Traditional foods connect us with the people and places we love—and it’s even more important this year when many of us will be away from family and friends during the Easter and Passover holidays.
Growing up, we looked forward to Easter at our grandparents’ house in Detroit. There wasn’t enough room upstairs for everyone to eat so we’d head single-file down to the basement, a culinary “Cave of Wonders” with many dishes from Grandma Stefan’s Hungarian heritage: homemade stuffed cabbage, ham, the best-ever fried chicken, poppyseed cake and fresh kielbasa from the butcher shop in Delray, a Hungarian neighborhood in southwest Detroit. Then came the salads, potatoes, pickles and butter shaped like a lamb. Despite our brimming plates, we always left room for dessert: homemade Hungarian kiflies.
Those plump little pastries didn’t stand a chance. Dusted with powdered sugar and stuffed with walnut or apricot filling, it was impossible to eat just one. Walnut were the best, especially the ones with little bits of filling that had burst out during baking and caramelized in the hot oven. When those were gone, we moved on to the apricot.
Grandma had been baking them for decades, more than a hundred at a time, for nearly every family gathering. She seemed to make kiflies by instinct. She knew the look, the feel of the rich ingredients as they blended into a smooth dough. Tablespoon after tablespoon was rolled into a ball, the butter melting slightly in the warmth of her hands. After chilling overnight, the next morning would be spent flattening, filling and baking. She knew a sparse half-teaspoon of sugary walnut filling would flavor the entire pastry. The process took hours, but the result? Perfection!
In the 70s, someone asked grandma for the recipe and typed it up, making copies in the purple-blue ink from the Ditto machine. Some of the nuances have been lost along the way (I’ve yet to figure out how to roll them like she did). But the labor of love, and the connection to family past and present, still comes through with every bite.
- 1 lb. butter
- 6 egg yolks
- 1 cup sour cream
- 4 cups flour
- 5 egg whites (lightly beaten)
- 1 cup walnuts (chopped finely)
- 1 tsp. cinnamon
- 1 cup sugar
- powdered sugar (for dusting cookies)
To Make Dough (must be refrigerated 8-10 hours or overnight)
- Mix together butter, egg yolks and sour cream until blended. Add four cups of flour and blend until it forms a soft dough.
- Roll into one-inch balls and put in refrigerator over night.
To Assemble and Bake Kiflies
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- For filling, slightly beat egg whites. Stir in walnuts, sugar and cinnamon. Set aside.
- Take 1-2 balls of dough from refrigerator at a time and roll into a flat circle about 3 inches in diameter. Place 1/2 teaspoon of filling in center of each circle and roll so filling is enclosed in dough. Put cookies on a greased baking sheet about 2 inches apart and place cookie sheet in refrigerator while continuing to roll and fill remaining cookies.
- When cookie sheet is full, remove from refrigerator and bake in oven about 15 minutes or until light brown.
- Repeat process until all cookies are filled and baked.
- Cool and dust with powdered sugar.