I couldn’t be happier to say that I think autumn has finally really kicked in. I enjoy summer as much as the next person, but to me, shorts, sweat, camping , swimming and all can in no way be compared to the peace of mind that follows when all that is done. When spending a lazy Saturday afternoon cozily under your favorite blanket, watching old movies and drinking hot chocolate becomes totally justified once more. Or, for that matter, spending the day in the kitchen, baking anything that will go great with your next cup of hot tea, coffee or cocoa. To me, there is really nothing more special than fall baking…except for winter baking.
So when my official baking season finally opens, I always want to go straight ahead to making pies, chocolate chip cookies and anything with cinnamon. But I’ve decided to tease myself a little longer this year, and so this weekend I decided to make something I would never usually bake as an entrée to honey & spice season. This time from Russia – Vatrushkas.
Vatrushkas are basically small pies, filled with cottage cheese. The dough is actually similar to white bread, but sweeter, and the filling is very simple too, consisting almost entirely of cottage cheese. They’re great to make, since you don’t need a whole lot of ingredients, but assembling a vatrushka can be a bit trickier. But don’t worry; once you get the hang of it, your vatrushkas can look as pretty as the ones in a Russian bakery. Well, almost.
- 1/4 cup (60ml) water
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 1 packet active dry yeast
- 2 cups (270g) all-purpose wheat flour
- 1 egg
- 1/4 cup (60ml) milk
- 1 lb. (450g) cottage cheese
- 1 egg
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 1 tbsp all-purpose flour
Prepare the dough
If you’ve ever made homemade bread, this should be a piece of cake for you. If not, well, this experience will also give you some knowledge for when you’ll decide to bake your first loaf of bread. Also, if you have a bread maker, this is a recipe where you can really take advantage of it. I actually have it, but still I decided to make the dough by hand.
Heat the water to 110°F (40°C – a bit warmer than your body); add 1 tbsp of sugar, yeast, and ½ cup (30g) of sifted flour. Stir well, cover, and leave in a warm place for about an hour. The mix should develop a lot of bubbles and rise.
Separate the egg white from the yolk. Save the yolk in a cup in the fridge.
Heat milk to 110°F (40°C) and add to the mix with yeast. Stir in the egg white and the remaining sugar. Gradually add sifted flour while stirring in one direction (a wooden spatula is preferred). While stirring, keep your spatula close to the center of the mixing bowl instead of rubbing the sides of the bowl with it. When the dough becomes too dense to stir with the spatula, start kneading it by hand while adding small amounts of flour at a time. Whenever I’m making dough with yeast by hand, I knead it long enough for it to become almost silky smooth (10 to 20 minutes). This way, all of the ingredients mix together very well and the dough rises a lot easier. Make sure you don’t use more flour than necessary, as that may result in a stiff, chewy bread.
Finally, form the dough in a ball, cover it and let it rise in a warm place until it doubles in size. After that, press it down and let it rise one more time.
Prepare the filling
Simply mix together all of the ingredients, either by hand or using an electric mixer. If you use a mixer, the texture will be smoother, but the filling can end up too runny.
Dust your work surface with flour and roll out the dough into a sheet about ¼ inch (0,5 cm) thick. Cut out circles about 5 inches (10 to 15 cm) in diameter (you can use a tea saucer for that).
Place 1/2 – 1 tbsp of filling in the middle of each circle. Do not overfill! Carefully roll up the edges making neat, smooth, and even walls about 2/3 inches (1,5 cm) in height. Even make them a bit higher if you are afraid you are overfilling. Carefully smoothen the surface of the filling making sure it is even and fills the entire space.
Turn on the oven to preheat it to 425°F (210°C) – 450°F (230°C).
Lightly grease a baking sheet or pan. You can moisten it with water instead, especially if it has a non-stick surface. Arrange vatrushkas on the baking sheet some distance apart so they don’t stick together when they expand. And I mean really place them far apart. To tell you the truth, I had to make two batches of vatrushkas to get these pictures, because the ones from the first batch got stuck together and they turned out square-shaped.
Afterwards, let them stand for another 15 minutes in a warm place. Meanwhile beat the saved egg yolk, since you’ll need it to brush your vatrushkas with, after the 15 minutes have passed.
Let vatrushkas stand for another 10 minutes and carefully puncture the top in 2-3 places with a fork, without puncturing all the way to the bottom. Place them in the oven.
Baking time will vary, but it usually takes 15-25 minutes to obtain a smooth brown crust. I baked them for 15 minutes. You can preheat the oven to a higher temperature and then turn down the heat right after you put vatrushkas inside. Testing with a toothpick can help: the toothpick stuck into the crust should come out clean.
After the baking is finished, immediately place vatrushkas on a wooden board or a wire mesh for cooling.
Let them cool for at least 15 minutes before serving. This is important for full flavor development. But if you ask me, they taste the best when they’re completely cool, since that’s also when the texture of the filling changes completely.
Adapted from Russian Recipe Book.