of dough will make about 70 to 80 pierogi – depends on how thinly  you roll the dough and the size of your cutter.

You can open freeze pierogi so sometimes  I make a batch and open freeze half of them – then store them in a plastic box.  They should be cooked from frozen just allowing a little extra time.

Pierogi Fillings

The quantities that I have given should be enough for the 500g batch of dough.  Many of the fillings once made can be frozen; I sometimes make the mixture and freeze it in 2 to 3 small batches for later use.

A good tip is not to make the filling too moist, as any liquid on the dough will prevent you getting a good seal.

Have a large surface such as a tray covered with a cotton or linen cloth which has been lightly floured ready  and place the sealed pierogi on this until they are all made, do not let then touch each other.

Cooking The Pierogi

To cook the pierogi, use a large pan of boiling water to which you have added some salt and a drizzle of oil.  Drop the pierogi in one by one and allow them to boil.  I usually do about 6 to 8 at a time (I only do 6 at a time if using frozen ones).  As they cook they will float to the surface, let them boil for 2 to 3 minutes, a bit more if they were frozen, and then remove them with a slotted or perforated spoon and put into a colander above a pan for a few seconds to drain and serve.  Continue boiling batches in the same water.

 

Serving Suggestion

Traditionally savoury pierogi are served with melted butter, skwarki – crispy smoked bacon bits, small pieces of fried onion or melted butter and dried breadcrumbs (à la Polonaise).

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If you want to make all the pierogi to serve together then you need to get a large shallow dish and put the melted butter or skwarki or fried onions into the dish and keep the dish warm in a low oven.  As you take out the cooked pierogi add them to the dish, mix them with the butter, skwarki or onions to prevent them sticking.  Keep on adding more as they cook and keep shaking the dish to coat and mix them.

 

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Once your have had your meal and you have any left  (I leave some deliberately) then they are wonderful fried up later.  You need a hot frying pan and should be able to just use the butter etc that they are coated in, maybe adding a little extra oil if needed.  Fry them till the dough is golden and crispy.

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Tipspread out the cooked and coated pierogi for later frying to prevent them sticking

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Savoury Fillings

Below are some of my favourite fillings.

All the filling must be allowed to cooled before using them –  you can make these in advance – even the day before.

Sauerkraut & Mushroom

These is often served at Wigilia – the Christmas Eve meal

Ingredients

  • Approx 500g of sauerkraut (I used to get small jars but have not seen these lately – use part of a large jar – use the rest for something else)
  • 20- 30g dried mushrooms.
  • 1 onion
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Ground black pepper to taste

 

Method

Put the mushrooms in a small bowl and cover them with boiling water and leave them overnight.

Strain the mushrooms but keep the liquid and then chop the mushrooms into small pieces.

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Strain the sauerkraut but keep the liquid and chop the sauerkraut into small pieces.

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Put the sauerkraut with the liquid from the tin or jar into a pan and cover with boiling water.  Add some of  liquid from the soaked mushrooms and the bay leaf.  Boil the sauerkraut gently for about 30 minutes. Then uncover and boil off as much of the liquid as possible – without burning the sauerkraut.

Allow the boiled sauerkraut to cool and remove the bay leaf.  Strain it using a sieve and pressing it down with a spoon to get the mixture as dry as possible (If you want you can put the strained mixture into a clean dry cotton or linen teacloth, twist the ends together to squeeze it to get it really dry).

 

Whilst the sauerkraut is cooking heat the chopped mushrooms gently in a small pan with the rest of the liquor, stirring to prevent it burning but reducing as much of the possible.

Chop the onion finely and fry it till it is soft and golden and add this to the mushroom mixture and mix it well together.

Mix the sauerkraut, mushrooms and onions together and add some ground black pepper to taste; salt should not be necessary.

Note

If your sauerkraut is very sour, you can add a little sugar to the mixture or you can put  it into a sieve or colander and wash it for a few minutes in cold water.water before you start cooking it – you might want to add a little salt at the end if you use this method – taste and see)

Cheese 1

400g floury potatoes

1 onion

200g curd cheese/twaróg or yoghurt cheese

1 egg yolk

butter & oil to fry the onion

salt & ground black pepper to taste

Method

Peel and boil the potatoes in salted water, strain and mash, then leave to cool.

Chop the onion finely and fry it till it is soft and golden, allow it to cool.

Mix together thoroughly, the potatoes, onions, cheese and egg yolk.

Add salt and pepper to taste.

Cheese 2

When my mother did not have any curd cheese, she used Lancashire cheese, as that was the cheese most readily available to her. Both versions taste good, the secret with this one is to grate the cheese as finely as possible and mix it in well.

Ingredients

400g floury potatoes

1 onion

200g white crumbly cheese such as Lancashire

1 egg yolk

butter & oil to fry the onion

salt & ground black pepper to taste

Method

Peel and boil the potatoes in salted water, strain and mash, then leave to cool.

Chop the onion finely and fry it till it is soft and golden, allow it to cool.

Grate the cheese as finely as possible.

Mix together thoroughly, the potatoes, onions, cheese and egg yolk.

Add salt and pepper to taste.

Note

My mother would  boil extra potatoes on one day and save some to make these fillings the next.

In Poland you may see these savoury cheese ones on a menu  as Pierogi ruskie   – that is  Ruthanian pierogi – from the old word for the Ukraine

Pork

Ingredients

300g shoulder or spare rib pork

1 onion

1 egg yolk

1 tablespoon of dried breadcrumbs

approx 250 ml of chicken stock – can be from stock cubes

butter & oil to fry the onion

salt & ground black pepper to taste

Method

Pre heat the oven to GM 3 – 1600C

Put the pork into a small casserole dish and cover it with the stock and put on the lid.

