I am convinced that there are two camps of kugel followers – those who favor potato and those who favor noodles. Jerusalem Kugel is for lovers of a savory sweet noodle pudding and I am firmly in this camp.
In actuality there are many different types of kugel even within these two camps. A kugel can be sweet or savory, or, as in this case – both. So what is a kugel anyway? It is a baked “pudding” originating with Jews from Eastern Europe and Germany that is traditionally served on Friday nights (Shabbat) and holidays. It can be eaten hot, cold or at room temperature and is especially wonderful as an accompaniment to brisket and roast chicken. I have been known to even eat it for breakfast on Shabbat morning….
Jerusalem or Yerushalmi Kugel is a specialty of Haredi Jews from the Mea She’arim neighborhood. Think Shtisel, that international phenomenon depicting a close knit community of ultra-Orthodox Jews. The kugel is sweet with a peppery bite that is irresistible. Most recipes don’t vary much, but there are small subtleties. The trick to a perfect Jerusalem Kugel is in caramelizing the sugar in the oil. You want to go just far enough to get a really good caramelization but no so far that you burn the sugar. It happens, though. If so, there is no saving it, so throw it out and start again. Once you have done it right once, the rest is a snap.
Some variations add caramelized onions, but I like mine without, which is the most common version. I put pudding in quotes because it isn’t a pudding in the sense that most people (Americans especially) think of. The finished result is solid and there is no dairy or dairy substitute – just eggs. And because it is meant to be eaten following the laws of kashrut, oil is used in place of butter.
Make sure that you use a big pot to caramelize your sugar and oil. When the noodles are added it can spatter and sugar burns are just the worst. I know. There is no special pan needed for the baking and you can use a square, rectangular or round pan. I have made it in a bundt (tube) pan which produces a very pretty finished product. This time I used an 8-inch spring-form pan. The smaller the pan, the higher the kugel. If you don’t have an 8-inch round pan, use a 9-inch. Your finished product will be a little thinner but just as delicious.
I used 1 teaspoon of freshly cracked black pepper, but I have seen recipes with as little as 1/2 teaspoon and as much as 2 teaspoons. It all depends on your tolerance. Same goes for the amount of sugar. The proportions below make what I believe is the perfect balance between sweet and savory.
For another wonderful noodle kugel try my Apple Cinnamon Noodle Kugel.
Yield: 8 Servings
1 pound (16 ounces) thin egg noodles (The thinner the better for the ultimate crust on the outside.)
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup neutral oil such as Canola
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper or more, to taste
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C)
Bring a large pot of water to the boil and salt it well as you would for cooking any pasta. Cook the noodles to al dente according to the package directions. Drain well and set aside. My noodles said to cook for 4 minutes, so I did 3 minutes. Remember, they will bake in the oven.
Add the sugar and oil to a large pot on medium heat. Just stir the sugar through the oil and then don’t touch it. As the sugar melts, it will start to turn a lovely dark amber color. You need to watch this because nothing happens, nothing happens and then – boom, it’s too late. Once the sugar burns, it becomes bitter and is unusable.
As soon as the sugar gets to the right color, remove the pot from the heat and add the noodles. Don’t worry if they got a bit sticky. They will separate as you stir them through the sugar/oil mixture. I like to use either a wooden spoon or tongs for this. If the sugar hardened in a few spots, don’t worry. It will melt again in the oven.
Now mix through the salt and pepper. Allow the noodles to cool for about 5 minutes. In the meantime, lightly beat the eggs to break them up. Now add them to the noodles and stir through. If you added the eggs too soon to the hot mixture, the eggs might scramble which is not what you want.
Pour the mixture into a greased pan of your choosing and smooth out the top. Bake for one hour. The finished product should be a really rich brown and the noodles should look somewhat crisped. Allow to cool slightly and then it can be removed from the pan if using hot. The kugel will cut most easily if allowed to cool to room temperature, which is how I like my kugel.