Oh, yeah, baby. I had not crafted homemade knish in, well, decades (and never by myself or even as the lead cook). Then a couple months ago I decided to give it a try, since I’m not always great at cooking for myself when I need food. I tend to only cook when others are around. But prepared food is expensive, and take out food more so, so I often eat only one meal a day, and my snacks aren’t the healthiest. So what to do? Well, I love my homemade pizza, but prechopped toppings & pre-grated cheese only goes so far. It wouldn’t be homemade pizza without homemade dough, and that takes a while. I needed quick (or at least easy) finger food. I no longer live close enough to Solly’s in Vancouver where you can buy frozen, ready-to-bake knish, but I could make them myself.*1
So I made some knish a couple months ago, but they didn’t end up with the right texture (the dough baked into more of a hard, crisp shell than is traditional (and good)).
Since then I tinkered with the recipe and the spices, opting for a samosa-inspired filling, but going out of my way to pick up fresh fennel & caraway & cumin seed. I used no caraway or fennel in the first attempt, and relied on powders for the second. Neither gave that sharp, fresh flavor after cooking that fresh cracked seed imparts, so I knew the whole seed would be crucial to my third attempt. I have a 3-day gaming retreat once per month for the last few months, and the need for easy food is particularly high during those days. It’s coming up this week, so this weekend was time to give the knish another try.
I also fiddled with the dough some more, and yesterday on this third try I got it right. The fresh seed, cracked and bruised under my pestle but not completely ground, was a dramatic improvement, holding its flavor through cooking. Potatoes, onions (not traditional in samosa, but traditional in knish), carrots, peas, with curry spice plus black pepper and fresh cumin, caraway, and fennel has created the world’s best homemade snack food. Filling and easy to bake. Time consuming to prepare with love, but able to be frozen to be eaten when too busy to cook. Resolutely down home, they come with all the benefits of comfort food yet none of the expense and salt. This is the best idea I have ever had.
And to top it off? To go with the samosa-flavorings, I popped open some homemade plum chutney that was fresh canned during, I kid you not, the presidency of Bill Clinton. The woman who made it was an old acquaintance and the friend of a good friend. I ate mine when she gave it to me, but it turns out my friend never opened her jar. We were talking about the wonderful woman who made it (now deceased, fuck breast cancer) and she mentioned she’d never eaten it but never felt like she could get rid of it. So she gave it to me a month ago, and I opened it with some trepidation, but it was canned well and the seal was never broken: it was in perfect condition, which mean that I was able to eat perfect Indian-spiced knish with not only an appropriate condiment, but a true treat that had me thinking and talking about my memories of Anne while enjoying the fruits of both of our labors.
The experience was almost literally divine.
Ah, homemade knish: again and forever, I adore you.
*1: It also created the opportunity to have completely vegan knish. I generally make an exception to eating vegan for eggs used in bake goods, where I shy away from eating such but don’t rule it out.
You didn’t think I would leave you without a recipe, did you? Note that this recipe is easily doubled or tripled to create a large store of knish for freezing. Frozen knish can be baked without first defrosting, so they are the easiest of easy comfort foods once the initial cooking and assembly has been done. I used a double recipe to make 32 large knish this weekend and they’ll all be gone within a week. Since it’s not much extra work to make a giant batch, I would consider a double batch the norm and even bigger batches entirely reasonable, especially if you have teenagers in your house. Also note that if you end up accidentally going too light on the filling and fail to use all of it, since it’s already well cooked, save perhaps the potatoes being just shy of done, throwing it in the microwave easily finishes the potatoes if they needed it while reheating, and the leftover mix can be enjoyed as a snack-reward for the chef(s)!
2 cups (240 grams) all-purpose or pastry flour (you can mix in 1/2 cup wheat with 1.5 cups white if desired, but this is one recipe where I prefer to stick to white flour and damn the nutrition)
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt (okay, just salt, but why not go kosher for your knish?)
1/3 cup + 1 tablespoon olive oil (or schmaltz, if that’s your thing)
1/4 cup warm water
1 large egg, lightly beaten, or your favorite egg substitute
1 tsp. white vinegar
- combine flour, baking powder, and salt, ensuring that there are no lumps in the baking powder by measuring first, but then putting into your (very clean! very dry!) palm and mushing with a (very clean, very dry) finger before brushing into the other dry ingredients. Whisk dry ingredients together with a clean, very dry whisk.
- 2. Combine water, egg and vinegar, then whisk. Add mixture and olive oil to dry ingredients and stir together until dough begins to form. Knead by hand until all flour is incorporated into the dough.
- 3. Cover dough and let rest for 30 minutes, then put in the fridge if not using within an hour or two, especially if your house is warm. Bring out of the fridge 30 to 60 minutes before use.
- In a small fry pan, use a generous tablespoon of oil to heat seeds and release scent (about 30 to 60 seconds, then add onion, carrot, masala/curry spice (if using fresh potatoes), and pepper. stir the spice cook the onion until soft, but not caramelized (about 15 to 20 min at med-low heat, 10 min at medium heat). Stir frequently to avoid burning (and more frequently the higher your heat).
