A bierock is not now, nor has it ever been haute cuisine, it is essentially a workingman’s lunch. When you are working, traveling, or having some kind of festival event, you do not always have time to sit down for meal. Having a meal in a neat, sealed package that you can slip into a pocket or pouch is a solution that many cultures have discovered.
Bierock are Volga German stuffed breads. The Volga Germans were brought into Russia by Catharine the Great for their “modern” technical skills. However, their cooking was not one of those skills. Many would consider both German and Russian traditional cuisines a wasteland—there is only so much you can do with cabbage flour, potatoes and a little beef when you do not have access to, or can afford, fancy spices.
Eilene’s friend, who is Volga German, does not like onions. She will eat green onions, leeks, and garlic, but for some reason has an aversion to bits of regular onion. The first time I made this dish, I used only green onions, beef and cabbage with a little salt and pepper as my filling.
My only other major change was to use a Cook’s Illustrated‘s browning technique for the meat. One of the Cook’s Illustrated chefs found that if you fried the meat in bits you ended up with hard grainy pebbles of meat, when they finally became browned enough to enhance the flavor. By browning the meat in a large patty you could get the flavor provided by the Maillard reaction, but still have most of the meat tender and juicy.
To enhance beef further, I decided to marinate it for an hour. I added a bit with garlic, grated onion, salt and pepper. Soy sauce added a bit more salt and increased the umami (meaty) flavor.
I further enhanced the tenderness of the beef by adding a bit of baking soda. This is a traditional Chinese technique. Cook’s Illustrated says that the baking soda “raises the pH on the meat’s surface, making it more difficult for the proteins to bond excessively, which keeps the meat tender and moist when it’s cooked.”
Cabbage just by itself seemed a bit boring. I decided to add leeks, bell pepper and the white pasts of the green onion. For an addition flavor, I chose to add some thyme. After cooking the vegetables down and adding the beef, I cooled the mixture down and added the green parts of the onions and fresh parsley.
The first time I made bierock I divided my dough into 16 pieces. While this made a lot of bierock, the bread layer was very thin. I increased the amount of dough by 25% and divided the dough into only 12 pieces. This produced a thick breaded bun that could be a full meal, just by itself.
Karl’s Better Bierock
2 tsp. active dry yeast
½ cup warm water
2+ Tbs. sugar, separate uses
4+ cups flour, AP
½ tsp. salt
1 cup milk
½ cup butter, melted, separate uses
1¼ lb. ground beef (20% fat)
2 Tbs. soy sauce
4 cloves garlic, mashed to a paste
½ tsp. black pepper
½ tsp. Kosher salt
½ tsp. baking soda
2 Tbs. hot water
3 cups green cabbage, finely shredded
1 leek, finely shredded (about 1½ cups)
½ Tbs. Kosher salt
1 cup green bell pepper, diced finely
15 green onions, finely sliced (white and green parts separate)
½ Tbs. black pepper, fresh cracked
1 tsp. thyme
½ cup parsley, minced
1. Put the yeast in the warm water with a good pinch of sugar. Stir and let it proof for 10 minutes.
Tip: If your yeast is good there should be a good head of foam covering the mixture after this time. If there is not, discard and buy new yeast.
2. Sift the flour, salt, and two tablespoons of sugar together several times to get an even distribution of the ingredients.
3. Warm the milk slightly and scramble the egg into the milk.
Tip: You do not want the milk hot enough to start cooking the egg, you just do not want it to be cold from the refrigerator.
4. Make a “well” in the flour and add the yeast water, milk/egg mixture and ¾ of the stick of butter.
Tip: This is six tablespoons of butter. You may melt it before adding it to the flour or—what I have been doing lately—freeze the butter and grating it into the dry flour.
Note: The butter binds the proteins in the flour preventing some of it from forming gluten and produces a softer bread.
5. Pull the flour from the sides of the “well” into the wet ingredients.
6. When the flour in the bowl is mostly incorporated, turn the dough out onto a well-floured smooth surface.
Tip: Put about half a cup of flour on the board.
Note: The butter tends to make the dough less sticky and your will need only a little extra flour to knead the dough.
