It’s Hanukkah this week, and a good time to appreciate Jewish food just a little more. There are many staples of the holiday, with the fried potato cakes known as latkes being one of the most popular. Or maybe you’ve had the delicious crescent-shaped pastries called rugelach. They’re stuffed with ingredients such as cream cheese, nuts, raisins, preserves, cinnamon and chocolate. Both are worth bringing to a holiday gathering, no matter what you celebrate.
Looking for something new to try, I was intrigued by the knish. A traditional knish is mashed potatoes and caramelized onions that are wrapped and baked in dough. Carb-heavy they may be, the comfort they provide makes it all worth it, especially this time of year. They may not be a top contender for the Hanukkah feast, but I don’t think they’d be unwelcome either.
Originally from Eastern Europe, knishes gained popularity in New York City — the boardwalks of Brooklyn to be exact — in the early 1900s, when you could find them for sale in pushcarts. Compact in size and in their own self-contained pastry vessel, knishes make the ideal street food. Today you can find them for sale in shops dedicated to the Jewish knish.
Never one for sticking to tradition, I had to change things up. You can find knishes filled with all kinds of foods today and they come in both savory and sweet combinations. The common theme being that they’re small pockets of stuffed dough. And if you think about it, they’re not all that unlike a number of other foods found in cultures throughout the world, such as the samosa, calzone, Cornish pasty or empanada. All of which make a great snack, perfect party fare or a reasonable meal when served with a side of salad.
I replaced the onions in my knishes with leeks, added in a little cheese and some chopped broccoli to give the pretense of being healthy. I used the popular dough recipe found at joepastry.com, with a couple tweaks, such as using butter in place of oil, adding more flour and reducing the water. If your dough turns out too dry, certainly add more water.
Don’t be intimidated by the length of this recipe. It’s mostly describing how to cut and shape the dough. But you can make this recipe more time-friendly by preparing the dough up to a few days in advance and storing it in the fridge until ready. The filling could be made ahead as well.
Potato, broccoli, leek and cheddar knishes
Makes one dozen 3-inch knishes or 18 2-inch knishes
For the dough:
2 ½ cups flour
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon white vinegar
8 tablespoons of butter, melted and cooled
¼ cup water
1 egg, beaten
For the filling:
1 ½ cups potatoes
1 medium head of broccoli, finely chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large leek, sliced and well rinsed
¼ cup sour cream
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
½ teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Prepare the dough by whisking together the flour, salt and baking powder in a large bowl. In a second bowl, combine the vinegar, butter and water. Make a well in the dry ingredients, add the egg and then the liquid ingredients. Stir to get the dough to stick together, then lightly knead until you have a well-blended ball. If your dough is too dry, add a little water. The dough should feel oily. Cover the bowl with a towel and let sit for about an hour while you make the filling.
For the filling, start by slicing your potatoes into large chunks. Place them in a pot and cover with plenty of cold water. Bring to a boil, add in a couple pinches of salt, and cook until almost tender, about 15 minutes. When nearly ready, add the broccoli to the pot. Boil for another minute or two, then drain the potatoes and broccoli in a colander and return to the pot.
While the potatoes boil, heat the oil in a small pan. When hot, add the sliced leek. Cook, stirring occasionally, over medium high heat. Allow to cook down and start to brown, about 10 minutes. Add to the pot with the drained potatoes and broccoli along with the sour cream, half of the cheese, and the salt. Use a masher to mash everything together. Stir to combine, taste and season with black pepper.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment.
On a clean and floured kitchen counter, roll out half of the dough into an 8 by 18 inch rectangle. You want the long side directly in front of you. Spread half of the filling into a log about one inch away from the bottom. Gently start to roll the dough from the bottom up, covering the filling and wrapping another couple of times around. Keep the roll somewhat loose. Trim off the excess dough on either end.
You can make the knishes however large you like. I went with three inches, but feel free to go smaller. Measure every three inches (or your preferred length) down the length of the roll and make an mark on the dough at each point. Pick up the roll and gently twist at each point. Then cut at the twist to separate.
Pinch the twisted end closed and set that end down on the baking sheet. Use the palm of your hand to squish the knish to slightly flatten. Pinch the top to partially close and make a slight indentation in the center. Do this with each of the remaining pieces. Brush each with the beaten egg, top with a little cheese and, if you feel like it, sprinkle on any spices you may like. Repeat this procedure with the second batch of dough and filling.
Bake the knishes in the bottom half of your oven for 30 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.