Historically in Latvia, bringing piragi to the table around celebrations and holidays would arguably be seen as similar to bringing whole lobsters to a barbecue – they served as a form of bragging rights, particularly at Jāņi, or midsummer, when the Latvian pagan god Jānis would traditionally be celebrated with (among other events) a feast. For those who had been blessed with bountiful wheat harvests or extra healthy livestock, making these bacon pies was an effective way to boast about their fortunes to their community.
The process involved in preparing these Latvian half-moon crescents of deliciousness lends itself to their being made in large quantities.
- 250 g (9 oz) smoked bacon, cut into 1 cm (½ in) cubes
- ⅛ tsp ground cardamom
- 150 g (5½ oz) onion, finely chopped
- vegetable oil, for frying (optional)
- 1 egg, whisked
- 50 ml (1¾ fl oz) full-cream (whole) milk
- sour cream, to serve (optional)
- 280 ml (9½ fl oz) full-cream (whole) milk
- 70 g (2½ oz) butter
- 2 tsp sugar
- ½ tsp salt
- 7 g (¼ oz) yeast
- 500 g (1 lb 2 oz/3⅓ cups) strong flour
- 1 large egg, whisked
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
Proving time: 1 hour 15 minutes
1. Add the bacon, cardamom and onion to a frying pan over a medium heat and sauté for 10 minutes, until the onion is soft and the bacon fat has rendered (if the bacon is lean you may need to add a little vegetable oil). Set aside.
2. To make the dough, heat the milk in a saucepan over a low heat until steaming. Stir in the butter, sugar and salt, then remove from the heat, transfer to a bowl and leave to cool to room temperature (it’s important you do this, otherwise the heat can kill off the yeast).
3. Combine the yeast and flour in a separate bowl, then stir through the cooled milk mixture. Add the egg to the bowl and, using your hand, bring the ingredients together to form a dough. Knead the dough in the bowl or on a floured work surface for 5 minutes, or until smooth and elastic. Roll the dough into a ball, return it to the bowl and cover with a clean tea towel (dish towel), then leave it to rise in a warm place for 1 hour, or until doubled in size.
4. Preheat the oven to 190°C (375°F). Line a baking tray with baking paper.
5. When the dough is ready, roll it out on a floured work surface to a thickness of just over 5 mm (¼ in). Using a drinking glass or cookie cutter around 7 cm (2¾ in) in diameter, cut out as many circles as possible, re-rolling any trimmings.
6. Place 1 teaspoon of filling in the centre of one of the pastry circles and fold it over to make a half-moon shape. Press and tuck the seam underneath the pastry, then transfer to the prepared baking tray. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling, allowing 8 cm (3¼ in) space between the piragi when arranging them on the tray, then leave them in a warm place for 15 minutes to rise slightly.
7. Whisk the egg and milk together in a small bowl to make a glaze and use it to brush the surface of the piragi generously. Bake for 10 minutes, or until golden brown. Serve warm with sour cream, if you like.
These freeze well, so it’s worth making up a double batch and freezing the extras for cooking later. Other filling combinations work well too – I tried smoked cod mashed with some boiled potato and dill and it was delicious! The possibilities are endless.
Recipe and photography from Baltic by Simon Bajada (Hardie Grant, RRP $50)