The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Traditional Russian Mennonite Buns

canuck's picture

Traditional Russian Mennonite Buns

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.

Lard and 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.

Buns Sponge


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.

Buns Rough Dough


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.

dough extruding 1

 The dough should be stretched through. 

dough extruding 2

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.

buns tray

Bake in a 400F oven for 20 to 25 minutes, until nice and brown on top. 

 buns finished

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.

Bake on!




Paddyscake's picture

memories are made of. The special people in our lives, old techniques and the aromas from childhood. The cup of lard makes me cringe, but I am sure they heavenly. I've learned that anything with a high fat and sugar content is most likely something I'm going to love and should stay away from! Thanks for sharing.


dmsnyder's picture

Hi, Canuck.

Fresno, California, where I grew up and live, has a very large Russian Mennonite community, as you may be aware. Locally, they were called "Volga Germans." I grew up on Beerocks, which were a frequent lunch food in my family. I can remember, as a very young child, going with my mother to the neighborhood where there was a little bakery in a house that made the best ones.

There are still a few bakeries that make beerocks, but they are not nearly as good as the ones I remember from 50+ years ago. For those who don't know, beerocks are a square roll stuffed with a mix of minced or ground beef, onions, cabbage and lots of black pepper.

Did your family make beerocks? If you have an old family recipe, would you share it?

BTW, Maggie Glezer, in "Artisan Baking," has a recipe for zweibach that is similar to your rolls, as I recall.


AnnaInMD's picture

piece of white bread which was left out for several days to dry. We gave it to our babies when they were teething :)



AnnaInMD's picture

Zwie or Zwei (Two) x Back (Bake)  =  Twice baked


canuck's picture

Hey Mr. Snyder - thanks for the comments.  I have close relatives in Fresno, it's one of those "small world" things, isn't it? 

As per Beerocks, it's not a word I was familiar with, but when I looked it up I realized that Beerocks look just like what I would call "Fleish Peroshki" (which sort of means "Meat Buns" in a strange amalgam of German and Russian).  Fleish Peroshki are sort of ovoid buns stuffed with a mixture of ground beef and onions.  I have also made them with BBQ pulled pork, sauerkraut and bacon, and curried beef, all of which are VERY non traditional, but delicious.  I will make this the next recipe to post on the blog, thanks for the suggestion. 

I have the Maggie Glezer book, and the zwiebach recipe is certainly similar, probably because it comes from the same roots.  There are a lot of Russian Mennonites who settled in Kansas, just as there are a lot who settled on the Canadian prairies, where I live. You can use my recipe to make to make zwiebach, just make a little bun and put it on top of the bigger bun when shaping.  My Oma made these all the time, yum.




mgbetz's picture

Thanks for the recipe.

Was first introduced to similar  rolls in the early 1970s on a German/American farm in Wyoming. Asked for the recipe, been a favorite all these years. Using cider vinegar in the dough.

BTW...Same area, also had bierock (with many alternate spellings) on the school menu published in the local Riverton newspaper.  Asked a friend 'What might these be?".  Been making the stuffed rolls for years too. Plenty of freshly ground pepper.  A family favorite. When nephews visited from Japan, they took the recipe home :)

Last batch was last week, trying out my new counter top convection oven. The rolls rose beautifully.


Gwen--not afraid of lard--in L.A.


cgmeyer2's picture

can i use something other  than lard? can i also sub some olive oil or canola ol for the fat?

MatteKat's picture

I literally had to make an account on this website just to tell you how fantastic these buns are. I followed your recipe exactly and I was rewarded with pillowy soft buns! When I cut into the first one my knife sort of puffed into in it was so soft. I had a lot of fun using that method to shape the balls. I've been munching on them with jam and honey and they are perfection! Thank you for an awesome recipe. :)

canuck's picture

Thank you for your kind words - it's nice to be able to pass on recipes, just as I have benefitted from others sage advice and tradition.  I like how community works!

canuck's picture

Hi all - its been much too long since I caught up on this thread - thanks for all your comments.  A couple of quick notes:

  • Vinegar:   I use ordinary white vinegar, but apple cider or malt would add an interesting flavour!
  • Instant Yeast - I said "non traditional" because my Oma probably used cake yeast - but sourdough is definitely an option.   I do a lot of sourdough baking and sourdough buns are great, but not as pillowy (more chewy) and the timings would be different of course.   In the real old days, I'm sure thats what my foremothers used.
  • Bierrocks/Meat Buns:  Thanks for the interest (even if its two years old).  I will definitely post a recipe and pictures next time I make some.   Again, its my Mom's recipe, which was her Mom's recipe, etc, etc stretching back to the distant past.    At the time of this posting, Russia and Ukraine are making me nervous; but its interesting to note that my ancestors settled on the land around the Eastern Ukraine that everyone is arguing about.   Back then Catherine the Great gave them land grants for this area.    So, the meat buns encompass a kind of history that can really bite into.