Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Bierock - sans animal

I can't even begin to tell you how excited I am to be posting this recipe - this is something I've been wanting to do for YEARS.

I grew up in a small town in western Kansas, with a strong Volga German heritage.  We ate lots of meat and potatoes, lots of things with heavy cream, and lots of things that most people have never heard of.  I don't even know how to properly spell "kedovel and glace"to try to look it up, but we ate it and it was good and let me tell you - those recipes didn't pull any punches.

Bierock was a staple at our house, especially after my Dad married Connie - a hard working, big hearted woman who loves to cook.  I would venture to say that Connie is happiest when she's in the kitchen, and she is especially gifted at cooking for large, hungry harvest crews.  My Dad is a wheat farmer and whenever harvest was around the corner, Connie would busy herself with filling the freezer to accommodate all the hungry men who would be over for dinner after a long, hot, dirty work day.

Dad and Connie, looking good in denim
Dad and Connie cuttin' a rug

Bierock was at the top of the list.  For those of you who don't know it, bierock is a German meat turnover, that features stewed beef and cabbage in a slightly sweetened, yeasted dough.  While making them is not complicated, it's an involved process that can easily take the better part of a day.  They're not something you throw together for dinner, they take time.  As such, whenever women back home would make them, they'd go big and make upwards of 100.  Then they'd freeze them - 4 to a large freezer bag - to be pulled out for quick, easy meals.

I want to take a minute to acknowledge Joan Berens, mother of six kids (all with names that start with "J"), married to my Dad's dear friend Joe Berens, who was also one helluva bierock maker (Joan was, not Joe, was that confusing?).  My first experience of seeing them being made as a kid was sitting at her kitchen table, and I'll never forget how she let me play with the dough and make my very own, tiny, one inch bierock.  

Now I quit eating meat around 7 years ago, and since that time it's always something of a struggle when I go home to Russell to eat with the family.  For years after I moved away from home, whenever I'd go back for a visit I'd go straight to the freezer for a bierock, and suddenly I was no longer able to do that.  And while I really lost the taste for meat long ago, I've always kind of wished I could still eat them.

Hence, my desire to make a vegetarian version.  I'm not too keen on TVP or other fake meat products that undergo tons of processing and that my grandparents wouldn't have recognized as food.  I like to stick to whole foods, as unadulterated as possible.  This morning I was once again mulling over ideas about how to make a vegetarian bierock that would satisfy my desire for what I grew up with.  The idea of cabbage alone was boring, tempeh might give it an asian flare I wasn't looking for, tofu didn't sound good, and I've already spoken my peace on the TVP.  Then it hit me - mushrooms.  Mushrooms have that certain succulence that no other vegetables have, and I figured they would be the perfect, earthy element to compliment the cabbage.

What follows is a brand new recipe for not only vegetarian, but vegan bierocks, the likes of which, I believe, would please even my Dad. 

A rare and priceless picture of my Dad at the ocean

I looked around online for a good dough recipe, but everything I found had too much sugar.  This is an adaption of a recipe I found here, and it turned out quite nicely.  If you're not vegan or don't have soy milk on hand, feel free to substitute regular milk and butter for the milk and olive oil.

Start the dough first.


2 T Yeast
1 T maple syrup
1 t salt
1/2 cup unsweetened soy milk - slightly warmed
1 cup warm water
4 T olive oil
4 cups - 50/50 white/wheat flour mix

Combine the yeast, maple syrup, salt, milk, and water in a medium bowl and set aside long enough for the yeast to start to get frothy.
Measure the flour into a large metal bowl and make a well in the middle.

When the yeast is looking activated, pour it into the middle of the flour and mix well with your hands.

Knead the dough until it's well incorporated and slightly springy, about 5-6 minutes (you can just do this with one hand in the bowl rather than dirty up a counter space)
Cover with a cloth and set aside to double in size - about 50 minutes.

Once the dough has doubled, give it a good punch in the middle and let it rise again for another hour or so.  


1.5 pounds crimini or portobello mushrooms
1 large yellow onion - french cut
3/4 of 1 large head of cabbage - shredded
Salt and Pepper
1 T Vegetable Stock Powder (optional)
5-6 T Creamy cooking soy (I used Belsoy) or Heavy Cream if you do dairy (both optional)

Start by sweating the onions over medium/low in a large soup pot with a big pinch of salt and 1 small glug of olive oil (about a tablespoon) for 5-7 minutes.  Be sure not to brown them.

Add the mushrooms to the pot, another pinch of salt, a few cracks of pepper, and sweat them together, semi-covered, for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally. 

When the mushrooms have shrunk down, started to brown, and have released a lot of liquid, add the cabbage.  Continue to cook over medium/low heat, stirring occasionally, until the cabbage has softened and released it's liquid as well.

Add the soy cream, if using, and stir to incorporate.

All in all, this pot ends up being on the stove at a consistently low/medium heat for about an hour.

Taste and adjust for seasoning.  This is when I noticed mine was a bit bland and added the tablespoon of veggie stock powder.

Transfer the filling to a bowl to let it cool - it's much better to assemble the pockets when the filling is cooled properly.  Alternatively, you could make the filling the day before and refrigerate it over night.  This is what Connie does and it gives great results.


Now that everything is ready, prep a work surface and gather your tools.  Cover a couple of baking sheets with parchment paper, and whip up an "egg wash." I mixed a splash of the soy cooking cream, a splash of water, a splash of olive oil, and a pinch of salt.

