That wonderful scent from the kitchen

If the word “Latvian” is associated with one certain scent, then first prize would go to the humble pīrāgs. One of the unique Latvian symbols that foreigners discover about Latvians worldwide is the often mispronounced, but never forgotten, little bacon and onion delicacy that smells absolutely divine while baking and tastes like heaven when just out of the oven.

This crescent-shaped mini-pie looks like an Italian calzone and has similar ingredients, but the taste is quite different. The Russians and other Eastern Europeans have similar dumpling or bun variations called perogi, piroghi, pierogi or piroshki. Other variations are boiled dumplings called pelmeņi, originating in Siberia, and varenyky, the Ukrainian version of the same thing. Many of these versions are boiled or boiled and fried, whereas the Latvian pīrāgi are baked using bread dough, hence the resemblance to calzone. The Latvians have also elaborated on the theme and created other savoury fillings as variations on the original: kartupeļu pīrāgi (potato buns), sēņu pīrāgi (mushroom buns), kāpostu pīrāgi (cabbage buns) and the list goes on. Those with a sweet tooth are not left wanting: apple pīrāgi, rhubarb pīrāgi, cottage cheese pīrāgi… the possibilities are endless!

If there’s one way to get someone to remember your nationality, it’s through their stomach, so why not discover the secrets of the ancient Letts in the fine art of the baking of pīrāgi or speķa rauši, as they are also called in Latvia.

For an insight into the myriad recipes that are out there, the recipe portal is the first port of call. It’s important to note these are recipes that have been sent in by people who live in Latvia, so their recipes will mention local brands of flour, margarine and other ingredients. Latvians living elsewhere may need to adapt the recipes after trial-and-error to reveal the best local brands in their part of the world.   

For a pictorial how-to, revealing the basics with easy-to-follow steps, have a look at Cāļa virtuve, part of the family oriented Cālis portal. Another step-by-step guide is found on Handy Home Projects, a blog by a family in Canberra, Australia, that is “trying new things, living naturally and frugally, having fun.” Be sure to review part 1 and part 2.

Elvis Stumbergs, who immigrated to the United States in 1990, describes pīrāgi and associated folklore. Although th site is not as specific in terms of quantities for ingrediants, the author makes one very important point: the joint effort of baking for a specific event stimulates community solidarity. This can be cross-generational (passing the tradition down to the next generation) or simply strengthen individuals’ ties with their heritage.

For a more personal take on the subject have a look at Silvija and Pēters Vecrumba’s, which draws the following conclusion: “Pīrāgi are the Latvian woman’s secret weapon. None can withstand their delightful onslaught!”

Don’t forget Latvians Online has its own Latvian Culture and Cooking Forum, where many of the topics are related to recipes that have been handed down from generation to generation.


Daina Gross is editor of Latvians Online. An Australian-Latvian she is also a migration researcher at the University of Latvia, PhD from the University of Sussex, formerly a member of the board of the World Federation of Free Latvians, author and translator/ editor/ proofreader from Latvian into English of an eclectic mix of publications of different genres.

30 thoughts on “That wonderful scent from the kitchen

  1. There is nothing better then a freshly baked pirags. As the older Latvians are leaving us, the younger amongst us have to take on the challenge. Linda and I spend many a Saturday afternoon making the piragi, which are devoured in less time then it takes to make them.
    All my Aussie friends have always loved piragi as they are great with a nice cold beer!

