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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.
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!