One of my favorite Pessah treats is a sweet kugel. Call it pashtida, baked pudding or casserole, on Pessah it’s usually a baked, matza-based dish. Somehow kugels appear on the table more often on Pessah than during the rest of the year, perhaps because they are much easier to make than other Pessah desserts like sponge cakes and meringues. Besides, kugels can play an additional role in the menu; they are popular as side dishes in some households.
“Kugel,” wrote Matthew Goodman, author of Jewish Food, “is a perfect example of how a delicious, nutritious food can be created from a proper mixture of inexpensive ingredients, and as such it’s long been one of the staples of Ashkenazic cookery.”
Although you can make kugels from Pessah noodles, I like old fashioned
matza kugels. They bring back fond memories of my mother’s Pessah
Somehow using Pessah noodles seems like cheating – I want the holiday’s
fare to taste different from that of the rest of the year. Matza kugels
are also faster and simpler to make, as there are no noodles to cook.
Using farfel, or diced matza, makes these baked desserts easiest of all.
The basic batter for the kugel is a mixture of moistened matza, eggs and sugar.
Spoon it into a greased baking dish, drizzle it with melted butter or oil, bake it and the kugel is ready to eat.
With kugels, not much can go wrong.
I don’t recommend trying to make a kugel fat-free by omitting all the
butter, oil or egg yolks, or the result might be too dry. Including a
modest amount of fat can make the difference between a tasty kugel and a
second-rate one. To prevent dryness, cover the kugel if you are
There are different techniques for treating the matza. To keep much of
the matza’s texture, you can briefly soak it whole in water and then
drain it. If you want it softer, break it in small pieces, soak it until
it is soft and squeeze it dry.
When you want a kugel with a smoother, more cakelike texture, make it with matza meal or matza cake meal.
It is up to you how sweet to make a kugel and how to flavor it. If I’m
serving my casserole as a side dish, I make it only slightly sweet.
Sliced or grated apples can add good taste as they bake in the kugel and
can help keep it moist.
Even better, saute the apples first in butter.
Then enhance the kugel with nuts and dried fruits and season it with sweet spices like cinnamon, cloves and ginger.
For extra flavor, you can moisten the mixture with wine.
If this list sounds to you like the ingredients for haroset, you’re
right. All haroset components can go into a kugel, and in fact, I have
made tasty kugels by mixing extra haroset into my matza base. Both
Ashkenazi apple-walnut haroset and Sephardi date-nut haroset add good
flavor to kugel.
If you’d like a creamy textured kugel, make it dairy by stirring in sour
cream, cottage cheese or both, almost like a cheesecake mixture. For
more of a bread pudding effect, make the kugel rich in eggs and whole
milk, or milk mixed with cream, and serve it with a sweet wine sauce or a
You can give a kugel a light texture that recalls a soufflé by folding
in whipped egg whites. Goodman showcases this technique in a Pessah
apple kugel, which is made with grated apples flavored with lemon zest
and plum brandy and sprinkled with chopped pecans that bake to a nutty
For a wholesome variation, use whole wheat or spelt matza and sweeten
the kugel with honey. You can even slip vegetables like carrots or
zucchini into a fruit kugel; after all, these vegetables are used in
cakes too. Carrots are combined with apples, dried cherries and
pistachios in a Pessah kugel in The Hadassah Jewish Holiday Cookbook. In
the same collection, the traditional tzimmes trio of carrots, sweet
potatoes and prunes is turned into a kugel; it’s mixed with apples,
matza meal, sweet wine, brown sugar and cinnamon.
For extra pizzazz, give your kugel a topping. My friend Judy Kancigor,
author of The Perfect Passover Cookbook, an e-cookbook, uses a technique
that takes advantage of matza’s crisp texture.
She tops her apricot matza kugel with a caramelized farfel topping that
is so addictive that her cousin Samra always doubles it “because the
kids eat it like candy and she never has enough to put on the kugel.”
