Saturday, January 31, 2015

Kichels -- The Recipe from the Old Country

Families in America are supposed to have beloved recipes that their grandmother brought over from the old country - whatever country that might have been.  Our family's recipes were kichels and knishes.  I can't really say that these are a traditional recipe from anywhere in particular.  They come from my grandmother on my mother's side, Reva.  Although her sister, Sue, usually took command of the kitchen.  I've always been told that they came from Poland, but the town I remember hearing of, Ravarushka, is actually across the border near Lvov, in Ukraine.  Like many of the Eastern European towns, it seems like it changed hands with the fortunes of war.  I've tried to find some more information on my grandmother's journey, but I keep running into dead ends.  She and her sister never wanted to discuss it.  And I'm pretty sure that whatever records there might have been in the Jewish communities of Eastern Europe didn't survive the triple onslaught of World War I, Stalin and World War II.

Most kichel I've come across were firm, flaky cakes.  Ours are made with a yeasty dough from a mixture of flour and potato.  After the dough has cycled through rising and pounding down, it's portioned, rolled out into circles, covered with lots of melted butter and sprinkled with a good amount of sugar, cinnamon, and crushed walnuts.

Our knishes were different as well.  In New York, most of the knishes people see are the horrible, mass-produced Gabila knishes, sold from street carts along with our famous dirty-water hot dogs and stale pretzels that seem to have been sitting in a warehouse for decades.   Others are large blocks of dry mashed potato or even drier kasha wrapped in tough dough.  Ours were smaller, bite-sized knishes, filled with peppery potato.

The knish recipe I don't have, but my mother passed along the kichel recipe about ten years ago.  I've probably tried 5 or 6 batches over the years, and I get a little better every time.  The tricky part comes at the end -- finding the proper proportions for rolling out the dough, cutting the wedges, and rolling up the crescents.

Recipe at the end.

The recipe is for a pretty big batch.  It's a bit intimidating, calling for 5 pounds of sugar and an artery-clogging amount of Crisco shortening.

Boil and then mash potatoes, while bringing milk to a boil.
 Activate the yeast in the cooled milk.  Then mix together the potatoes, eggs, shortening, sugar and sour cream.

Slowly incorporate the flour.

Let it rise, pound it down, let it rise some more.  Coat the top with a little softened Crisco or butter.

Coat the top once more and let is sit again in the fridge.

When the dough has sat out a bit and come to room temperature, divide it into six balls:

In the mean time, mix together a lot of sugar, cinnamon and chopped walnuts. 

And melt a lot of butter.  A lot.  I heard a lot of this from my Mom:  "Oh, yes, more butter."
We found it was best to melt the butter and then put it in the fridge for a bit to set up.  You want it more of a paste than melted or just softened.

Cut each ball in half, and roll it thin:

 Cover liberally with butter and the sugar/cinnamon/walnut mixture:

Cut into slices. It's tricky to get the right size.   A lot depends on how big you want the final kichels.  Apparently, my grandmother liked them bite-sized.  Her sister rolled them much bigger.

The rolling is a little tricky.  Pull the end towards you a bit, fold in the corners and start rolling -- pulling and tucking all the way.  You want the dough to thin a bit, without breaking, so you get more layers.  And tuck in the ends as you go, so it doesn't get too wide.  Then, take the tip of the wedge and tuck it under the last roll to keep it all together.  (We had some trouble with the layers separating while the kichels were in the oven.  I think we needed more butter and sugar.)

When you're done rolling dip the top of the kichel liberally into the softened butter, and then into a goodly amount of the sugar/cinnamon/walnut mixture.  It's a good idea to keep two bowls each of the butter and sugar mixture.  One pair for spreading on the rolled out dough, and the other pair for the dipping.

Then bake at 350* for about 15-20 minutes, until golden on top.

Turn them all out onto paper towels, topside down.  This allows the excess sugar/nuts to fall off and keeps any melted sugar on the bottoms from sticking to the towels.

One batch makes about 150.   I hope you're hungry.

And there you go.

Heat them a bit before eating.  10-15 seconds in a microwave is perfect.  


1 pt sour cream
5 lbs boiled potatoes
3 lbs butter
5 lbs sugar (you won't need it all)
10 lbs flour (you won't need it all) 
1.5 lbs rough-chopped walnuts
2 cups milk
4 packages yeast
2 cups Crisco
6 eggs

Soften 1 stick butter

Boil 2 cups of milk and let it cool

Boil enough potatoes to get two cups mashed.  
Save one cup of the potato water.

Mix the cooled milk, cooled potato water and 4 packages yeast. 
Let it sit until it forms bubbles.

Mix together:

1 cup Crisco
1 stick softened butter
2 cups sugar
3 tsp salt
2 cups mashed potatoes
1 pint sour cream
6 eggs

Add 5-8 lbs flour in stages.  Knead until dough moves away from the side of the bowl and is tender and soft.

Leave dough in the bowl, coat the top with Crisco and lay a towel over it.  Put the bowl in a warm spot to rise for 2.5 - 3 hours.   Punch down the dough and knead with more flour.  I can't really explain how much, because I don't know.  Butter the top and and cover.  Put the bowl with the dough in fridge at least 1 hour -- or overnight, with a dish sitting on top.  (I don't know what the dish is for.)

Pre-heat the oven to 350*

Take dough out of fridge and let it come to room temperature.  Divide the dough into 6 balls, and coat each with soft butter or Crisco.

Separately, mix together 3 cups of sugar, 1 1/2 lbs chopped walnuts and cinnamon.  You pretty much have to eyeball this to get the proportions you think will fit your taste.  Separate that mixture into two bowls.  Melt two sticks of butter.

Cut the balls of dough down to a smaller size.  Spread flour out on the table.  Roll out dough to about 12".  

Brush the dough with a good amount of melted butter, and sprinkle generously with the  sugar/cinnamon mixture.  Cut the dough into wedges and roll into crescents.  Dip the top of the crescent into butter, then into more sugar/cinnamon.  Roll should be about the size of a large egg.

Put the rolls onto a parchment paper covered baking sheet, leaving space in between them.  Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden on top.  

1 comment :

  1. My grandmother must have come from same place as yours her kichel were just like this. Made me happy to see.