In the case of the Eastern European bierock, a picture is indeed worth a thousand words. Unlike pizza, hot dog, hamburger and taco, the word bierock conjures up no image in the mind of many foodies. It's worth mention there is no mention of it in The Food Lover's Companion or The Oxford Companion to Food. There's more. Even if you did grow up in or around an Eastern European household or community (I did), there is a good chance you have no idea if a bierock is animal, vegetable or mineral (I didn't). The reason is: the rather obscure bierock is credited specifically to the German-Russian Mennonites that lived along the Volga River of Russia.
Experts say we have Russia's most famous empress, Catherine the Great, to thank for the bierock. In 1763, she offered incentives for Germans to settle in the portion of her empire along the Volga River. Things changed for them, when, in the 1870's, Alexander II decreed that these now German-Russian citizens would have to pay higher taxes than others and spend years serving in the military. They moved to regions of Argentina and the Plains States of America (Nebraska, the Dakotas, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Kansas and Oklahoma).
Bierock (pronounced bürrock not beer-rock), is an enriched, sweetened yeast-dough, portable pocket sandwich. The bread dough (similar to brioche because is contains milk, egg and sugar), fully-encases a savory filling containing seasoned and cooked ground or minced meat (usually beef or pork), shredded cabbage or sauerkraut, diced onions and sometimes grated carrots. The loose-meat filled sandwich, approximately the size and shape of a round hamburger bun, gets baked in the oven until golden, and, because the crust is bread rather than pastry, it can be eaten hot, warm, at room temperature, and, it reheats well too. While a bierock can be shaped in almost any way the cook desires (to resemble a small elongated hot-dog roll, a half-moon or a crescent), it is worth mention that a square-shaped bierock is often referred to as a runza -- especially in Nebraska where it is trademarked by Nebraska-based Runza Restaurants.
My first encounter with a bierock came in the 1990's, except, I had no idea I was eating a bierock. Joe and I were invited for cocktails by new acquaintances, a couple we met at the tennis courts. Ed hailed from Chicago. Ed was a mathematician and a tournament level chess player, and, his father, who owned a butcher shop, was of this specific German-Russian heritage -- the meats, sausages and cheeses from Ed's dad were amazing. Ed's wife served "byureks" that evening (her spelling), along with an amazing sour-cream dressed chopped potato salad -- both paired great together along with our beer and vodka-based cocktails. It wasn't until a few years later, while in a bar in Illinois, that I saw the word "bierock" on the pub grub menu and "put two and two together". In retrospect, I now wonder if her spelling, byurek, was phonetic -- an intentional attempt to help me to pronounce the word properly. My filling recipe (below) is the one Lubov gave to me. The bread dough is my own, as, Lubov used frozen bread dough.
Part One: Preparing the Bierock Filling
Whatever recipe you use, bierock filling, which contains just three basic ingredients and seasoning, is quite easy to make. In the case of my recipe, it's easy to commit to memory "two" ("too" -- pun intended). I have two tips to offer too: #1) Liberally season the mixture -- nothing is worse than a bland-tasting bierock. #2) Prepare the filling several hours in advance -- it's best if the filling is at room temperature at assembly time. There's more. The filling can be made in large batches, portioned into 1-quart size food-storage containers and frozen. Once thawed and at room temperature, this is enough to fill 1 1/2 dozen bierocks (1/4 cup filling per sandwich).
2 pounds lean ground beef (90/10)
2 pounds green cabbage, prior to coring and shredding
2 cups diced yellow or sweet onion (1, 12-ounce onion)
2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons each: sugar & salt
2 teaspoons coarsely-ground black pepper
Note: If you've never tasted a bierock, think of it as a well-seasoned loose-meat sandwich. Purists like me will be the first to tell you NOT to add cheese to the sandwich under any circumstances -- it's just wrong. That said, if, after the cabbage cooks down, you feel the need to add a bit of extra seasoning to the meat mixture, purists like me will look the other way if you add 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce to the filling mixture near the end of the cooking process.
Using a large chef's knife remove the cores from the cabbage quarters. Slice each quarter into 1/4" slices, then chop through the slices to cut the cabbage into chards and pieces. This appears to be a lot of cabbage but it will lose most of its volume during the cooking process. Dice the onion as directed.
~Step 2. Place the ground beef, onion, and 1 teaspoon each of the the garlic powder, sugar, salt and pepper in a wide-bottomed 4-quart stockpot over medium-high heat. Cook until the beef, using a spatula to break it up into small bits and pieces as it cooks, until it's just cooked through -- until it has lost its pink color but shows no signs of browning -- about 8-9 minutes. Using a small ladle, remove and discard the liquid from the bottom of the pot, about 8-12 tablespoons.
