A traditional food in my family at Easter time is “sauerkraut pie,” coming down from my Slavic ancestors on my father’s side. This is is really not a pie at all, in the sense of an apple or cherry pie, but a sauerkraut and onion filling inside a thin bread dough crust. In that sense it is probably most similar to a Cornish pasty and was probably a meal that workers could take cold to the fields or factories.
I once saw my grandmother’s recipe and it had a very involved dough with quite a few steps and ingredients. I don’t know where that recipe went and my Irish mother didn’t pass it on to me. Here, therefore, is an approximation that resembles what I remember having as a child. I’m a bit wordy in my recipe, but don’t let that dissuade you. If my relatives pop in with variations or improvements, I’ll append them below.
Update: My mom’s recipe is at the bottom of this entry, courtesy of my sister Ruthanne.
The basic idea is that for four pies you need 16 ounces of sauerkraut, one medium onion, and ingredients for one loaf of simple white bread.
These pies go well with baked ham, deviled eggs, and Polish kielbasa.
- 1 medium onion
- 16 oz. sauerkraut (I prefer bagged to canned)
- ground pepper to taste, but at least 1 teaspoon
Peel, halve, and then slice a medium onion in narrow strips. Sauté for 10 minutes in a heavy 12 inch skillet or a dutch oven in 2 tablespoons of butter over very low heat. (A common mistake in cooking onions is to use too high a heat so that they burn before they are properly cooked.)
Drain the sauerkraut and add to the onions. Sauté for 10 more minutes until the sauerkraut just begins to brown. Add the pepper and set aside to cool for at least 30 minutes.
Any simple recipe for one loaf of white bread will do. Here is one adapted from The New York Times Bread & Soup Cookbook by Yvonne Young Tarr.
- 1 1/2 cups of milk
- 3/4 tablespoon butter
- 1 1/2 tablespoons of sugar
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 3/4 package active dry yeast
- 3/8 cup lukewarm water
- 4 to 4 1/2 cups sifted all-purpose or unbleached flour
Add the yeast to the warm water and stir until the yeast dissolves. Set aside.
Scald the milk in a saucepan (meaning: over low heat warm up the milk to the point where it just develops a skim). Add the butter, salt, and sugar, stirring as you add them until the hot mixture is blended. Cool thoroughly until just warm. Don’t cheat here or else you will cook and kill your yeast in the next step.
Variation: My sister Ruthanne told me that my mother’s recipe (below) would here also include one large egg yolk. Beat it into the milk mixture once it cools.
Add the cooled milk mixture to the yeast mixture in a large mixing bowl and stir until combined. Add 4 cups of flour and mix with your hands until your dough is blended.
At this point you can either:
- Knead the dough by hand for 8 to 10 minutes, adding flour when the dough becomes too sticky, or
- Use a food mixer (such as a KitchenAid Mixer) with a dough hook to knead the bread for 8 to 10 minutes. You will also need to add flour if the dough gets too sticky. You will also probably need to turn off the mixture and remove the dough from the hook periodically. Adding more flour will minimize this.
Grease the inside of a large bowl with butter, place the dough in it, and turn the dough until all sides have a light butter coating. This helps prevent the formation of a dry skin on the dough. Place a kitchen towel over the bowl and place it in a warm but not hot location until the dough rises and doubles in size, probably 1 to 1/2 hours.
After the dough has doubled, punch it down, rotate it, and let it rise again until double in size. Remove the dough from the bowl, punch it down, and cut it into 4 equal pieces.
Prepare two medium to large cookie sheets by placing a piece of parchment paper in each that has been cut to fit exactly. Preheat the oven to 400 F (205 C, Gas Mark 6).
Repeat the following for each of the 4 quarters of dough. Place some flour on a countertop or large cutting board and roll out the dough until it is 12 to 15 inches (30.5 to 38 cm) in diameter. The dough will fight you but keep working it until it is as thin and round as you can make it.
Spoon one quarter of the sauerkraut and onion mixture into the center of the dough circle and spread evenly until roughly 2 inches (5 cm) of plain dough remains around the edge.
Grab one edge of the dough and stretch it out a bit and then fold it into the center. Repeat 6 or 7 more times until the filling is completely covered. Wet your fingers and pinch the dough until it is sealed. Now use your fingers to press down and out on the pie until it is as thin and round as possible with the filling evenly distributed.
It would be nice if the pie were perfectly circular at this point, but it will not be, and will taste just as good. The pies I make are notoriously asymmetrical, as the photo above attests.
Invert the pie onto one of the cookie sheets and spread it out again with your fingers. Cut 5 or 6 small slits in each pie.
Repeat with the other 3 pieces of dough until you have 4 pies, with 2 pies on each cookie sheet.
Place the pies on the cookie sheets into the oven and bake for 20 minutes. For each pie, quarter a tablespoon of butter and place the four pieces on top of the pie. Spread the butter around until the top of each pie is covered. Bake for 10 more minutes and remove from the oven. You can let the pies cool a bit or eat them hot after cutting each into 4 to 8 slices.
Refrigerate or freeze any uneaten pies.
If frozen, remove a pie from the freezer and let it reach room temperature, approximately one hour.
Rewarm in an oven or toaster oven at 325 F (160 C, Gas Mark 3) for 15 minutes. Feel free to add more butter to the tops of the pies before reheating. Do not microwave as this makes the bread dough too chewy.
Original recipe from my mother Anita O’Brien Sutor,
courtesy of Ruthanne Sutor Terrero