In Search of the Perfect Potatonik
A question came in to the KITCHENer Rebbe, after reading the column Seeker of Lost Recipes, Restorer of Dreams asking about ‘potato nik’. I was inspired. I myself had never heard of Potatonik until I moved to Toronto where I found out it is another name for potato kugel (or kigel, depending where your ancestors came from). When I have to explain what a kugel is to non-Jews who have my cookbooks, I say it is a pudding usually made from potatoes or noodles. This often leads to a request for an invitation for dinner so they can sample it!
My late mother-in-law made a greyish-colored flat potato kugel that was very thin, crispy and quite yummy, made with grated potatoes, onions, eggs, flour and seasonings. She heated the oil in a casserole in the oven until it was piping hot, then added the potato mixture and baked the kugel for an hour. My mother preferred to make her potato kugel from mashed potatoes, eggs and fried onions because that’s how her mother made it – Mom’s kugel was always “puchedick” (light and airy).
I questioned some of my Toronto friends but none of them ever heard of making potato kugel with yeast. My friend Cheryl Goldberg felt that everyone had their own way of making things, depending on what was traditional in their family and where they came from. “Families were much bigger then and so they used what they could.”
My friend Helene Medjuck makes her Shabbat potato kugel in a deep baking pan. It is very thick, with a crunchy crust because she bakes it overnight in the oven. Her family loves it that way – the crustier, the better.
Tolsa Greenberg told me that her husband Jack’s family came from Russia and always bragged about their potatonik, but it actually was the same thing as what her family made and called kugel. Her late mother-in-law even taught the Japanese cleaning lady how to make it when she needed help with her yom tov cooking! Tolsa told me that in her in-law’s family they baked their potatonik for a very long time, until it became dry and crusty but she bakes hers much less and so it comes out higher and moister, not “oysgetrickent” (dry).
I found a couple of recipes for yeast-based Potatonik in my recipe collection. The first comes from a wonderful book by George Greenstein called “Secrets of a Jewish Baker.” A food processor version of the recipe is also included. The second recipe, which is somewhat simpler, comes from Joan Nathan’s book “Jewish Cooking in America.” I’ve never tried either of the following recipes but if you decide to make potatonik, please be sure to save a piece for me!
Norene Gilletz is a cookbook author, cooking teacher and food consultant based in Toronto, Canada. Her latest book is NORENE’S HEALTHY KITCHEN: Eat YOUR Way to Good Health (Whitecap). For information about her cookbooks, cooking demonstrations and culinary services, call 416-226-2466 or visit her website at http://www.gourmania.com
GEORGE GREENSTEIN’S POTATONIK
Source: Secrets of a Jewish Baker
In the late 1950s we called these yeast-baked Jewish potato puddings Spudniks, a takeoff on the first Russian Sputnik space satellite. In the bakery these zest onion and ground pepper-laced loaves were baked every week from Thursday through Sunday. It became a tradition that the first loaves out of the oven always had to be tested by the entire baking and sales staff. Often, one had to taste two or three slices before pronouncing them up to standard.
One Thursday I observed a usually timid middle-aged sales clerk who appeared to be in distress. When I asked if she was feeling well, her response was, “I think there’s something wrong with the potatonik today,” while indicating with an unmistakable gesture that a fire was being stoked up inside her chest. A young part-timer who was standing nearby quickly turned away, doubled over with suppressed laughter. Finally, when she could not longer contain herself, the youngster turned and blurted out to the older woman, “Of course you don’t feel well. If I ate two whole potatoniks I wouldn’t feel well either.”
Potatonik can be used in place of potatoes at any meal. A side dish of applesauce makes an appealing accompaniment. Always serve warm.
1 cup warm water
1 1/2 packages active dry yeast (scant 1 1/2 Tbsp)
1 1/2 cups bread flour unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 pound potatoes (about 1 1/2 medium potatoes), skins on
6 ounces yellow onions (1 1/4 medium onions), ground or grated
1 small stale roll or 2 slices old bread (torn or crumbs)
1/2 cup bread flour or unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
Scant 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper, or more to taste
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup lightly beaten egg (about 2 extra-large eggs)
Shortening, for greasing pans
In a medium bowl sprinkle the yeast over the warm water; stir to dissolve. Add the flour and mix until smooth. Cover and set aside until it puffs up (20 to 25 minutes).