Working with one half of the dough at a time, roll the dough out nice and thin into a big square.
Using a butter knife cut the dough into squares, roughly 5X5 or 6X6.
Spoon the cooled filling into the center of each square

Bring the four corners together and pinch to seal them
Place the bierock, seam side down, on the parchment paper and let rest/rise for 20 minutes
Brush with egg wash
Bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown.

Now at my house we just put salt and pepper on top and called it good.  While working at Wheatfield’s, I had the opportunity to work with Don Fortel – a great man, who taught me a lot about cooking and a lot about life.  He made bierock for the bakery one day and served them with whole grain German mustard.  I was scandalized by such an unseemly act at first, but of course he was right.  Good quality mustard is the perfect condiment for this. 

I hope that some of you try these savory little pockets, and enjoy them as much as I do.  This is truly a recipe from the heart - a tribute to a whole lot of people I love.  People who, as life would have it, would much rather have the meaty version.  But, alas, this is just my way of doing my thing while honoring where I come from, and there’s joy in that for me.

All this for 17 bierock.


  1. Cool stuff(ing), sis! The mushrooms are very true to our heritage. Life was hard in the Volga River region of Russia for those German immigrants, and foraging was part of survival. Considering the number of poisonous mushrooms afoot, putting mushrooms on the table was a real risk, but it was taken to feed families. A love of mushrooms is afforded to us through a hard-won knowledge, and I view their use in bierock as a tribute!

  2. Oh, how the German language has digressed in our home! "Kedovel and glace" is actually "Kartoffeln und Gloess."

    The above is close, but Connie uses leftover mashed potatoes in the glase, and none of it gets fried, just drowned in cream and butter =]

    I'm getting hungry for butterballs now, too!

  3. Thank Heath! I was hoping to hear your thoughts on this - I knew you'd know more about the kartoffein/kedovel. Your take on the mushrooms makes me smile. Thanks for reading~ xx

  4. Kartoffel means potato
    Glaze is the look in my eyes after I eat about 4 pounds of kartoffeln und gloess...

  5. As luck would have it, I have a handwritten recipe for "Katoffl und Klas" (Potatoes and Dumplings) from your grandmother, Fern Margaret Dumler. Cubed potatoes are almost done boiling when the dumpling dough is added. The dumpling mixture is flour, baking powder, eggs and milk. Small spoonfuls, one at a time. The dumplings floating to the top is the signal that they are done. Then, your grandmother says to drain well and cover with salted heavy cream. Waa-hoo! Top with buttered, browned bread cubes.

    I remember sitting at HER kitchen table, watching her create those wonderful, delectable, heart-valve-clogging German/Russian dishes. She suggested each and every recipe be served with "a generous portion of love". (Says so in the front of the recipe book she gave to me.) She would be very proud of your exploration of culinary art, Lacey.

    Love you lots,

  6. Hi,
    I can't believe I came across this blog this morning - it is fully of coincidence and serendipity. I was looking for a vegetarian bierock recipe because my daughther needs to bring something from a different "culture" for a school event. We live in Brooklyn, NY, but I am originally from Hays, KS, and I too am of Volga German heritage. I thought of making bierocks, but since I am vegetarian now too, I sat down this morning to look for a recipe, and found your blog. Other coincidence is that I went to KU and ate at Wheatfields all the time and my aunt even worked there for awhile. So, from one fellow Kansas Volga German Jayhawk vegetarian to another, thanks for the recipe - I am going to try it today with mushrooms and cabbage from the Prospect Park farmer's market in Park Slope, Brooklyn, NY.


    1. Wow Megan, you just made my whole day. Thanks so much for saying hello and giving a nod to all of those commonalities. It makes me smile. I really hope these worked out for you, and that you got to share the Volga German love in Park Slope!

  7. How great! So crazy. I am from Salina, KS currently living in Lawrence. <3 Wheatfields. Mom has been making bierocks since I was a little girl. I was actually just enjoying some she sent home with me wondering if I could find a healthier recipe/ meat alternative and found your recipe. So happy I read the comments! Can't wait to try these and blog myself! :)

    1. That's awesome! I love that Kansas girls are finding this recipe :) Let me know how they work out for you!

  8. Do I chop or slice the mushrooms

    1. I guess that would depend on how you like your mushrooms. In the photo above they're sliced, but it would work either way.

  9. Thank you for this! I'm from southwest Kansas myself. I have been craving Bierocks like crazy lately, but didn't know where to start with a vegan adaptation. Going to stick with a veganized version of grandma's dough, but excited to try this!

  10. WHO ARE YOU??!? I'm from Colby, and I worked at Wheatfields, too! :) I live in Paraguay now and am readying for a big Kansas Day party we are hosting for the embassy community. I've been a vegetarian for 21 years, and have been making mediocre bierocks for much of that time, but had the "mushroom" epiphany myself this morning and hopped online to see how that's worked out for other folk. Thanks for posting this! :)

    1. No, who are YOU?! Haha. I love this post because it has drawn so many awesome comments from fellow Kansans scattered across the globe :) Thank you so much for taking the time to say hello! I hope these work out for you. Good luck!!

  11. My grandparents are from a small town in central Kansas and my grandma would make these, and I freaking love them so much!!! I didn't know they were German until I went looking for the vegan version and found your recipe. Thank you so much for giving me a taste of childhood and the knowledge of where they come from! My grandma has dementia so she sometimes cannot hold a cohesive conversation. Thank you again, this is great!!

    1. Thank you so much for the wonderful message! It really makes my day to receive messages like these. So happy this post meant something to you! I hope the recipe works out :)