Traditional Russian Mennonite Buns
These buns aren't just buns, they are a history lesson and a sociology study wrapped into a tasty tasty snack. This bun recipe has been in my family for a long long time, possibly since the late 19th century. In any case, my grandmother made them back in Molotschna, my mom makes them and so do I. These buns are really general purpose buns, but particularly appropriate for Sunday afternoon early supper (Vaspa), or served after funerals, in a church basement, with cheese and coffee. What makes them a bit different than what we usually see on the Fresh Loaf is that they contain a lot of fat, in this case lard, and they are shaped with a sort of "extrusion" technique.
The lard content is an honest byproduct of the heritage of the buns. Mennonites (and of course lots of other folks) were in the past a primarily agrarian people, and raising pigs was a big part of farm life. Butchering and rendering produced lard, which was an important and primary source of fat. Lard was used in day-to-day baking, long before the advent of "shortening" and other manufactured fats. Lard has gotten a bad name in the recent past, but is now making a bit of a comeback because its healthier than previously proclaimed (by the margarine/shortening cabal). In any case, these buns contain a fair bit of lard, in an honest, farmyardish sort of way.
The buns also contain a fair bit of sugar, which speeds the rising. I appreciate that sugar and fast rising is anathema to some, but really its a practical way of making a buns much quicker, which is an important consideration when cooking on a busy farm or household. Besides, the buns taste great.
The mystery ingredient is vinegar. I really have no idea why there is vinegar in the recipe, but there is and I use it. Anyone care to hazard a guess?
The buns are shaped by extruding them between your thumb and forefinger and then being pinched off. I haven't seen the extrusion shaping technique described (I haven't looked hard either), my Mom taught me how to do this and it works pretty well. The pictures below and the description will hopefully inspire you to try it out.
Here's the recipe
1 cup Lard Try to get a non-hydrogentated lard, not all lards are equal.
4 cups hot water.
The hot water softens the lard.
2 teaspoons Salt
1/2 cup Sugar
1 tablespoon Vinegar
4 Cups Flour
Stir vigourously until you get a nice sponge going. Because of the hot water used in stage one, the sponge will be warm. If its hot, then let it cool down a bit before the next step.
1 Tablespoon instant yeast (this may be the "non-traditional" part of the recipe, but it works well)
Gradually add in:
About 4 more cups of flour
At this stage you should have a fairly moist rough dough. you may have to add more flour if its too sticky. Go by what feels right, that's my Oma's way of baking.
Turn out on a well floured surface and start kneading, adding flour as required, about 15 minutes.
Cover and let rise until doubled, about 30 to 45 minutes. (There is a lot of yeast and sugar in this dough, so it doesn't take long)
The Shaping Technique
Here's the interesting part, this shaping technique takes a bit of practice, but once you get the idea you can shape buns fairly quickly.
To shape the buns, tear or cut out a section of the dough and grab with your left hand.
Make an open circle with your left thumb and forefinger, then push the dough through circle with your right hand, from underneath.
The dough should be stretched through.
Now pinch off the bulging dough ball with your left hand thumb and forefinger, and place the resulting ball of dough on a baking sheet.
Cover and let the buns rise until doubled, about 30 to 45 minutes, perhaps a bit longer.
They should look very light and not spring back when depressed.
Bake in a 400F oven for 20 to 25 minutes, until nice and brown on top.
Mmmm, these are good buns. Slather on the butter and clover honey from the canadian praries, and it's just about the best thing you've ever had.