  2. Yes the young ones have to take the challenge and make traditional Latvian foods, who will take over the older Latvians once they go, Latvan house (Melbourne) would never be the same no more…

  3. I use to take time in those tired Friday nights, to prepare some home meals together with my son (5 y.o.). Nothing catches better his attention than working some dough, so home-made bread, cookies,pizzas and piragi are his favourites. When it comes to piragi, he enjoys best the final part: a colour point on each variety (usually bacon, meat, spinach).Even if some purist may rise an eyebrow, adding the colour point has been key to success at home. Standing on a chair (usually barefoot)my son waits , toothpick in hand,ready to paint a red spot on meat ones, green on spinach, blue on bacon. Kitchen has always been key to the transmision of traditions, because it involves both your expertise and proven ancient recipes. It’s an opportunity to build family rituals, so necessary in those uncertain days. And, yes, it’s a way to connect ourselves with our ancestors. There is something mysterious and heart-warming about replicating the recipes of our childhood, of our people’s history. So, next Friday, after a pause, there will be the usual turmoil in my kitchen, flour will be everywhere, and maybe we’ll get stained with either egg, food-dye or tomato sauce. To me, it sounds like heaven.

  4. I just discovered this website and am so exited to find the traditional piragi included. My father was Latvian and I have always had an interest in our culture. I have been making piragi for holidays based on the recipe and method taught to me by my grandmother many years ago when I was a child. Sadly she, grandpa and my father have all passed on. I’m hoping to find some relatives through this website. In the meantime happy eating!

  5. I’am looking for a dough recipe to follow for making pirags. Can’t seem to find anyone with an exact measurements for the dough. Does one exist ?

  6. I too, have just found this website after hunting down the recipe for Pirags (or as I used to call them when small, pee-rugs)! My parents were Latvian and my mother made them all the time. Now, I would like to do the same for my family. Can someone tell me the dough recipe?

  7. It took me 30 years to learn how to make the little piece of Latvia. All my children are addicted to piragi… as said, there is no better way to instill Latvia in someone than to bless them with a taste of home.

  8. I would like to know how much ingredients would be needed to make 150 Latvian pirags. My daughter is getting married and has asked me to make them for the wedding reception. I intend to use the frozen packet puff pastry sheets which I hope will be OK but dont know how much pastry sheets I will need and how much bacon and onion for the filling. Does anyone have an exact recipe for the filling? Is it bacon and onion or bacon and onion powder? What ratio of bacon to the onion? If anyone can help I would be grateful.

  9. I always make Pirags at Christmas for my very English family (I’m British/Latvian, I mean I was born in Woking, Surrey in 1952 to Latvian parents). Its my way of connecting with my late mum and dad. Mum always made HEAPS of them at Christmas, the aroma just takes me back to the fab “LAtvian” Christmases we had.
    (The kids and my British wife love ’em!!)

  10. My Latvian Papa (Tevs) taught me to make piragi just like my grandmothers. Papa is gone but I still make them for Easter and Christmas and other special occasions as I try to keep the Latvian ‘tradition’ going. The filling is simple… 2lbs. bacon diced very fine, 1 medium onion, diced fine and pepper to taste. Stir fry in a hot pan about 5-10 minutes but do not let too much fat separate. Remove separated fat and cool quickly in the refrigerator. For the dough I we use a sweet yeast dough.. 1/2 c milk, 1/2 c sugar, 1 tsp salt, 3/4 c butter, 2 tbsp active dry yeast, 1/2 c very warm water, 4 eggs beaten, 4 1/2 c sifted flour. Heat milk, sugar, salt and butter in pan just until butter is melted and cool to lukewarm. Mix very warm water and yeast in large bowl. Add lukewarm milk mixture and 4 beaten eggs. Add 2 c flour and whisk until smooth. Add just enough of remaining flour to make dough soft. Turn onto lightly floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes, using only as much flour as needed to deep dough from sticking. Place dough in large greased bowl; turn to bring greased side up. Cover. Let rise in warm place, away from drafts about 1 – 1 1/2 hours. Punch dough down, knead a few times. let rest 5 minutes. Roll out portions and cut circles. Place 1 tsp of bacon mixture in centre. Fold over, pinch closed and place on greased baking sheet. Let rise again. Brush with egg white & cold water mixture. Bake at 375F till golden brown; approx 10 minutes. You will not be disappointed! Baudīt!

