A few months ago, I had the privilege of interviewing Helen Mirren about her role in the film The Hundred Foot Journey. All lovers of food and France should see this film immediately. I must warn you, however, that it will make you want to get on a plane and fly there immediately. It is a love story that focuses on the way in which food conjures up memories and emotions. So during my four minutes with Dame Mirren, I couldn’t help but wonder what dish brought up memories to her. When Helen answered, “My mother’s piroshki.” I was completely fascinated. I had never heard of this, much less tasted it. She went on to describe the warm cabbage pie that she enjoyed during her childhood.
I would never think to make Russian cabbage pie for myself. It sounds labor intensive and strangely daunting. However, I’m not sure if it’s the way Helen Mirren explained it so deliciously with pure nostalgia in her eyes or the fact that I simply want to eat something that Helen Mirren ate, but I couldn’t help but grow hungry for it too. And seeing as I am part-Russian, my grandfather changed his name from Harold Plotnski to Arnold Platt, (not joking)I felt for the first time that I was connecting with my Russian heritage, surrounded by flour and potatoes while the smell of caraway seeds wafted through my house. Oh, and it tasted really good too!
For the dough:
- 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1 inch cubes
- 2 large egg yolks
- 3/4 cup crème fraîche
- 1 tablespoon cold water if needed
For the filling:
- 2 medium-sized russet potatoes
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 1 1/2 teaspoons caraway seeds
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 large head of cabbage, chopped
- 2 tablespoons sour cream
- 2 tablespoons water if needed
For Egg wash:
- an egg beaten with 1 teaspoon water
Begin by making the dough. In a large food processor, mix the flour, baking powder, salt, and butter until looks like meal. In a small bowl whisk together the egg yolks and the sour cream, add the sour cream egg mixture to the flour mixture, and process it until it just forms a dough. If it seems too dry, add water. Divide the dough into four balls. Flatten each of the balls and wrap them individually in aluminum foil. Place in the refrigerator and let cool for at least 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 350°F
While the dough is chilling, make the filling. Peel the potatoes and cut them into 1-inch pieces. Steam them in a steamer over boiling water, covered, for 12 to 15 minutes, or until they are very tender. Force the potatoes through a ricer or food mill into a bowl. Stir in 1 tablespoon of the butter. Set aside.
In a very large heavy saucepan, heat the butter and oil over medium heat. Add the onion and the caraway seeds and cook until the onion is golden, stirring often. Add the cabbage, and cook the mixture for another 5 to 10 minutes. Cover, and cook over low heat, for 10 more minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the potato/sour cream mixture and season to taste with salt and pepper.
lightly flour a surface and roll out 1 piece of the dough 1/4 inch thick, keeping the remaining pieces wrapped and chilled. Using a round cookie cutter, cut out rounds. Brush each round with some of the egg wash, put 1 teaspoons of the filling on one half of each round. Fold the dough over the filling to form a half-moon. Press the edges together firmly to seal them with a fork. Gather the scraps of dough, roll them agan, and make more piroshki with the remaining filling and dough and some of the remaining egg wash in the same manner.
Arrange the piroshki on a lightly greased baking sheets and brush the tops with the remaining egg wash. Bake the piroshki in the oven for 25 to 30 minutes, or until they are golden. Serve them warm or at room temperature.