How to Make Pierogi – the Secrets to Dumpling Success. Krakow, P

How to Make Pierogi — the Secrets to Dumpling Success

The rustic, hearty food of Poland — particularly Pierogi — a big part of the appeal of places like Kraków and Zakopane for us, and for me, eating the food is also something of a nostalgia trip, thanks to my Russian heritage.

At my grandparents’ legendary Sunday lunches, the star attraction were the oven-warmed casserole dishes of every persuasion, from Le Creuset to Pyrex, that covered the large dining table. They were filled to the brim with piping hot varenyky and pelmeni – potato or cheese and meat-filled dumplings respectively – swimming in butter.

The Polish version of varenyky and pelmeni is called pierogi and it tastes almost the same. The main difference is that the pierogi is often a little larger and the dough casing is a little thicker.

I used to think the types of fillings were what set apart the Russian dumplings from the Polish dumplings, but in both countries we’ve seen countless fillings, and the most popular type of pierogi in Kraków according to Chef Janusz Kluczewski is Pierogi Ruskie (Russian pierogi), filled with potato and cheese.

As a child I would often help my grandmother make Russian dumplings. Baba was an old hand at it and could make hundreds quickly and expertly. I made about three dumplings to her ten.

After my grandparents died, my family would gather in the kitchen for varenyky and pelmeni-making sessions. It was loads of fun, even if – or perhaps because – it reminded us of Baba and Papa. We always enjoyed eating the results, no matter what they tasted like, because they were never quite as good as my grandmother’s and we could never really figure out why.

It was a desire to learn how to make perfect varenyky and pelmeni – or pierogi – that took us to the kitchen of Restauracje Polskie Jadło Compendium Culinarum in Kraków.

There, Chef Janusz and his sous-chef Krystian allowed me to join their regular afternoon pierogi-making session in between restaurant services, so I could learn their secrets to dumpling success.

Chef Janusz had also learnt to make pierogi from his grandmother and mother, and it was those memorable times he spent in their kitchens that inspired him to go to culinary school. He didn’t seem at all surprised by my request because in Poland, it seems, there is something of a revival of interest in pierogi-making.

“The younger generation now see it as an art,” he said. “They admire their friends who know how to make them. They still like to eat them out because they’re cheap and time-consuming to make at home, but when people have time, making pierogi at home is now considered to be something that is a fun and clever thing to do.”

How to Make Pierogi — the Secrets to Dumpling Success

Step #1 Make your pierogi fillings

“There are as many different types of fillings as there are types of cooks,” according to Chef Janusz, who estimates there could be hundreds of fillings. In Kraków, after Pierogi Ruskie, minced meat is also popular, and during the Christmas period, cabbage and mushroom (not combined together) are traditionally eaten.

How many fillings you want to make at once is up to you, but the more fillings you have the greater amount of time you need for prep.

There are no great secrets when it comes to making fillings. Make a potato filling as you would a firm mashed potato with translucent onions that have been fried in butter. My aunt likes to add a little cheese to her potato mix. Minced meat is Terence’s favourite. My grandmother used to keep her meat simple, combining just mince, onions, salt and pepper, but you could always add a favourite herb or a smidgen of chili.

Chef’s secrets
* Whatever fillings you make, ensure that the mixtures are not too moist – this is important.
* Make the fillings well ahead of time, says Chef Janusz, so the dough does not have to wait for the fillings; he had rolled his mince filling into firm miniature meatballs, which he’d kept in the fridge.

Step #2 Prepare the pierogi dough

Getting the dough right is the real key to success when it comes to making perfect pierogi, according to Chef Janusz. He spent a great deal of time experimenting with different types of wheat flour until he decided that Type 450 was the ideal flour for pierogi dough.

Pierogi Dough
Getting the dough right is the real key to success when it comes to making perfect pierogi. Combine all the ingredients and knead them together by hand. Do not use a blender, mix master, or anything mechanical.
Cuisine: Russian
Serves: 100 pierogis
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
  • 1kg plain flour (type 450)
  • 1 egg
  • 700 mls water
  • splash of oil
  • pinch of salt
  1. Sprinkle a small amount of flour across your kitchen bench, just enough so that the dough doesn’t stick, but not too much, as you don’t want the mixture to dry out.
  2. Don’t over-knead: once all the ingredients are combined, the dough is ready.
  3. Keep the dough moist: you should be able to cut the ball of dough in half and it should have a rough texture and be very moist to touch.
  4. Once the dough is ready, use a big, heavy rolling pin to roll it out, and roll it out straight away so that it doesn’t dry out.
  5. The dough should not be difficult to roll out; if it is, then the dough is probably too hard, because it's too dry.
  6. If you must keep the dough for a short time, wrap it in aluminium foil to keep it moist.
Nutrition Information
Serving size: 1 Calories: 3823 Fat: 28.2g Saturated fat: 4.9g Unsaturated fat: 23.3g Trans fat: 0g Carbohydrates: 763.4g Sugar: 3g Sodium: 237mg Fiber: 27g Protein: 108.8g Cholesterol: 164mg


Step #3 Create the pierogi casings

Once you’ve rolled out your dough, it’s time to make the casings and fill them. When I made varenyky and pelmeni with my family, we worked like an assembly line, a couple of people making the casings, a couple of people doing the fillings.

If the people filling the pierogi couldn’t keep up, the casing rounds would just sit there. Chef Janusz believes this causes them to dry out so he and Krystian create the rounds and fill them as they go, so Steps #3 and #4 will overlap.