7. Knead the dough for 10-15 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic.
Tip: If your dough has just a touch too little liquid it will become very difficult to knead the dough after five minutes. If this happens put the dough in a bowl covered with a damp cloth abd let it rest for ten minutes.
Note: Several things will happen in that resting time. The strands of gluten that have already formed will relax and become more flexible. The yeast in the dough will do its thing of turning sugar into carbon dioxide. A by-product of that process is alcohol—which will evenly moisten your dough ball and make it easier to continue kneading.
8. Add one tablespoon of melted butter to the bowl you mixed the dough in and rub the top of the dough ball in the butter.
9. Turn the dough over and cover the bowl with a smooth, clean, damp, kitchen towel. Place the bowl in a warm place for one hour.
Tip: If you use a terrycloth towel, the dough might stick to it as it rises and be hard to remove.
10. Mix the soy sauce, garlic, black pepper, salt, and baking soda into the hot water and then add it to the raw ground beef.
11. Mix well and then let the beef marinate for 20-40 minutes.
Tip: If you plan to let the meat marinate for more than 40 minutes, leave out the baking soda and water. Add them to the meat 20 minutes before you plan to start frying.
Note: While the chemical reaction cause by the baking soda slows down over time, it will eventually make your meat mushy if left in the raw meat for too long.
12. Add one tablespoon of melted butter to a large pan over medium high heat.
13. Form the beef into a single large patty, about half an inch thick.
Note: I found that with over a pound of meat it was too difficult to “flip my burger” all at once. I divided it into quarters to flip the pieces separately.
14. Fry the patty for about ten minutes on one side, until crispy and well browned.
15. Turn the patty over and continue frying until well browned on the second side, about another 6-8 minutes.
16. Remove the meat to a plate to cool.
17. Add the cabbage, leeks, and the salt to the pan.
Tip: Use the moisture released by the vegetables to deglaze the pan. Make sure to free every bit of fond. Any bits that stick to the pan could burn and spoil your dish.
18. After the vegetables have started to cook down, about five minutes, add the bell pepper, the white parts of the onion, and the thyme.
19. Continue sautéing the vegetables until soft, but not browned, about ten minutes total.
Tip: Stir the cabbage frequently, so that it cooks evenly and does not scorch from resting against the hot pan for too long.
20. Sprinkle the black pepper over the cabbage mixture
21. Break the beef patty into small bits and stir them into the cabbage mixture.
22. After the mixture has cooled for 10 minutes, stir in the green parts of the onion and the parsley.
23. Punch down the dough and divide it into portions.
Tip: How many portions you make with your dough is your choice. I found that dividing the dough into 16 portions, produced thin walled bierock that were not enough for a meal by themselves. I increased the amount of dough, so I could make 12 “full meal” bierock.
24. Divide the dough into 12 portions and pull in the sides into to make 12 dough balls.
Tip: This is a raised dough that depends on gluten sheets for its “lift.” When you cut your dough, there will be an outside surface—smooth—and several “cut” surfaces—covered in bubble holes. Stretch the outside surface around and push the cut sides into the center of the balls. Lay the balls down with the crimped side down.
25. Take a dough ball with the “crimped” side up and roll it into a disk about 7 inches in diameter.
26. Place half a cup of filling in the center of the disk.
Tip: The meat mixture in the pan is fairly loose. I found that by using a spatula and a half cup measure I could pack the filling down and place it in a tight packet in the middle of the dough. This made it easier to wrap the dough around the filling.
27. Pull the edges of the dough over the filling and twist then together.
Tip: Pick up the two opposite edges of the dough and pinch them at the top with one hand. Pick up the other two edges and bring them to the top. You will have four folds of dough sticking out from the sides. Pull each of these to the top, in turn and pinch and twist them together. Lay the bierock on the counter sealed side down and cup your hands around it and gently rotate the tough to further twist the dough. use your hands to gently form the dough into an even “bun” shape.
28. Lay the finished bierock on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper.
29. Let the bierock rise for 20 minutes.
30. Bake for 30 minutes in a preheated 375º F oven.
Tip: Rotate the tray after 15 minutes, so they cook evenly.
31. Transfer the bierock to a wire rack for 10 minutes to cool and eat warm or cold.