My mother was a first-class baker, and there were always homemade goodies for dessert at our house. So when I went away to college and needed a nosh to remind me of home, I went to a nearby bakery for a little something.
It was mostly good: Chinese cookies, hamantaschen, babka. But the kichels? Not so much. Not only were my mother’s kichels world class and nearly impossible to top, but what the bakery called kichel wasn’t at all what I was used to.
Bakery kichels, as I learned, are thick, bow tie-shaped pastries that are sometimes sprinkled with sugar. They can be crumbly and dry, or hard and dry, depending on the bakery. They are the kind of cookie a kid, especially one who is a homesick kid, would never choose. Especially a kid whose mother made world-class kichels.
Here’s why my mom’s kichels were so amazing: They were soft and crispy at the same time, and they would melt in your mouth before you even had a chance to chew or even realize they were on your tongue. They were paper thin but developed air bubbles that were fun to pop with my front teeth, especially because a feathery dusting of confectioners’ sugar would fall from the top of the bubble into the crevice and give a faint but definite sweet to all parts.
We didn’t need milk to dunk and soften these kichels. They were as light as a helium balloon; fried (it is Chanukah, after all), but never greasy; sugar sprinkled, but never cloying.
The big trick for fabulous kichels is rolling the dough as thin as possible. It takes some time and patience, but the result – crispy, puffy, delightfully light cookies with just a sprinkle of sifted confectioners’ sugar – is so worth it.
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs, beaten
1/4 teaspoon white vinegar
Vegetable oil for deep frying
1. Place the flour and salt in a bowl.
2. Add the beaten eggs and vinegar and mix thoroughly until a smooth dough has formed. (You can use an electric mixer or food processor).
3. Let the dough rest, covered with plastic wrap, for at least 30 minutes.
4. Roll out portions of the dough on a lightly floured surface until the dough is very thin, almost like paper.
5. Cut the dough into squares, rectangles or odd shapes.
6. Heat about two inches of vegetable oil in a deep saute pan (or use a deep fryer) over medium-high heat until the oil reaches about 375 F. (A bread crumb or tiny piece of dough will sizzle quickly when you drop it into the oil).
7. Drop the cutouts, a few at a time, into the oil (they will puff up) and cook briefly on both sides until they are crispy and faintly browned.
8. Drain on paper towels. Sift confectioners’ sugar on top. Makes 30.