Let me be the first to admit that the only reason that the hamantaschen archives on this site aren’t stronger are that I’m completely stubborn and generally a pedant and this gets in the way of what I know needs to be done to achieve hamantaschen perfection. If you read that sentence and thought “I know what some of those words mean but maybe not in that order,” don’t worry, you’re not alone. Hamantaschen are triangular cookies traditionally eaten during the Jewish festival of Purim (think: Jewish Mardi Gras) that falls next week. Haman, the villain in the biblical story, was said to wear a tricorne hat — with the brim turned up on three sides, something that was wildly fashionable in the 1700s which means it’s due for a hipster revival any day now — and this is where the cookies get their shape.
The single most frequently asked (possibly rhetorical but I’ve never let that stop me before) question in regards to the sweet recipes on this site is “How do you not eat all of these?” And I finally have an answer: They’re not rugelach. I love chocolate cake with chocolate frosting, I think snickerdoodles are wildly underrated, but rugelach — those impossibly flaky Central European crescent cookies — are the single item in the category of foods that are just not allowed to be here ever, because there’s something about the glorious harmony of it all (the salty cheese, the tart jam, the cinnamon aroma, the crunch, and if you love your people, the chocolate, gaaah) that it will not be safe with me. Or I will not be safe with it. Which is unfortunate, because I have an avalanche of rugelach in my apartment right now.
Among the great Ashkenazi soul food traditions — bagels, lox, chicken noodle soup, challah, brisket and its cousins, pastrami and corned beef — few are more deeply rooted in the communal psyche than kugels, or starch-based puddings that hail from southern Germany. The word kugel, meaning sphere, globe or ball, originally referred to dumplings dropped over a soup pot, the version baked casserole pans became my people’s favorite, always made in vast quantities, served on Shabbat or holidays in squares and usually shoved in the hands of unsuspecting relatives and guests in disposable foil tins on their way home. The smart ones know resistance is futile.
I have been promising you a recipe for homemade jelly doughnuts for as many Hanukahs as this site has been in existence, which is to say 9, including the one that begins next week. This might lead you to conclude that I like neither fried food, doughnuts or even jelly, or all over the above showered in unholy amounts of powdered sugar, but this couldn’t be further from the truth, which is that I like them so much that if they want a chance to live out their short shelf-life destiny, they should stay far from my home.
Inadvertently, this has become Festivus week on Smitten Kitchen, wherein I air my grievances at past recipes and exhibit what I hope can be passed off as “feats of strength” in reformulating them for modern times. Still, nobody could more surprised than I am that of all the recipes in the archives, it’s Martha Stewart’s decadent chocolate babkas from seven years ago that have ended up in this queue, because at the time we found them beyond reproach: rich, buttery, crumbly and intensely chocolaty. They were precisely what we’d remembered getting from the store growing up, but better, I mean, I’d hope they’d be. Clocking in at 3/4 pound of semisweet chocolate and almost a cup of butter per loaf, the recipe in fact uses triple this (2.25 pounds of chocolate! 1.25 pounds of butter!) for three loaves. And not unlike the chicken pot pies, this, along with the messy, complicated prep, became the problem. Despite repeated requests from our families every holiday, I’ve probably only made it once since, if that. It’s all too much.
There are recipes on my Cook This list that I’ve been plotting for years but take forever to jump from that place where they’re a rough idea of how I think something might taste good and how I’ll make that happen. There are items on the list which are just the names of dishes I haven’t tried yet and want to learn more about. And there are recipes that make me kick myself every time I see them because how have we not made a good hearty tortilla soup here yet? And where is that Russian napoleon I’ve been promising you? But this here is none of the above. Exactly one month ago, someone emailed me (hi Angela!) and asked if I had ever made a German Sunken Apple Cake [which sounds even cooler in its native language: Versunkener Apfelkuchen] and I had barely finished reading the email before I had a new tab open because I had to immediately know what it was.
Today, it’s time to correct one of the greatest oversights of the last 7.5 years on this website — sorry, no, not the grammar or excesses of commas and em-dashes, oops, there I did it again — we’re going to talk about cheese blintzes. I mean, really, what have I been waiting for? I’ve got all of the bases covered that would prequalify me for a cheese blintz proclivity: I love crêpes and Eastern European food, I’m Jewish, married to a Russian, had a deep cheese blintz addiction* when I was pregnant, and our little half-Russkie predictably cut his teeth on grandma’s homemade cheese blintzes (and Salad Olivier). And with this, I think we can isolate the real reason I’ve never made cheese blintzes for you: I don’t have to, because my mother-in-law makes them for us.