A Knish – It’s Brooklyn Feel-good food.
American food writer Suzanne Hamlin says, “If you’ve never eaten a knish you can’t call yourself a New Yorker.”
I’d say, “If you haven’t had a knish from a pushcart in Manhattan, or a candy store in Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx, or Staten Island, then I don’t know where as a New Yorker you’ve been living.”
A knish is a mixture of mashed potatoes with some onion, wrapped in dough, and either baked or fried – although other variations exist – I couldn’t tell you about them, I am a potato knish purist.
Before we get into making them, you need to know how to say it. Both the “k” and “n” are pronounced. The best way I can explain, is the “k” is a hard “k” – sounded as if starting to say ‘cut,’ and ‘nish’ – “cu-nish.”
Growing up in Greenpoint, I ate a lot of knishes. I didn’t know there were onions in the potato mixture until I took a shot at making some myself. My Uncle Mike sent me a recipe. (Recipe below)
The onions in the filling of the ones I ate in Brooklyn were so fine, you’d never know they were there, so I chopped them extra fine.
My Dad probably got me hooked on candy store knishes as a kid. That’s how I remember having them growing up – from a candy store (sometimes a deli), sliced open with some salt, pepper, and mustard.
Years ago, in New York City the knishes of delis may have been made in a backroom or delivered from a ‘distributor.’
Many would have been ordered from Gabila’s – a New York institution for knishes to this day.
Here’s a picture of Dad’s candy store on Nassau Avenue – around 1970 – if you zoom in (to the left of the door), you’ll notice the sign in the window. That fifteen-cent knish would have been a New York Gabila knish for sure.
You can read about my Greenpoint knish adventures, in “Growing Up Greenpoint – A Kid’s Life in 1970s Brooklyn.”
By the way, I have a limited supply of signed copies of the book I am shipping out during the quarantine – they are available on Ebay for the cost of printing and shipping.
Get one signed and sent to someone who loved the old neighborhood.
You can order from Ebay at this link .
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Recipe for a New York Knish:
This recipe for knishes comes from Rachel Edelman on About.com. It was sent to me from my Uncle Mike with his modifications. I’ve made some of my own.
This recipe makes about 8 large-size knishes as shown in the picture of our finished product. You may want to make them smaller.
¼ cup of oil
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
¼ cup of butter
1 onion – small is fine, diced very fine. Maybe 1/3 – 2/3 a cup to your liking.
For the dough:
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 cups of flower
½ cup of cold water (add more as needed until dough comes together)
Prepare and cook the Potatoes:
Wash and then peel off ALL the skin.
Remove any deep parts of blemishes.
Cut the potatoes into large chunks so they cook faster.
Cook potatoes in a pot of boiling water for around 15-20 minutes, until they are soft.
Drain them well.
Dry off all the water.
Put the potatoes back in the dry pot, or another large container and mash them well.
I DO NOT recommend whipping them.
Add the oil and 1 teaspoon of salt.
Mix it together until creamy.
Prepare the Flour Mixture:
In a separate bowl, combine the flour and baking powder.
Whisk them together.
Take 1/4 to 1/3 of this flour mixture and add it to the mashed potato mix. Mix it (by hand) until combined well.
Knead the Dough and let it rise:
Take the remaining flour mix in the bowl and make a well in the center.
Pour 1/2 cup of the water into that center spot.
Knead the flour and water into a dough with your hands, combing well until you have a nice firm dough ball.
Add a little more water, a little at a time, if needed if not coming together in a dough.
Place a DAMP cloth or towel over the dough and let it sit, at room temp, for 30 minutes.
Keep in mind, this mixture has some baking powder in it – this will cause the filling to ‘rise’ when cooking – you may have some puff-outs of mixture depending on how thick your dough is and the overlap. This is why sometimes people make these round and leave the top open.
Experiment – it takes some adjustment. My recommendation, since the cooking time is fairly short – make a couple, cook them, see how they come out. Then roll the next set.
Preheat the oven to 425.
Prepare the filling:
Wash, peel, cut and finely dice the onion.
Melt the butter, on low heat.
Once melted, add the onion. Sauté until the onions are soft – BUT NEVER browned or burnt! Slightly caramelized is okay if you like.
Pour the sautéed onions into a large mixing bowl.
Add 1 ½ cups of the mashed potatoes, ½ teaspoon of salt, and ¼ teaspoon of pepper.
Combine it well.
Roll the dough:
Flour a flat surface.
Flour a rolling pin.
Place the dough on the floured surface and divide it into four parts.
Take one part and prepare if for rolling.
Roll out the dough, flipping it over occasionally.
Roll it out until it is 1/8 to ¼ inch thick – thinner is better here.
Repeat with other sections.
Make a square knish:
For a square knish, use a pizza cutter or knife, trim the edges of the rolled dough in a rectangle.
Place a scoop of the potato filling in the center of the square in a square shape, spread it so it is ½ to ¾ inch thick, leave room around the edges.
Fold over the short edges, and push into the potato mixture.
Next, fold over the long edges so all the potato mixture is covered.
If you have too much filling, remove some.
Dip your fingers in some water, wet the dough edges to help it seal with a pinch.
Place the knish on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
Crack an egg, beat it with a fork. Brush the egg on the outer part of the knish dough for a final touch.
For a round knish:
Follow as above but cut the dough in a circle, use a cereal bowl.
Place the filling in and pinch it closed.
Bake in the 425F oven for 20-25 minutes – until the egg coating brings the dough to a nice golden color.
Slice open, add some salt and pepper to taste.
Add your favorite mustard and enjoy!
You can refrigerate for a few days and re-heat these when you want a snack.
If you really want to experience Brooklyn, make a chocolate egg cream to go with it!
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