Stir down the Sponge. Scrub the potatoes, then grind or grate them with the skins on. Add the ground potatoes and onion to the Sponge and stir until blended. Add the stale roll, flour, salt, baking powder, and ground pepper; mix until incorporated. Add the oil and egg and mix well. Drop the mixture out into 3 well-greased 8- or 9-inch loaf pans. Each loaf should weigh about 15 ounces. Leave room for expansion – the potatonik will rise in the oven.
Bake with steam (see below) in a preheated 360 degree F oven until the crust is brown and feels firm when gently pressed in the center with your fingertips (about 1 hour). Let cool on a wire rack covered with a cloth for 5 minutes to allow the loaves to steam. Invert and tap out onto the rack. Serve warm. Potatonik can be refrigerated for several days or frozen for 1 to 2 weeks. Reheat at 325 F until warm. When reheating, I like to bake it for 35 to 45 minutes to develop a hard crust.
POTATONIK (Food Processor Method, Steel Blade)
In a medium bowl sprinkle the yeast over the warm water and stir to dissolve. Add the flour and mix until smooth. Cover and set aside until it puffs up (20 to 25 minutes).
Meanwhile, scrub the potatoes, then process the potatoes, onion, and stale roll into a coarse chop. Do not puree. Transfer to a large bowl.
Stir the Sponge into the potato/onion mixture. Add the stale roll, flour, salt, baking powder, and ground pepper and pulse only until the dry ingredients are absorbed. Add the oil and egg and mix well. Drop the mixture out into 3 well-greased 8- or 9-inchloaf pans. Each loaf should weigh about 15 ounces. Leave room for expansion – the potatonik will rise in the oven.
Proceed as in Baking, above.
Steam in Baking (for the home oven):
Place an empty roasting pan or other heavy pan on the floor of the oven 5 to 10 minutes before baking, so it gets hot. Brush the tops of the loaves with water, place in the oven and carefully toss 6 to 8 ice cubes into the hot pan, or pour in 1 cup boiling water and immediately close the oven door. CAUTION: When using boiling water, wear a glove and keep your face away from the open oven door, since there will be a burst of live steam when the boiling water hits the hot pan. Do not open the door to peek or the steam will escape.
Joan Nathan’s Potatonik
Source: Jewish Cooking in America
Joan Nathan writes: “on the frontier and in Europe kugels were cooked in a clay pudding pot, similar in shape and texture to our flower pots, which housed the fifteen- to twenty-inch-high potato or noodle mixture. In this country kugels are more like casseroles baked in flatter, wider pans and are not restricted to potatoes and noodles.“ Potatonik “has the texture of bread and the flavor of potato pancakes.”
“My mother was a ‘galitz,’ (from Galicia) and her family ate lots of potatoes in their poverty, wrote Florence Naumoff of Glendale, AZ. “ She made the most wonderful ‘potatonik.’ It was made with potatoes, onions, yeast, flour, salt and pepper. It came out of the oven crispy, crusty! Sometimes she actually baked in aluminum ice trays, stuck her hand in the oven to feel how hot,’ and I never ate burnt food! I make a kugel and latkes, of course, but that’s different. When I asked her how do you know you have the right consistency, she said, ‘a little heavier than latkes’ (in lieu of specific ingredient amounts.) And potatonik? ‘A little heavier than kugel.’”
Like Mrs. Naumoff, Joseph Hilsenrath, born in Kolomya, Ukraine, and currently of Silver Spring MD, makes potatonik. “It is my favorite food. My mother used to make it and now I make it. Where the potatoes are called ‘bulbes’ the bread is called ‘bulbavnik,’ and here we call them potatoes so the bread is potatonik.”
1 package active dry yeast (1 Tbsp)
1/4 cup warm water
Pinch of sugar
2 1/2 pounds potatoes
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 Tbsp salt or to taste
2 medium onions, sliced thin in circles
2 Tbsp vegetable oil (about)
1. Place the yeast in a bowl with the water and sugar and let it sit for about 10 minutes or until it starts to bubble slightly.
2. Peel and grate the potatoes and place with the flour in a mixing bowl and add the yeast mixture with the salt. Mix all the ingredients well and let rise, covered, in a greased bowl for 45 minutes.
3. Layer the onions in a 9- by 12-inch or 11- by 17-inch greased baking dish. Cover with the potato flour mixture and flatten out.
4. Bake in a preheated 375-degree oven for about 10 minutes. Brush with the oil and continue baking about 35 more minutes or until golden and crisp.
Yield: about 10 servings.
You can serve this as a snack, a starch with your meal, or even as a crispy hors d’oeuvre with drinks. However you serve it, the potatonik will be gone in no time.