She makes the simple topping by melting 2 tablespoons butter in a large
skillet, adding 2 cups farfel and 1⁄2 cup brown sugar and cooking it
while stirring until the mixture caramelizes, and sprinkles it over the
kugel before baking.
Sliced almonds scattered over a kugel before baking, then dusted with
sugar and dotted with butter, turn into a deliciously toasted topping.
Another tasty topping is a delicate cinnamon-sugarbrandy glaze that I
learned to make in France; I spoon it over a simple matza kugel just
after it comes out of the oven.
Kugels are kid-friendly but to guarantee enthusiasm among the children,
do what a contestant did in a kugel contest I judged some years ago –
stud the kugel generously with chopped chocolate or chocolate chips.
SWEET MATZA AND COTTAGE CHEESE KUGEL WITH PECANS AND DRIED CRANBERRIES
Makes 6 servings
This creamy dessert could be considered a "bread pudding" for Pessah. It
consists of citrus-flavored cottage cheese custard studded with nuts
and fruit and baked between layers of matza. If you like, serve it with
✔ 4 matzot
✔ 3 large eggs
✔ 6 Tbsp. sugar
✔ 450 grams cottage cheese or smooth white cheese (about 2 cups)
✔ 1⁄2 cup sour cream or plain yogurt
✔ 1 to 2 Tbsp. orange juice
✔ 1 to 2 tsp. grated orange or lemon zest, or 1 tsp. of each
✔ 1 tsp. vanilla sugar (optional)
✔ 1⁄2 cup chopped pecans
✔ 1⁄3 to 1⁄2 cup dried cranberries or raisins
✔ 4 to 6 Tbsp. melted butter
Preheat oven to 165º. Soak whole matzot in cold water to cover for 1 or 2 minutes until slightly softened.
Lightly beat eggs with sugar in a large bowl until combined. Stir in
cottage cheese, sour cream, orange juice, grated zest, vanilla sugar,
pecans and cranberries.
Pour about 2 Tbsp. melted butter into a 20- to 23-cm. square baking dish
or cake pan. Set 1 whole matza in pan, filling in any spaces with
pieces from another matza. Spread half the cheese mixture on matza in
pan. Cover with another layer of matza. Spread remaining cheese mixture
on top. Cover with a layer of matzot.
Pour remaining melted butter on top.
Bake for about 1 hour or until kugel is set and top is browned.
Serve hot or lukewarm, cut into square pieces.
Makes 6 servings.
This recipe is from Jewish Food by Matthew Goodman.
Goldman wrote: “The recipe for this kugel, which is beautifully light,
delicately sweet, and floral, was passed down to Sue London of
Burlington, Vermont, by her father’s aunt, Bess London Goldman. The
kugel is kosher for Passover, and Sue London recalls many
Passover-season meals at which it was served... The Londons came to
Burlington from Lithuania shortly after the Civil War and were a
founding family of the town’s Jewish community.”
✔ 3 eggs, separated
✔ 1⁄2 cup sugar
✔ 2 cups grated peeled apples
✔ 1⁄3 cup matza meal
✔ Grated zest of 1 lemon
✔ 1⁄4 tsp. salt
✔ 1 Tbsp. slivovitz (plum brandy) or kirschwasser (cherry brandy)
✔ 1⁄3 cup finely chopped pecans
Preheat the oven to 175º. Grease the bottom and sides of a 23-cm. springform pan.
In the bowl of a standing electric mixer, beat the egg yolks and sugar
until pale and creamy. Add the apples, matza meal, lemon zest, salt and
brandy and beat until fully combined.
In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until they are stiff but not dry.
Gently fold the egg whites into the apple mixture, working quickly to maintain the lightness of the mixture.
Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and sprinkle the pecans on top.
Bake until the top is browned and the center is fully set, about 40 minutes.
Let cool slightly before removing the sides of the pan. Serve warm.
Faye Levy is the author of Faye Levy’s International Jewish Cookbook.