Russian Hand Pies

Russian Hand Pies | Stefan Wettainen © 2020

Russian pirozhki—not to be confused with the boiled Polish dumplings called pierogi—are made with enriched dough that’s either baked or fried. The dough can enclose an almost endless variety of fillings, from savory to sweet. One of the great satisfactions of Soviet life was the freshly fried pirozhki you could buy on the street. Filled with ground beef, they were steaming hot and dripping with so much oil that the cheap gray paper holding them couldn’t absorb it. Sometimes, when resourceful vendors ran out of that wrapping, they’d substitute strips of paper from old-fashioned adding machines, which only contributed to the pies’ allure. Today it’s still possible to buy pirozhki from kiosks, but more often, Russians pop into cafés that specialize in a wide range of pies large and small, where they can savor them in a warm space at leisure.

Despite my nostalgia, I never fry pirozhki. Instead I use this supple yeast dough to bake lovely, soft pies with a piquant filling.

Makes 24 small pies



1 package active dry yeast (2 1⁄4 teaspoons)

2 tablespoons sugar 

1 cup lukewarm whole milk

3 1⁄4 cups flour

Heaping 1⁄2 teaspoon salt

8 tablespoons melted unsalted butter

2 eggs, lightly beaten

Sauerkraut and Dried Mushroom Filling:

1⁄4 ounce dried mushrooms (about 1⁄3 cup)

3 medium onions, finely chopped

1 small carrot, peeled and grated

3 tablespoons cold-pressed sunflower oil

2 cups rinsed and drained sauerkraut

2 teaspoons sugar

1⁄2 teaspoon salt

1⁄4 teaspoon caraway seed

Freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon salted butter

2 hard-boiled eggs, minced

2 egg yolks


To make the dough, mix together the yeast, 1⁄2 teaspoon of the sugar, and 1⁄2 cup each of the warm milk and flour. Stir well. Cover the bowl with a dish towel and let the mixture sit for 30 minutes until bubbly and puffy.

Stir the remaining sugar and milk into the bowl along with the salt, melted butter, and lightly beaten eggs. Mix in the remaining flour to make a very soft and slightly sticky dough. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead lightly for a few minutes until it forms a smooth mass, being careful not to incorporate too much extra flour. Grease a large bowl and place the dough in it, then turn the dough over to grease the top. Cover the bowl with a dish towel and leave the dough to rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

While the dough is rising, make the filling. Soak the mushrooms in warm water for 30 minutes to soften. In a large skillet, sauté the onions and carrot in the oil until softened, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain the mushrooms and chop them finely. (You should have about 1⁄4 cup.) Add the mushrooms to the onion mixture along with the sauerkraut, sugar, salt, caraway, and plenty of pepper. Cook, covered, over low heat for 10 minutes. Stir in the butter and the minced hard-boiled eggs. Remove the pan from the heat.

Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper. Punch down the risen dough and divide it into four pieces. (Each piece will weigh about 8 ounces.) Work with one piece at a time; leave the others in the bowl, covered with the dish towel, so that they don’t dry out. Divide each quarter of dough into six equal pieces. On a lightly floured surface, roll or pat out the pieces of dough into 3 1⁄2-inch rounds.

Place 2 tablespoons of the filling in the center of each round, then bring the two sides of the dough together at the top. Starting at one end of the pie, pinch the edges together between your thumb and forefinger. To make decorative pleats, bring the lower edge of the dough up and press it into the inside of the adjacent dough. Make another pinch and press the dough down into the adjacent lower edge. Move back and forth along the pie in this manner to make a decorative, tightly sealed seam. Once all the pies are sealed and shaped, cover them with a dish towel and allow to rise for 20 minutes.

While the pies are rising, preheat the oven to 350°F. Stir the egg yolks together in a small bowl and brush the pies all over with this glaze. Bake the pies for 20 minutes, until golden, and serve hot. 

Reprinted with permission from Beyond the North Wind: Russia in Recipes and Lore by Darra Goldstein, copyright © 2020. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House.


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