Jewish

How to Make Noodle Kugel Without a Recipe

October 10, 2016

Here at Food52, we love recipes—but do we always use them? Of course not. Because once you realize you don't always need a recipe, you'll make your favorite dishes a lot more often.

Today: Whether you grew up on your bubbe's kugel or you have no idea what kugel is, you can (and should) make a perfectly sweet, family-friendly casserole that will have you noshing in no time.

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If you wouldn't recognize a kugel (acceptably pronounced both "coogle" and "kuggol") if one hit you in the face, you are not alone. And also, you are in for a joyful surprise. These are the actual, real life, semi-coherent responses of first time noodle kugel eaters after their initial taste:

  • “It’s like sweet macaroni and cheese.”
  • “It’s not as goopy as I thought it was going to be.”
  • “I can't believe the noodles held up after baking for so long.”
  • “Edge noodles plus corn flakes plus soft stuff plus crumby.”
  • “Soft, warm, gushy, lightly sweet.”
  • “It could be a side dish, or a dessert, or a breakfast.” 

Broadly speaking, a kugel is a baked pudding or casserole -- a traditional Ashkenzai Jewish dish eaten for Shabbat and other holidays. There are kugels made with shredded or sliced potatoes (a Jewish gratin, of sorts), but my favorite kind -- and, I would argue, the most versatile -- is a sweet lokshen (noodle) pudding made with egg noodles. 

Legitimate reasons to eat this kugel include: "Because it's delicious" and "Because I want to." Not only is the name "noodle kugel" a perfectly whimsical combination of two of the cutest words ever uttered, but this a dish full of rambunctious holiday spirit: You want to be eating it as you sit around a dining room table shmoozing with your family; you want to sneak stray noodles into your mouth when no one is looking; and you want to hide the leftovers in the back of the fridge so you can eat them for breakfast the next morning.

And, on top of all that, you don't even need a recipe to make it. Here's how to do it:

1. Round up your ingredients. The star of the show is, unsurprisingly, the noodles. You'll want to use egg noodles (they'll hold up best in the oven, retaining their texture and shape even as the other ingredients melt and mix). Any width -- from extra wide to fine -- will work.

You'll also need something creamy and tangy, either cream cheese, sour cream, or a combination. Butter, eggs, a source of sweetness, and spices are also essential. Lastly, to top your kugel, you'll want something crunchy, be it a plain breakfast cereal or bread crumbs (of course it's a whole other ballgame if you're making a kosher for Passover kugel). 


2. Butter a large casserole dish and preheat your oven to 325° F. Then, cook a package of egg noodles until they're al dente, drain them, and set them aside. To the bowl of a food processor, add melted butter; equal parts sour cream or cream cheese (or a combination) and cottage cheese; and whatever spices and extracts you want to use (I unapologetically love cinnamon, but you can go with ginger, nutmeg, cloves, and/or vanilla or almond extract). And for a really untraditional kugel, you could even add puréed pumpkin (but I'm just saying). 

Next, crack in some eggs -- the number is up to you. My family always makes noodle kugel with one egg, which yields a soft, loose pudding, with breathing room between each noodle. If you want a denser, more tightly-packed kugel that you can slice into neat blocks, add more eggs. Deb Perelman's recipe on Smitten Kitchen calls for 8 eggs, while Grace Parisi's recipe in Food & Wine calls for 4 eggs plus 2 yolks, so there's a wide range. No two kugels are alike.

You'll also want to add something sweet, usually 1 to 1 1/2 cups of sugar for one 12-ounce package of noodles. You can use plain old white sugar, or you can march to the beat of your own drummer and add a combination of brown sugar, maple syrup, agave nectar, or whatever you have on hand. I used a cup of honey

Blend it all together until it's smooth and light, then taste the mixture to make sure it's as sweet as you want it.

 

3. Transfer your cooked noodles to a mixing bowl and pour in the mixture from the food processor. Mix it up until no noodle is left un-sauced. You want all of the noodles to be evenly coated, but you don't want them to be swimming.

  

 

4. Now it's time to make a kugel that really speaks to you. I added grated apple, but you can also use raisins (the most traditional choice), chocolate chips, fresh or dried cranberries, diced dried figs or dates, canned pineapple, pear slices, pieces of candied ginger, or chopped nuts. Whatever ingredients you decide on, simply toss them into the bowl and mix with the noodles.

