On June 22, 2011, my Grandmother, Margaret Helen (Szabo) Elek, passed away.  She was 89 years old- just two months shy of her 90th birthday.

Margaret Helen (Szabo) Elek 1921-2011

Coincidentally, and somewhat strangely, when she passed I was in the process of sorting through old family photos, looking for pictures of her for this blog.  While I’m sad she is gone, I am happy to be starting this blog inspired by her, and to continue cooking and baking in her memory.  Through sharing her recipes, I am keeping her spirit alive.

Her funeral was held in Fresno, California, and due to the skyrocketing price of plane tickets these days, I was unable to join my family to say goodbye.  I thought the best way to say goodbye here at home was to bake some kifli.

Kifli is my all-time favorite pastry/cookie, and was one of my Grandmother’s favorites as well.  It is a buttery, flaky, dough cut into squares and then filled with all sorts of different deliciousness: nuts & sugar, prune jam, raspberry jam, apricot jam (jam is sort of a theme), or really anything you can think of.  You then pinch two opposing corners of the square together and voila!- weird horn shaped cookies oozing sweet goodness.

Flour mixture and egg mixture

Grandma made kifli for us, but it was my Mom who taught me how to make it.  Fact: it takes years to perfect the making of kifli.  Even though I know the principles, and have made it many times before, I still have issues every time I make it.  At least they are usually different issues, which makes me more confident that one day I will make kifli as thin and perfectly proportioned as my Grandmother’s and my Mom’s.  For now I am content that no matter what I do wrong, they still come out tasting like Heaven in a cookie.

Forming the dough

This time, my mistake was in the rolling of the dough.  I did not manage to get it thin enough.  My Dad told me that Grandma used to roll and roll and roll and roll that dough, until it was as thin as possible, and only then would she cut the squares and fill them.  Apparently there is more emphasis on the rolling aspect than I ever realized.  I feel like it hasn’t been that hard before, so maybe there was somehow too much baking powder in them this time, but regardless they just puffed up and popped open so badly when I baked them!  When you ate one, there was a little too much cookie and not quite enough filling.  On the up side, this didn’t seem to stop anyone from enjoying one.  And then another.  And then a couple more.

Squares with nut filling

Pinched kifli horns with raspberry jam filling

So be warned, if you make kifli, they will be a challenge and a time commitment, but no matter what in the end you will have a highly addictive and fantastic cookie.  Please share your kifli experiences and pictures in the comments section when you’re finished!

Thank you Grandma, for all your cookies and your love- you will be missed!

A print I did in college about making kifli- I would love to re-do this print and add things!

Grandma Elek’s Kifli-Dios-Lekvaros: Nut and Prune Filled Horns

6 cups all-purpose flour

3 sticks unsalted butter

6 tablespoons vegetable shortening (I prefer Spectrum’s Organic All Vegetable Shortening)

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

3 egg yolks

1 whole egg

1 pinch of baking soda

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup sour cream

6 teaspoons sugar

Confectioner’s sugar for dusting

Fruit jam or pecans, corn starch, and sugar for the filling

In a large bowl, measure and sift together flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda.  Using a pastry cutter*, cut in butter and vegetable shortening until the mixture is coarse like crumbs.

In a separate bowl, slightly beat egg yolks, whole egg, vanilla, sour cream, and sugar.

Pour egg mixture over flour mixture and mix thoroughly.  The mixing will get very tough.  Eventually you will have to use your hands to finish mixing and kneading the ingredients into a soft dough.

When you have a good dough formed, flour a large wooden board, pastry mat, or flat surface and use a rolling pin or an empty wine bottle to roll out THIN.  Super duper thin.  You will probably need to separate the dough into multiple balls and do them one at a time.

Using a sharp knife or decorative wheel pastry cutter*, cut into 1-2” squares.  Spoon a small amount (about ½ a tablespoon) of your favorite filling onto each square.  Prune jam is the most traditional and was Grandma’s favorite, but you can also do any other flavor of jam, such as raspberry or apricot.  My favorite filling is nuts & sugar.  To make the nuts & sugar filling:  chop 1-2 cups of pecans finely.  Heat in a saucepan over medium-low heat with about a cup of water, a cup or two of sugar, and a couple tablespoons corn starch, stirring continuously until the mixture begins to thicken.  You can make it as thick as you want, but you don’t want it to be too thin.  You can also alter the amounts of each ingredient depending on how much you need and how sweet or nutty you want it to be.

Pinch two opposing corners of the squares together.  Make sure you pinch them really well so they don’t pop open when baked.  Using a pastry brush or paper towel, brush with egg white or one whole egg beaten.  Bake on a greased baking sheet at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes, or until slightly brown on the bottom.

Cool on wire rack.  Dust with confectioner’s sugar (I like to use a metal tea ball for really even dusting).  Makes a couple DOZEN cookies.  Store in airtight container, and share with family and friends!

*There are two different tools that are both referred to as a “pastry cutter”.  One is a half-oval shaped tool that is used to “cut” butter or other shortening into a flour mixture.  The other is similar to a pizza cutter, a wheel on a handle, that is used to cut pastry dough into shapes, often with a decorative edge.  If you are serious about baking, a pastry cutter for shortening is a must-have tool.  I do not have a decorative pastry cutter yet, but if you do it makes a very pretty cookie!