  11. Just to comment that these piragi have been in my family for years! My father is Latvian, mom German. We as children made them, now I have taught my 3 Boys how to make them. Sometimes we cheat and use the biscuit in a can for the dough… just fold them over and they are good as well… same stuffing of bacon and onions. I am so glad to have found this website… I am Latvian/German decent.

  12. My twin sister and I made fresh piragis today for our xmas lunch tomorrow. Our Latvian Nanna used to make them often and we want to carry on the tradition. They don’t taste the same just yet… but gee, there is nothing else like them on the planet. A tip of the hat to my beautiful Latvian Nanna and her heritage.

  13. Sorry to tell you all who are using frozen puff pastry and canned biscuit dough. Those are longer Latvian piragi. The fact that Latvians use a sweet eggy yeast dough that is baked makes them different from other countries that make pirogi or calzones. Please try to make them with the right dough and correct filling to be authentic. You will be glad you did.

  14. Arnis is right — frozen or canned dough does not a piragi make! My Oma was my harshest critic when it came to replicating her amazing Latvian baked goods! She never came and helped me bake–or even let me bake with her. She gave me approximate recipes, I would make them and bring them to her for taste testing! She would analyze and critique and I would try again. My mom (who was also born in Latvia and immigrated to the US at 18 with her family) would always tell me how kind and complimentary Oma was behind my back. It made me better. I make her Alexander Cake, her yellow bread, her piragi, her torte and very occasionally her rupmize (sp?) Happy independence day to Latvia today!

  15. What a wonderful and timely article! I’m the youngest of a Latvian family that came to Canada in 1948 – was born in Germany “on the refugee trail”- and did not even SEE Latvia until two years ago. My Latvian parents had four children – and ten grandchildren – now all married with kids of their own scattered across the continent. Since we have lost two of my siblings – and the oldest cousin – the next generation have formed a bond, created rituals for getting together, and a harbour a great curiosity about their roots. The 2nd Annual Cousins’ Weekend was held near Ottawa last weekend – and from a Toronto bakery, 150 piragi made the trip up with cousin Kristine. They disappeared – TOTALLY within 48 hours – not a one left! My SIL Ausma is teaching HER nine grandchildren to make piragi – a significant part of their annual summer visits with her, one by one…wish my brother Ojars were still alive to watch and sample!

  16. My Latvian grandmother used to make these, I always knew them as speka rausi or English version speck rousse. My mother made them, my family made them and now my kids make them.Unbelieveable that I would find this site and read about all the other Latvian descents that enjoy these buns. I concure with everyone, they are the best handsdown, we always make them a Christmas. Thank you for finding me. LOL

  17. My mom is Latvian, her parents as well and when in Rega they owned and ran a bakery, They made Piragi with ham and onions, and of coarse the sweet yeast bread, my mom is 86 and it is to much work for her any more, but I now make them every christmas, and if any one should try to change the recipe at all would really upset my mother. It is the one Latvian recipe passed on in our family.

  18. I agree that the authentic yeast dough is best, but if you don’t have time, a frozen white bread dough gets piragi made in a hurry and is very much okay. I use bacon and ham (plus onion) for the filling — make it a day ahead. Get the filling cold and hard before making the piragi to minimize the oil interfering with a tight dough seal. The piragi that open while baking (because the seal opened) are said to be “smiling.” My father said in the old days in Latvia (1920s) the gana puiki (shepherd boys) would be given a large, fatty pirag (as large as a small loaf, the size of a man’s hand) in the morning, for his lunch. The shepherd boy would put the pirags into his shirt (not having a lunch box or backpack). It was fattier than we like them today because getting enough calories was the goal, unlike today. My parents also told me that there were some status issues re the piragi. First there was the giant, fatty country-worker’s pirags, described above. Then a medium-sized one, not so fatty, for the country family (the farm owners). Then, when you got to Riga, the piragi got smaller and leaner, depending on how fancy you were, until one got to the ridiculously small “builionu pirigi” or piragi served with beef broth, a sort ostentatious statement of gentility and higher culture for ladies’ teas. Silly, in my parents’ view, even then, and certainly later in America, in the retelling. (But always delicious, in any size!) In America, the piragi brought home from Latvian church bazaars were always a treat because each cook’s style was a little different, and that was very interesting. But one’s own family’s favorite style is always the very best, just like for potato salad.

