Magazine article Russian Life

A Closed Pie

Magazine article Russian Life

A Closed Pie

Article excerpt

Kulebyaka is arguably one of the most popular types of Russian pies: a closed pie with meat, fish, and mushrooms as a filling. According to the old Russian dictionary by Vladimir Dal, the name comes from the verb kulebyachit, to roll the dough with the hands. Another etymological version is that the word stems from the word kolob, a small, round type of bread. In popular cookbooks, one can find yet another explanation, that kulebyaka is just a distorted version of the German Kohlgeback - cabbage pie, which serious Russian food experts dismiss as a linguistic stretch, at odds with chronology and culinary logic. For kulebyakas are not cabbage pies, but rather complex pies consisting mainly of dough and fish, meat or mushrooms.

Whatever the etymology, kulebyaka is a pie with a generous filling, most often baked in the shape of small boat. Kulebyaka took this shape in the 18th century, as it guaranteed optimal baking of the multi-layered kulebyaka. An oblong shape also makes it easier to cut the end product into numerous servings: such kulebyaka is mostly served in restaurants, whereas home-baked kulebyakas can take any shape and size.

Because of the heavy filling, the dough should be more solid than in other types of pies. Moreover, special small pancakes (blinchiki) should be put in a thin layer between the filling and the dough itself - so that the dough doesn't touch the filling directly and doesn't get sticky. Above the top layer inside the kulebyaka, the baker should leave some open space, to "let the steam off," so that the pie doesn't "suffocate."

The hero of Nikolai Gogol's novel Dead Souls, Pavel Petrovich Petukh, gave explicit instructions to his cook about how to fill the pie: "Make the kulebyaka into four corners. You will fill one corner with sturgeon. Into the next one, put buckwheat with mushrooms and onions..." As to how real kulebyaka should taste, Gogol's hero provides still more advice: it "must redden from one side and should be baked a bit lighter from the other. Also, make it juicy, succulent, so that it will melt in your mouth..." To meet these expectations and cook a real mouth-watering kulebyaka, follow the recipe below.

In a traditional Russian lunch, kulebyakas are served after soup. …

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