Speķrauši is an oblong or crescent-shaped baked Latvian bread roll or pastry, often containing a filling of finely chopped bacon cubes and onion. Speķrauši range from 5 centimetres in length to 13 centimetres, depending on if they are intended as a snack or a more substantial meal. Smaller speķrauši are often prized for their daintiness and are considered the work of a skilled cook.
As with many national dishes, Latvian families often have their own unique recipe for the dish, yet to be called speķrauši it has to maintain the half-moon shape and the filling has to be bacon bits. Due to the amount of work involved to make speķrauši, they are usually made only for special occasions and in very large numbers. Yet, you would be able to find them in most local bakeries and pastry shops.
Other common pīrāgs fillings include fatty bacon, fatback (speķis), mixtures of ground or finely chopped meats (ground beef, ham and chicken with or without bacon), fish, cabbage and pressed cottage cheese. Pīrāgi come in two main varieties: plain bread pīrāgi and broth or soup pīrāgi (zupas or buljona pīrāgi). Bread pīrāgi come with a larger variety of fillings and are made using a yeast dough. Broth pīrāgi are made from a flaky pastry butter dough, often a sour cream dough, and are usually filled with boiled beef or sometimes cooked fish. These are intended to be eaten with a cup or bowl of good broth.
The day before baking pīrāgi, the cook usually spends one or two hours preparing any meat and onion that will be used. Bacon and other fatty meats (such as bacon or back bacon) do not chop well in a food processor and tend to get caught on the blade, so the cook must hand chop these into tiny cubes, about 1.5 millimetres (about 1/16 inches). This is sometimes made easier by freezing the meat for a few minutes. Other less fatty meats (such as beef) tend to turn into a paste in the food processor, so if the meat is not already ground, the cook grinds it using a hand or electric grinder.
The day of baking, the cook makes the dough. This is a fairly standard white bread dough, with a varying amount of fat in it, depending on the particular family's recipe. Allowing the dough to proof and rise takes several hours, during which time the meat from the previous day is sauteed over a very low flame for a few minutes to ensure that the flavours in the filling meld a bit. When the dough has finished rising for bread pīrāgi, or the dough has chilled for bullion pīrāgi, the cook usually uses one of two methods to make the individual pīrāgi:
Prepared pastries are put into rows on pans, left to rise slightly, brushed with egg and then baked for a few minutes.
Pīrāgi were not a seasonal dish in Latvian society, because most ingredients needed to make the different varieties were available from the pantry year round. After potatoes had infiltrated Latvian society from the New World, sometime potatoes were also used to replace flour in the dough, allowing the pastries to be baked even when flour was unavailable. This means that pīrāgi could be baked any time and are historically associated with Latvian celebrations year round.
The two biggest historic Latvian celebrations are for summer solstice and winter solstice: Jāņi (June 24 - St. John's Day) and Ziemassvētki (Christmas). One of the most popular and familiar Latvian Ziemassvētki folk songs mentions pīrāgi:
Abi gali apdeguši
In a decorated sleigh
Oh that poor pīrāgs
Both ends were burnt