Citizens, we are coming up on the holiest holiday of the Jewish year: Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Jews across the world will be in Temple all day, fasting and then breaking the fast at sundown – traditionally with a noodle kugel, at least by eastern European (Ashkenazi) Jews.
Enjoying this sweet and incredibly caloric dish is a time-hallowed tradition amongst Eastern European Jews breaking the Yom Kippur 24-hour fast and I will now share my version of this recipe with you! 🙂 Just be sure you have your cardiologist on speed dial – my version of this dish is unashamedly rich, as all the best versions of this recipe are.
Kugel is a baked pudding or casserole, most commonly made from egg noodles (Lokshen kugel) or potato. It is a traditional Ashkenazi Jewish dish, often served on Shabbat and Yom Tov. Lokshen (noodle) kugel is how the dish is best known today, though there are many other variations.
The name of the dish comes from the Middle High German ‘Kugel’ meaning “sphere, globe, ball”; thus the Yiddish name likely originated as a reference to the round, puffed-up shape of the original dishes (compare to German Gugelhupf—a type of ring-shaped cake). Nowadays, however, kugels are often baked in square or rectangular pans.
While Litvaks (Jews from Lithuania, northern Poland and northern Russia) call the pudding “kugel,” Galitzianers (Jews from southeastern Poland and the western Ukraine) call it “kigel.”
The first versions of this dish were made from bread and flour and were savory rather than sweet. About 800 years ago, cooks in Germany replaced bread mixtures with noodles or farfel. Eventually eggs were incorporated.
The addition of cottage cheese and milk created a custard-like consistency common in today’s dessert dishes. In Poland, Jewish homemakers added raisins, cinnamon and sweet curd cheese to noodle kugel recipes.
In the late 19th century, Jerusalemites combined caramelized sugar and black pepper in a noodle-based version known as “Yerushalmi kugel” or “Jerusalem kugel,” which is a commonly served at Shabbat kiddushes and is a popular side dish served with cholent during Shabbat lunch.
As further elucidated on spoonuniversity.com:
Originally, kugel was a very savory dish. It first came on the scene in Germany during the 12th century, and it was steamed in a pot and had a very pudding-like consistency.
Many people would add onions to it for extra flavor. In the 17th century when sugar was popularized, kugel started becoming more of a sweet pudding.
The staple ingredients that make a kugel are a starch base, eggs (or egg substitute), and fat. As long as those three ingredients are present, you can go any direction with it.
As stated on Chabad.org, Jews commonly eat kugel on Shabbat because it resembles the manna that fell from heaven to nourish the Jews during their 40-year sojourn in the desert.
According to The Joy of Kosher, an online food blog, the late 1700s was a BIG time for this dish. Variations of the food were popping up everywhere: potato kugel, rice kugel, and matzo kugel that was kosher for Passover!
In Romania, this dish is called Budinca de Macaroane/Paste Fainoase (Maccaroni/Pasta Pudding), and it is a traditional Romanian dish. In certain villages throughout the country it is known as “Baba Acolo”. It is made with or without cheese, but it most always includes raisins.
Older Jews will perhaps remember the Yiddish aphorism, “Vos wys a gazzer vun Lokshen?” (What does a pig know about Lokshen?).
My version of the recipe includes a range of fruit and spices – Grand Marnier-soaked (or kosher grape juice-soaked) golden raisins, tons of pineapple, dried cranberries for a lovely sweet-sour accent and a mahleb/cardamom/nutmeg sugar in place of the traditional cinnamon sugar. Mahleb is a marzipan and cherry-scented spice used in middle eastern cooking that is made from – unsurprisingly – cherry pits. You can buy excellent-quality mahleb here.
I also specify vanilla paste (available in baking supply stores and Amazon) for a stronger vanilla flavor. I also add in some Devon custard – because why not! You can purchase my preferred brand here.
Lastly – a heretical hint of Bailey’s Irish Cream to help once again cut through the unspeakable richness of this dessert and at same time effectively gild a very rich lily! In the spirit of Jewish New Year, also try my Rosh Hashanah challah!
Battle on – The Generalissimo
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