Russian Oniony-Meat Pastries (Belyashi, Beliashi, or Beelishe)

photo taken by Suzie Y, on June 7, 2007, CC licensing

Yield: 40-50 pastries

While yeast dough would be the most traditional pastry for belyashi, many people prefer a sour cream dough (adding sour cream makes dough lighter, tender, and slightly tangy). And others don't use "from scratch" pastry at all-substituting instead packaged refrigerator biscuit or dinner roll dough.
So I give three different choices for the pastry here. Both the sour cream pastry and the quick yeast dough are taken/adapted from Please to the Table: The Russian Cookbook by Anya von Bremzen and John Welchman (Workman 1990).

For the Pastry (choose one of the following):

Quick Yeast Dough
1 package active dry yeast
2 teaspoons sugar
2/3 cup lukewarm milk (105 to 115 degrees F)
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted, and cooled to lukewarm
1 large egg, lightly beaten
½ teaspoon salt
3 ¼ to 3 ¾ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
In a large bowl, combine the yeast, sugar, and milk and let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes.
Add the butter, egg, and salt to the yeast mixture and mix well with a wooden spoon.
Stir in 3 ¼ cups flour, 1 cup at a time, stirring well after each addition.
Transfer the dough to a floured surface and knead gently until you have smooth, rather loose dough, about 3 minutes, adding just enough of the remaining flour to prevent sticking. Shape into three balls, cover with a linen or cotton (not terry cloth) kitchen towel and let stand for 10 minutes.
The dough is now ready to use. You can refrigerate it for up to 24 hours.

Sour Cream Pastry
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking powder
14 tablespoons (1 ¾ sticks) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into bits
2 large egg yolks, lightly beaten
2/3 cup sour cream
In a large bowl, combine the flour, salt, and baking powder. Add the butter, and using a pastry blender, two knives, or your fingertips, cut it into the flour until it resembles coarse crumbs.
Mix the egg yolks and sour cream together and add to the flour mixture a little at a time, quickly working it into the mixture with your hands.
Transfer the pastry to a cool, lightly floured surface and knead very briefly, no more than 30 seconds. Divide the pastry into three balls, wrap them in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 1 hour.

For packaged refrigerator dough
4 containers (10 biscuits each) Pillsbury buttermilk biscuits or an equal amount pf refrigerator dinner rolls
Separate the biscuits or dinner rolls and bring them to room temperature.

For the Meat Filling:
2 pounds ground beef
2 large onions, grated or finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, pressed or finely minced (optional)
½ cup fresh dill or parsley, finely chopped
salt and fresh ground pepper
ice water (optional)

Prepare yeast, sour cream, or refrigerator dough.
Make the filling. Combine the beef, onion, garlic, if using, dill or parsley, and salt and pepper to taste. If meat is lean, you may want to mix in a few tablespoons of ice water to make it juicier and less dense. Chilling the meat mixture will make it easier to work with.
If using yeast or sour cream dough: working on a lightly floured surface, using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll out one of the balls of dough to a thickness of slightly more than 1/8 inch. Cut out 3-inch rounds, using a cookie cutter or a drinking glass. Pat with your hand to flatten the dough slightly. Repeat with remaining two balls of dough. For the rolling pin averse: divide each of the balls of dough into about 16 pieces, about 48 in all. Form each of these pieces into a ball, then pat or roll each ball into a 3-inch round.
If using packaged refrigerator dough, pat the biscuits with your hand to flatten them.
Assemble the pastries: place about 2 teaspoons of the meat filling in the center of a dough circle. If using packaged refrigerator dough, lightly moisten the edge of dough around the filling with a little cold water. Gather the dough around the filling, folding and forming little pleats as necessary. Press and pinch the edges to ensure they stick and won't open up when fried. Tap lightly with your palm to flatten the pastry slightly: this will eliminate excess air and spread the meat more evenly inside the pastry. You should have a round, open pastry with the meat filling exposed in the center. Keep the finished pastries covered with a clean linen or cotton (not terry cloth) towel as you work so that they don't dry out.
Heat ½-inch oil in a large, heavy skillet. Add the belyashi in batches so you don't crowd the pan, open-meat-side down. Cook until golden-brown, then turn, reduce the heat slightly, and cook until the other side is golden. (If necessary, cover the skillet if the second side is cooking too fast.) Drain on paper towels and keep warm in a low oven until all belyashi are ready to be brought to the table.
If you prefer the crust softer, stack the cooked pastries in a deep casserole, cover with foil, and leave in a warm oven for 15-20 minutes.

Sephardic or Askhenazi