There comes a time when you need to leave the pie behind and get down to business. It’s Christmas and I have other baked goods standing in line waiting for some attention. First on the list – my Grandma’s Hungarian Kiflis.
I would venture to say that I have been eating Kiflis since before I could walk. As soon as the babies in my family are old enough to gum a teething biscuit, they are ready for Kiflis.
I’m very territorial over these Kiflis. Friends will say, “Oh, we make those – they are Kolache.” No way – those are Czechoslovakian. Or someone will mention that they have a recipe for the same thing – Rugelach. Close, but not the same thing. Kiflis are a soft, yeast-based pastry that are rolled closed around an apricot, plum or nut filling. They are not super sweet and are the perfect side for a cup of coffee.
This is our family recipe. It didn’t come out of a food blog, nor did it come from the pages of the latest epicurian magazine. It came from my Grandmother’s tattered cookbook that now rests proudly in my kitchen. I became the new owner of this cookbook when my Grandmother moved into a nursing home several years ago. This was the one and only item that I begged to have. I adored her cooking and wanted to learn straight from her pen.
The year my Grandmother went into the nursing home would also be the first year that she did not make Kiflis for Christmas. Instead, I decided to pass the torch to myself and learn to make these beloved pastries. I made them that year the same way I do now – using her bowl, apron, spoon and rolling pin (I really don’t know what it is, but it’s good for rolling). I figured I’d do my best to put some good Kifli karma into the air and use the tools that had spent decades producing these little horns of goodness.
As I was opening her cookbook this weekend, a paper fell out that had notes on it from the first time I made Kiflis. It had a phone number written on it – the phone number to my Grandmother’s nursing home. As I looked at it, I remembered standing in my kitchen that year, questioning my interpretation of her recipe. I stood regretting that I had never asked my Grandmother to show me how to make Kiflis and wondering if she would help me if I called her. Nervously, I dialed the nursing home and rang her room number. She answered, but my questions only confused her and I can still hear how exasperated she sounded when she told me that she simply didn’t remember.
In the years since, my Grandmother has passed away and I have continued to make Kiflis each Christmas. Every year I get our her apron, ready the bowl, and hold her wooden spoon as if I’m holding her hand and imagine that she’s teaching me to make Kiflis.
Hungarian Kiflis (as translated from Grandma Foris)
4 cups flour plus 1 Tablespoon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 package yeast
1/4 cup hot milk
2 1/2 sticks of butter
3/4 cup sour cream
3 egg yolks
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 can each of Solo brand apricot and plum/prune filling (or any other flavor)
Mix yeast with 1 Tablespoon sugar and 1 Tablespoon flour and then gently mix into hot milk and let stand for about 15 minutes. You should see the mixture double in size and become slightly foamy.
Whisk flour and salt in a large bowl. Add butter in tablespoon size pieces to the flour mixture. Work with hand until flour mixture sticks together and butter pieces become small (yes, your hand! This is old school here).
In a small bowl, combine egg yolks, sour cream, vanilla and nutmeg. Make a well in the center of the flour and add the mixture and the hot milk/yeast.
Distribute the mixture by gently stirring with a spoon. Using your hands, knead until well blended. You will notice that at first, everything sticks to your hands, but as you knead and the dough begins to soften and form, your hands will begin to have less dough sticking to them.
Divide dough into six to eight equal potions, roll into balls and refrigerate for at least a half hour or overnight.
Sprinkle your rolling surface with powdered sugar. Roll one ball of dough into a 6-8 inch circle. Using a knife or pizza cutter, cut eight triangles from the circle.
Place 1-2 teaspoons of filling at the outside edge of each triangle. Experiment with how much filling you like. Inevitably some will spill out while cooking, but the more filling the better if you ask me!
Starting at the top, roll each triangle into a crescent. Place the crescent on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Make sure to place the end of the triangle on the bottom so it does not unfold during cooking.
Let the Kiflis rise for about 15 minutes. Brush with an egg wash and bake at 350 for 18 to 20 minutes. The bottoms brown fast, so put them no lower than the middle rack and remove when tops are beginning to lightly brown. You can also place a baking sheet on the rack below them if you think the bottoms are browning too fast. Transfer to a cooling rack. Sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving. Will freeze for up to 2 months.
Family secret: This is in the “don’t ask why” category, but we think they taste best if you freeze them right away – even just overnight – then thaw them by bringing them to room temperature. Our whole family thinks they taste better for some reason.