Apple Bierocks

Jerri and I were introduced to bierocks by Jerri’s Aunt Hilda many years ago, when she was living in a retirement community in North Newton, Kansas. When I suggested that we go for a drive, Aunt Hilda said that she would like to stop at Gillispie Meats.

Following Aunt Hilda’s directions, Jerri, her aunt and I were soon at a small meat market on a tree-lined street in Newton, Kansas. Having lived most of my life in Wisconsin, I was familiar with small butcher shops and grocery stores with expert meat crafters who produced fine sausages, hams and bacon, but this was the first one I had encountered in Kansas.

“I want to buy some bierocks for supper,” Hilda said, “and Gillispie’s makes the best ones in Newton. Maybe in Kansas.”

I had never heard of them, and neither had Jerri. “What are bierocks?” I asked.

“They’re buns filled with meat and cabbage,” she told us. “Mennonite women brought the recipe to Kansas along with Turkey Red Wheat when Grant was President. Our family didn’t make them, so that’s why you don’t know what they are,” she told Jerri.

Aunt Hilda was a great cook and loved good food, so we took her advice and bought a half dozen bierocks. They were wonderful. I learned later that Catholic, Lutheran and Baptist women from southeast Russia also brought bierock recipes to Kansas when the great Mennonite migration occurred, so it might be more accurate to say that bierocks are a German/Russian delicacy enjoyed by Mennonites, Catholics, Lutherans, Baptists and anyone else who likes good food.

Traditional bierocks are yeast rolls stuffed with a savory mixture of meat and cabbage or sauerkraut. They are smaller than pasties, but you can always eat two. This got me thinking about how to use up some apples left over from the harvest from a friend’s tree.

What if I used a sweet dough and made bierocks filled with apples? The answer? A delicious variation on a wonderful recipe.

Here is how you can make your very own apple bierocks. They are easier to make than you might think.


4 cups chopped apples
1 tsp. lemon juice
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup light brown sugar
3 T cornstarch
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. allspice
1/4 tsp. salt
1 3/4 cups water
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 T butter


Peel and core four or five apples and cut them into quarters. Slice each quarter into half-inch slices and chop them into quarter-inch pieces. You should have about four cups of chopped apples in a mixing bowl. Stir a teaspoon of lemon juice into the apples.

Blend the sugars, cornstarch, spices and salt together in a small bowl.

Bring the water to a boil over moderate heat in a two-quart saucepan. Whisk the sugar mixture into the water and whisk until you have a smooth sauce. Stir in the apples, bring the mixture back to a boil, then reduce the heat and cook the apples for seven to eight minutes, stirring every minute or so. Test a piece of apple for tenderness. Done right, it will have a slight crunchiness.

Remove the pan from the heat, let it cool a minute and stir in the butter and vanilla.

Cover the pan and set the filling aside to cool. You can make it a day ahead of time and store it in the refrigerator until you are ready to make the bierocks.


1 cup water
4 tsp. yeast
1 cup milk
1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup granulated sugar plus 1/4 tsp. divided
1 1/2 tsp. salt
2 large eggs
About 7 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. lemon juice
1/4 tsp nutmeg
2 T butter


Bring a cup of water to lukewarm and stir in a quarter teaspoon of sugar and the yeast. Set the mixture aside while the yeast proofs. Put the shortening, the half cup of sugar and the salt into a large mixing bowl.

Heat the milk until it is steaming and pour it over the shortening, sugar and salt. When the milk has cooled to lukewarm, beat the eggs in with a fork. Using a wooden spoon, stir in two cups of flour, a cup at a time, then add the yeast and beat well to make a smooth batter. Stir in the lemon juice and nutmeg, then continue stirring in flour a cup at a time until you have a soft dough. Stir in more flour a quarter cup at a time until you have a workable dough that pulls away from the sides of the bowl.

Turn the dough onto a floured work surface and knead it for three to five minutes until you have a satiny smooth dough. Be careful not to knead too long, or you will incorporate too much flour into the dough. Form the dough into a ball.

Grease the mixing bowl with shortening or non-stick spray and turn the ball of dough in the bowl until it is lightly covered with grease. Cover the bowl with a damp towel, set it in a warm place and allow the dough to rise until it has doubled in size.

Deflate the risen dough and turn it out on a floured surface. Knead it gently for a few seconds, then divide it in half. Return half to the bowl and cover it with the towel. Shape the other half into a log about two inches in diameter and cut it into nine equal pieces.

