Dark tart cherries are one of the most traditional fillings for Ukrainian varenyki. Unfortunately, tart cherries are a rare treat in the Southern states, because they need sufficiently low winter temperatures to produce a normal bloom. I usually hunt for tart cherries during the season (in June-July). Sometimes I am lucky to get them in Central Market or Phoenicia. Imported from Northern states, they are pretty expensive, but irresistible. (See instructions for fresh tart cherries below, in Recipe Notes section.) Last summer I discovered frozen pitted tart cherries in HEB, which are the next best thing.
Varenyki vs. Pierogi
Blueberries are another well known filling for dessert dumplings in Ukraine, mostly in Western regions, where varenyki are known as pierogi. The recipes vary from region to region. Varenyki I remember were mostly made with the dough enriched by soured milk or whey and eggs. There are also recipes using only boiling water for the dough. All of them have the same goal — a dumpling with a soft and pleasant texture. Sweet varenyki or pierogi can be served with a fruity sauce, or melted butter and honey, or sour cream and sugar. My Mom used to add fresh berries to the sauce — red and black currants, raspberries, strawberries — whatever was available. It’s all good.
Making dumplings is one the best culinary activities for friends and family fun or for team building. There are dumplings recipes in almost every cuisine in the world. Come to my kitchen to learn how to make traditional and modern dumplings with different kinds of dough, sweet and savory, wheat and gluten-free, vegan and vegetarian, cooked using different cooking methods. LET’S COOK TOGETHER!
Mix all ingredients, knead an elastic dough, cover with plastic wrap, and let it rest for 1 hour in room temperature or overnight refrigerated.
Mix frozen tart cherries and sugar 8:1. Add Kirsch or Cherry Bounce. Cover the bowl and refrigerate overnight.
The cherries will slowly thaw and the sugar will draw the moisture from them at the same time. Strain and reserve the juice.
Gently squeeze extra moisture out of drained tart cherries. Sprinkle them with starch. Added starch will catch all the juices inside the cooking dumplings.
for shaping and cooking varenyki
Fill big pot with water and place it over high heat. You need about 2 gallons of boiling salty water to cook 10 dumplings of this size.
This dough recipe doesn't require dusting the working surface with flour. Unwrap the dough, roll it into a cylinder (1" D), and cut it to 10 equal portions. Flatten each portion to make round wrappers (1.5 " D). Cover with plastic wrap and let it rest for 5 minutes.
Work with one dumpling wrapper at a time, keeping the rest covered with plastic wrap. Roll each wrapper 2.5" D, fill it with 1 tbsp of tart cherries, shape, and place under the plastic wrap. Repeat with all wrappers.
The water will be boiling by the time you are done shaping the dumplings. Place all dumplings in boiling water at the same time and cook for about 5 to 7 minutes. Do not cover. At the beginning, they will sink to the bottom. When they are cooked, they will float. Give them about 2 more minutes after that happens and strain.
In a bowl, place 1-2 tbsp butter and hot cooked dumplings. Gently shake the bowl to move dumplings. Their heat will melt the butter and butter will coat them preventing sticking and drying.
While varenyki are boiling, prepare the sauce. Mix some corn starch with reserved cold tart cherry juice and slowly bring to simmer, stirring. Cook for 2 minutes to let the sauce thicken. Taste it to make sure the flavor of raw starch is gone. Turn off the heat and add other fresh berries to the cooked sauce. The sauce and varenyki should be ready for serving at the same time.
To start with fresh tart cherries:
1. Wash the cherries, remove and discard their stems, remove and reserve their pits.
2. Put cherries in a bowl and mix with sugar 8:1 (by volume). Let the sugar draw out cherry juices for about 3 hours at room temperature, or overnight in the refrigerator. Strain the juice and reserve it for later use.
3. Break reserved pits.
Tart Cherries and Their Pits
To extract the flavor, place broken pits in a sauté pan, add the strained cherry juice, and simmer until reduced by half and slightly thicken. Cool it down to the room temperature and strain to remove pit fragments. Allow the syrup to cool prior to using it in Step 5.
4. Gently squeeze extra moisture out of drained sour cherries. You can sprinkle them with some corn starch. Added starch will absorb and thicken left over cherry juices inside the cooked dumplings.
5. While varenyki are boiling or steaming, prepare the sauce. Mix some corn starch with the tart cherry syrup (1/2 tsp starch per 1 cup of liquid) and slowly bring to simmer. Add more pitted tart cherries or other berries to the sauce at this point. Cook for 2 minutes to let the sauce thicken. Taste it to make sure the flavor of raw starch is gone. The sauce and varenyki should be ready for serving at the same time.