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Germans from Russia - Blachinda

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    Posted: 19 December 2014 at 18:59
As some of you know, Ron has a major research job going, involving the Russo-German foodways of the upper plains.

There were two largish groups of such people, the better known Volga Germans (many of whom settled in Kansas and Nebraska, and the less well known Black Sea Germans, who gravitated to the Dakotas. Indeed, Russo Germans constitute the largest single ethnic group in North Dakota.

Because Ron can trace part of his heritage to these people, and because of my Ukrainian roots, we’ve been both looking at and trying various recipes. One he sent me, recently, is an interesting variant on the empanada theme called Blachinda.

Usually identified simply as a German dish, our researches indicate it actually is Russo-German, with a very clear-cut Ukrainian influence.

Blachinda is prepared more in the manner of Spanish empanadas than South American ones. That is, they are fairly large main-dish and family-style pastries, rather than the smaller, appetizer versions that the word empanada usually brings to mind. For the commonest way of preparing them, dough is rolled out the size of a dinner plate, the filling spread on half of it, and it’s then folded over. There’s also a great presentation that folds the dough into a squarish envelope, with the points in the center.

Our initial exposure to this dish came from the University of North Dakota, which has an on-going project documenting the culture of its Russo German population, part of which is the Germans From Russia Heritage Society This is the recipe I started with. Unfortunately, it has some problems:

German Blachinda

3 cups flour
½ cup lard
3 tsp baking powder
1 egg
3 tbls sugar
1 cup milk
1 tsp salt

Stir dry ingredients. Add lard. Blend as for pie crust. Beat egg and milk. Mix with dry ingredients. Divide into about eight parts. Roll out in rounds. Put as much filling as you like on half of rolled pastry. Fold other half over filling and pinch ends together. Place on greased pan. Cut 3 little slits in top and bake till brown.

Filling:

Put 3 quarts of raw pumpkin through a meat chopper and add:

1 ½ cups sugar
1 little onion, cut fine
1 tsp salt or to taste
A little pepper

Just looking at the recipe I had some concerns, chiefly about the volume of filling. Seems to me it was an awful lot of pumpkin. As it turns out, that was the least of my problems.

I decided that for the first shot I would cut everything in half. Whole pumpkins are no longer available, so I used Butternut squash instead. When it comes to rolling dough, if I’m not the worst in the world I run whoever is a close second. So I decided I’d form these as regular empanadas. I’d run the dough though my pasta machine, then use a round cutter to form the rings.

Let me stress that anybody who claims to have made a pie dough using this recipe unmodified is lying through their teeth. I don’t know if it’s errors in translation, or guessing amounts based on Grandma’s pinch of this and handful of that, but what results is a pasty mess; too thick to be a batter, but too thin to be a dough.

I started adding flour, a little at a time. Unfortunately, I didn’t measure it. But there easily was an additional half cup of flour added to the mix, if not more. So, if you use this recipe (which I don’t recommend), start with at least 3 ½ cups of flour.

As it turns out, the dough for Blachinda ranges from pie crust-like to bread-like. So best bet is to use your favorite pastry dough the first time around.

On to the filling. It struck me as being a bit on the sweet side, particularly when using Butternut squash. So, when I divided it in half, I went lighter on the sugar, using a half cup instead of ¾ cup. I felt it could be cut even more, but Friend Wife pronounced it as perfect.

At any rate, what I wound up using was 3 pints squash, half a small onion, diced fine, ½ cup sugar, ½ tsp salt, and a large pinch of black pepper.

This produced just about twice as much filling as I needed for half the dough recipe. The upside is I have plenty left for another use.
Despite these problems, I really liked the taste of these, and they’ll be a permanent part of our repertory.

As I put this together I wondered what, if anything, it needed in the say of a sauce. On one of the sites this was answered for me by a lady of Russo-German decent who remembered that when her mother served these she bathed them in either cream or melted butter. And “she always served them with potato soup.”

Wow! That struck a chord. So I did a search for German Potato Soup (i.e., Kartoffetsuppe), which will be my next project.
But we hae meat and we can eat
And sae the Lord be thanket
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TasunkaWitko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 21 December 2014 at 23:32
Outstanding, Brook - I do appreciate your vetting this recipe. As often happens when one tries to transcribe "a little of this and a pinch of that," it looks as though the original recipe needed a little "kitchen testing." Another factor was probably that this was made on special occasions, probably in large amounts.

My favourite thing about this is that it appears to have both sweet and savory elements; would you say that it was in good balance, the way you made it?

This is something I'll definitely be trying; it reaches back into my family history, and it just plain looks good! As we discussed, this recipe could be made with canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling), if one has no way to acquire ground pumpkin or winter squash; would you suggest a 1-for-1 swap, where amounts are concerned?
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote HistoricFoodie Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 22 December 2014 at 02:01
Most of the recipes I examined actually called for canned pumpkin, Ron. I'm guessing it's because they were updated from what mama or grandma used to do.

One-to-one should be fine. The only difference between canned and fresh is that, in theory at least, the canned will be slightly more dense.

As to balance, I'd say the original recipe will be too sweet. When I cut back on the sugar, the balance was there, but still slightly on the sweet side to my taste. Friend Wife called it perfect, though. So we're at the point where personal preference comes in to play.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TasunkaWitko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23 December 2014 at 21:06
Aye, most of the recipes I saw used a much smaller proportion of sugar than this one; I'm guessing your measurement is just about right, maybe just a little high, but not enough to matter. Balance (between the sweet and the savory) would probably be the goal, I would think.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote HistoricFoodie Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 05 January 2015 at 07:23
So, while researching something else, I see a reference to the fact the Black Sea Germans call this Plachinda (with several different spellings). I did a search using the P instead of the B and, ironically, there were more hits for it that way.

Many of the images showed Plachinda made the way I did; that is, small, empanada-like turnovers. This sort of makes sense, as the Russians are big on that sort of mouthful.
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