  19. Mara… That sounds a little like the “cornish pasty” that we have in the UK. Ploughmen/farmers/tin miners would have beef and veg in a bread dough that had a VERY thick crust along one side (this would act as a “handle” so that the rest would not get dirty from their handling. I guess the crust at the end would be thrown away (no expense spared!). Well, I last posted here in December 2088. Alas, my beloved wife has passed away since, but I still make Pierags every Christmas for my new, extended family.

  20. As my mother is now elderly and I want to keep this tradition in the family I’m having my first (unassisted) attempt at Piragi. Having a practice run this weekend before Xmas and look forward to sharing the results. Off to find a recipe that doesn’t look too daunting online.

  21. Very interesting reading all the comments about piragi, as we just finished making a batch for Christmas. We use a recipe from a Latvian cook-book “Cepumi Ka Vel Nekad” and the results are wonderful. The best way to eat piragi was to grab them from the pan just as my mother took them out of the oven and get a rap accross the knuckles with a wooden spoon as I stuffed it in my mouth.

  22. Today my two sisters and I have our holiday tradition of baking piragi for the whole family. Christmas gifts to our brothers anf their family in California. Our Latvian grandmother instilled our love for these heavenly rolls and taught my oldest sister the recipe. We bag them up by person and send them off via next day shipping. They all need to find a good hiding place for their personal stash, as light-hearted coveting abounds! The baking is an all day affair … at least four batches. A lot of hard work, fun fellowship, wonderful smells in my kitchen and PIRAGIS FOR ALL!

  23. Just finished baking piragi for two days. My mother never had a recipe with the amounts of ingredients. All trial and error. Quite a few errors, but finally conquered the recipe. I do add about 1/4 cp of sour cream. Makes dough a little lighter. I make them for Christmas gifts since my mother passed away and I carry on the tradition. Tonight I will make Alexander cake. Wish me luck.

  24. Mum was 8 when she and family immigrated to Australia following WW2. My grandma, Natalija Kurpnieks, was renowned for her cooking and baking amongst the Melbourne Latvian community. I remember baking day in her kitchen where enough dough to fill a baby’s bathtub was kept warm in a bed whilst we baked. I never knew the latvian names of what we baked, we always called these bacon rolls. We also made poppyseed bread, baked cheesecake, fruit filled danish and sweet cheese filled danish. All made with the same dough. Recipes weren’t written down and everything was done by feel and taste. Every year I left grandma’s place 1 stone heavier after 3 weeks of good Latvian cooking.

  25. Can anyone help me, I am after a recipe that my grandma use to make. It is a small sweet bun. I am unsure of the name of the bun, and I am assuming it uses yeast. Is anyone able to help me please

  26. I am so happy to stumble across this site. My vecmama is from Riga and is now deceased. Latvian pierogis (pronouceded piadogs in our family because of the kids who didnt speak Latvian) are the biggest reminder of my Vecmama. The smell of the filling (ham and onion) brings back so many memories. My sister and I will continue to carry on the tradition of making pierogis during special occasions.

  27. My mother was from Riga. She left in 1944 with very little. She married a GI. We grew up in the USA having Piragis every Christmas. When I was young she would make the dough from scratch. Later in life she was buying a premixed bread mix, always with yeast. The smell of the yeast leavened bread with the mixture of Canadian bacon, bacon and onion wafting through the house. I am about to make a batch. Don’t forget the egg wash.

  28. My Dad is from Rezekne and escaped World War 2 with his family. My grandmother passed away before I was born but I did get a chance to taste her Piragis recipe a few times; simply stunning. I asked my Australian born mother for the recipe but it has been lost. I will try the recipe mentioned above from the family in Canberra, thank you for this.

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