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Saturday, January 3, 2009

Latvian Piragi

For Dough: makes about 25 piragi
4 cups plain flour (I like to use organic unbleached)
half a tsp. cardamon seeds crushed
1 tsp salt
30g compressed yeast
2 tsp white sugar
one and a quarter cups milk
3 quarters cup of unsalted butter
extra flour or milk as required

Pre-heat oven to about 190 degrees Celsius (about 375 degrees Fahrenheit)

Bacon & Onion Mix
1 Onion, finely diced
300g bacon, diced small
pepper to taste
your favorite dried herbs (good shake)
freshly chopped European parsley
pinch salt

Heat oil in pan. Fry onion until transparent, add bacon, pepper and herbs, cook gently for about 5 minutes until cooked through, don't brown the onions though.

Making the dough & the Piragi
1) Sift the flour and salt and crushed cardamon seeds into a large ceramic mixing bowl. Make a well in the centre.
2) Cream the yeast with the sugar in a cup. (Takes a little while - leave it about 3 minutes and you will see the yeast dissolving in the sugar, so give it a good stir).
3) Warm half a cup of the milk to blood temperature (when you dribble a bit on the inside of your wrist you shouldn't be able to feel it. If it's too hot you'll kill the yeast and if it's too cold the yeast won't rise).
4) Mix the warm milk with the sugary yeast in the cup and pour it into the well in the flour. Stir in a bit of the surrounding flour to make a soft batter in the middle.
5) Cover the bowl with a tea-towel and stand in a warm place until the batter in the centre looks spongy and is full of tiny bubbles (waiting time about 5-10 minutes. I like to put my bowl on the opened oven door (I have an electric oven whose door opens downwards, so my bowl sits comfortably on it).
6) Heat about three quarters of a cup of unsalted butter and when melted add about three quarters of a cup of cold milk. Test again on your wrist. Only blood temperature please. You might need to add extra cold milk before you try this as hot butter is, well, HOT butter. And you don't want to kill your nice spongy yeast/flour mixture.
7) Pour onto the spongy mixture in the bowl and mix to a soft dough with a large wooden spoon. Then knead for about 5 minutes until the dough is soft and elastic. If too dry add a bit of oil straight from the bottle, if too moist add a bit of flour. Shape dough into a ball and sprinkle with sieved flour top and bottom.
8) Cover with a tea-towl and let it rise in front of the oven for about half an hour until it has doubled in size. Now some cooks would then knead the dough again and puti it to rise again, but I don't.
9) Pull off a chunk and roll with hands into a longish sausage shape. Cut off slices about 2 and a half cm thick and pull gently into a flat elastic shape with your fingers so it resembles a mini pizza base about 8 cm diameter.
10) Put about 1 tsp full of the bacon & onion mixture into the centre of the mini (pizza) base and pull the edges together and press shut wth your fingers. Put on a greased tray with the pulled-together edges underneath.
11) When you have filled your tray with piragi, brush the tops of the buns with beaten egg/milk mixture and bake in the top half of the oven (but not on the top shelf) for about 15 - 20 minutes at about 190 degrees Celsius until golden brown on top. (Ovens vary, so may your baking times).
12) If you find you still have some dough left over and no more bacon mix, just form little buns and sprinkle with caraway seeds (after you've brushed them with egg/milk) and press a little knob of butter into their middle and a pinch of salt.

Piragi can be frozen straight away and then gently re-heated in the oven (covered with alfoil) for about 10 minutes. Excellent served fresh with a mug of beef bouillon sprinkled with chopped European parsley. No Latvian celebration is complete without piragi. Other nationalities like our delicacy too.

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