- If using potatoes, steam over boiling water for 15 to 20 minutes until giving but not quite as soft as fully cooked (they will finish cooking while baking). If using hash browns, fry in large pan with the masala/curry spices and remaining oil (about 2.5 to 3 tablespoons). Cover with a lid and use medium-low heat. Turn occasionally to get varied texture with some fried crust mixed throughout. The lid ensures partial steaming and a softer final texture than purely fried potatoes.
- Transfer potatoes to a large bowl, roughly fork. The potatoes should not be fully mashed, though parts of them will be. Allowing for multiple textures is key, so chunks should remain, and skins or fried crust mixed through are a benefit. Add the onion/carrot mix to the same bowl. Add frozen peas and fresh cilantro (if desired). Mix thoroughly and set aside.
- When all ingredients have been prepped, knead dough a few times (from a few seconds to a minute) to collect any oil or moisture that has sweated out, dust a clean prep surface with flour, and use knife to cut dough in half, then each half again, into quarters. Roll each quarter into a ball shape and set aside three. If one is smaller than the others, set that ball aside for last.
- Roll one quarter of the dough out into a rectangle, with at least 12″/30cm on the long side, the shorter side is determined by the thickness of your dough, which should be no more than 1/8th of an inch/3mm thick. The short side might be as long as 9″ / 27cm or so, but more often is about 7.5″ / 23cm. Trim any irregularities from the dough’s edges and add to the smallest quarter-ball of dough. (For more but smaller knish, roll out dough with a long side of 16″/40cm. Your short side should end up only about 6″.)
- With the long side of the rectangle facing you, about a quarter inch or 5 mm from the near edge make a long, uninterrupted berm about 1.5″/4cm high and the same width from one end of the long side to the other. Lift the near edge gently, then roll and fold over until the filling is contained in a cylinder of dough. If you have the right amount of filling, the dough should wrap around it approximately twice or slightly more. If it wraps 3 times, use more filling, less if only wrapped 1.5 times.
- With the knish roll formed, measure to divide in 4 or 6 pieces (for 12″ roll) or 6 or 8 pieces (for 16″ roll). Make a dent with a finger or dull utensil to indicate where the divides will be made. When satisfied marks are evenly spaced, pinch dough at the middle most mark. The dough will fuse and the filling will shift to accommodate it. Pinch at each mark, starting with the ones closet to the middle and working out. After all pinches are made, stretch the dough at each end to cover the filling.
- Use a sharp knife to separate each knish from the next, about the middle of the pinched section. Lift one knish and set its right end on your right hand, pushing gently to evenly flatten the pinch into the bottom dough. While resting the knish on your right hand, use left hand to poke all 5 fingers gently a few millimeters into the top of the knish, then twist your left hand through one quarter to one third of a turn, making a spiraling pattern in the dough around the pinched area (which should still be sticking up as you do this). Now take one finger and carefully poke the pinch directly down into the center of the knish, making a significant dent. Ideally you would see just a bit of the filling through a hole, but this is optional and you should not push too hard trying to create a hole.
- Set the knish aside in a baking cup (as for cupcakes) or on parchment for freezing, or on a baking sheet either covered in parchment or with a very clean, non-stick surface if baking immediately.
- Repeat steps 5 to 6 for each of the other knish in the roll, then repeat steps 2 through 6 for remaining dough balls and filling until all knish are formed.
- If freezing, freeze first well separated (the baking cups are good at keeping things separate, but not necessary), then when solidly frozen remove from baking cup/parchment and place 8 to 16 together in a single ziplock freezer bag. (Two bags are probably enough, maybe only one if large enough bags.)
GentleEnbies, Bake Your Knish!
- Set oven to 375° F or 190° C and begin heating.
- Assemble knish on very clean, very non-stick baking sheet or on parchment over a baking sheet or pan
- If desired: Use one small egg or 1/2 a large egg beaten with 2 tsp water to form egg wash. Brush egg wash lightly over sides and top of each knish. The knish can also be lightly brushed with oil (or spritzed, if you have one of those fancy oil-sprayers) or cooked entirely without a wash, though egg wash is traditional.
- Place in hot oven, baking 35 to 45 minutes (if fresh) or 40 to 50 minutes (from frozen) depending on crispness desired and the idiosyncrasies of your own oven.
Perfect knish traditionally have a lightly crisped outer crust which breaks into a softer texture surrounding the filling, but some people enjoy a very bread like, softer crust exterior as well and some people who are very, very wrong about everything in their lives will cook the crust rock solid and still enjoy it. We don’t speak much about them, but they are welcome to any overcooked knish we may have. Find the sweet spot for you and enjoy!
If you have other knish filling recipes or recipes for other sorts of dumplings, feel free to leave them in the comments, but if you’re a purist about knish fillings, spare me: the traditional knish filling is whatever a family had to hand. They were often the food of poor people and traditional seasonings reflect the tendency to whatever herbs could be freely gathered and whatever vegetables could be grown easily or purchased cheaply, but wherever they have been made, constant experimentation and variation was the norm. So buzz off with any, “not real knish!” comments. We celebrate all fillings here. In fact, we might even put up future recipes just for fillings and link back to this post for the rest of the recipe. Pumpkin, yam, and potato with nutmeg is actually a frequent fall treat at certain jewish bakeries, and I might experiment with that in the next couple weeks before the season is gone.