Thursday, March 15, 2012

potato knish, two ways

potato knish, two ways

Where have I been, you ask? Did I fly off to a small Caribbean island again, only to return to rub it in? Did my book project or adorable distraction eat me alive again? For once, no. I have actually been out climbing another (slightly smaller) culinary Mount Everest for you, and I have returned bearing not one, but two recipes.

both get peeled
onion, leek

I’ve been wanting to make potato knish almost as long as I’ve had this site. I thought I’d finally tackle it this winter, when carbs-for-warmth are the order of the day but New York up and decided to not have a winter this year and so it was a 60 degree day or never. I’m glad I went with it as knish are quintessentially old New York, brought to the Lower East Side tenements by Jewish Eastern European immigrants who knew, like most of our forefathers did, how to stretch staples into belly-filling delights.

russet potatoes and caramelized onions

The first knish bakery set up shop just down the street from me in 1910 (from 1890 to 1910, it was operated from a pushcart, or you know, the original taco truck) and as Milton Glaser and Jerome Snyder delightfully note in their 1968 book, The Underground Gourmet, “No New York politician in the last 50 years has been elected to office without having at least one photograph showing him on the Lower East Side with a knish in his face.” That knishery, Yonah Schimmel, still exists (with its original dumbwaiter, and never-shared recipes) and while I know that these days the word knish means many things to many people, I’m going to defer to their approach: dough-wrapped, potato-filled and baked. Or, as the current owner told the New York Times on the shop’s 100th anniversary, “I don’t mean to insult anyone else, but a knish is round, baked and made of potato or mixed with potato. It’s not square. It’s not fried.”

kale, leeks, cream cheese, red potatoes

Well, I will mostly defer to it. I did, in fact, make a very classic potato knish, with mashed Russet potatoes and caramelized onions. But I couldn’t stop there; I never can. I made a second batch with red potatoes, cream cheese, caramelized leeks and kale (kale!). If you’re clutching your pearls right now over my red potato-and-leek sacrilege, however, don’t, because I was thisclose to also adding bacon and think I showed remarkable restraint. (Though, no need for you to.)

rolling the dough outadding the potato fillingroll it up, trim the endstwist like making sausage linkspinch and closebrush with egg wash

They’re both as excellent as you would expect from carbs, wrapped in more carbs, brushed with egg, baked until flaky outside and steamy inside and filling enough to require the cancellation of all other meals for the remainder of the day. But the latter one is, in fact, knish of my wildest dreams, a bit part of each of my cooking religions — French, Eastern European and Vaguely Nutritionally Balanced, and packed with so much flavor, you might even skip the spicy mustard. I won’t tell.

six baked potato knish
a flaky, hearty half knish

One year ago: Sally Lunn Bread + Honeyed Brown Butter Spread
Two years ago: St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake, Warm Mushroom Salad with Hazelnuts, Coconut Milk Fudge, Breakfast Pizza and Irish Soda Bread Scones
Three years ago: Pita Bread, Migas with Tomato-Chipotle Coulis and Layer Cake Tips and The Biggest Birthday Cake Yet
Four years ago: Almond Biscotti, Roasted Acorn Squash and Gorgonzola Pizza, Hazelnut Brown Butter Cake, White Bean Stew and Butterscotch Ice Cream
Five years ago: Mediterranean Eggplant and Barley Salad

Classic Potato Knish
Dough and technique adapted, just barely, from Joe Pastry

What took so long for me to make these? I was scared, people. The recipes I found online were few and far between and looked… dubious. It was until I met Joe Pastry (and by “met” I mean, became obsessed with his site and I’m sorry, but do you bake? Because if you do, you’d be crazy not to read his entire archives, right this very minute) and gazed at his crystal-clear step-by-step photos that I knew I could not only pull them off at home but that I had to use his recipe. Once again, Joe did not fail.

This dough is excellent, not only because it produces the soft, flaky dough that are the epitome of the knish experience, but because once it comes together (quickly), it can be used now or later, up to three days later, kept refrigerated. The dough can be used to make the classic Russet-and-caramelized-onions filling here, or the non-traditional Red Potato, Leek and Kale one below.

Updated 3/17 to increase the amount of water from 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup. Joe’s original recipe calls for 1/2 cup but, strangely, I found I only needed 1/4 cup. Based on responses from commenters, it sounds like most people needed the higher amount.

Yield: 6 3-inch hearty knish, though you can make them any size you please (larger for Yonah Schimmel-style, smaller if you, like most people, cannot eat more than half of one)

Dough
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 large egg
1/2 cup vegetable oil (Joe also recommends schmaltz, or rendered chicken fat, if you’ve got some)
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1/2 cup water (see Update, above)

Filling
1 1/2 pounds (about 3 medium) russet potatoes, peeled and quartered
1 small yellow onion, peeled and diced small
1 tablespoon vegetable or olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon table salt
Freshly ground black pepper

To finish
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon water

Make dough: Stir together your dry ingredients in the bottom of a medium/large bowl. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg, oil, vinegar and water. Pour it over the dry ingredients and stir them to combine. Once the mixture is a craggy, uneven mass, knead it until smooth, about a minute. Place the dough back in the bowl and cover it with plastic wrap. Set it aside for an hour (or in the fridge, up to 3 days) until needed.