Roll the pieces into balls and let them rest while you preheat the oven to 350º and line a baking sheet with parchment paper dusted lightly with flour. Melt the butter in a small dish. Blend a half teaspoon of cinnamon into a couple tablespoons of granulated sugar to garnish the bierocks before you put them into the oven.

Form the bierocks by flattening the balls on the floured surface and pressing the dough into a circle. Use a rolling pin to roll the dough into circles seven inches in diameter. Put about a quarter cup of filling in the center of the circle. Bring two sides of the circle high over the filling. Pinch them together, then do the same with the other two sides. Pat the seams together and put the bierock seam side down on the baking sheet.

Brush the tops of the bierocks with melted butter and sprinkle them with cinnamon sugar. Bake them on a center shelf in the preheated oven for twenty-two to twenty-four minutes until they are golden brown. Let them cool at least ten minutes before serving, as the filling is very hot when the bierocks come from the oven. Follow the same steps for the rest of the dough.

Apple Pie

If you drive the back roads of northern Wisconsin, every once in a while you will come to a place where the “No Trespassing” signs are so closely spaced that you assume the landowner got a discount on them. On a hot sunny day in August of 1964, three fellow students and I from the University of Wisconsin found ourselves looking at a phalanx of ugly signs guarding an apple orchard at an abandoned farm near Mole Lake, Wisconsin.

Since the bottom line of each sign said “By Order of the Sheriff” we assumed three things: First, that the signs had been paid for with tax money, part of which we had contributed; second, that the orchard must be on public land; and third, that the sheriff was probably just hogging all those lovely apples for himself and his friends.

I said, “We could make some good apple pies with those apples.” An hour later we were back at the cabin on Mole Lake with two paper sacks and a T-shirt full of apples. One of the guys had gotten permission from an uncle to use the place for a week if we promised to leave it clean with the beer and bourbon supply intact. We made a quick run to the general store for extra flour, lard, sugar and cinnamon and began our pie-baking project.

While I made the crusts, the guys peeled and cut apples. We had hardly started when we discovered that we were in a truly primitive fishing cabin: There was only one pie plate in the place. However, there were three large cast iron frying pans and a 9 x 13 inch cake pan, and I assured everyone that no matter what your mother did, you don’t need pie plates to make pies.

We had apple pie for breakfast, lunch and dinner for three days in a row to go with the bacon, eggs, bass and bluegills. Though the crusts were not the best I have made, and we had to guess on the amount of sugar to mix with the apples, we thanked the sheriff for some of the best apple pies we had ever eaten. Not that we actually said anything to him, of course, but we were sincere in the comments we shared around the table.

As Paul Kelly sings, “Stolen apples taste the sweetest,” but we all knew that long before he wrote the song.

Here is how to make a tasty 9-inch double crust apple pie like the ones we enjoyed that week at Mole Lake. If you want to bake it in a 12-inch frying pan, you have to double the ingredients.


Pie crust
6 to 8 large tart apples
3/4 cup sugar plus a little to sprinkle on the crust
2 T flour
3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
Dash of ground nutmeg
Dash of salt
2 T butter


Make the pie crust dough first, but don’t roll the crust until the apples are prepared. Here is my recipe for plain pie crust.

Preheat the oven to 400º.

Peel, core and thinly slice the apples into a large mixing bowl. You should have about 6 cups of sliced apples. Mix the sugar, flour, spices and salt together in a small bowl and stir these dry ingredients into the sliced apples.

Line the pie plate with the bottom crust and fill it with the apples. With the right amount of apples, you should have to heap them a little to get them all in. Scatter small pieces of butter over the apples.

Roll out the top crust, dampen the edge of the bottom crust and seal the top crust to the bottom. Trim the crust and make a decorative edge with your fingers or a fork. Sprinkle the crust with a little sugar. Make four or five slits in the top crust to let steam escape as the pie bakes.

Bake 45 to 50 minutes or until juice is bubbling out of the slits.

Let the pie cool as long as you can wait and serve pieces with a large scoop of vanilla ice cream.

NOTES: The best apple pies are made by combining different varieties of apples. If you are buying apples at the market, choose at least two different kinds. Granny Smith, McIntosh, Braeburn and Jonathan apples are good choices. If you are using whatever kind is on the tree, taste an apple before you make the pie. If the apple tastes very sweet, add a tablespoon of lemon juice before you stir in the dry ingredients.

And if you are running short on pie crust, make Apple Cream Pie.