Chef’s secrets
* Sprinkle the bench with a little flour so that the dough doesn’t stick, but make sure you don’t get flour on both sides of the casings; the exterior can have a dusting of flour, but not the interior.
* When it comes to rolling out the dough, getting the right thickness comes from experience and practice – you want them not too thick so that they never really cook through properly, and not too thin so that they don’t fall apart when they’re boiled.
* Use the rim of a glass to create the dumpling rounds and use the same glass so the shapes are uniform (the diameter of the glass that the chef was using was 6.5cm).

Step #4 Fill and fold the pierogis

My grandmother and mother always used a teaspoon to scoop the filling out of the bowl of mixture and into the casing, to ensure the amounts were uniform, but Chef Janusz and Krystian use their (gloved) hands.

Once again, this is where experience comes into play. I’ll probably continue to use a teaspoon until I’m as confident as they are in their measurements.

Chef’s secrets
* Put a little bit of your mixture (mashed potato, mince, cabbage, or whatever) into the dead centre of the dough casing, fold the casing in half around the mixture, and pinch the edges of the two sides together, beginning at one corner and finishing at the other to create a semi-circular shape.
* If the two sides are not joining when you pinch them together your dough is too dry; you’ve probably got some flour on the casing interior, so dip your finger tips in water (not too much) and try again to help it stick.
* Chef Janusz uses the one shape for all pierogi, whereas my grandmother used the shape above for the cheese and potato varenyky, but joined the two tips together to create a rounded shape for the pelmeni so we could tell them apart.

Step #5 Cook your dumplings

The pierogi are always boiled first, even if they’re ultimately going to be served fried. My family always ate boiled varenyky and pelmeni for the main meal on the first day, and then fried the leftovers the next day for breakfast, brunch or lunch.

In Polish restaurants you can order boiled or fried pierogi. The genius of leftover pierogi is that after a big social gathering, the next morning those fried dumplings really help you get over that hangover.

Chef’s secrets
* It’s important to put the pierogi into boiling water, but ensure the water is on a gentle boil so that the pierogi don’t get ripped apart.
* Chef Janusz adds a little salt and oil to his water, we just use salt.
* If your dough is the right thickness, the pierogi should be ready 2-3 minutes after they have risen to the top.
* When you remove the pierogi, what you do next depends on when you’re serving them. If you’re serving straight away put them into a casserole dish with some quality butter, put the lid on, and gently toss them so the butter covers them evenly. If you’re keeping them until later, Chef Janusz recommends taking them from the hot water straight to cold water then draining, to stop the cooking process and prevent them from sticking to each other.

Step #6 Enjoy your pierogi!

If feeding your family or a group of friends, you can serve pierogi family-style in casserole dishes in the centre of the table. My baboushka always made a few fresh salads to accompany the dumplings (a green salad; beetroot and potato salad; and tomato and onion salads were musts) and served boards of black bread, pickles and vodka, and let people help themselves.

For a dinner party you can portion the dumplings out individually as they do in Polish restaurants. Either way, always provide a small dish of sour cream. No, the butter is not enough. Too much fat, you say? Don’t worry, that’s what the vodka is for!

Polskie Jadło Compendium Culinarum
ul św St. Jana 30
012 433 9825

There are 11 comments

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  1. Kevin

    Love it! What a great experience. I grew up on pierogis in Wisconsin. My grandparents were Slovak but likely from an area close to the modern Polish border. After 2-3 generations in the US, the word had already become “padoki” in our family and it wasn’t until I was older that stumbled across “pierogi” outside our home. We always used browned butter. Occasionally we strayed from potato/cheese to sauerkraut, but that was never popular with us. I still make them every year once or twice. Someday I hope to try them in Poland (or Slovakia, I suppose).

  2. Tiffany Weber-Stahlbaum

    Thank you for posting this! I am excited to try them since we all loved the food so much on our last trip to Krakow! There’s a fabulous little pierogi place in the Jewish district that offers pierogi in flavors I’d never even imagined. Delicious.

    I think I also need one of those large stainless steel tables to make them on too! 😉 What a fabulous experience you’ve had.

    So, after this year, has your definition of “travel” changed?

    Looking forward to following you on your next great adventure.

  3. Andrea

    These are great tips! I have some Polish heritage and my grandmother’s recipe for these. They can be tricky to make. So tasty though…can’t wait to try them in Poland.

  4. Lara Dunston

    Thanks, Andrea! I agree. We are dying to make them ourselves now, having learnt all these extra little tips from the Chef. If they’re not perfect, I will be very upset. When are you headed to Poland?

  5. Dalene

    YUM YUM YUM! I make these myself sometimes (German and Ukranian Grandma’s!), and I LOVE doing it. My personal little secret is to use bacon, and then cook onion and garlic with the bacon and mix it all (fat too!) with potato and cheese.

    Oh…now I want some.

  6. Waegook Tom

    Ohmygod I LOVE pierogi – ate a lot of the stuff while I was in Poland in January/February. Really hearty food. I always slathered mine in sour cream – I love that it’s Poland’s condiment of choice. Polish food is very under-rated – nothing too fancy, but it makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

    Thanks for posting, by the way. Not sure if I’ll be able to make this in my woefully ill-equipped kitchen in South Korea, but maybe when I’m back in the UK next 🙂

  7. Lara Dunston

    Shows you how long it is since we’ve visited this post! Just saw your comment, Dalene, sorry we overlooked it before. I’m delighted to learn you make them and that you also have Ukrainian heritage.

    Although I say my heritage is Russian, as my grandparents were Russian, they were actually Ukrainian-born. My uncle’s wife also adds bacon to hers, but have never tried it all mixed together. Will have to give it a shot. Today is Orthodox Christmas so we’re making some tonight here in Siem Reap.

  8. Robin

    Pierogi are fantastic. We used to order them every time we went into Poland. We make them now at home and one of the best features is that you can literally fill them with anything.

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