“The best” anything, I’ve noticed, often comes down to what one has grown up loving. When it comes to taste, calling something “good” is a highly individual thing and labeling something “best” is — I admit — laughably subjective. So in saying that this dough recipe produces the best vareniki  I’ve ever had, I assume you know I claim no objectivity.
You see, I don’t have a Russian/Ukrainian/Polish/Etc. grandmother (except an imaginary one), and so I didn’t grow up eating filled dumplings made in the various Eastern European traditions. This also means I was never one of those who walk the earth with a memory of their grandma’s infallible dumplings as the measuring rod against which every dumpling is evaluated either. You could say that, dumpling-wise, I was tabula rasa.
Then, a few years ago, somebody wrote on that previously blank slate.
In a small Ukrainian city, lying sleepily at the bank of the Dnieper, I had the privilege of being served a plate of homemade Vareniki s Syrom (Вареники с Сыром), boiled Ukrainian dumplings with soft farmer’s cheese filling. As part of lunch, hundreds of warm dumplings, simply adorned with a huge glob of Russian-style sour cream, smetana (сметана), was brought out to us from a kitchen manned by Baba, a kind and kinetic Ukrainian grandmother whose tiny 90-lb body packs at least 500 lbs’ worth of energy.
After that meal, the Eastern European-style dumplings I’d had before became mediocre and the ones I had yet to have became irrelevant.
What makes these vareniki special? The dough.
Of course, the fillings matter. In the days that followed, Baba also made her famous vareniki with potato and sour cabbage fillings topped with crispy bits of salo and fried onions, etc., all of which were very delicious. But really, it is the dough that sets her vareniki apart from everything I’d had before. It’s tender, yet with just the right amount of chewiness. And what I mean by “the right amount of chewiness” is that anything more tender than that would be too limp and soggy, and anything more chewy than that would be too tough.
I was impressed.
After that trip to Ukraine, I made Google search for me the best vareniki/pierogi dough recipes out there. I experimented with several. And while 3-4 were really good, none came close to Baba’s, in my opinion.
Long story short, I’d later found out that Valya, Baba’s only child, had mastered how to make Baba’s vareniki dough. My friends, her two daughters, have also been trained to make vareniki in the exact same way Baba has done for decades. These women make vareniki following the same protocol and it seems nobody has ever dared to mess with Baba’s recipe. (Why would they?) I still remember letting out a chuckle when Valya and her younger daughter were in the kitchen one time showing me how to boil vareniki. “Boil them for one minute. One full minute. One minute only!,” they said in unison.
That was so cute and funny at the same time.
But, you see, to Baba and her offspring, it’s really not a secret; it is the only way to make vareniki to them. And if you ever make an exclamation upon learning this secret (while your mind conjures up the previously failed attempts at making decent vareniki), “Ah, kefir! I never thought of that!” like I did to them, they would probably give you the isn’t-that-how-everyone-else-makes-vareniki? deadpan look like they did me.
But since Baba’s dough is the best, I got down on my knees and begged Valya for this recipe. I didn’t even have to try that hard for she graciously obliged.
- Approximately 2-3 cups of the mixture of all-purpose flour and bread flour (1:1 ratio) – I use King Arthur flour
- 1 large egg
- ½ cup full-fat plain kefir
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 cup of farmer’s cheese (See notes)
- 1 large egg (See notes)
- 2 teaspoons sugar, optional (I like it; you may not)
- Put about 2 cups of the flour mixture into a mixing bowl and make a well in the middle.
- Add the baking soda, salt, and egg to the well; mix.
- As you mix the dry ingredients with the egg, gradually add the kefir; mix everything together.
- With one hand, knead the dough lightly right in the mixing bowl. The mixture must form a supple ball of dough that doesn’t stick to the bowl. if the dough is too sticky, add more flour, a bit at a time. (The flour will become more hydrated once the dough sits for 15 minutes after the mixing and less sticky then. So don’t put in too much flour just yet. Put in just enough for you to be able to knead the dough without it sticking to your fingers too badly. If in doubt, err on the side of adding too little flour; you can always add more later.)
- Knead the dough lightly for about 30 seconds. We don’t want to develop too much gluten which will result in vareniki that are too tough.
- Form the dough into a ball, cover, and let it sit for at least 15 minutes and up to one hour.
- Roll the dough into a long log and cut it into 20 pieces.
- Dust each piece of dough with more flour while roughly shaping it into a flat medallion.
- Roll each medallion into a 3-inch round, dusting the rolling pin as necessary.
- Fill each round of dough with about 1 tablespoon of the cheese filling.
- Seal each varenik very well making sure the cheese filling doesn’t ooze out.
- Bring a pot of water to a rolling boil; throw in some salt and drop the filled vareniki into the pot one by one. Give it a stir to keep the vareniki from sticking together. Adjust the heat so the water constantly remains at full boil.
- Boil the vareniki for one minute, no more and no less.
- Put a few pats of butter in a plate. With a slotted spoon, fish out the vareniki (shaking off as much water as you can) and place them in the butter plate. Give the vareniki a gentle shake just to allow the melted butter to coat them very well.
- Serve the buttered vareniki warm with lots of sour cream.
 Vareniki (вареники) is the plural form of varenik (вареник). While the localization — in this case, Anglicization — of foreign words is something natural (linguistically speaking) and cannot be stopped, I still feel weird saying “varenikis”.” It’s like saying, “My childrens caught a few mices today and fed them to the geeses.” Other already-plural foreign words such as this include, though are by no means limited to, seraphim, cherubim, pizzelle, pierogi, and panini.
 Which tastes more like crème fraîche than American sour cream to me.