Could Duff Goldman’s Aunt Hedy’s Kugel Stand Up to My Bubbie’s?
His class proves that the best kugels are a family affair.
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Kugel is one of those funny recipes that is usually passed down through relatives, not picked up during a cooking class. And just like a Sunday sauce, biscuits and gravy, or chicken soup, these recipes aren’t just food. They’re edible history and comfort — each bite contains generations of stories and flavor tweaks, pretty much guaranteeing that your family’s dish is the best there is.
So when I saw Duff Goldman was doing a kugel class on Food Network Kitchen based on his Aunt Hedy’s recipe, I was curious, sure, but a little skeptical. Don’t get me wrong — I’ve had some great kugels over the years that didn’t come from my family. My friend Lindsay makes an amazing kugel (her mom’s version) in a bundt pan with nuts on top, and my friend Lauren’s husband makes a stellar Passover version. But I’ve also seen some crazy versions that come with canned pineapple or pumpkin puree, and, well, sorry but I just can’t get on board with that kind of departure.
Lokshen kugel, as it’s often called by Ashkenazi Jews, is a noodle kugel that’s sometimes savory, sometimes sweet. It’s most often made with some kind of dairy base — usually sour cream, cottage cheese, milk and eggs — and then variations start to occur from there. My Bubbie went the route of a more savory kugel — the basics plus salt and pepper, but given Duff’s expertise with sweets, it’s not surprising that his Aunt Hedy’s is a sweeter take on traditional kugel. He describes it as a Jewish bread pudding, but with noodles instead of bread.
If you don’t yet understand the family nature of kugel, just stop here and tune into Duff’s class. Over the course of the class, Duff calls his mom (like any good Jewish boy!), then reminisces about her fabulous brisket. We hear from his stepdad (who Duff says makes a great gefilte fish), too. And before he digs into the finished kugel, he snaps a picture to send to his mom.
Once Duff’s mom hops on the call, she shares that Aunt Hedy was his dad’s brother’s wife. Hedy’s version of kugel contains plump golden raisins (a nice add!) with a topping that was a mixture of corn cereal, cinnamon, sugar and a pinch of salt.
Duff’s adaptations include browning the butter (not in the original recipe) to add a nice nuttiness to the dish. This isn’t something you often see in kugel creation — certainly not in my family’s version — but it works well, and will be part of my own recipe in the future.
He also gave an option at the end to either cook the kugel right away or to put it in the fridge overnight, so the noodles soak up more of the luscious cottage cheese, eggs, sour cream, sugar, vanilla, resulting in a more dense and custardy kugel. For the sake of time (and hunger!), I put it in the oven right away, but I quickly saw the benefit of this longer soak time and will try it in the future with any kugel I can resist the immediate temptation of baking.
So how did Aunt Hedy face off against Bubbie? I am lucky that Bubbie’s is savory because it means that there’s room for both. After all, who doesn’t want a mix of sweet and savory?
Duff’s casual, fun approach captures the spirit of a treasured family recipe. It was fun to follow along with him, learn something new and pick up the tips and tricks that make Food Network Kitchen so valuable. Now, to bake a batch for my family to enjoy!