Put the dish in the oven for at least 1 hour, depending on the meat you might need longer.

I cook the meat until it is tender and can be broken up with a fork and most of the liquid has been absorbed.  Allow the meat to cool. You can mince the meat but I find that if you cook it long enough you do not need to, you can just chop it with a sharp knife .

Chop the onion finely and fry it till it is soft and golden, allow it to cool.

Mix thoroughly together: the meat, onion, yolk and breadcrumbs and then add salt and pepper to taste.

Chicken

You can cook a piece of breast chicken as for the pork filling, however neither my mother or myself ever did this; we used leftover roast chicken from a roast dinner.

Ingredients

300g of roast chicken

1 onion

1 egg yolk

1 slice of white bread

small amount of milk

butter & oil to fry the onion

salt & ground black pepper to taste

Method

Take the slice of bread and remove the crusts removed and leave this for half an hour in a bowl with a little milk – do not use the excess milk just the wet slightly squeezed bread.

Finely chop or mince the chicken.

Mix together the chicken, onion, egg yolk and bread to get a uniform mixture.

Sweet Fillings

The dough and method of making sweet pierogi is just the same as for the savoury ones.

Once boiled sweet pierogi are dredged with icing or caster sugar and are often served with soured cream.  They are best eaten straight away.

I must admit that when I was younger I did not really like sweet pierogi but now I think they are utterly delicious especially when with soured cream.

Sweet Cheese 1

Ingredients

200g curd cheese/twaróg or yoghurt cheese

40g caster sugar

1 egg yolk

2 drops of vanilla essence

tiny pinch of salt

Method

Thoroughly mix all the ingredients together.

Sweet Cheese 2

Ingredients

250g curd cheese/twaróg or yoghurt cheese

40g caster sugar

2-3 tablespoons of soured cream

tiny pinch of salt

Method

Thoroughly mix all the ingredients together.

Red Fruits

In the summer in Poland, when all the fruits of the forests and the garden  are ripe, that is when these pierogi are at their best.  However bottled fruit is available all year round and I often make my sweet pierogi with these.

The following fruits are traditionally used –

Morello Cherries

Blackberries

Whinberries (bilberries) these grew in Lancashire near my home and also could be bought in baskets imported from Poland.  (I think the larger American Blueberry is nowhere near as tasty.) When we went to pick these I know this always made my mother think of her childhood in Poland.

I tend to use half the amount of dough  when making these fruit ones as they do not freeze well with fruit.

Depending on the size of the fruit, you need about 3 or 4 per circle.

Do not add sugar to fresh fruit as this will make too much liquid and the pierogi will not seal.

If using bottled fruit you need to strain as much juice away as possible.

Drenched the cooked pierogi in icing sugar and serve with sour cream. The sugar contrasts with tartness of the fruit.

A Variation ….

Knedle – Dumplings – With Plums

To me these are sweet pierogi –  but I have been assured by my aunties in Poland – who made them for me on my last visit  – that because of their shape – round balls – these are always called knedle.

The dough is just the same as for pierogi and they are boiled in just the same way but will take a bit longer to cook depending on the size of the plums.

Serve them dusted with icing sugar and serve with soured cream.

Plum Filling

500g fresh plums – small ones are best for the round shape  & sugar – you will need about a half a teaspoon per plum.

Wash and dry the plums and remove the stalks.  If the plums are small then use whole ones and if they are large use a sharp knife to cut them in half and remove the stone.

Cut strips of dough more than twice the size of the plum or plum half.  Place the plum on one side and sprinkle with the  sugar.

Fold over the other part of the dough and seal the edges well with your fingers  – take care as the added sugar produces liquid – use excess dough to give a good seal then cut away the excess dough to give a more rounded shape.

Uszka

Uszka –  means ‘little ears’ and they  are much smaller  and a different shape than pierogi and are always savoury.

They are made from squares of dough, about 4cm square.  Half a teaspoon of filling is placed onto the square and then it is folded into a triangle and the edges sealed.  The two ends at the folded side of the triangle are brought together and then pinched together giving a shape which is slightly rounded triangle with a pointed part, looking like a little ear.

When you have rolled out the dough until it is thin you cut the dough into squares no more than 4cm square.  I used to use a sharp knife but have now found that using a pizza wheel to cut the dough is much easier.  There is little waste dough with each rolling but you can still use  all the scrapes to make one last batch.

The quality of dough will make about 150  and because of this I often only make half quantities – using 250g of flour, 150ml of water, 1 egg yolk and half a tablespoon of oil. (Except at Wigilia – the Christmas Eve meal, when I make the full amount)

The uszka are boiled in just the same way as pierogi, they are usually ready when they float to the surface.

The most traditional fillings are mushroom – see below – and Sauerkraut & Mushroom.

Uszka can be served just as pierogi with melted butter or they can be served floating in a clear soup such as rosól – clear chicken soup or in barszcz – beetroot soup.

Traditionally  mushroom uszka are made for Wigila – the Christmas Eve meal either on their own with butter or  served floating in barszcz (clear beetroot soup).

Mushroom Filling

In Poland these will have been made with just dried mushrooms, here in England my mother made them with fresh mushrooms with the addition of dried mushrooms when she could get them.  I like them like this the best.

