Having been blogging almost daily for some four years now, I’ve really gotten to know my readership. When I put up my Kentucky Knish post last Friday, I had every expectation that I’d be getting a lot of grief for it. Sure enough, within minutes the first complaints came trickling in. “Too flat”, “too French”, “too fluffy”, “too fancy”, “on the line between knish and calzone”, “not Jewish enough”, and perhaps my favorite so far: “borderline racist.” I was prepared for all that, so those shots just bounced off me like so many howitzer rounds off of Megalon, the giant subterranean insect terror. One email, however, managed to penetrate my meters-thick exoskeleton and strike tender flesh. It was this from reader Paula:
These travesties show very clearly that you have never made a real knish, nor have slightest concept about what a real knish is about.
Madam, I’ll have you know that I did my baking training on Chicago’s North Shore, where knishes are a way of life. So out of the way, please, baker coming through. I need to use the hand sink.
Using the standard knish dough recipe below, whisk together your dry ingredients.
Then make a well in the center and add your beaten egg…
…followed by the wet ingredients.
Bring the dough together with a spatula…
…then knead it lightly into a ball. It will be somewhat oily feeling. That’s what you want. Let the dough rest and hydrate for an hour. It may weep a little bit of oil as it sits. That’s perfectly OK.
Meanwhile make your filling. Here I’ve got three medium red potatoes (cooked), about half a cup of deeply caramelized yellow onions (one onion diced finely, cooked gently in two tablespoons of vegetable oil over low heat for a little over an hour), about a two-ounce blob of goat cheese (OK, not traditional), and a teaspoon of salt.
Mashed. This isn’t nearly enough filling for this amount of dough, but it’s a good “for-instance.” Knishes are great stuffed with just about any leftovers you have in the fridge.
When you’re ready to shape your knishes, generously flour a dough board. Pull off a piece of dough from the ball and start rolling. You’ll find that as long as you use enough flour, it’s a very flexible and forgiving dough that rolls out easily. Roll it out as thin as you can without the dough tearing. The precise shape of your sheet isn’t important. A rough rectangle is just fine.
When the dough is nice and thin, apply a long mound of filling to the bottom edge. I’m making rather small knishes, so my filling mound is small. For bigger knishes, well, you know what to do.
Then — and you can probably see where this is going — enclose the filling to form a long roll.
Roll the dough up in the sheet, but not terribly tightly. Knishes tend to want to break open in the oven. A little slack will help prevent this. Since this dough sheet is very thin, I keep rolling until the tube has about two layers on it. Some people really go nuts in this step and roll their dough out even thinner so as to give the tube four or five flaky layers. Me, I’m happy with two. Some like a thicker crust in just one layer. It’s really up to you.
When you’ve got as much crust on your knishes as you like, use a pizza cutter to trim off the excess. Add the scraps back to the dough ball for re-rolling.
Trim the excess, if there is much, from the ends.
Now to shape the actual knishes. This is very like making sausage. You want to pinch off about a three or four-inch length.
Give it a twist.
Then using your pizza cutter, cut it off.
The result is indeed like a small sausage. Pinch the ends shut to enclose the filling.
Turn the knish end-up on the pastry board…
…and with your palm push it down to form a squat cylinder.
Poke the top down with your finger to keep the center from crowning in the oven.
Lay the knishes out on sheet pans — these don’t need any proofing — and either bake, refrigerate (up to three days) or freeze (up to three months).
When ready to bake, paint with egg wash…
…and bake 30-40 minutes at 350 Fahrenheit until the crusts are golden brown.
No concept of a knish. Indeed.