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Cherry-filled yeast buns worth a few hours' fuss

Classic cherry desserts are featured in my latest podcast, complementing recipes for cherry preserves in this week’s food section column.

While sweet cherries from a tree in my yard have inspired several posts to this blog over the past 13 years, this season was all about sour cherries. A tiny tree that my mother-in-law planted a couple of years ago finally yielded a bumper crop of tiny sour fruits that I pitted, froze and put up as maraschino cherries.

Sour cherry is a flavor that I can rarely pass up, including at restaurants that specialize in the cuisines of Russia, Poland and central Europe. Ukranian sour cherry vareniki — either boiled or fried — are the quintessential conclusion to a meal at Kachka, one of my favorite Portland restaurants.

I’d stake that genre of dumplings on fresh or frozen cherries, as well as cherry preserves. And they’d still be delicious with sweet cherries. In a similar vein, this sweet cherry-filled yeast bun, known as vatrushki, also is popular in Eastern Europe.

I’m usually not one to fuss around with yeast doughs, but I’m so partial to cherries that this recipe, courtesy of Tribune News Service, could persuade me. It’s a process that requires three separate risings, so you need several hours, although a low-temperature oven can help to speed it along. The finishing touch is a streusel-like topping of butter, sugar and flour.

Sweet Cherry-Filled Buns (Vatrushki)

1 cup warm milk, 100 to 110 F (no hotter)

1/2 tablespoon active dry yeast

3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, divided, plus more for dusting

7 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons granulated sugar, divided

2 eggs, 1 at room temperature, the other beaten with a fork (for egg wash)

1 tablespoon butter, melted

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 pound sweet red cherries, pitted

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) cold butter, diced

In bowl of an electric mixer, add the warm milk and sprinkle over the yeast. Let sit for 5 to 7 minutes for yeast to bloom.

Stir in 1/2 cup of the flour and 2 tablespoons of the sugar; whisk until blended. Let rise in a 100 F oven for 20 minutes, or at room temperature for 30 to 45 minutes.

Whisk in the room-temperature egg, 2 tablespoons sugar, the melted butter and the salt. Attach mixer dough hook and add 2 3/4 cups of the flour, 1 cup at a time, mixing with dough hook after each addition until fully incorporated. Add last bit of flour slowly; dough will be perfect when it no longer sticks to side of mixer — do not add any more flour past this point (you may not need the full 2 3/4 cups). Continue mixing dough with dough hook on low speed for 15 minutes.

Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let rise in a 100-degree oven for 1 hour or at room temperature for 2 hours, until tripled in volume.

Transfer dough to a nonstick surface, such as a piece of parchment paper, and cut it in half. Cut each half in half, then each of those pieces in half, and then each of those resulting pieces in half. You should have 16 pieces of equal size. Shape dough into balls.

Butter 2 baking dishes, either round cake pans or a 9-by-13-inch pan and an 8-by-8-inch pan. Place balls of dough, evenly spaced, in prepared baking dishes. Use a narrow drinking glass, small ramekin or clean fingers to make a well in center of each one.

Place 3 or 4 cherries into each well and sprinkle each bun with 1/2 teaspoon sugar. Let rise in a 100-degree oven for 20 minutes or 30 to 40 minutes at room temperature, until they look puffy.

Preheat oven to 360 F. In a medium bowl, combine the cold, diced butter, remaining 1 tablespoon sugar and remaining 1/2 cup all-purpose flour; use a pastry cutter or rub together with your fingers until small crumbs form.

Brush buns with the egg wash and sprinkle tops generously with crumb mixture. Bake in preheated oven for 20 to 22 minutes, or until tops are golden brown.

Makes 16 servings.

Recipe from natashaskitchen.com

Tribune News Service photo