What are Kichel?
One of my absolute favorite things from a Jewish bakery! Kichel are delish, for starters! Kichel (also called Jewish Bow Tie Cookies) is actually the Yiddish word for cookie, but for those of us regulars at Jewish bakeries, we know that it means a specific type of cookie – a light, airy, crunchy, kind of part cookie/part cracker, usually coated in sugar, yet eaten both as a sweet and with savory. How’s that for an overbroad definition?
Why are Kichel also Called Jewish Bow Tie Cookies?
If you have not had kichel, just try one. The dough is very simple, made mostly from eggs, a bit of oil, and flour. The sweetness comes from the sugar coating.
Growing up, our local Jewish bakery made kichel that were square shaped. It was not until I was older and venturing out to other bakeries (sounds like I was cheating on my local bakery!) that I discovered that most kichel are shaped into bow ties. How fun!
Developing this Kichel Recipe
With so many traditional Jewish bakeries closing over the past 15 years or so, I fear that kichel in America could die with them. Not on my watch!
Last year, I decided to do some kichel recipe research. While I have a bunch of Jewish cookbooks, I do not believe any of them have a kichel recipe. (I say “do not believe” because they are in a box in storage for the time being, and I have not had the desire to hunt for them.) So, I got onto the Google machine to see what I could find.
I was surprised to find only a couple different recipes for kichel. Most bloggers republished the outstanding recipe from the 2011 cookbook by Stanley Ginsberg and Norman Berg, “Inside the Jewish Bakery: Recipes and Memories from the Golden Age of Jewish Baking”. The other recipe I found out there is from Joan Nathan, published in Tablet Magazine, which is actually a recipe from a Jewish bakery in Michigan.
I will tell you that both those recipes deliver outstanding kichel. That said, I wanted a recipe that is more accessible – both recipes produced a LOT of kichel, more than I should be eating. (No self-control here.) In addition, the recipe from Ginsberg and Berg uses 4 eggs plus 9 egg yolks. That’s a heck of a lot of eggs, and a lot of work to separate that many eggs, especially for a multi-tasking home baker.
So, I embarked on developing a more approachable recipe. This recipe renders delish kichel, uses just 4 eggs (only one of which needs to be separated), and results in a sensible 36 cookies.
Kichel Making Tips
Here are some tips for making kichel:
- Use the mixer. You must knead the dough to develop the gluten in the flour. Especially because this is such a sticky dough, it is much easier to use the mixer, stopping every few minutes to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl.
- Don’t skimp on the sugar. Use the sugar to roll out the dough, both on the bottom and top of the dough. If the dough absorbs some of the sugar, add more sugar. The sugar will prevent the dough from sticking as you roll it out and shape the kichel. When you cut the rectangles and shape into bow ties, cover any exposed pieces of dough in more sugar.
- Bake them thoroughly. Do not underbake kichel. You want them to dry out and harden. Underbaking could result in them collapsing. Err on the side of overbaking without letting them burn. If you are baking two trays at the same time on different oven racks, be sure to switch and rotate them half way through the baking process.
Frequently Asked Questions about Making Kichel
Should kichel dough be sticky?
Yes. The dough will be very sticky. Once you cover it in sugar, it should roll out easily and be easy to handle. Do not skimp on the sugar!
Can I freeze kichel?
Yes. Once baked, store the kichel in an airtight container or plastic bag in the freezer. They should stay fresh for up to 3 months. Allow them to come to room temperature before eating.
Kichel (Jewish Bow Tie Cookies)
- 190 grams all purpose flour (1½ cups plus 1 Tablespoon)
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 3 eggs, at room temperature
- 1 egg yolk, at room temperature
- 76 grams vegetable oil (⅓ cup plus 1 Tablespoon)
- 1½ teaspoon vanilla
- 150 grams sugar, divided (¾ cup)
- In a small bowl, mix flour, 2 teaspoons sugar, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
- In mixer with paddle attachment, combine eggs, egg yolk, oil and vanilla. Mix on low speed until fully combined, 30-60 seconds. With mixer on low speed, slowly add the dry ingredients in three stages until fully combined. You may have to stop to scrape down the sides of the bowl a few times. Continue beating for 15-20 minutes to develop the gluten, stopping every 5 minutes or so to scrape down the sides of the bowl. The dough will be very sticky.
- Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow the dough to rest for 30 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 350°F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
- Liberally spread approximately ¼ cup sugar on parchment paper set on countertop. (You can do this directly on the countertop, but it makes for a much easier cleanup to do it on parchment paper.) Use a rubber spatula or bowl scraper to scoop the sticky dough onto the top of the sugar. Liberally spread an additional ¼ cup of sugar on top of the mound of dough. Roll dough to approximately ¼ inch thick, using a bench scraper to guide the dough to create and maintain a rectangle, approximately 7 inches by 12 inches. Continue to coat the dough using as much of the remaining sugar as necessary (top and bottom) while rolling out the dough.
- With a pizza cutter or a knife, cut rectangles, 1 inch by 2 inches. (Make 1 inch cuts along the side of the dough that is 7 inches, and make 2 inch cuts along the side of the dough that is 12 inches.) Twist each rectangle in the middle. Place on prepared baking sheet, 2 inches apart from each other. Bake 25-30 minutes until the edges and bottoms are deep golden brown. Allow to cool completely, leaving them out at room temperature for several hours.
- For puffier Kichel, bake on the bottom third of the oven.
- Kichel will stay fresh for at least several days stored in an airtight container. They also freeze very well.