  

 

5. Make a topping by gently crushing the plain, flaky cereal of choice (Corn Flakes, Special K, and Wheaties all work well) with your hands and adding in a tablespoon or two of cinnamon and sugar. Alternatively, you could use bread crumbs mixed with a bit of melted butter in place of the cereal.

Pour the noodles into your prepared baking pan and lovingly blanket them with the cereal topping. I say "lovingly" because, when you break into the kugel, that topping is going to interlace with the warm noodles to give you an unbeatable soft-crunchy-crumbly contrast. 

 

6. Mazel tov! You're almost done. Bake the kugel in the oven until the custard has set, the topping is toasted, and the noodles on the outside of the pan are a bit brown and crispy, generally 40 minutes to an hour. If you break into the kugel while it's still warm, the noodles will fall into a beautiful tangled pile on your plate, mingling with whatever else you have on there. Wait for it to cool and the kugel will come away in neater, more self-contained pieces. Serve the kugel on your dinner plate, for dessert, or at breakfast. 

This original aritcle appeared on September 22, 2014. We're re-running it now in preperation for Yom Kippur.

Got some kibbitz about kugel? Share with us in the comments below! 

33 Comments

Lydia S. October 28, 2016
Love the fact that this kugel is so flexible and yields so many different combos. I have one that uses sour cream cottage cheese milk and butter for dairy but I will try this one b/c it looks awesome too. thanks Sarah!
 
GsR October 16, 2016
You refer to kugel as ashkanazi, however I assure you there are many delicious Sephardi kugels
 
Nancy October 11, 2016
Just to cross-polinate. In addition or instead of apples or raisins, I sometimes use sweet or sympathetic-to-sweet root vegetables, very suitable for fall & winter Sukkoth, thanksgiving, etc. Squash, carrots, parsnips, maybe others if you can think of them
 
Maryanna S. September 18, 2015
sounds delicious but in mine i use 1/2 and1/2 and golden raisins, and apricot preserves. no topping. the noodles crisp up on top.
 
SueD February 16, 2015
Tonight I will be making a kugel for the office Mardi Gras breakfast pot luck. thick Amish egg noodles (on sale), Greek yogurt, a bit of cheese - Jarlsberg I think, thinly sliced organic pears, chopped crystalized ginger, coconut sugar, nutmeg, almond extract, Panko topping mixed with sugar.
 
Cheryl N. September 30, 2014
The only kugel I've ever had was made with a can of fruit cocktail. Oh my goodness - what have I been missing? Thank you SO much for this article!!
 
Pegeen September 24, 2014
Just curious... before cornflakes were invented, what would have been used as the topping? Bread crumbs? Can't wait to make my first fall kugel!
 
scott.finkelstein.5 October 2, 2014
Most families just let the top noodles crisp up.
 
Henry November 12, 2014
I agree. My learned to make kugel from her mother, so we're talking about a recipe well over a century old. The top got a sprinkling of cinnamon and was left to brown; the addition of commercial cereal as a topping—even if it were available—would have been unthinkable. Also, no kind of dairy (i.e. sour cream or cottage cheese) was used, hence the dish would be pareve and could be served with a meat course.
 
jen February 11, 2015
I could never spoil a kugel with anything on top...butter...that's all you need on top. Classic raisin kugel THE best, pineapple a close 2nd.
 
Author Comment
Sarah J. February 11, 2015
I think that lots of families have different traditions -- that's why this is a Not Recipe! You can customize it however you like.
 
sexyLAMBCHOPx September 23, 2014
oops I meant roasted chicken.<br />Also, we never have a topping and use (gulp) margarine but I suppose there are some many variations and holiday dietary preferences we can just call it what it is in laymen's terms, a noodle casserole<br />
 
sexyLAMBCHOPx September 23, 2014
My family (Ashkenazi Jews) love the sweet kugel with short ribs, brisket, turkey and roasted turkey. I don't care for the sweet version at all and prefer savory noodle or potato kugel. Food52er Kukla has some great recipes for anyone interested on this site.
 
