When my baby Sis posted she was making Runzas, I became inspired. She fell in love with them during her years in the Cornhusker state, and knows her Runza. Originally peasant food, the Runza was brought to Nebraska by Germans from the Volga region of Russia. I’m confident, following the instructions below, that even a non Volgan can turn out beautiful Runzas on their first try. 🙂
Just what is a Runza? “They’re something like a Bierock” one person posts; another says “They’re nothing like a Bierock,” and a third chimes in that “They are Bierocks” which doesn’t help much if you’ve never had a Runza OR a Bierock!! It turns out a Runza IS a Bierock, just called Runza by a chain of the same name.
I know I’ll be safe in saying a Runza is a pocket of dough traditionally wrapped around a meat, cabbage or sauerkraut, and onion filling, and I know I can be safe in saying they’re delicious! My son and his friends thought they tasted a little like a White Castle burger, probably because the meat is cooked with the onions.
Almost everything else about Runzas is hotly debated: Should they have spices other than salt and pepper, should the dough be sweet or plain? Should the filling be cabbage or sauerkraut? Should there be cheese, and if so, what kind? Does the cheese go in before or after baking? How thin/thick should the dough be? Should they be small or large? Should the shape be a half moon, a bun, a square or a rectangle? Should the Runza be allowed to rise before baking? Should the tops be brushed with butter or oil or nothing, and if so, before or after baking? And on & on it goes…
So here’s what I decided on after much research, and multiple batches, along with a few comments on the outcome:
- Even though my sister doesn’t make hers with a sweet dough, most of the recipes I found with homemade dough used 1/2 cup of sugar, and some more. I tried it with 2 tablespoons, and the dough took forever to rise and baked rather dry and crusty. A half a cup, to me, almost exactly like King’s Hawaiian bread, which was wonderful with the Runza baked with allspice, but a little strange with a Runza that had only pepper – the cheese “saved” those. More sugar would have been cloying.
- My sister uses salt and pepper only – many insisted on white pepper as a “secret ingredient” so I figured, why not and used a little of both peppers along with the salt, shunning all other spices. Shhh – don’t tell my sister. They were a bit bland. The second batch included 1/4 teaspoon of allspice as I’ve seen in old recipes. It seems very obvious from the photo of the Runza on (bottom of the page) that the commercial version contains allspice and/or clove – the color is a dead give away and may very well be the “elusive” taste that many bloggers say can’t be duplicated. The third batch, I added a bit of clove along with the allspice – about 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon, I tasted as I went along. Perfection!
- It seems the standard size is 12 Runza to a dough recipe, and that is how I made them. My brother-in-law likes his larger and my sister likes her smaller. The commercial Runza are rectangular, but Runzas are much easier to make in a square shape, and a square is easier than a bun or a half moon. I settled on a square, about 5 x 5 after trying them larger. The larger ones rose a bit better, the smaller were denser, and I used about the same amount of filling in each.
- I let the Runza rise for about 20 minutes before baking while my oven preheated, and after baking, while still warm, brushed some of the tops with butter. I just opened a stick of butter and ran it over the tops, letting it melt on the Runza. The ones with butter were perfect, and the dough was wonderful. Note added: When I baked these in the winter, I found I had to add a little oil to the top before baking or they dried out in the low humidity and didn’t rise properly.
- After trying the Runzas without cheese, I followed my sister’s advice and added what seems to be a very traditional (???) ingredient – a slice of American cheese, stuffed into the hot Runza to melt. This was a leap of faith for me, but it made all the difference in the world. I’m sure some Volgan great, great Grandmother is rolling in her grave! Note added: When I made the Runza with a little allspice and clove, they didn’t *need* the cheese…
Don’t be afraid to try the recipe with the homemade dough – traditional Runza dough is easy to work with and very manageable, even when done by hand. The dough contains a lot of yeast and quite a bit of sugar; it rises very quickly, so this isn’t an all day project. While regular bread dough is fine, most of the very old recipes I found use this sweeter version of dough. It’s really outstanding.
