Cooking with Karin

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Hungarian Kifli (Nut Crescents)

I've mastered many of my Hungarian grandmother's recipes, but one of her specialties always eluded me: Kifli.

Despite having her actual recipe for these popular Hungarian holiday pastries, the Kifli I made just never tasted like I remember hers tasting. That is, until now!

Yes, last week my parents and I baked up the best batch of Kifli we've ever made. In fact, they were so good that the pastries I brought home were so quickly devoured that I wasn't able to get a shot with my good camera. Thank goodness Dad took pictures with his camera so that I could go ahead and share them now! We'll be baking up another batch today...we need some to share with my siblings.

The Kifli dough is a yeast dough that's refrigerated before rolling, cutting and filling.

The dough is rolled out on a sugar-coated surface. There's no sugar in the dough, though.

The filling is a combination of ground walnuts (just use your food processor to finely chop them), sugar and egg whites.

Both the dough and the filling are enhanced with lemon zest. You don't notice "lemon" flavor per se, but you'll miss the zest if it's not there.

Like I said, the "perfect" Kifli, the one that tastes just like my grandmother made, wasn't made from her recipe. That's perplexing. However, the recipe we landed on came from the cookbook that is full of my grandmother's recipes, "Our Favorite Hungarian Recipes," published by the Women's Guild of the Hungarian Reformed Church in Columbus, Ohio.

The cookbook has been reprinted many, many times, but the recipes have remained the same as the original, which was created quite a long time ago...maybe in the 1960s???

The book can be purchased from the church by mailing a donation of $8 plus $1.75 for mailing to: Women's Guild, Hungarian Reformed Church, 365 East Woodrow Ave., Columbus, Ohio 43207-1969.

Some recipes for the pastry include sour cream, but the one we've finally landed on does not. One of the secrets (we think) to the consistency of the dough is lard. Yep. Believe me, it does make a difference!

Here's the recipe by Guild member Helen Varga. Of course, like most recipes from that time, it includes some nebulous measurement instructions such as "1 large can milk," but I'll talk you through it!

Kifli (Rich Crescents)

For the Dough:
1 large can milk (we used a standard can of evaporated milk)
2 packages instant dry yeast (updated 11:50 a.m. EST 12/21/11)
1 teaspoon granulated sugar (updated 11:50 a.m. EST 12/21/11)
7 cups all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
Zest from 1 lemon
1/2 pound lard
1/2 pound butter
3 eggs
Granulated sugar, for rolling out the dough

Heat milk in a small saucepan over medium heat until lukewarm. Stir in the yeast and sugar and set aside to dissolve.

Combine the flour, baking powder, salt lemon zest in the bowl of a large food processor or stand mixer. Pulse to combine. Add the lard and butter and pulse or mix as you would pie dough, until the mixture resembles cornmeal.

Whisk the eggs into the milk and then add to the flour mixture. Pulse or mix until dough forms into a ball. Divide the dough into 2 rounds, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 1 hour.

For the Filling:

3 cups ground walnuts (can be finely chopped in the food processor)
1 cup sugar
2 egg whites
Zest of 1/2 lemon

Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Stir and set aside.

Now You're Ready To Make the Kifli:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Remove one of the dough rounds from the refrigerator. Unwrap, cut in half and re-wrap one of the halves.

Liberally sprinkle a work surface with granulated sugar. Place some additional sugar in a bowl and set aside.

Roll the portion of dough in the sugar, adding more sugar to the work surface if the dough begins to stick. Roll until the dough is 1/8-inch thick. Cut into 2 1/4-inch squares. Place about 1 teaspoon of the filling in the middle of each square. Roll into crescents and dip the top of each crescent into the bowl of sugar and place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes, until golden.

(Note: Here's how formed my crescents--I placed a square of dough so that it was turned 90 degrees and there were points facing North, South, East and West. I placed a teaspoon of the filling in the middle and then I pulled the top point over the filling and then rolled the bottom point over the top point and squeezed the ends to form the crescent. You pretty much have to figure out what works for you!)

Makes about 4 dozen Kifli.


Janette Sweet said...

I am going to try Butter flavored Crisco. It makes dough flakey. I need to get some lemons. Other than that, I have the other ingredient. I am really looking forward to trying this one out. I usually use Pillsbury's which are very good, but I can taste the baking powder in theirs. I am sure these will be really great.

Bee Happy said...

I was looking for a nutty cookie and this sounds wonderful. I have to stop at the REAL butcher shop in DeLand tomorrow, so I can get lard. And with guests who want to help, these will be great!

Anonymous said...

Interesting, just like my Grandmother's recipes, nothing was made in small quantities!


If you want a Hungarian cookbook that has been awarded top 10 in Austro Hungarian and tauted as amazing by Edward Behr (Foodie of Art of Eating Magazine)then visit

Written by Helen Czegeny (Ilona Szabo) and daughter Clara M.Czegeny

Merry Christmas

Karin said...

I will definitely check out the book, Hungarian Chef! Thanks!

scotsmom said...

Nice recipe.
My son married a girl whose parents came from Hungary during the '50s' uprising.
When we said how do you do these it was "well, you take this and some of that etc. She even uses a special nut grinder that grinds the nuts perfectly. My bro-in-law finally went over to her house and got lessons so we could keep this heirloom recipe :)
I believe the only thing you do different is cut to squares. Ours is make into walnut size balls, cover and refrigerate several hrs or overnight. Then roll each ball to a thin circle dot the filling on upper part and roll to a crescent. If feeling decorative, make little 1/4" cuts randomly along the edge that will be outside when they're rolled. YUM