Meanwhile, prepare filling: Put potatoes into a large pot, cover with cold water, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium and cook until potatoes can be pierced easily with a knife, about 20 minutes. Drain, then transfer to a large bowl to cool.

Heat a large, heavy skillet over medium heat. Once hot, add butter and oil and once they’re fully melted and a bit sizzly, add onions and reduce to medium-low. Cook, stirring frequently, until deeply caramelized, which will take about 45 minutes. Can you do this in less time? Of course. But the flavor won’t be as intense. Transfer to bowl with potatoes and mash together until almost smooth. (A few lumps make it taste more “traditional,” IMHO.) Stir in salt and many grinds of black pepper and set the filling aside.

Assemble knish: Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper and preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

If your dough has sweated some beads of oil while it rested, fear not, you can just knead it back into an even mass. Divide the dough in half. On a well-floured surface, roll the first half of the dough into a very thin sheet, roughly in the shape of a 1-foot square, but really, no need to be rigid about it. For moderate size knish (smaller than the traditional “doorstops” but still hefty, about 3 inches across), create a 2-inch thick log from half your potato filling across the bottom of your dough. Roll the filling up in the dough like you were rolling a cigarette (which, of course, we would never), but not too tight. A tiny amount of slack will keep the dough from opening in the oven. Keep rolling until the log has been wrapped twice in dough. Trim any unrolled length and add it to the second half of the dough; it can be used again. Repeat the process with the second half of your dough and second half of filling; you might have a small amount of dough leftover.

Trim the ends of the dough so that they’re even with the potato filling. Then, make indentations on the log every 3 to 3 1/2 inches (you’ll have about 3, if your log was 1 foot long) and twist the dough at these points, as if you were making sausage links. Snip the dough at each twist, then pinch one of the ends of each segment together to form a sealed knish base. Use the palm of your hand to flatten the knish a bit into a squat shape and from here, you can take one of two approaches to the top: You can pinch together the tops as you did the bottom to seal them; indenting them with a small dimple will help keep them from opening in the oven. You can gently press the dough over the filling but leave it mostly open, like the knish you would get on Houston Street. Or, you can half-ass it (okay, that’s a third option, and watch your language, Deb), like I did, closing them but not sealing them well because you are indecisive. But why would you want to do a thing like that?

Bake knish: Arrange knish on prepared baking sheet so that they don’t touch. Whisk egg yolk and water together to form a glaze and brush it over the knish dough. Bake knish for about 45 minutes, rotating your tray if needed for them to bake into an even golden brown color. I have burnt my mouth on every knish I have ever taken a bite of because that potato filling, it packs heat. Don’t do as I always do and let them cool a little bit before digging in. Spicy mustard is a traditional accompaniment, but I like a dollop of sour cream too. I won’t tell if you don’t.

Red Potato Knish with Kale, Leeks and Cream Cheese

Follow the dough and assembly directions above, but replace the Russet and caramelized onion filling with this one. You might never go back to tradition once you do.

1 1/2 pounds medium red potato (about 3 to 4), peeled and quartered
1 big leek (about 1/2 pound), white and light-green parts only, halved lengthwise, and thinly sliced (you’ll clean the grit out in a moment)
1 tablespoon vegetable or olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 generous cup lacinato kale ribbons (about 3 ounces or 1/4 to 1/3 bundle), tough stems and ribs removed and leaves cut into strips (you’ll wash it in a moment)
1/2 teaspoon table salt
Freshly ground black pepper
3 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature

Cook potatoes: Put potatoes into a large pot, cover with cold water, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium and cook until soft, about 20 to 25 minutes. Drain, then transfer to a large bowl to cool.

Meanwhile, prepare leeks and kale: Fill a medium bowl with very cold water and drop in leek rings. Swish them around with your fingers, letting any sandy dirt fall to the bottom. Scoop out the leeks and drain them briefly on a towel, but no need to get them fully dry. Do the same with the kale, but you can leave the leaves to nearly fully dry, patting them if necessary, on the towels while you cook the leeks.

Heat a large, heavy skillet over medium heat. Once hot, add butter and oil and once they’re fully melted and a bit sizzly, add the leek slices. Reduce heat to low, cover with a lid and cook leek for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Raise heat back to medium, add the kale ribbons and cook until they wilt, about 5 minutes.

Transfer mixture to bowl with potatoes, add the cream cheese and mash together until combined. Stir in salt and many grinds of black pepper and set filling aside.


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