If you’ve haven’t made much bread, this is the recipe to try! You’ll look like a hero – plus, any imperfections are charming and attest to the fact that they’re homemade. Using frozen bread or bun dough is a perfectly acceptable shortcut, though. Of interest is that the standard dough for the Runza weighs 2.6 pounds, and a standard frozen loaf is one pound.
In my mind this recipe cries out for tinkering, additions and variations…see below for some ideas, under Put Your Own Spin on It. As far as cost, I won’t detail it out this time, but try to buy your hamburger on sale and get a decent price on the cheese. Use the yeast in the jar and you’ll pay less than for the packets. The plain Runza ran about $3.17 for the filling and $1.03 for the dough.
Our leftover Runza reheated in the microwave perfectly, about 2 minutes, loosely wrapped in a paper napkin or paper towel, but I understand these freeze very well (after they’ve cooled.) Reheat in foil in a 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes. Many people double the recipe, simply because if they’re making 12, why not make 24 and get the mess over with?
Bierocks or Runza
This dough mixes up a little differently from a standard dough. First you mix the ingredients into a kind of slurry, then add the remaining flour.
- 4 1/2 cups of flour, divided into 1 3/4 cups and 2 3/4 cups
- 2 packages of yeast or four and 1/2 teaspoons yeast
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup of water
- 3/4 cup of milk
- 1/2 cup of shortening (I used butter)
- 2 eggs
In a large mixing bowl, place the 1 3/4 cup of flour, yeast, salt and sugar. Whisk together and set aside.
In a saucepan, heat the milk, water and shortening to 120 degrees. (note: between 110 to 120 is the standard temperature to heat liquid when adding it to a flour mixture that already contains the yeast, but make certain the temperature is not over 120.) Pour over the flour/sugar/salt mixture and stir to combine. Add eggs. Mix by hand or by hand mixer. (I mixed mine by hand with a stiff spatula) but many recipes suggest you use a mixer. Beat for about three minutes or so.
Stir in remaining flour, turn out and knead for a short time, three or four minutes, adding in a little extra flour if it’s too tacky. Your dough should be smooth and elastic when done, but still quite soft, and slightly tacky to the touch…this dough does not require the amount of kneading a regular loaf of white bread does. It’s actually more like a sweet dough (like one would use for cinnamon rolls.)
If your dough is not soft – has too much flour or is overly kneaded, your Runza won’t rise properly and will be lumpy, so err on the side of too little flour over too much. If your dough is dry, knead in a little more water, but it is always easier to add more flour than water.
Place in an oiled pan, then turn the dough over (so all is coated with oil) cover with a tea towel or plastic wrap and allow to rise for about an hour until doubled in size. Meanwhile, make your filling (below) and allow to cool, and then proceed to Filling and Baking.
- 1 pound ground beef (I’ve read that you should not use a lean ground beef for more authentifc flavor)
- 2 small or one large onion, chopped finely
- 1 small head of cabbage or 1/2 a large, chopped fairly finely. Coleslaw mix is a bit too fine, but large chunks of cabbage tend to be unattractive.
- salt and pepper – season generously after the filling is cooked, to taste; these should be quite peppery, I used about 1/2 teaspoon total of white and black pepper and a teaspoon of salt.
- 1/4 teaspoon allspice (optional but highly recommended)
- 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon clove (optional but highly recommended)
In a good-sized pan, cook hamburger and onion until hamburger is cooked through and onion is fairly translucent. Add in chopped cabbage and cook until tender and wilted. Excess moisture can cause soggy bottoms in a Runza, so make sure your filling isn’t too wet. Some use a slotted spoon, but the problem with that is the spices are drained away with the juices.
Place the filling in a colander and allow to drain for about 15 minutes as it cools. Return to pan and add salt, peppers, clove and allspice to taste. Adjust seasoning if needed.