KosherInDetroit September 22, 2014
I appreciate this article and the light approach S Jampel has taken towards making this dish. I would like to point out that kugel, beyond its whimsy, is an incredibly versatile dish that can exist without heaping amounts of dairy, sugar, eggs, or noodles. Some of the most famous kugels are strictly non-dairy and made of potatoes and other vegetables.<br /><br />This is a solid primer and I encourage all casserole, sweet noodle kugel, and pudding lovers to think of kugel as a canvas for your creativity.
 
Kristen M. September 22, 2014
I recommend making this exactly as Sarah described -- grated apples, honey, cinnamon, corn flakes.
 
Nadja September 22, 2014
Why did I look at this? I will never be able to live a normal life again. It looks so good!
 
cynthia |. September 22, 2014
Ahhhhhh Sarah I love this so so SO MUCH. Also, agreed, "noodle kugel" might just be my favorite string of syllables ever.
 
Catherine L. September 22, 2014
I am officially a noodle kugel convert! And I will be adding chocolate chips to mine, thankyouverymuch.
 
ChefJune September 22, 2014
I grew up with Lokshen Kugel as a side dish, but for me it's way too sweet not to be dessert. That's how I've been doing it for years. Love to top it with panko that's been mixed with cinnamon and sugar. A must for a sweet New Year! Chag Sameach!
 
Jocelyn L. September 22, 2014
must have Raisins and maybe even a few apple chunks.
 
ATG117 September 22, 2014
I am very aware that kugel is a traditional jewish food and served as such on Jewish holidays, but I'm curious as to when you'd otherwise ever serve a sweet kugel as a side dish. What would that menu look like?
 
ATG117 September 22, 2014
Also why the food processor, wouldn't a whisk be sufficient and make this a one bowl activity?
 
Author Comment
Sarah J. September 22, 2014
My family actually does eat it as a side dish (which means that we can have something else for dessert -- hooray!), and I've been to many a Shabbat dinner where there is both sweet and savory kugel on the table for dinner. I think the food processor is necessary for breaking down the cottage cheese curds, but I'm sure it would also work with a whisk and some arm strength.
 
amysarah September 22, 2014
I've never used a processor - I just do like my mother and grandmother, with a spoon or whisk. It leaves some intact cottage cheese curds, but I like that (also, you can use small curd cottage cheese if it's an issue.) As to menu - you can vary the sweetness of the noodle kugel. The ones in my family weren't dessert-sweet. My grandmother always served it with roast chicken - obviously not kosher, but neither was she. When my kids were little and we celebrated some concoction of 'Chanumas,' I often served a barely sweet noodle kugel with whatever roast we were having, instead of a potato gratin or some such - cross pollination!
 
ATG117 September 23, 2014
I guess I was asking whether you would ever actually serve this as a side dish in a non "jewish" food context/celebration of some sort. In other words, I appreciate it as that, but suppose I am making the point that I don't see it fitting into another menu easily.
 
Rachel September 24, 2014
I grew up eating noodle kugel as an easy weeknight dinner, with a big salad on the side. I guess you could argue that it was a Jewish context, by virtue of us being Jewish. However, it wasn't a holiday, Shabbat, or any other overtly Jewish setting. Just think of kugel like any other casserole (and maybe reduce the sugar a little).
 
amysarah September 24, 2014
Yes, this is what I meant too. When I included a less sweet kugel in a holiday meal combining Christmas/Chanuka (as a side for e.g. a rib roast or turkey...) the other dishes weren't specifically "Jewish" - unless there's some sect where butternut squash soup, roast root vegetables, green beans and chocolate semifreddo are traditional fare ;) Btw, a lightly sweet kugel also works well alongside roast pork - about as non-Jewish a context as you can get.
 
creamtea September 22, 2014
My mother adds cinnamon, raisins, grated orange peel and a little of the orange juice. Ours is always parve so we can serve it as a side with meat.
 
Sarah M. September 22, 2014
Thanks for the inspiration Hazel! <3
 
Kenzi W. September 22, 2014
Hazel!!
 
Karen J. September 22, 2014
I actually just posted my favorite Noodle Kugel recipe with Cinnamon and Raisins! It's a lightened version of a family favorite, where I go with half the sugar my mom made, and less sour cream, but it's still just as delicious! I love the suggestions you make for alternatives and want to try a pumpkin version this week. Thanks for the great idea!