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T-Shirt Hell

Translated by the homesick Polish houseboy who peels potatoes in our company cafeteria

Aaron Schwarz makes funny t-shirts. The only thing I love more than t-shirts is pierogis. This recipe has been distilled over quite a few years. Originally, we got the recipe from my mother, who got it from her mother. However, my mother really cooks by taste, sight and feel. For many years, my wife complained that our pierogi never tasted right, nor had the same texture as my mother's. When my father passed away, my mother needed help making them, and my wife and I volunteered. What an eye opener! All those little missing points and measurements. So here is the recipe in detail:

The Dough

2½ cups of flour (could be as much as 3 cups)

1 tsp salt
1 egg
2 tbs. sour cream (preferably regular)
~½ cup lukewarm water

Mom likes to sift the flour in a sifter older than me, but we are not sure it is necessary. Mix all ingredients together, and knead just a bit. The dough should not be very smooth, and it should be quite sticky. Let stand covered with an inverted bowl for
~1/2 h before using. Take either all, or a portion of the dough, and roll it out until it is 1/16" thick. You will have to use plenty of flour to keep the dough from sticking to the rolling pin and rolling surface. You can also flip the dough several times as well. (Your work surface dictates how much you can roll out at one time.) The thickness is very important.

The Fillings

Although I know there are many different pierogi fillings, we have three that are traditional. My mother also makes plum and cheese which she and her daughter-in-laws like, but we "boys" hate. I refuse to even consider documenting the fillings.

Although not necessary, it is a good idea to make the fillings the day before you make the pierogi and refrigerate it. This is a big cooking job. Breaking it into two days helps.

Sauerkraut (Kapusta) Filling (makes 50-60 pierogi)

4 lbs sauerkraut
2 lb yellow onions
2 Tbs. sugar

My mother uses canned sauerkraut; we prefer the refrigerated version. Drain and wash the sauerkraut to reduce the sharp acid flavor You will have to wash and taste in stages to determine how sour you want it. Be careful not to overwash. You do want a bit of tartness. Finely chop the onions. Fry them in butter until they just become translucent, then add the sauerkraut and sugar. Either add more butter for frying, or add a combination of butter and olive oil. Fry to a golden brown color. Finally, add salt and pepper to taste. Plenty of pepper is needed to give the kraut a little zing.

Making the Peirogi

First, start a large pot of water boiling, add at least a couple of tablespoons of salt. This is for cooking the pierogi.

Next prepare more fried onions and get ready to melt butter. (The fried onions at this stage can be optional). Have breadcrumbs ready.You have to decide how big you want the pierogi to be. There are some general limits. With the thinness of the dough, too large a pierogi will not survive cooking and handling. Too small and they are difficult to fill, and the ratio of dough to filling is too high. My mother, for many years now, has used a regular 2 lb can that has the open side rim removed, providing an extremely fine cutting edge. My father did this. I am not sure how he managed to get a perfectly smooth cutting edge, but I suspect he used his metal cutoff saw.

At any rate, you want circles that are between 3 and 4 " in diameter. Cut out the circles and examine to see if the dough is still about 1/16 " thick. If it is not, roll out the individual circles separately. We use a pasta maker machine to do this. If the circles don't look fine enough, we pass them first one way and then rotate 90 degrees and pass them through again, using the next to the finest setting on the machine. Great device!

Add a dab of filling to each circle. A heaping teaspoon is plenty, but use your own judgement here. Now take your finger, dip it into warm water and coat ~3/8 " edge of half the pierogi circle with water. Make sure the half edge is completely wet. Then take the opposite dough edge and fold and stretch it over to the wet edge. Pick up the pierogi and with your fingers seal the edges tightly together. Make sure no filling has gotten on the sealing edge. Be very conscientious about this sealing operation. It's heartbreaking to see all the filling in the cooking water after all this work. If the pierogi looks to thin, my mother will dip the thin surface in flour before placing into the water.

Once a batch is finished place carefully in the boiling water. Total boiling time is 10-12 minutes. Turn or at least stir the pierogi after about 5 minutes. When finished, remove to a colander and rinse with cold water, then place on a cookie sheet to cool. On a good day we will have under 5 pierogi break out of say 160. A bad day is over 10 break.

Another alternative for cooking is to steam them. We have used a wok with a bamboo steamer, and this seemed to work well also.

Finally, we're ready for storage. The following is only necessary if you’re going to freeze them. (We always do since, we may make these one to two weeks ahead of time.) Melt butter, (a lot of butter). Brush the bottom of a bowl, pan, casserole dish or whatever your going to store the pierogi in, with butter. Put in one layer of pierogi, brush with butter. At this stage you also can sprinkle with breadcrumbs and fried onion. Brushing each layer with butter is important; it will keep the pierogi from sticking together.

In this state, the pierogi can now be frozen. We usually freeze the pierogi in the baking dish that will be placed in the oven to reheat. That way you do not have to worry about separating them later. To eat: Take them out of the freezer at least a day in advance and let them completely thaw. Carefully layer them in a large baking dish. Cover the dish with foil, and heat for ~40 minutes at 275 F. Serve with melted butter, and fried onions. When we are not serving a large crowd, we will lightly fry them before serving. They also microwave nicely; cover with plastic wrap so they don't dry out.