Ingredients

250g mushrooms – older open ones are better than button mushrooms.

20g dried mushrooms

1 onion

1 egg yolk

1 to 2 tablespoons of home-made dried breadcrumbs

butter to fry the mushrooms

salt & ground black pepper to taste

Method

Pour a small amount of boiling water into the dried mushrooms and leave these overnight.

You can remove the stalks from the older fresh mushrooms as these tend to be ‘woody’ and then cut them into thin slices.

Chop the onion into small pieces.

Fry the mushrooms and onions together in the butter.  It does depend on the mushrooms and the way they are fried as to how much liquid is produced, if you get a lot, then let them simmer gently to evaporate as much as possible or strain some of this excess off (you can use this liquor in soups or sauces).

Allow the mixture to cool.

Chop the reconstituted dried mushroom (again you can save the liquor for other recipes) and add these to the mixture.

The mixture then needs to be minced which used to take me a long time and much effort.  I now use a hand blender which works really well taking care not to liquidise it too much.

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To the minced mixture add the egg yolk and then enough breadcrumbs to make a stiff filling.

Add salt and lots of ground black pepper.

Cut the dough into quarters

On a floured board roll out each piece until it is thin.

Using a sharp knife or pizza wheel cut the dough into 4cm squares (they can be smaller but they are harder to work).

Fold over each piece to form a triangle and pinch the edges together with your fingers.

Half a teaspoon of filling is placed onto the square and then it is folded into a triangle and the edges sealed.  The two ends at the folded side of the triangle are brought together and pinched together giving a shape which is slightly rounded triangle with a pointed part.

 

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They are cooked just as the pierogi in boiling water with the addition of salt and oil.

I serve them with melted butter.

 

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If you are going to add them to soup do not coat them with butter  – 2 to 4 are added to each serving.

Our New Tradition

After the Wigilia meal on Christmas Eve we always leave some uszka for the Christmas Day  breakfast and we have fried eggs, grilled bacon with fried uszka – delicious!

 

 PS

This must be my longest post as there is so much to say – I have only touched on the fillings that you can use & you can always make up your own.

 

 

 

Makowiec – Roasted Poppy Seed Cake

I came across this recipe recently using roasted poppy seeds which give a slightly nutty flavour to the cake.

The cake part is the same as a previous poppy seed cake – makowiec 4 -and uses the simple all in one method using soft tub margarine.

Here roasted poppy seeds are used and lemon rind is not, nor is there a lemon glaze.

Roasting Poppy Seeds

100g of poppy seeds are used in this recipe.

Poppy seeds

Use a small frying pan without any oil or butter.

Add the poppy seeds to the pan and heat gently for around 5 minutes, stirring the seeds with a wooden spatulas and do not let them burn.

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Pour some milk into a jug or bowl and tip the roasted poppy seeds into the milk.

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When the poppy seeds have cooled, tip then into a sieve and let them drain away until they are dry.  You can press them with a spoon to speed up the process.

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The seeds need to be as dry as possible – you could do this part  several hours earlier or the night before.

This cake is a modern version as soft tub margarine is used and it is an all-in-one method which is so easy to do with an electric hand whisk.

I use either Flora original or Stork for baking – both of these have given good results.

Ingredients

100g poppy seeds – roasted

175g soft tub margarine for baking

225g self-raising flour

1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

175g caster sugar

3 eggs

3 tablespoon milk (full fat or semi-skimmed)

Method

Pre heat the oven to Gas mark 4 – 1800C.

Make this as a tray bake in a tin about 31×22 cm.

I have a selection of Mermaid Hard Anodised rectangular baking tins and they are superb.

Grease the tin and use one piece of greaseproof paper to line the base and the two long sides of the tin.

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Place all the ingredients except the poppy seeds into a large bowl and beat well for about 2 minutes until they are well blended.

Add the poppy seeds and  mix them well in.

Put the mixture into the tin and bake for about 30-35 minutes.

Leave to cool on a cooling rack and then take the cake out of the tin.

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Dust with icing sugar before serving.

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Tea Plates  – Silver Rose by Duchess

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Wigilia – Polish Christmas Eve

Wigilia means  vigil  and in Poland this word is used for the meal that is eaten on the evening(vigil) before Christmas Day  – so that is the evening  meal on Christmas Eve.

In Poland Christmas is celebrated from Wigilia and parties and visiting relatives and family happens from then on. It seems very strange to the Poles to have all the Christmas parties before Christmas which is still Advent.

This Christmas Eve meal is very important to people and most  will try to go to family to share this meal.

It is a meal that has many traditions, many more than Christmas Day itself.

It is a meal which is filled with memories, many from childhood, and you will find that every family has developed its own traditions. Many years ago when I spoke with my cousins in Poland – my mother’s family – I discovered that the meal they had at Wigilia though based on the same principles was very different that the one we had at home.

Advent

Advent is the time leading up to Christmas is observed from the 4th Sunday before Christmas (this will be from the 27th November to the 3 December) so that there will be 4 Sundays in Advent.  It is a time of reflection, prayer and preparation.

24th December is the last day of Advent  and used to be a day of  Fasting & Abstinence.

  • no meat was eaten on that day (abstinence) and
  • there was only 1 main/large meal (fasting).

Many people, myself included, keep to this custom.

The Christmas days are called Gody – days of Harmony and Goodwill.

The official end of the Christmas celebrations in church is the 2nd of February the feast of Candlemas or The Presentation of Christ in The Temple  when  karniwal – carnival starts in the lead up to Lent.

