Pīrāgi are bread rolls that are traditionally filled with bacon and onions, and which originate from the Baltic state of Latvia. They are usually made for special occasions and celebrations, and baked in large batches.
Latvia is in Northern Europe and it sits on the shore of the Baltic Sea. The country has borders with Estonia, Russia, Belarus and Lithuania. Latvia is covered with forests and arable lands with over 12,500 rivers running through, creating a fertile environment for farming.
Latvian cuisine features meat in most main dishes, and common agricultural ingredients include potatoes, cabbage, onions, wheat and barley. Fish is also commonly used due to Latvia’s shore location. Latvia’s neighboring countries influence the food found in the state.
Piragi are eaten as an appetizer, or served with a cup of bouillon to make a light lunch. They vary in size (between 2 and 5 inches), with the smallest piragi being considered the work of a skilled chef. They come in two main variations, the ones I chose to make that are made with a plain yeast bread dough, and buljona piragi, which are made with a flaky butter dough.
Traditionally, the filling of a pīrāgs (singular of pīrāgi) consists of finely diced bacon and onion, but Latvian families tend to have their own recipe variations that are passed down from generation to generation. Other common fillings include ground beef, ham, chicken and fish. The dough is soft with a hint of butter flavor, so it is a perfect base for a host of fillings. Not traditional, but I would love to experiment with some spicy fillings, and the cheese lover in me couldn’t resist making some cheese stuffed piragi! I would also love to try out some sweet fillings like strawberry, blackberry, or maybe even rhubarb!
Piragi are traditionally made in large batches for special occasions such as winter solstice. This is because they are seen to be quite labor intensive. The filling is often prepared the day before and kept refrigerated, and the dough is made the next day when the piragi are baked. The filling needs to be very finely diced, and the dough needs to be given a couple of hours to fully rise. The shaping of the piragi is a skill, and time and patience are required for the novices among us. It did take me a couple of tries, and a little practice to shape my piragi, but once I got the hang of it, there was no stopping me! Making piragi is often a family activity as so many are made at the same time, a couple of people will prepare the filling while someone else makes the dough. Shaping the piragi is something that everyone can be involved in, and at times can get quite competitive!
The bacon and onion for the filling of the piragi need to be diced very finely. To help this (sometimes lengthy!) process, it helps to put the bacon in the freezer for 10 minutes, this way it is much easier to dice finely and quickly. The filling can be made and cooked ahead of time (traditionally the day before) and kept refrigerated before constructing the piragi. It is also important to really knead the dough to get the elasticity, and give it time to rest so that it rises. The piragi don’t take long to bake in the oven. Depending on their size, they only take between 10 and 18 minutes. They are ready to come out of the oven when they are a deep golden brown.
I made a couple of batches of piragi, and although they are best eaten warm out of the oven, we also reheated some the next day and they were still pretty tasty! You can also freeze the piragi for up to a month and reheat before serving. Traditionally eaten by themselves as an appetizer or served with a soup for a lunch, we found they also paired well with a fresh salad and a generous dollop of English mustard!
Recipe of Pīrāgi
- For the filling
1 onion, finely chopped
10 oz bacon, finely diced
For the dough
¾ cup milk
4 tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
¼ cup warm water
1 egg, beaten
3-½ cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sour cream
For the glaze
1 egg, beaten
2 teaspoons milk or water
¼ teaspoon sugar
Mix onions and bacon and season with pepper and salt.
Heat the milk. Pour into a bowl, then add butter, salt, and sugar. Let cool for 5 minutes.
Dilute the yeast and sugar in ¼ cup of warm water. When it starts to foam, add it to the milk mixture. Then, add the beaten egg.
Add the flour and the sour cream, and beat until obtaining a smooth dough.
Cover the bowl and let the dough rest for 10 minutes. Turn the dough onto floured surface. Knead lightly for about 5 minutes.
Put the dough into a greased bowl. Cover bowl and let rise in a warm place for about 1 hour or until doubled in volume.
Once the dough has risen, punch it down. Preheat oven to 400 F. Prepare a floured surface for making the pīrāgi. Take meat filling out of fridge. Mix together all the glaze ingredients.
Cut off a large piece of the dough. On a floured surface, roll it into a rope about 1-½ inch in diameter. Cut it into segments of about 1-½ inch thick.
Flatten each segment into a small oval or square. Put a teaspoonful of the filling on the top half. Fold the dough over to the bottom part and seal by pinching the edges together.
Place the finished buns, seams underneath, on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
Let rise in a warm place, until the buns are almost doubled in volume, about 30 minutes. Brush them with the glaze.
Bake in the preheated oven for about 15 minute or until golden brown.
Let cool 15 minutes before serving.