If you’re originally from Nebraska and you don’t live there anymore, you probably miss eating at Runza. For those of you who aren’t from Nebraska (or who haven’t had the good fortune of eating a Runza while visiting Nebraska), you’re probably wondering what in the world a Runza is. Some might call it a meat pie, though I can’t say I find that phrase very appetizing. Another friend basically suggested that I was making glorified Hot Pockets. (In a way, Josh, you’re right.) I would describe an original Runza as a small loaf of bread stuffed with seasoned ground beef, onions, and cabbage. I always get mine with cheese, but they get way more dressed up than that. (Swiss cheese mushroom Runza, anyone? How about a BLT Runza?)
Runza is a Nebraska original (started in Lincoln in 1949), and while we do have two franchises in Colorado, it’s pretty unlikely that I’m going to drive all the way to Ft. Collins or Loveland to have one. Therefore, I make my own. Until recently, it had been years since the last time I made Runzas. There’s been something about this Husker football season (maybe related to the fact that we have a game-worthy TV and more kitchen space now?), though, that has been stirring the craving.
I found a recipe on Allrecipes.com that (with a few minor tweaks) perfectly replicates that unmistakable Runza flavor. Making them is a bit time-consuming (and messy), I’ll admit, but it’s totally worth it. Plus, any extras freeze beautifully.
Here’s the recipe with my modifications:
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, divided
1/4 cup sugar (modified from 1/2 cup)
2 (0.25-ounce) packages active dry yeast
1 teaspoon table salt
3/4 cup milk (I use 1%, but I’m sure 2% or whole would be fine)
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup shortening (I use butter-flavor Crisco)
1 pound lean ground beef (I use 93/7 or 95/5 so I don’t have to drain it)
2 small onions, chopped
4 cups chopped cabbage
1 teaspoon coarse salt, plus more for seasoning
1/2 teaspoon pepper, plus more for seasoning
1 1/4 cups of shredded mild cheddar (or any cheese of your choosing)
In a large mixing bowl, place 1 3/4 cups of flour, sugar, yeast, and salt. Heat milk, water, and shortening to 120F – 130F. (I heated the mixture in a saucepan on the stove and used a candy thermometer to check the temperature.) Pour over flour mixture; add the eggs. Beat with an electric mixer on low until blended. Beat an additional 3 minutes on high. Stir in the remaining flour (2 3/4 cups); knead dough on a lightly floured surface until smooth and elastic (about 6 – 8 minutes). Place dough in a greased bowl; cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled (about 1 hour.)
Meanwhile, brown beef and onions in skillet. Add cabbage, salt, and pepper; cook until cabbage is wilted and starting to become translucent. Continue seasoning filling with additional salt and pepper to taste.
Punch dough down. Divide into 10 equal pieces and roll each piece into a square on a lightly floured surface. Top each square with 1/3 cup meat mixture and 2 tablespoons of shredded cheese. Fold dough over the filling, crimp edges tightly to seal, and place on greased baking sheets. (I used a pizza stone; you could also line your baking sheets with parchment [but NOT wax paper].) Bake at 350F for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Serve hot.
Perhaps this is blasphemy, but I think this recipe actually produces better sandwiches than Runza does itself. The filling taste is spot on, and the bread is absolutely incredible. The first time I tried this particular recipe, I didn’t roll the dough quite thin enough, so the bread was a bit overwhelming. This time, the Runzas were perfect. Perfect! Plus, I have six left in the freezer for later (to be baked for 25 minutes – rather than 20 minutes – at 350F, straight from the freezer). The bread is fractionally more heavenly fresh than it is frozen, but we’ll still have incredibly delicious Runzas without the mess. Runza lovers, you have to try this one… It won’t disappoint!
A few additional notes: Since I am absolutely crazy, I weighed the dough on my kitchen scale and portioned the pieces out by weight. I started with 34 ounces of dough, so each piece was just under 3 1/2 ounces. I did the same thing for the filling. I started with 31 ounces of filling, so each Runza got right around 3 ounces. Feel free to eyeball it, seriously; I just wanted my portions to be about equal.
TIPS: If you really don’t want to deal with making bread dough, you could probably use frozen dough. I really feel that this dough recipe makes the sandwich, though, so I’d strongly encourage you to at least give it a shot.
Also, if you’re going to freeze your Runzas, first put them on baking sheet and then place them on a freezer shelf for about an hour. Once they’ve started to firm up, transfer them to freezer bags.
Update 1/29/10: I’ve started preheating my pizza stone before I bake the Runzas whether they’re fresh or frozen. Dr. O and I were disappointed to discover that the bottom of our Runzas hadn’t cooked through on one occasion, and this solves the problem. If you’re baking them on a baking sheet rather than a pizza stone, I’d still recommend preheating it. With the preheated cooking surface, fresh Runzas are ready in 20 minutes and frozen ones are ready in 23 minutes (at my house, at least!). Also, I’ve discovered that you can “hold” fresh Runzas in the refrigerator for an hour or two before baking. Just give them 21 or 22 minutes in the oven. I feel ready to serve these for a game day party now that I know I’ll have time to clean up the mess before everyone arrives!
Original recipe link (without modifications): Runzas