 Traditions Around The Wigilia Meal

12 dishes to represent the 12 apostles

Meat is not served.

Some people have 3 soups, 3 fish dishes, 3 vegetable dishes and 3 cakes or dried fruit dishes.

The meal starts after the first star is seen in the sky as a reminder of the Star of Bethlehem used by the 3 Kings to find the Infant Jesus. (This is much later than the usual main meal of the day in Poland).

The food should be from: the fields, the orchard, the garden, the forest and from water.

I try to use only foods that would be found in winter in Poland such as seasonal vegetables &  preserved foods which have been dried, bottled, fermented, smoked etc.

You should try to taste every dish to ensure that there will be nothing lacking in the house & harvest in the coming year.

The main dish is the fish – and in olden times some people had up to 12 fish dishes and counted these as ONE!

Fish  is the symbol of harmony, freedom and liberation – from the Greek  ICHTHYS – for fish & the initials of  Jesus Christ Son of God and Redeemer

The table should be covered  with a white table cloth over straw or hay to remind us of the manger. (People in towns often have a token bunch of hay).

Sheaves of wheat are placed in the 4 corners of the room.

An extra place is always set so that there will be a place for Jesus as the stranger who may knock at the door. The Poles think that on this night no one should be hungry or alone. (The Poles are very hospitable and I think there will always be a place no matter what time of year.)

Opłatek

At the start of the meal is the sharing of opłatek which was  originally bread but now is a wafer (like the communion host) and is a  symbol of forgiveness, unity and love.

Each person has a piece and shares it with everyone else offering each other best wishes for the coming year.

People often send a piece of  opłatek to family and friends who live far away.

 

Dishes for Wigilia

The following is a short list of some of the dishes that are often served at Wigilia:

Some of these recipes I have already covered & the links have been inserted  – others will be appearing throughout the coming year.

 

 

Christmas Tree

The Christmas tree tradition came from Germany in the late 18th Century and early 19th Century into the towns and into richer villages in the 1920s and took over from an earlier Polish Tradition of hanging from the ceiling just the tip of a spruce/fir tree (tip side down) decorated with apples, nuts which were either wrapped in silver or gold paper or painted and ribbons. Old Polish  village houses are made of wood so it is easy to attach the tree tip to the ceiling.

Doorways and walls were often decorated with separate boughs of the remainder of the tree.

People in small apartments and in towns or with limited funds often still just decorate a branch of a fir tree.

This custom originated in pre-Christian times and texts dating back to the 15th and 16th centuries referred to this use of the tree as a pagan rite. Unable to halt the growing trend, the church then reinterpreted the tree to be the Tree of Knowledge – the tree of good and evil.

The tree is put up on Christmas Eve (or maybe a day or 2 before) – the whole family helps – though the candles or lights are not usually lit until Wigilia.

 

Decorations for the Christmas Tree

Apples symbolise health and beauty.

Nuts wrapped in Silver or Gold guarantee prosperity and vitality.

When I was young we tied wrapped sweets and chocolates on the tree.

Bombki – Glass baubles – in the past these were often blown eggs decorated with glitter. There are also many straw decorations – angels or stars.

Glass baubles originated in Germany in the 19th century  but they were soon being made in Poland with their large glass blowing industry.  Many are made in small family run workshops, some making around 150,000 per day! Some now specialise in individual and unusual designs.

 

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Mama’s Old Nut Shaped Baubles

Candles  in clip on holders with real candles – though now more likely to be artificial lights.

My mother’s candle holders

 

Candles and baubles guard the house from malevolent deeds.

Paper chains guarantee love within the family.

The star on the top of the tree helps guide back home absent family and friends.

Bells symbolise good news.

Angels are the guardians of the house.

Presents

If there are presents they are placed under the tree and opened at the end of the meal.

It used to be that presents were given on  December 6th, St Nicholas Day and Christmas Eve was more about the meal and carols and Church.

Nowadays likely to get presents on both days. In some parts of Poland these gifts are said to be from  aniołek – little angel.

Before the Second World War the presents were small tokens such as mandarin oranges (a luxury – as they were imported), chocolate, and an item of new clothes or a small toy.

Pasterka  – The Shepherds’ Mass – Midnight Mass

After the meal people  go to Mass in memory of the long wait for the Messiah and the Shepherds coming to pay homage to the Infant Jesus.

Kolędy – Carols are sung from midnight mass till the 2nd  of February in Church.

Carols are rich and varied with examples from many different centuries with ones originating from church music, to many with music from the Royal Court such as the Polonaise and to folk & dance music.

The oldest carol in the Polish Language is Bogurodzica (Mother of God) and has been  known from the beginning of the 13th Century.

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Miodownik – Piernik – Honey Spice Cake

Miód is the Polish word for honey and so Miodownik is a Honey Cake which usually contains spices. Pierna is an old Polish word for spices and so Piernik is also a Honey Spice Cake.

Some sources say the name is from pieprz – pepper or piorun – thunderbolt or devil – because of its spiciness.

These cakes have been known in Poland since the 12th century and the  spices would have come from Turkey (originally brought back by the crusaders) or India.

Honey was the original sweetener, long before sugar and there are many traditional recipes that use honey not only in cakes, but also in meat dishes.

When you travel in Poland you will find many village ladies selling their own honey, the taste varies greatly depending on where the bees have found their flowers and the honey from a forest region is dark and very flavoursome.

Piernik  can vary  from a soft dense cake to a drier but soft biscuit.

