Vatrushka is a sweet cheese bun originally from Ukraine but popular in much of Eastern Europe. All throughout the cities and villages you can find these cheese pastries offered, usually for breakfast. This is the second recipe (after the Georgian Chakhokhbili) that I made from my recently acquired 1939 USSR cookbook called The Book Of Tasty And Healthy Food (Книга о вкусной и здоровой пище).
Surprisingly, the dough recipe used in vatrushka is almost the same as used in my Bublik (Ukrainian bagels) recipe. The only difference is that there is a bit more sugar added to this one, and of course the dough is not boiled before baking.
What Type Of Cheese Is Used In Vatrushka?
The common phrase for the type of cheese used in regular vatrushka is ‘home cheese’. Usually this is cheese made on someone’s farm and sold at the daily market. It is also translated as cottage cheese and quark, however those are broader terms so it may not be exactly like what you are used to (but it totally can be)!
If you have a hard time finding these cheeses you can use regular American cream cheese, or even something like ricotta or mascarpone. As this falls under the category of ‘peasant recipes’ I feel using what you have available is acceptable.
How To Make Vatrushka
- 500 grams Flour. AP works well here
- 250 ml Milk + 2 tbsp for the cheese
- 65 grams Butter, melted
- 1 Egg
- 5 tbsp Sugar, granulated.
- 1.5 tsp Yeast, active dry.
- 1 tbsp Water
- 1 tsp Salt
- 300 grams Home Cheese; the recipe writes творог which is translated as quark, however Eastern European quark is different from German or Dutch quark because it is much firmer. It is also known as farmer’s cheese. To be fair, any firm cottage cheese will do.
- 4 tbsp Sugar, powdered
- Fresh fruit, optional. For these I was lucky to get some forest foraged blueberries in the morning so of course I had to use them. Also thinly slicing a nice juicy peach makes for great presentation.
Heat the milk in a saucepan until warm. Then let it cool down to slightly warmer than room temperature. This is important because the yeast won’t activate in the cold milk fast enough, and the yeast will die if it is too hot. I’d say 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 Celsius) is good (like a not too hot jacuzzi).
In the warm milk add the granulated sugar and yeast and whisk everything together. Wait 10-15 minutes for the yeast to get to work and the mixture to get frothy. Then add just the egg white and melted butter and whisk together. Set the egg yolk aside, we will use it later.
Add the yeasted milk to the flour and sprinkle in the salt. Start to knead with a wooden spoon first to incorporate the dry and wet ingredients. If the dough is super sticky add some more flour. Then flour a surface and your hands and knead the dough for 10 minutes, or until the dough is springy and tight.
Place the dough in a clean bowl and cover with a kitchen towel. Place in a warm place (like a windowsill) and let rise for an hour and a half. The vatrushka dough will rise gently.
Once the dough has more than doubled in size, punch it down and knead it again for just a minute or two. Unlike with the bublik we don’t want to do a long second knead because these pastries should be light and not too chewy. A traditional Ukrainian bakery will try to make vatrushka that are extremely light and airy yet strong enough to hold the filling.
Pull balls of dough off of the main piece and place them on an oil lined piece of parchment paper. If you use a silicone mat you do not need to grease it. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and let rise for another 20 minutes.
Once the balls have risen a bit, oil the bottom of a glass and push down into the center of the dough ball. You can push down all the way, the dough is springy enough that you won’t go all the way through to the parchment/baking tray.
In a bowl mix together the cheese, milk, and powdered sugar until you get a sweet cheese mixture. You should taste for sweetness, and add more sugar if you want to. Some people prefer the cheese to be super sweet, some just want a hint of sweetness. The authentic recipe doesn’t even give ingredients amounts so it’s a bit playing it by taste. Then beat the egg yolk with a bit of water and give the pastries an egg wash using your fingers or a pastry brush.
Bake the vatrushka at 210 degrees Celsius for about 15 minutes, or until the dough begins to get golden brown. At this point your cheese can be quite liquid, which is good because you need to mix in the fruit.
You can use whatever fruit you want (or none at all) but I got some freshly foraged forest blueberries the morning of so I had to use them. Just drop them right into the hot liquid cheese and mix it around a bit with a small fork. I also make a peach fan with thin slices of fresh peach to decorate the side.
I move the vatrushka to the fridge to set for an hour, but you can eat it while the cheese is still liquid if you like. Note that the sweet cheese is liquid because of the mixed in milk. If you do not add the milk to the cheese, it will bake solid and be more like a Ukrainian Cheesecake. This is also an acceptable method of making vatrushka, but you should add the fruit pieces to the cheese before you bake if you want to do it that way.
- Baking Tray
- 500 grams Flour AP works well here
- 250 ml Milk + 2 tbsp for the cheese
- 65 grams Butter melted
- 1 Egg
- 5 tbsp Sugar granulated.
- 1.5 tsp Yeast active dry.
- 1 tbsp Water
- 1 tsp Salt
- 300 grams Home Cheese The recipe writes творог which is translated as quark however Eastern European quark is different from German or Dutch quark because it is much firmer. It is also known as farmer's cheese. To be fair, any firm cottage cheese will do.
- 4 tbsp Sugar powdered
- Fresh fruit optional. For these I was lucky to get some forest foraged blueberries in the morning so of course I had to use them. Also thinly slicing a nice juicy peach makes for great presentation.
- Warm up the milk in a pan and then let it cool to around 38 Celsius 100 Fahrenheit. When warm but not too hot add in the sugar and whisk it in. Then add the yeast and whisk that a bit and let the mixture sit for 10-15 minutes or until foamy.
- Crack the egg and allow the egg white to go into the milk mixture. Whisk it in completely. Save the yolk for later use. Also whisk in the melted butter at this point.
- In another bowl add the flour and salt and then mix in the yeasted milk mixture. Knead the mixture for 10 minutes, or until you have a tight non-sticky dough. You can absolutely add more flour at this point. You will need to flour your work surface and hands as well as the dough every once in a while to stop it being sticky.
- Place the dough ball in a bowl and cover with a clean kitchen towel. Place in a warm place like a windowsill facing the sun, or in an oven turned off but with the light on. Let rise for 1.5 hours.
- After rising punch down the dough and knead again for another 1-2 minutes. Then break the dough into 8 balls. Place the dough balls on a greased parchment lined baking tray and cover with a clean kitchen towel. Let rise for 20 more minutes.
- Oil the bottom of a glass cup and press down into the center of each ball to make a well for the sweet cheese.
- In a bowl mix together the home cheese, milk, and powdered sugar until homogeneous. Spoon the filling into the center of each vatrushka pastry. Then make an egg wash with the leftover yolk and some water and brush the pastries.
- Place the baking tray into an oven preheated to 210 Celsius for 15-20 minutes, or until the dough begins to get golden brown.
- Remove and mix the fruit pieces into the liquid cheese. Place the tray in the fridge to set (or you can eat them hot and liquid).