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Just Desserts

Knowing your kichel from your babka

Dvora Meyers
October 14, 2010
Blackberry rugelach. Mmmmm.(Wikipedia)
Blackberry rugelach. Mmmmm.(Wikipedia)

Today is National Dessert Day, which, unlike Valentine’s Day, is not a sham of a Hallmark holiday. It’s the real deal, at least for me. (I bake cookies when I’m stressed.) In honor of this hallowed occasion, I’ve compiled a by no means exhaustive list of classic Jewish desserts. Leave your favorites in the comments!

Kichel: This dessert biscuit is made from egg and sugar often shaped into circles or bowties. It was served after services nearly every Shabbos in the basement of my shul, the Young Israel of Redwood. However if I wanted to get my hands on one I had to get past the old men who crowded around the table of food, mostly to spear pickled herring with toothpicks. (The kichel often proved too hard for their dentures.) These were the kind of men who yelled, “Kiddush! Kiddush!” every time a wedding, birth, bar mitzvah, graduation, or even a bat mitzvah was announced.

Stella D’oro Swiss Fudge Cookies: This cookie is a staple in any Orthodox household, in part because it is pareve (neither meat nor dairy). My family waited six hours between eating meat and dairy, so my mother often offered these cookies to me as a late afternoon snack, just as I was beginning to grow restless and demand ice cream. I ate them very artfully—carefully nibbling around the edges until all that remained was the fudgy center. I would put this aside and do this to at least two more cookies and then finally eat all the chocolate parts at once.

Rugelach: I probably should’ve also mentioned this in regards to kichel, but: Any dessert that forces you to clear your throat with a hard “ch” is obviously a Jewish dessert. Also, I think one of the defining characteristics of Jewish desserts is that it’s not pretty. Tasty—yes. Aesthetically pleasing—probably not. You’re not going to serve a rugelach alone on a plate with chocolate sauce artistically drizzled, you know? Jewish desserts are made for grabbing. The best rugelach are found in the Machene Yehuda market in Jerusalem at the Marzipan bakery. (Well, if not the best, at least the oiliest.)

Babka: Chocolate vs. Cinnamon?

Dvora Meyers is a journalist and author based in Brooklyn.