Proceed to Filling and Baking, below.
Filling and Baking:
Gently punch down and divide the dough into two portions, covering one part with a towel or plastic wrap. Lightly flour your counter and rolling pin and roll dough into a rectangle about 10″ by 15″.
If dough is properly made, very little flour should be necessary. If it sticks, work a bit more flour as you roll by dusting under the dough and on the rolling pin. If the dough doesn’t roll out smoothly, it may be possible it is too dry. Lightly sprinkle the faintest amount of water on it as you roll out and see if that helps.
Using a pizza cutter, trim the edges and divide into six 5″ by 5″ squares.
Using a slotted spoon or filling already drained in a colander, transfer about a half of a cup of the filling to each square. Unless you’re interested in figuring out the exact weight of cabbage and onion, there will always be some variance in the amount of filling. I divide the filling roughly in half, so I can tell if I need to put a little more or a little less in each Runza to use it all up or make it stretch.
Pull up two adjacent corners toward the middle and seal the seams, repeat with the next corner and so on, as shown below. Make certain seams are sealed well – if the dough has become too dry to easily stick easily, run a slightly wet finger next to the edges and proceed. Edges that are not properly sealed will leak.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the Runza on a lightly oiled baking sheet, seam side down. Cover with a clean tea towel. If working at a time of year with low humidity, lightly spray the tops of each Runza so they won’t dry. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling. Let rise about 20 minutes or so. and perhaps a bit longer in cooler weather (the tops should be smooth.) Note added: Pick up each runza very gently before baking and turn over, making certain all seams are still sealed, then replace on baking sheet. Bake 15 to 20 minutes until golden brown. Remove from baking sheet and place on a wire rack.
While still warm, brush tops with butter. This is most easily done by opening the end of a stick of butter and running the end over the tops of the rolls.
From the kitchen of http://www.frugalhausfrau.com, adapted from
The filling technique is pretty straight forward and much easier than it seems it would be. Warning: It can be a little messy, but things will turn out just fine in the end!
Put your Own Spin on It:
- Dough: As mentioned above, frozen bread or rolls may be substituted for the homemade dough or bun dough. Of interest: the home-made Runza dough weighed 2.6 pounds.
- One variation I found very intriguing was to roll the dough fairly thinly, fold like a calzone, brush the top with a little egg wash and bake on a preheated pizza stone – this appeared to make a crispier rather than a soft Runza. Something that seemed to be more like a Hot Pocket, for those of you looking for a homemade substitute.
- Traditional Filling: It seems that many of the older generations did not use ground beef at all, at least our concept of ground beef today. They were made with meat ground by hand – any meat available, and often a mixture of left over meats already cooked: ham, beef, pork, sausage. What ever was available.
- Fillings: I can think of a zillion fillings that would be absolutely delicious – keeping in mind that a saucy or gravy like filling wouldn’t work for these. How about Hamburger, bacon and cheese? Ham and cheese, or course, immediately comes to mind. How about mushrooms cooked in a little butter and wine, flavored with tarragon or marjoram and paired with Gruyere or Swiss? I’m imagining a chicken, artichoke basil Runza, served with a little Alfredo sauce. Substituting sausage for some of the hamburger would add a little zing. A barbecue/cheese Runza sounds wonderful.
- Some say the Runza is a forerunner of the beloved Rueben sandwich – no doubt the sauerkraut Runzas, if this were the case. I’m thinking the Runza would be a great use for left over St. Patrick’s Corned Beef and Cabbage.
Other than a filling that is too wet or a seam that isn’t sealed, there are two main issues, a dough that’s too dry or one that’s two wet. Luckily, neither affects taste, and I’m sure they were delicious.
Are you a Runza fan? Do you have a traditional filling your family used, secret spices and believe the Runza shouldn’t be tinkered with? Or are you up for cheese and other “new fangled” combinations?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on the Runza and any suggestions!