Lokshen kugel is a dish that originated in early Renaissance Europe and is associated today with the Ashkenazi cuisine of Eastern Europe. The basic ingredients are egg noodles, butter, cottage cheese, sour cream, sugar, and cinnamon, with the dish often being served as a decadent sweet main course or dessert at celebrations such as weddings and bar mitzvahs.
The word kugel comes from Middle High German and means sphere, or ball. It, perhaps, originally refers to the shape of the dish when baked in round earthenware. A kugel, in general, is a baked casserole which can be sweet, semi-sweet, or savory. Sweet, semi-sweet, and savory noodle kugels are made with Jewish egg noodles, or lokshen, while potatoes are perhaps used more for savory Passover versions . The Sweeter types of lokshen kugel are more of a 19th century invention that relied on the availability of cheaper refined sugars. Before the idea of noodles arrived in Europe, via the spice trade, kugels were made primarily from bread dough.
Jewish travelers brought pasta from Italy to the historical Ashkenazi communities living in the regions of Provence and the Rhine during the early Renaissance. The real split between sweet and savory kugels came in the early 1800’s when many Polish Jews entered into the new science of sugar beet refining. Our version is perhaps more of the semi-sweet variety as we usually omit adding sugar and, instead, rely on the natural sugars already present in the dried fruit.
Over the years, the recipe for the dish has evolved, with different variations developed in different countries. In Poland, for example, the dish is often made with raisins, in Hungary, it is sometimes made with grated apples, while Katzinger’s in Ohio uses apricots! Lokshen kugel remains a rich comfort food in many Jewish households, and is often passed down from generation to generation as a family recipe!
Bubbe’s Lokshen Kugel: Grandma’s Noodle Casserole
Makes 12 servings
— 1 roll Athens phyllo dough
— 1 pound Kosher egg noodles
— 1 pound cottage cheese
— 4 ounces cream cheese
— 4 ounces sour cream
— 6 eggs
— 1 stick butter
— 1/2 cup raisins
— 1/2 cup dried cherries
— 1/2 cup sliced or cubed dried Turkish apricots
— 2 tablespoons honey (optional)
— 2 teaspoons nutmeg
— 2 teaspoons cinnamon
— salt (for the pasta water)
— Boil the noodles in salted water until al dente. If you leave the pasta a little firmer it will help the dish “set” as the noodles will absorb some of the moisture while cooking.
— Rinse under cold water and let drain.
— Combine all ingredients except butter in a mixing bowl.
— Melt butter in a square 9 inch baking pan and coat the bottom and sides. Pour the excess butter into the ingredients in the mixing bowl, mix, and then place the mixture into the buttered baking dish.
— Bake in a 375 degree Fahrenheit oven until the top turns golden brown, about 1 hour.