Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Piragi (or the birthday baking blues).

So, for some reason I thought it would be a good idea to throw an afternoon tea party for 80 people in honour of my birthday. Splendid idea, only as budgets are tight I would have to do the baking myself rather than pay for a caterer...perhaps not so splendid after all. Still...how difficult could it be? I've always said whilst attending various functions that I could do it better for less money. Here was my chance to prove it. Armed with (my now trusty) Kenwood Chef and promise of freezer space (I don't have a freezer) from a friend, what could possibly go wrong?? The perfect time for an attack of the baking blues to strike! You know, when even your most trusted of recipes that never fail you fail you. That's what could go wrong!

It all started with a dodgy batch of priagi....

For those of you who don't know, piragi are a staple of the Latvian buffet table celebration. A lovely dough parcel filled with bacon and onion. The perfect savoury snack for filling a peckish hole, or lining the stomach in advance of some serious partying. Here's a picture of a fairly decent batch from Christmas last year.

I've made hundreds of batches of piragi, more over the past few years than I could care to remember. Before that I was at either Granny's or Vecamama's knee (both my granny's are Latvian, but one is Granny, the other Vecamama) whilst they made them, not to mention the efforts of my father, aunts and various members of the extended Latvian family. You start by making a white plain yeast bread dough (use your favourite recipe - the pizza one from most bread makers works fine too). Whilst this is proving you cook up a bacon and onion mixture. Ratios are down to the individual cook, but I normally do about 750g bacon and two largish onions, which is enough for a 2lb quantity of dough (by that I mean the weight of the flour). You could probably get away with less bacon if you're a proper Latvian (according to my Dad) and are a bit mean with the filling! You chop up the bacon (off cuts are fine, and at least half of it should be smoked) in to smallish chunks and do the same with the onion. Fry off in a pan together with a little pepper and nutmeg until the onions are translucent and the bacon is cooked (not crispy). You can of course do this the day before and keep covered in the fridge.

Once the dough has proved, knock it back, divide it in to manageable chunks (remembering to keep the remainder covered). Then roll or stretch out (stretching is traditional apparently, but takes forever and I've never had a problem with rolling the dough) until about 3mm thick. Use a round pastry cutter, or glass and cut rounds out of the dough. Size is up to you. I've eaten piragi that are bite size and some that are far more substantial. I use a cutter which is about the diameter of a pint glass. Brush the rounds with beaten egg or milk and then drop some filling in to the centre of the round. You want enough to fill it once it has been folded in half, but not so full you can't seal it easily.

I find it easiest to pick them up at this point and fold them in half, squeezing them together from one end of the crescent to the other, squeezing out the air. Put them on a baking tray with a little space between them, brush them with milk or beaten egg and bake for about 15-20 minutes at 180 degrees centigrade until the dough is cooked and the top is golden. Can be eaten warm or at room temperature.

My problems came with trying to stick the little blighters together! For some reason my dough wouldn't seal/stick to itself, although it was having plenty of fun sticking to my fingers! Even the ones that did stick together opened up in the oven. This normally only happens if you've trapped air inside the piragi. When they bake the air inside heats up, expands and forces them open. If this does happen to you, cover them with a tea towel when they come out of the oven. The steam softens up the dough a little and allows them to close again. They won't look perfect but they'll still taste just fine. Normally I wouldn't care too much, but the control freak part of my nature, and the need for my baking to be perfect for my birthday party caused me a little bit of stress! The trials of being a Virgo!

By the way, they freeze just fine. Either defrost before eating, or warm from frozen in the oven (covered in foil). They also microwave pretty well (only takes a few seconds) as the dough is supposed to be soft.

They all got eaten at the party, so maybe not a disaster after all, but for more on the 'Birthday Baking Blues' tune in next time (see what I did there?!).

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