Sunday, November 24, 2013

Pumpkin Spice Noodle Kugel

Noodle kugel is a strange and amazing dish.  I have no clue how this super-sweet casserole came to be a Jewish-American staple for all holidays (except Passover).  Like many Jewish culinary oddities, it is as sweet as a dessert, but we eat it as a side and have equally sweet desserts after the meal is over.  And, no one ever says, "I think I'll just have more kugel for dessert," either because there isn't any kugel left or because the family has already fought over who gets to bring the leftovers home to eat for breakfast the next day.

My family's kugel is probably more over-the-top than mainstream recipes.  If you do a search for noodle kugel, you'll see images of a casserole with browned, crispy noodles poking out of a custardy filling.  Chances are that filling is made from eggs, cottage cheese, and some butter.  What you'll notice right away about my aunt Bean's version is that it adds a thick, crunchy graham cracker crust that bakes into layers of both American and cream cheese.  Imagine a marriage between cheesecake and kugel.  I've had plenty of noodle kugels in my life, and this is hands down the best I've ever tasted.

Considering it's Thanksgivukkah, I upped the ante and made the custard filling pumpkin pie flavored.  I have no idea how my family will respond to the liberty I took adapting the recipe.  The taste is amazing, but I know I'll bring a second dish of the "traditional" recipe for those family members who have been looking forward to this kugel since Rosh Hashannah.  If you want my aunt Bean's traditional recipe, just leave out the pumpkin, nutmeg, and allspice.
Basic Ingredients (makes a large, 10"x12", kugel):
  • 1 lb. wide egg noodles, cooked and drained
  • 1/2 lb. butter, melted
  • 1/3 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin puree
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • pinch of allspice
  • 1 lb. cream cheese
  • 1 lb. American cheese slices

Graham Cracker Topping:
  • 4 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 8 tbsp. butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. vanilla

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil to cook the noodles until all dente.   When done, drain and set aside to cool a little.

While the noodles cook, beat the eggs and stir in the sour cream, pumpkin, sugar, vanilla,  and spices in a large bowl.  Incorporate the milk and melted butter.  
In another large bowl, mix the ingredients for the graham cracker topping.  It will form a loose meal.
When the noodles are a bit cool and no longer watery, add them to the large bowl with the egg custard.  Stir to coat the noodles.
Completely butter the surface of a large baking dish.  Add 1/2 the noodle mixture and spread evenly across the bottom.  Layer first with half of the cream cheese, placing small pieces evenly across the dish.  Then, add a layer of American cheese slices, making sure to completely cover the surface.  At this point, you can compress the noodles a bit with your hands, pushing out any air.  Then, coat the surface with a thin layer of the graham cracker topping (use less than half).
Repeat the process for a second layer (or more if you are using a smaller, deeper dish).  The second layer of graham cracker topping should make a thick crust on top of the entire dish.  It should weigh roughly 1 million pounds.
Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 35-45 minutes, or until the crust is browned and cracking.
Allow to cool before attempting to cut and serve.  It's safest to refrigerate the dish for a few hours to set, and then re-heat and cut.

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