The Polish town of  Toruń is famous for its piernik and  Chopin was very found of this.

Pierniki(plural) coated with chocolate are called Katarzynki –  which means Katherine’s cakes – named after Katarzyna the daughter of one of the bakers.

Similar cakes are found throughout Europe including the French pain d’éspices, the Dutch peperkoek and the German lebkuchen.

Miodownik  and piernik are often translated as  Gingerbread but ginger is a spice rarely used in Polish cookery.

The main spices used are cinnamon and cloves with the addition according to different recipes of cardamon, black pepper, caraway, nutmeg, dried orange and/or lemon peel and then in later recipes allspice which is from the New World.

My older recipe book gives the proportions for mixing spices and there is one with black pepper which I intend to try out in the future.

Whilst looking through some of my more recent cookery books it would appear that it in Poland you can buy ready mixed spices for piernik so I would presume you can get these in Polish shops in England. I will try these out in the future as well.

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I use the mixed spice mixture which is sold by Marks & Spencer which contains: dried orange peel, cassia (a variety of cinnamon), ginger, nutmeg, pimento (allspice) and caraway. I think it is the dried orange peel which makes it much nicer than other mixtures I have used.

Some recipes make a cake mixture and then leave it in a cool place for up to several weeks before baking it. I have tried one of these out many years ago and it was very good – I intend to try this again for a post in the early winter of next year.

Piernik in Poland is associated with the Christmas season and would be made for Christmas Eve and for Christmas Day, it would also be made for Święty MikołajDecember 6thSt Nicholas Day. This a day for present giving in Poland to children and I would always get a piernik shaped and decorated to look like the bishop that was St Nicholas.

Mama’s Miodownik

This is of my mother’s recipes and it uses sunflower oil which is a more recent addition to recipes in Polish cookery. It is a dense cake which is lovely and moist and improves with keeping.

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Miodownik on Greenway Hostess designed by John Russell 1960 – 1979

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Ingredients

  • 450g Clear honey
  • 250g Icing sugar
  • 4 Eggs separated
  • 250ml Tepid water
  • 4 Teaspoons cocoa
  • 250ml Sunflower oil
  • 450g Plain flour
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 Teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 Teaspoon mixed spice (M&S is the best)
  • 100g mixed peel

Method

  • You can use a 25cm square tin or a 31cm x21cm rectangular tray tin.
  • Grease and line the tin.
  • Pre-heat the oven to Gas Mark 3 – 160º C.
  • In a large bowl, mix the honey and the icing sugar.

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  • Add the water, cocoa, egg yolks, oil and then the mixed peel.

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  • In a separate bowl mix the plain flour, salt, bicarbonate of soda and the mixed spice.
  • Add the dry mixture to the honey mixture and mix together to make a batter.

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  • Whisk the egg whites until they are stiff and fold these into the honey batter.
  • Pour the mixture into the prepared tin.

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  • Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for around  1hour 30minutes.
  • Take care as this has a tendency to burn  at the top, you might need to cover it after about 1 hour with a piece of greaseproof paper of aluminium foil.
  • Test to make sure it is cooked through with a fine cake tester.
  • Leave to cool in the tin.

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 Store in an airtight container or cover in aluminium foil

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Miodownik on Greenway Hostess designed by John Russell 1960 – 1979

Addendum

I recently made this for Wigilia (Christmas Eve) around 3 weeks beforehand – it was lovely and moist by then.

 

 

Gołąbki – Cabbage Rolls – with Mushrooms

I have tried this out as a just vegetable variation.

In my Polish cookbooks there are many variations without meat and they use mushrooms or other vegetables and grains,  but these tend to use just dried mushrooms and often rather than rice use buckwheat or pearl barley.  Whilst these grains are maybe more traditionally Polish in style I wanted to do a recipe which would initially be more appealing to the English taste.  Also   I wanted to use mainly fresh mushrooms.

Ingredients for the filling

150 to 200g of rice

400g of mushroom caps – white and/or chestnut

Some butter to fry the mushrooms

5g of dried mushrooms (more if you desire)

A few tablespoons of boiling water

Salt & pepper to taste

Method

In a small bowl add the boiling water to the dried mushrooms , just enough to cover them, and leave overnight.

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Stepped Dried Mushrooms and Chopped Fresh Mushrooms

Parboil the rice and leave to go cold. (You can use any already cooked rice you might have cooked already – it is not that critical  – it will just have a softer texture).

Finely Slice up the mushroom caps (You can chop them into smaller pieces) and fry them in the butter until they are soft. IMG_20150718_151816584_HDR

Making a Pulp of Mushrooms
Making a Pulp of Dried Mushrooms

Using a knife make a pulp of the dried mushrooms or chop them into small pieces if they have not softened enough.

Add the mushroom pulp and the liquor in which they were steeped to the frying mushrooms and continue cooking the mixture evaporating of most of the liquid or about 10 minutes.

Leave the mushrooms to cool.

In a large bowl mix the parboiled rice and mushroom mix, add salt and pepper to taste.

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Mushroom & Rice Mixture

Prepare the cabbage leaves

You need a large white cabbage or a savoy cabbage or I have now started using sweetheart cabbage  – you might need 2 of these as they are not usually so large.

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Patience is called for here to avoid getting scalded fingers. You have to heat or steam the cabbage to make the leaves pliable so you can remove them one by one and use them to encase the filling.

You need the largest pan you have into which you place the cabbage head.

