The Republic of Latvia was founded on 18 November 1918 but it was annexed by the USSR in 1940 – an action never recognized by the US and many other countries. Latvia reestablished its independence in 1991 following the breakup of the Soviet Union. It is situated in the Baltic region of Northern Europe and is one of the three Baltic states along with Estonia and Lithuania. Latvia became a member of the European Union in 2004. Most of Latvia’s territory is less than 100 metres above sea level and it has the 5th highest proportion of land covered by forests in the European Union. Latvia has a long tradition of conservation. Nationally protected areas account for around 20% of Latvia’s total land area. The 2012 Environmental Performance Index ranks Latvia second, after Switzerland, based on the environmental performance of the country’s policies.
Arvids Blumentāls aka the original Crocodile Dundee (he was the inspiration behind the Crocodile Dundee character played by Paul Hogan) was born in Latvia.
Riga, Latvia’s capital, was the European Capital of Culture 2014 and it’s historical centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is famous for notable wooden and art nouveau architecture, a vast Central Market and a medieval Old Town. Riga Cathedral was founded in 1211 and is the largest medieval church in the Baltic. Other Latvia highlights are emerald lakes and blueberry fields in Latgale Lakelands, Cape Kolka (desolate coastal villages) and Gauja National Park. The Venta Rapid, a waterfall on the Venta River in Kuldīga, is the widest waterfall in Europe at 249 metres and up to 270 metres during spring floods. Its height is 1.80–2.20 metres.
Latvian cuisine features meat in most main dishes. Pork and potatoes are common ingredients, along with cabbage, onions and eggs. It also offers plenty of varieties of bread and milk products, which are an important part of the Latvian cuisine. Some recipes I found include Rupjmaize (dark rye bread), Kāpostu tīteņi (cabbage rolls), Biezpiena sieriņš (pressed cottage cheese) and Skābeņu zupa (sorrel soup). I decided to make Pīrāgi (bacon pies), which I served as a snack to guests and they went down very well indeed.
Prep time: 1.5 hour + 1.5 hours proving time
Cook time: 45 mins
For the dough
4 tsps dry yeast
125g butter, cubed
125g sour cream
1kg plain flour
1 egg, lightly whisked
1/4 cup milk
1 tbsp salt
For the filling
500g streaky bacon
1 small onion
salt and pepper
Extra flour for rolling
1 egg for egg wash
Put 385ml of milk and cream in a saucepan and add the sugar. Heat the mixture until it becomes blood warm. (Test by placing couple drops on your wrist, if the milk feels very hot, let it cool down a bit. Do not get the milk to the boiling point as it will kill the yeast.)
Place the yeast and 1 teaspoon of sugar in a small bowl and add 115ml of milk. Combine well and set aside for 15 minutes.
In a large bowl, pour the heated milk mixture and add cubed butter, sour cream and the whisked egg, combine well.
Add the yeast, sifted flour and salt and mix until all is combined well to create the dough. Knead the dough until it becomes smooth and does not stick to the hands or the bowl (add a bit more flour if necessary).
Cover the bowl with a clean tea towel and place in a warm spot for an hour or until the dough has doubled in size (about 1 to 1 1/2 hours).
Meanwhile, make the filling: finely cut the bacon and the onion, add a teaspoon of finely ground pepper and combine well.
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees. Line a baking tray with baking paper. Whisk the egg in a small bowl, add 1/4 cup of milk and set aside.
Sprinkle some flour on the rolling surface and place the dough on it. Cut it in quarters and work on each quarter at a time by rolling it until the dough is 5 mm thick.
Cut out circles about 6 cm in diameter. Place one teaspoon of filling on one side of the circle and fold over. Tightly press the dough together using your fingers, place pīrāgis seam side down and bend in a shape of a half moon.
Transfer pies on to the baking tray, spaced about 2 cm apart. Using a pastry brush, brush each pie with the egg wash.
Place the tray in the oven and bake for 15-17 minutes until golden brown.