Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Bread-y Comfort

Funny how the simplest, subtle delights in a day make me intensely happy. Today I watched Cedar fall asleep in his car seat. What a beautiful sight, witnessing someone nodding off. I almost felt as relaxed as he looked.

But that is a usual, typical example of simple pleasures. I enjoy my kid much of the time. What was really a breakthrough in simple pleasures was the other night when I made piroshki. For those of you who don't know about piroshki, it is one of those foods "without borders" like pierogi-gyoza-dumplings or noodles or cake. It is the calzone of the Russian world--a pastry-dough pocket full of veggies, meats, spices, herbs, cheeses or some combination thereof. It is a comfort food, and I have been well comforted.

Maybe it was my enjoyment of Pliny the Elder as I made the preparations, but the smell of the piroshki baking made me unusually calm, happy, and content. This is not my usual character. When I am 'happy,' I am more ecstatic; when I'm 'calm,' I'm probably bordering on melancholy; and when I am content, I don't really think about it. So this was some combination!

I recommend making it. And even though it is summer when I write this and no one wants a hot kitchen after a hot day, I recommend you make it soon. Really. It is like an otherworldly being visited me and said, be calm. Make piroshki. Eat piroshki. Well, alright.

If you do make this comfort food, I also recommend you leave enough time. Babies, children, goats, and visitors need attention and just may make the two-hour cooking project a four-hour ordeal. Just make sure you have plenty of Pliny on hand. And a moment or two to sit down in a comfy chair, put up your weary feet, have a sip of that little Elder, and breath in the calm, happy, content smell of homemade bread-y comfort.

Mushroom Piroshki
(adapted from The Enchanted Broccoli Forest, Molly Katzen)
I tell you of this mushroom filling, but I will share a secret: this dough is good--it should be used for many fillings. I've made Katzen's cabbage-egg-caraway filling, and I've dreamed of cheesiness here too. I could imagine myself using the dough for pizza as well. It has a nice, chewy texture, and if olive oil is used in place of the butter, what is Russian becomes Italian. Have fun, eat well, feeds 4-6.

Start with the dough:

1 1/2 teaspoon (half an envelope) dry yeast
1 cup lukewarm water
2 teaspoons honey or sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
plus more for kneading
1 1/2 cups whole wheat bread flour
1/4 cup cornmeal
3 tablespoons melted butter
plus more for the baking tray

1. Combine the yeast, water, and sugar or honey in a large bowl. Stir, and let stand for 5 minutes.
2. Beat in salt, flours, and cornmeal with a wooden spoon until too thick to mix, then turn it out onto a floured surface (or keep it in the bowl like I did!) and knead for about 5 minutes, or until elastic, uniform, and only slightly tacky.
3. Generously grease the mixing bowl. Return the dough to the bowl, smear its top with butter, and let it rise in a warm, cozy place until doubled in bulk (about 1 hour).

While the dough rises, make the filling:

2 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 cups minced onion
1 1/4 teaspoon salt
1 lb. crumini mushrooms, chopped small
2 cloves garlic, minced
8 oz. cream cheese
1/2 cup fine bread crumbs
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
2 tablespoons minced fresh dill
2 tablspoons minced green onions
four finger pinch fresh black pepper (or, to taste)

1. Melt the butter in a large, deep skillet. Add the onion and half the salt, and saute over medium heat for about 5 minutes or until the onion begins to soften.
2. Add the mushrooms and remaining salt. Continue to saute for about 10 minutes, or until the mushrooms have cooked down. Stir in lemon juice and garlic, and cook for just 5 minutes longer. Remove from heat and immediately cut in the cream cheese. Stir until it melts.
3. Add remaining ingredients, and taste to adjust seasonings.

When the dough is ready:

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Butter or oil a baking tray.
2. Punch the dough to deflate it, and divide into 8 equal parts. Knead each part into a ball. Roll each ball into a circle or oval about 1/4 inch thick. Place about 1/4 cup filling onto one side, and carefully stretch the other side of the dough over the filling. Crimp the edges firmly with the flat side of a fork. Prick it with the fork in a few choice spots and deposit the pastry on the prepared tray. At this point, you can brush onto each a little beaten egg, or leave it plain.
3. Bake 15 minutes, or until just golden on top. If you did not brush with egg (like I did not) and find the bread a little lackluster, brush some butter on now while it is still hot. Cool for 10 minutes before eating--the filling is hot! Serve with borscht, marinated cauliflower, or other Russian-ish typed side dishes. Or sausages. Mmm. Enjoy!

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