I boil some water in a kettle and pour this over the cabbage in the pan. With some heat under the pan I let the cabbage cook a little. The temptation is to boil too quickly so making some of the leave too soft and runs the risk of getting scalded as you try to remove the leaves.

Another method is to place the cabbage into a metal colander and set this over the pan of water so that it is steamed rather than boiled – I think this method is the one I like best.

As the leaves become soft, you have to cut them off from the stalk and stack them up for to use later, you can cut out the thickest part of the stalk from the first few larger leaves. Pre heat the oven to GM3 – 160oC

Fill the leaves with the rice & mushroom  mix and roll them up from the stalk end, tuck in the sides and secure with the outer edge of the leaf to make a small parcel.

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Place the rolls into a large casserole dish, packing as many rolls as possible in rows in the dish. Depending on the depth of the dish repeat this for another layer.

If you have any extra cabbage leaves place these on the base of the dish and then to put extra leaves on the top of the rolls.

The rolls sometimes have a habit of getting slightly burnt on the top as they come out of the liquid and sometimes at the base if they have been in the oven a long time, these extra layers protect the rolls and can be discarded at the end.

Make a vegetable stock  and pour this over the cabbage rolls.

Ingredients for Vegetable Stock

Vegetable stock  – I like to use the Swiss  Marigold Bouillon vegetable stock powder which is in a tub mixed with boiling water

1 tube of tomato purée

2 bay leaves

3 or 4 peppercorns or allspice or both.

salt & pepper ( note there might be enough salt in the stock cube)

Mix up the stock powder in a jug with boiling water, add the tomato purée and then the rest of the ingredients. You need a large amount to cover the cabbage rolls.

Pre heat the oven to GM3 – 160oC

Cover the rolls with this liquid. It is a good idea to have extra which you can use to top up as they are cooking.

Cover with a lid and place in the oven and cook for several hours. Check them occasionally and keep them covered with liquid as much as possible.

As mentioned earlier I make these a day beforehand and then put them back in the oven for an hour or so before serving.

They are a complete meal in themselves but you can give serve them with some bread to mop up all the liquid sauce.

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Note

Wigilia – Christmas Eve

I will be writing a post all about the special meal on this day later when all the dishes are meatless.

This recipe is one dish which can be served then.

 

Makowiec – Poppy Seed Cake 4

A Very Easy Method

Weighing the poppy seeds

This cake is a more modern version as soft tub margarine is used and it is an all-in-one method which is so easy to do with an electric hand whisk.

I use either Flora original or Stork for baking – both of these have given good results.

Cake Ingredients

175g soft tub margarine for baking

225g self-raising flower

1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

175g caster sugar

Grated rind of 2 lemons

3 eggs

3 tablespoon milk (full fat or semi-skimmed)

100g poppy seeds

Lemon Glaze Ingredients

Juice of 2 lemons

175g caster sugar

Pre heat the oven to Gas mark 4 – 1800C.

Make this as a tray bake in a tin about 31×22 cm.

I have a selection of Mermaid Hard Anodised rectangular baking tins and they are superb.

Grease the tin and use one piece of greaseproof paper to line the base and the two long sides of the tin.

Place all the ingredients except the poppy seeds into a large bowl and beat well for about 2 minutes until they are well blended.

Add the poppy seeds and beat till they are well mixed in.

Put the mixture into the tin and bake for about 30-35 minutes.

Leave to cool for about 5 minutes and release the cake from the tin and put on a cooling rack.

Mix the lemon juice and caster sugar to dissolve the sugar.

Prick the top in several places with a thin cake testing skewer.

Dribble the lemon glaze over the cake so the top in covered.

You can dust with icing sugar before serving.

 

Poppy Seed Cake 3 – Lighter on the Seeds

Poppies in my garden
  • This photo is taken from a very old slide and the plant was growing in my garden and most years looks as good as this.
  • However this year it has not done so well.  I think it must be a combination of the alternating  very dry days and the cold wet days this summer.
  • It is a good job I am not relying on this as my source of seeds.  My best source of seeds is an indoor stall in  Leeds Market.  The stall sells dried fruits and nuts which are weighed out on request from large jars as well as other aids for baking.
  • On my first visit to Poland  I went to stay with my mother’s sister  and her family who had a small farm in the Masurian Lakes in the North East of Poland.  This was still in Communist times.
  • I saw there was a huge field of large headed purple flowered poppies.  My auntie had a Government contract that year  to grow these poppies for the production of morphine for  hospital use.
  • Poppy seeds of superior quality for culinary purposes are harvested when they are ripe, after the seed pod has dried.
  • Seeds for the production of morphine are harvested while the seed pods are green and their latex is abundant and  when the seeds have only just begun to grow.

Lemon and Poppy Seed Cake

  • This Poppy Seed cake is inspired by one I had when I was in America.  It is  like a lemon drizzle cake with fewer poppy seeds than in my other recipes.
  • This can be made with butter or block baking margarine.  I find that with many flavoured cakes margarine is as good if not better than butter.
  • To get the most zest from the lemons I use a fine Microplane Zester – It is the best!
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    2 Graters & 1 Fine Zester
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Fine Microplane Zester
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Lemon Zest

Cake Ingredients

  • 60g poppy seeds
  • 125g plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon of baking powder
  • 100g butter
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • Grated zest of 2 lemons
  • 2 tablespoons of warm water

