Piroshki are a popular Russian pastry of filled buns that are either baked or fried. Most piroshki are made with a soft yeasted dough that is enriched with egg, but some piroshki are made with a pastry dough of butter/margarine that becomes flaky when baked. The fillings for piroshki can range from savory to sweet, and include meat, vegetables, fruit, and jam. Piroshki typically come in two sizes: meal-size or snack-sized. The larger form is often the size of a sandwich and can be served as a main dish, and the smaller kind is about the size of a Twinkie and is typically served alongside soup.
The word piroshki can confuse non-Russian speakers with its closeness to pierogi, which is Polish for dumplings. You may be familiar with pierogi, traditionally filled with potato or cheese, and in Russia there is a similar type of dumpling called vareniki. Piroshki are definitively not dumplings, but are more akin to a hand-pie or empanada. While filled buns of all kinds exist across cultures, the style of pastry that is piroshki originated in Russia. Their appeal has extended beyond Eastern Europe and into parts of Greece, where they are called piroski, to Iran, where they are called pirashki, to Finland, Central and East Asia, and even to Japan (where they are still called piroshki).
Both my grandmothers are from the former Soviet Union. My grandmother Fanya loved to cook and eat rich foods. She liberally used butter, sugar, salt and oil (and she lived past 90 years old for those concerned). My other grandmother, Mira, loved to eat healthily, opting for olive oil instead of butter, and preferred baking to frying. They were equally talented cooks, and piroshki were something they both made often. Their approaches differed: Fanya used a yeasted dough and she would deep fry the piroshki, and Mira used a pie crust-like dough for her piroshki, which she baked. While the dough and preparation differed, the fillings they made were similar: potato with caramelized onion, simply seasoned ground beef or chicken, or braised cabbage and carrot.
If I’m visiting Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, where there is a high concentration of Russian Jews and Russian food, my favorite piroshki are the giant ones sold from carts on the street that are most definitely fried, are the size of my head and cost around a dollar. If I’m making piroshki at home, then I opt for a yeasted dough and prefer to bake the piroshki instead of deep-frying them. In either case, I love cabbage piroshki best — the vegetable lends itself to the perfect combination of savory, sweet and hearty.
The recipe here is for cabbage piroshki that pay homage to both my grandmothers. The dough has a light airy texture just like Fanya’s, and it gets baked, glossy and browned like Mira’s. I love to serve these with borscht or chicken soup, but they are good all on their own as a comforting, portable snack.
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