Friday, March 4, 2011

Lenten Project 2010: Winning Pierogi Recipe, Pt. I

For last year's Lenten Project, while I announced the winner here on the blog, I never bothered to contact any of the organizations I had selected to judge during the Friday night fish fries I had attended. For one thing, I figured that a dinky little food blog didn't really have all that much credibility and I worried that people would think I was full of myself. Second, since the Lenten Project was done more for myself and my readers than the organizations themselves, they weren't really going to benefit as much from my, um, "research" as you would.

Surprisingly, back in July of 2010, I received an email from Leanne, who not only had been part of one of the churches on my fish and pierogi odyssey during Lent in 2010, but also from the winning church, St. Joan of Arc in Streetsboro. A friend of hers had come across my blog entry and sent the link to Leanne, who was simply shocked that someone had not only written about her food, but also proclaimed that her church had placed first, above seven other organizations. We exchanged several emails over the next couple of days and promised to keep in touch.

As 2010 came to a close, I was still trying to decide what I wanted I wanted to do for this year's installment of the Lenten Project. I decided that since St. Joan of Arc had won in 2010, they wouldn't be eligible for judging. However, wanting to promote them as the previous year's winner, I contacted Leanne once again and told her of my idea and suggested that I do a write-up of her homemade pierogi recipe and run it a week before the first fish fry dinners start on March 11th. She thought this was a fabulous idea and invited me to the first (of many) pierogi making sessions all the way back on Tuesday, January 11th, 2011.

On a very cold and blistery day, I met up with Leanne, her daughter, husband, and friends in the kitchen of the exact same building where the fish fry was served to me roughly ten months prior. After getting my camera set up, I got down to the business of photodocumenting the entire process, from ingredients all the way to storage and labeling. Because of the number of photographs taken, it was necessary to split this post into two parts. Today's entry is all about the ingredients and making the pierogi dough and filling. Tomorrow's entry will be about forming the pierogi, cooking them, and then storing them for later use.

First up, a table full of the ingredients required for today's session:

Table full of pierogi making ingredients
Going down the line, we have onions:

A case of potato flakes:

Boxes of Potato Flakes
Two five pound bags of shredded cheddar cheese:

Large Bags of Shredded Cheddar Cheese
Many dozens of eggs:

Dozens of Eggs
Multiple boxes of salted butter (each box was four sticks which was equivalent to one pound of butter):

One Pound Boxes of Salted Butter
And at the other end of the table were the shiny Hobart stand mixer and several bags of all-purpose (AP) flour:

Hobart Floor Mixer and Large Bags of All-Purpose (AP) Flour
Now that you've met the main players involved in today's line-up, it's time to get down to business. For the dough, you will need:

8 cups of flour
10 eggs
2 cups of water
pinch of salt

First, crack the eggs into a bowl to ensure that you don't get any bad ones or shells:

Cracking Eggs
After adding the eggs to the flour, water, and salt, turn on the mixer on LOW:

Mixing the Dough on Low Speed
While the group was originally looking for the dough hook to mix and knead this, when they couldn't find it, they had to resort to the whip attachment. I was skeptical at first, but they continued to turn out batch after batch of successful pierogi dough.

When the dough began to come together and hydrate, it turned into this:

Mixed and Hydrated Dough
The dough was taken out of the large mixing bowl and placed into a smaller plastic bowl where it was further kneaded by pulling on the dough:

Kneading the Dough by Pulling It
When the dough was nice and elastic, it was shaped into a ball, placed on a floured counter to rest, and covered with the inverted plastic bowl to prevent the dough from drying out:

Finished Dough Resting
Next up, we turn our attention to the filling. While today's goal was to make twelve dozen potato and cheese pierogi, on other weeks, Leanne and her group could be making mushroom and cheese, broccoli and cheese, or their newest addition, dessert pierogi. The number of pierogi needed to make it though all six dinners in Lent astounded me, but given how good they were, it didn't surprise me all that much.

For the potato and cheese filling today, the recipe consisted of:

1 box of Idahoan Potato Flakes
1 3/4 quarts of hot tap water
2 to 2 1/2 pounds of shredded Cheddar cheese
Softened onions and butter to taste
Ground pepper to taste

The first step was to chop the onions fairly finely:

Chopped Onions
Once enough onions had been chopped to fill the Windsor sauce pan,

Cooking Onions in Windsor Pan
several sticks of butter were added to the pot and the whole thing put over heat to gently simmer away until the onions were translucent and softened:

Softened and Cooked Onions in Butter
It's important to note that while the onions had softened considerably, they weren't complete mush at this point and still had a bit of resistance when eaten. In a very large bowl, Leanne emptied the entire box of potato flakes:

Bowl of Potato Flakes
It was at this point she stopped for a second to explain that while she actually uses potatoes when she makes these at home, when you are cooking for such a large crowd over an extended period of time such as Lent, certain shortcuts needed to be employed, especially when they make sense in terms of time or money. While she had used real potatoes the first couple of years she made the pierogi for the fish fries at the church, when she discovered this time saver and ran several secret taste tests on both her family and others without anyone discovering it, she knew she had a winner on her hands. Besides eliminating the time heavy step of baking and peeling the potatoes, because she was starting with a completely dried product, she could exactly control the moisture content of the finished filling.

To the potato flakes, Leanne added somewhere between two and two-and-a-half pounds of shredded Cheddar cheese:

Potato Flakes and Cheddar Cheese
Next up were several large ladles of the cooked onions and butter:

Adding in the Onions and the Butter
And finally, a generous addition of ground black pepper and one and three-quarters quarts of hot tap water:

Black Pepper and Hot Water Are Added
At this point, a large metal spoon and some elbow grease were required to hydrate and mix all of the ingredients:

Combining the Filling
Once the ingredients were thoroughly combined, she and I both tasted the mixture for proper saltiness. Having added nothing salty to the mix except the Cheddar cheese and the salted butter, it turned out to be salty enough to properly season the entire mix. The filling itself was fairly dry and stiff, a necessity for any kind of filled dumpling that was to be boiled or fried. If the filling was too loose, it would run all over the place when cut or bit into.

Alright, dough and filling have now been made. While up to this point, there had been six people working on prepping ingredients, the environment had felt a little unstructured at times. However, once the dough rolling and pierogi making commenced, Leanne and her pierogi making team fell into a groove and began to crank out trayfuls of these doughy Polish treats. Come back tomorrow in order to find out just how they finish these up and I will have the opportunity to taste the finished product for the first time since last March. I know I'm looking forward to it.


Mahala said...

Lenten fish fries make Lent pass painlessly. And I will absolutely be heading to Streetsboro to try this one. Pierogis and fried fish...does it get better than that?

Tino said...

@Mahala: You might be changing your tune slightly if you were eating two fried fish dinners every Friday for five weeks. :)

Hopefully I'll be able to do some lunches, too. Good thing I love fried fish and pierogi.

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