Glaze Ingredients

  • 80g caster sugar
  • Juice of 2 lemons

Method

  • Pre-heat the oven to GM4 – 1800 C
  • Grease and line a 20cm square tin or 25 x16cm rectangular tin.
  • Beat the butter and sugar together till they are light and creamy.
  • Stir in the lemon zest.
  • Mix the baking powder with the flour.
  • Sift the flour mixture.
  • Lightly beat the eggs together and then beat them into the mixture, a little at a time, adding a little of the flour with the last of the eggs.
  • Using a metal spoon, fold in the remaining flour and the water and then fold in the poppy seeds.
  • Turn the mixture into the prepared tin and bake the cake for about 35 minutes, or until it starts to shrink from the sides of the tin.
  • In a small pan dissolve the sugar in the lemon juice over a gentle heat.
  • When the cake is baked remove it from the oven and leave for a few minutes before turning it out onto a wire rack.
  • Put a plate underneath, prick the cake all over with a fine skewer whilst it is still warm and spoon the lemon glaze over it. If any runs through spoon it back on.
  • When the cake is cold dust it with icing sugar before serving.

Poppy Seed Cake 2

Makowiec – Poppy Seed Cake 2

 

There are many versions of Polish poppy seed cakes and many of them use yeast pastry.

This one does not have a yeast based pastry and is much easier to make as it does not take as much time as the more traditional roll.

I often make this one now for Wigilia – Christmas Eve.

The original recipe used twice this amount but I often found it would sink in the middle which did not look as nice so now I always make this smaller one.

This version has a lemon glaze followed by lemon icing – this is my favourite but you could just dust the cooled cake with icing sugar or use the glaze then dust with icing sugar before serving.

Ingredients

125g caster sugar

1 egg

5ml vanilla extract

100g poppy seeds

Grated rind of 1 lemon

65g self-raising flour

½ tsp baking powder

Pinch of salt

60ml milk

65g melted butter

15 ml sunflower oil

Lemon Glaze & Icing 

Glaze – Juice of 1 lemon & 50g caster sugar

Icing – Juice of 1 lemon & 200g icing sugar

Method

Pre heat the oven to Gas mark 4 – 1800C

I find this easer to remove using either a loose bottom or spring form tin –  Grease a 20cm diameter tin.

or

grease and line with one piece of greasproof  for the 2 long sides and base -so you can remove the cake from the tin easily – a 16 x 27 cm tin.

 

 

 

 

Whisk the egg, sugar and vanilla extract until they are thick and creamy.

Stir in the poppy seeds and lemon rind.

Sift the flour and add the baking powder and salt.

Fold this into the egg and poppy seed mixture alternating with the milk – do this in about three batches.

Fold in the melted butter and the oil.

Pour the mixture into the tin and bake for around 30 to 35 minutes.

 

Leave to cool for about 5 minutes and release the cake from the tin and put on a cooling rack or remove using the 2 ends of the greaseproof.

Prick the top in several places with a thin cake testing skewer.

Lemon Glaze

Mix the lemon juice and caster sugar to dissolve the sugar, dribble this over the cake so the top in covered. Leave till nearly cool then put the cake on a plate or stand.

Lemon Icing

The amount of icing sugar you need will vary depending on the size of the lemon and the dampness of the sugar. (If you want less icing use a small lemon or half a large one and 100g of icing sugar)

Place the lemon juice in a bowl and slowly add the sugar mixing it with a wooden spoon is best, use more or less sugar to make a soft runny icing which will coat the back of the spoon.

Pour this over the cake.

You can aim for just the top covered or to have drips down the sides.

Poppy Seed Cakes and Yeast Cakes

Yeast Cake

Makowiec
Traditional Poppy Seed Cake
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Photo from my Old Polish Cookbook
Kuchnia Polska - Polish Kitchen or Polish Cookery
Kuchnia Polska – Polish Kitchen or Polish Cookery

 

Weighing Poppy Seeds
Weighing Poppy Seeds

 

poppy mix
Poppy seed mix

I do not know why but the smell of baking yeast cakes just fills me with warm loving feeling, it is so wonderful.

Yeast cakes feature greatly in Polish festivals and there is Babka for Easter, Makowiec (Poppy seed roll) for Christmas Eve and doughnuts before the start of Lent and New Year’s Eve and Epiphany.

Surprisingly my mother did not seem to have a great success with yeast cookery, maybe her kitchen was a bit cool, I do not know.   We got our yeast cakes from her friends. I have done lots of experimenting with yeast recipes and have had a lot of success (and some failures from which I also learnt much!). I now know that you can succeed in a cool kitchen; you just have to start a day beforehand.

Watching the yeast rise still seems like magic to me even though I am well aware of the science that makes it happen. It can be unpredictable and depends on the yeast and the temperature.

I prefer to use fresh yeast but cannot always get it, so now I use dried yeast and also get good results. I have used the type of yeast that you add straight to the flour but I like to see that the yeast is active before it goes into the flour so this is not my favourite type – but I have to admit is does work in many recipes.

Many  recipes use a batter starter and I like this method as you can see the yeast making the mixture really rise.

The best time to make a yeast cake is on a day when you are in and doing other things as the times for rising and proving can vary, you have to be around and do the next stage when the time is right, you cannot rush it.

One of the drawbacks with yeast pastry is that the cakes go stale very quickly so you need lots of people on hand to help to eat it all.

Poppy Seeds

Poppy seeds are the blue-grey seeds of the poppy – Papaver somniferum. They have been used since antiquity and were known in Egyptian, Minoan and Sumerian cultures. They are used in European and Middle Eastern cooking and are especially popular in Jewish and in Polish cooking.

