I love stuffed breads, whether you call them a samsa, a pasty, a samosa, or a bierock—the major difference between all of these pockets is the type of bread used to wrap the savory filling. 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 bread package that you can slip into a pocket or pouch is a solution that many cultures have discovered.
Bierock have become a staple meal at our house—a few hours of cooking will produce several meals worth for a quick weekday lunch or dinner. While making them can be a lot of work—you are first making the dough, making some kind of stew, letting it cool and then filling the dough with the stew, before baking them all together—the payoff is well worth the added labor. Packet breads are a convenient, grab-and-go meal for lunches and I usually get two, or even three, meals for three people out of one recipe.
I make these pocket breads about once a month, to keep it interesting I have stuffed them with many different fillings. My wife found my first attempt at bierocks rather borring, they were a little too authentically German for her tastes. When she discovered Volga German bierocks—which had more spices and flavor, she fell in love with these packaged delights. Over the last months, I have made bierocks with Uyghur flavors (lamb and cumin), Indian flavors (chicken curry), Moroccan chicken (Ras el Hanout and artichokes)—I have also made them with beef and spinach and chicken apple sausage.
While many of my recipes have used ground meat, I decided that today I would use larger chunks of chicken. When I made the beef and spinach bierock, my daughter Eilene complained that there was not enough spinach—so I doubled the amount here. Chicken and spinach sounds like Florentine, so using Italian herbs seemed reasonable.
Karl’s Chicken Florentine 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
3 Tbs. butter, melted
12 oz. baby spinach, blanched and shredded
1¼ lb. chicken thighs
½ Tbs. thyme
½ Tbs. Mediterranean oregano
½ tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. Kosher salt, separate uses
2 Tbs. olive oil, separate uses
¼ cup dry sherry or white wine, separate uses
2 cups yellow onion, finely diced
1 cup celery, finely diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup flat leafed parsley, minced
1. Put the dry ingredients— flours, sugar, and salt—into a sifter and blend them together well.
Tip: I re-sift the dry mixture several times.
2. Put the milk in a large measuring cup and microwave it for one minute.
Tip: Some low powered microwaves may take longer. You want the milk warm, but not boiling.
3. Put the yeast into a small cup and add in ¼ cup of the milk.
4. Stir and let the yeast 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.
5. Add 3 tablespoons of butter to the milk.
Tip: This both melts the butter and cools off the milk. You want it to be cool enough that it does not cook the eggs when you add them to the milk.
6. Scramble the eggs into the milk.
7. Make a “well” in the flour and add the yeast mixture, milk/butter/egg mixture.
8. Pull the flour from the sides of the “well” into the wet ingredients.
9. 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: I prefer to make my initial dough a bit wet. It is easier to knead more flour into a wet dough than to add liquid to a dough that is too dry.
10. Knead the dough for 10-15 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic.
11. Add rub the dough bowl with some melted butter and rub the top of the dough ball in the butter.
12. Turn the dough over and cover the bowl with a smooth, clean, damp, kitchen towel.
Tip: Place the bowl in a warm place for one hour.
Note: Do not use a terrycloth towel, the dough might stick to it as it rises and be hard to remove.
Note: While the dough is rising, prepare your filling.
13. Set a large pan of water to a boil and blanch the spinach for 3-4 minutes.
Tip: This step does two things: It greatly reduces the volume of the spinach—allowing you to get more vegetables into each bun—and it also leaches out some of the iron in the spinach.
Note: While iron is an essential mineral for living, cooking concentrates the iron and can give the finished dish a metallic taste.
14. Drain and shock the spinach to prevent it from over cooking.
15. Squeeze out as much liquid as possible from the spinach, chop it into fine bits, and set it aside for later.
Tip: I squeeze fistfuls of spinach that leave me with several “pill” shaped pieces. Slicing up the pills and fluffing the resulting pieces gives you a fine spinach chiffonade.
16. Cut the chicken thighs into ½-¾ inch dice and place them in a bowl.
17. Sprinkle the herbs, pepper, and half of the salt over the chicken.
18. Add half of a tablespoon of olive oil and mix to coat the chicken with the oil, herbs and spices.
19, Set the chicken aside to marinate for at least 15 minutes.
20. Add one half tablespoon of the oil to a large pan over medium high heat.
21. Form the chicken into a single large patty, about half an inch thick.
Note: This America’s Test Kitchen technique works well with coarsely chopped chicken as well as with ground meats. It allows you to brown one or two sides of the chicken pieces—to enhance the flavors with the Maillard reaction—without completely drying out your meat.
22. Fry the patty for about ten minutes on one side, until crispy and well browned.
23. Turn the patty over and continue frying until well browned on the second side, about another 6-8 minutes.
24. Remove the meat patty to a plate to cool.
Note: When the meat is cool enough to handle break or chop the meat up into bits.
25. Use some of the wine to deglaze the pan.
Tip: scrap up all of the brown bits of fond and reduce the liquid by half.
Note: Pour the liquid over the chicken bits, but do not clean the pan further than that.
26. Spoon out all but two tablespoons of the grease from the pan.
27. Add the remaining oil to the pan and then add the onions and celery.
28. Sauté the onions with the rest of the salt—1/2 teaspoon—until they are starting to pick up some color, about five minutes.
29. Pull the vegetables to the sides of the pan and sauté the garlic in the hole in the center.
Tip: Add a splash of olive oil to the garlic, if necessary.
30. Stir in the chicken bits, spinach, sherry and parsley.
Tip: Taste and adjust the seasoning buy adding more pepper and salt.
31. Remove the pan from the heat and let it cool as you prepare the wrappers.
Assembling the bierock
32. 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.
33. Divide the dough into 12 portions and pull in the sides into to make 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.
34. On a lightly floured board, take a dough ball with the “crimped” side up and roll it into a disk about 7 inches in diameter.
Tip: Flour the rolling pin as well.
Note: You want to leave a flat hump in the middle of the dough with the outer edges tapering down to a fairly thin sheet of dough. If you roll out the dough into a flat disk the top of the bierock will be very thin and the bottom very thick as you gather the outer edges of the disk over the filling. By leaving the middle thick and the edges thin, they even out to make a bun with the filling in the middle.
35. Place one third of 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 measuring 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.
Note: If you read through my other bierock recipes I am undecided how much filling to add to each bun. A quarter cup of filling is easier to wrap the dough around, but this is not quite enough to leave a satisfyingly “stuffed” bun. A third of a cup is hard to wrap, without spilling the bits over the counter, but it produces a better bun.
36. 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.
37. Lay the finished bierock on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper.
38. Let the bierock rise for 20 minutes and then spritz them lightly with water.
39. Bake, on the middle rack, for 30 minutes in a preheated 375º F oven.
Tip: Rotate the tray after 15 minutes, so that they bake evenly.
Note: Twelve buns, if properly spaced apart, covers two large lipped baking sheets. To bake them at the same time I start one on the middle rack and the second on the lower rack. To bake them evenly, I switch the pans’ level when I rotate them.
40. Transfer the bierock to a wire rack for 10 minutes to cool.
41. Bierock are tasty both warm and cold.