Sweet and Easy

Kugel appears on the table more often on Pessah than during the rest of the year, perhaps because it is much easier to make than other desserts.

Kugel 311 (photo credit: courtesy)
Kugel 311
(photo credit: courtesy)
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 specialties.
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 reheating it.
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 caramel sauce.
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 crust.
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.
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 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.
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 sour cream.
✔ 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.
Drain well.
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.