Mak is the Polish word for poppy seed and a cake made with poppy seeds is called makowiec.

This is one of the dishes served on Christmas Eve and I will be writing about the food for that evening later in the year.

Makowiec – Poppy Seed Roll

Traditional Recipe

This classic yeast cake is served on Christmas Eve. Poppy seeds and honey are used to make a filling which I think is just so delicious. Some fillings also use dried fruits such as raisins but I prefer it without.

I have been searching for many years for the best recipe for this cake and I think I now have it. Many recipes that I have tried, have made a cake which is so large that it has tried to escape out of the baking tray and the oven and I have been experimenting to get an amount which is more suitable for the standard size oven in the United Kingdom.

Also the shape of a nice roll of cake has eluded me till now, mine seemed to rise too much and crack and spread across the baking tray with all the filling escaping!

On a  visit to Poland I was given a suggested that you wrap the rising yeast roll in greaseproof paper to keep its shape and this worked.   So at last I have the size and shape that works well.

Without a doubt this recipes is time consuming – so in my next posts I will give some easier simpler variations which are also delicious.

There are 3 parts to the making of this cake: the poppy seed filling, the yeast pastry and the icing.

Poppy Seed Filling

I make the poppy seed filling first, or during the time the yeast is rising, as it has to be cool when used. You can make the filling ahead of time – there are several stages where you can leave it to finish later. I often make till until the addition of the butter and add the rum and egg just before I need it. You can also freeze this filling at this stage.

 Ingredients

200g poppy seeds

500ml milk (whole or semi-skimmed)

50g ground almonds

120 ml runny honey & 1 tablespoon

25g butter

1 large egg – separated

1 tablespoon of  rum

¼ teaspoon of vanilla essence

Put the poppy seeds and milk into a saucepan and simmer then together for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to stop any sticking or burning. The aim is to cook the seeds and adsorb as much of the milk as possible. You need to watch this carefully and keep adjusting the heat to stop the mixture burning.

Using a fine sieve, strain the poppy seeds from the liquid – leave this for a while to remove as much liquid as possible.

The poppy seeds need to be crushed, I use a hand held blender for about 5 minutes which I find is the easiest way but you can use a pestle and mortar or a mincer.

Once crushed, place the poppy seeds back into a saucepan and add the ground almonds, the vanilla essence and the 120ml of honey and mix thoroughly.

Add the butter to the mixture and simmer gently for about 5 minutes and then leave this mixture to cool completely and then add the rum.

Whisk the 15ml (1 tablespoon) of honey with the egg yolk until this is thick and creamy and then add this to the mixture.

Just before you need the filling, whisk the egg white until it is stiff and then fold this egg white into the poppy seed mixture.

Yeast Pastry

This is made in 2 stages

Yeast Starter

5g fresh yeast or a 1/2 teaspoon of dried yeast

40g plain flour

60ml of milk (whole or semi-skimmed)

Mix the ingredients together in a bowl then cover this with a tea towel or cling film and leave the bowl in a warm place for 3 hours.

After this place the bowl in the fridge – you can leave this overnight.

Rest of Dough

10g fresh yeast or 1 teaspoon of dried yeast

40g sugar

60ml milk (whole or semi-skimmed)

1 egg and 2 egg yolks

300g plain flour

pinch of salt

100g butter at room temperature

Warm the milk slightly and put it into a large bowl, add the yeast and sugar and leave in a warm place for 15 minutes or until you can see that the yeast is active and rising.

Add the starter, the egg and egg yolks, the pinch of salt and the flour. Mix and then knead the dough until it forms a soft ball.

Cover the bowl with a tea towel or cling film and leave for 15 minutes.

Add the butter in tablespoonful amounts to the dough, kneading slightly at each addition and then knead the dough for 10 minutes. The dough should be soft and elastic but not sticky, if it is too sticky add some more flour knead till it is the correct texture.

Place the dough into an oiled bowl and cover with a tea towel or cling film and leave to rise.

Putting together the poppy seed roll

Have ready a greased baking tray as the size of rectangle of dough you need is governed by the length of the baking tray.

When the dough is ready, roll it out into a rectangle of around 20cm by 25cm. It will be about 1cm in thickness.

Place the filling onto the dough leaving about 2cm clear at all the edges.

Roll up the poppy seed roll lengthwise and then enclose the roll reasonably tightly lengthwise in greaseproof paper, do not cover the ends of the roll which will rise and expand lengthwise.

Place the roll onto a baking sheet with at least 5cm at each end to allow for the expansion and leave this to rise for about 1 hour.

Pre heat the oven to GM4 – 180oC

Place the risen roll into the oven with the greaseproof paper still on.

Bake for about 40 minutes and then cool on a wire rack, remove the greaseproof paper as soon as the roll has cooled slightly.

Before serving dust the roll with icing sugar – or you can glaze it with a thin lemon icing.

I cut the short end of the roll off and do not serve these.

Lemon Icing

Juice of ½ lemon

100g icing sugar – sieved

The amount of icing sugar you need will vary, depending on the size of the lemon and the dampness of the sugar.

Place the lemon juice in a bowl and slowly add the sugar mixing it with a wooden spoon is best, use more or less sugar to make a soft runny icing which will coat the back of the spoon.

Easier Recipes

So that is the end of my first recipe, which does take quite a while to make but I felt I had to include this traditional version especially now I have mastered it.

There are many other poppy seed cakes and I will be continuing next with a few of these. They quicker and easier to make but are still very delicious and also a few recipes for poppy seed cakes which have evolved from these.