~Step 3. Add the cabbage and season it with the remaining 1 teaspoon each of the garlic powder, sugar, salt and pepper. Continue to cook, using a large spoon to keep the mixture moving, until cabbage has lost most of its volume, yet is green, sweet and tender, about 10-12 minutes. Taste after 8-9 minutes -- now is the time to add the optional 2 tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce if you think it's necessary. Do not allow the cabbage or the meat to brown. Cover the pot, remove it from the heat and allow it to cool to room temperature, 4-6 hours.
Part Two: Preparing the Brioche-type Bread Dough
Put down that package of frozen bread dough. I am proud to say I have simplified this process so everyone, folks who don't have a clue how to bake bread and those who don't want to bake bread, can make beautiful bierocks from scratch. In my opinion, the perfect bread for any type of soft sandwich roll is brioche -- an enriched dough made from butter, eggs, milk, salt, sugar and flour. I make and rise my own recipe for brioche dough in the bread machine, which turns making bierocks (or any bread or rolls) from a chore to a breeze. It doesn't get any easier than this.
6 tablespoons salted butter, cut into cubes
5 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
2 extra-large eggs
4 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons granulated dry yeast (1 packet), not rapid-rise yeast
~ Step 1. Always follow the instructions that came with your bread machine -- they all vary slightly from manufacturer to manufacturer. This is the rectangular-shaped bread pan that came with my machine. The paddle (which will do the kneading), has been inserted. The instruction manual states to always insert the paddle in this exact position before adding any ingredients, so I do.
~Step 2. In a 1-cup measuring container, heat the milk until steaming. This is quickly and easily done in the microwave. Add the sugar, salt and butter to the hot milk. Using a fork, stir until butter has melted. Pour this mixture into the bread pan.
~ Step 3. In the same 1-cup measure and using the same fork, whisk the egg to lightly beat it. Add the beaten egg to the milk mixture in bread pan. Note: "Wet ingredients first/dry ingredients second" is a rule in bread machine baking.
~ Step 4. Add the flour to bread pan. Do not mix or stir. Using your index finger, make a small indentation in the top of the flour, but not so deep that it reaches the wet layer. Add/pour the yeast into the indentation.
~ Step 5. Insert bread pan into machine and press down until it is "clicked" securely in place. Close lid and plug machine in. Press "select" and click through the list of options until you reach the "dough" option. Press "start". In my machine, my dough will have been kneaded and have gone through a first rise in 1 1/2 hours.
Line 2, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans with parchment paper, ready a pastry board, a small rolling pin, a 1/4 cup measure, and, if you have one, get out your kitchen scale. Preheat oven to 350° with oven rack positioned in the center.
Part Three. Assembling & Baking the Bierocks
~ Step 1. When the dough cycle is done, lightly oil your fingertips with some vegetable oil, remove the dough from the bread machine's bread pan (which will not be hot), briefly knead the dough in your oiled fingertips to form it into a smooth ball, then, place it on a kitchen scale. You will have 2 pounds, 4 ounces of dough. Divide the dough into 18, 2-ounce pieces -- I simply tear it into pieces with my fingertips.
~Step 2. Do not over think this. Using a small rolling pin or your fingertips, on a pastry board, pat and press each piece of dough into a 4 1/2'-5"-round, about 1/4" thick. Measure and place 1/4 cup of firmly-packed filling mixture in the center. Pick up the North and South sides of the dough and overlap them. Pick up the East and West sides of the dough and overlap them.
~Step 4. Just prior to baking, using a fork, whisk 1 large egg with 1 tablespoon water. Using a pastry brush, paint the entire surface of each bierock. Place pan of rolls in preheated 350° oven, until golden brown, 16-18 minutes -- the seams will seal themselves as they bake. Using a thin spatula, transfer rolls to a cooling rack to cool 15-20 minutes or longer, prior to serving hot, warm or at room temperature.
Attention Happy Valley residents. "Beer-rocks" have nothing to do w/The All-American Rathskeller or Rolling Rock beer -- but they'd be perfect pub grub served in that iconic joint!
Bierock: A Savory Meat, Cabbage & Onion Turnover: Recipe yields 8 cups/2 quarts filling and 2 pounds, 4 0unces brioche bread dough. One quart (4 cups) of filling and two pounds, 4 ounces of dough is enough to make 1 1/2 dozen sandwiches.
Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; wide-bottomed 4-quart stockpot; spatula; small ladle; large spoon; bread machine; 2, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans; parchment paper; kitchen scale; pastry board; small rolling pin; pastry brush; thin spatula; wire cooling rack
Cook's Note: If you are wondering if pizza dough can be substituted in place of brioche bread dough, in honesty, it cannot. If you want to stuff pizza dough with something, try my recipe for ~ Mel's Rotolo di Pizza (Stuffed Pizza Rolls/Bread) ~. You can find this recipe in Categories 1, 2, 11, 12, 17, 18 or 22.
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017)