Knish, or knysh, is a Yiddish word that refers to a popular Jewish snack - a type of flaky pastry bun that is baked (or sometimes fried or bbq’d) and contains a hearty filling (traditionally potato and caramelized onion). The first North American knish bakery, Yonah Shimmel’s Knish Bakery, made it’s appearance in New York City in 1910 and is still going strong. Prior to Yonah’s appearance knishes were traditionally sold from push carts, so, these hearty staples of Jewish cuisine are a true example of street food.
My first ever knish experience was at What A Bagel, located in Toronto’s well-to-do Forest Hill neighbourhood. I liked them because they were a more interesting alternative to my usual, simple order of a toasted bagel with cream cheese and less expensive than a sandwich. The knishes at What A Bagel resembled a flaky (fairly greasy) bagel and were stuffed with spinach & feta, potato or cheese. I usually went for the spinach knish and while it wasn’t oh-my-god amazing, it was enough to satiate my appetite and put a smile on my face.
I’ve never had a knish from another place, including Yonah’s, but when I saw a recipe for potato knish on one of my favourite food blogs, Smitten Kitchen, I knew that I had to try my hand at making them. Afterall homemade baked goods are almost alway preferable to the store-bought variety.
My version incorporated diced and caramelized jewel-like red onions, leek, russet potato and artichoke hearts. The most difficult part of the recipe was forming the knish. I constantly worried about the base and side seal (I didn’t want the knish to explode or leak while baking but I didn’t want to wet the pastry to make it stickier) and when “gently pressing” them to achieve the ball-like shape the knish would sometimes fold creating a sort of lop-sided double-bubble instead of a desirable smooth round sphere. Despite some superficial hiccups my knish experiment was a success; the pastry was delectably flaky and the filling was satisfyingly scrumptious. I’m considering making both sweet and savory knish and perhaps bringing them with me when I bake; imagine wood-fired knish (excuse me as I wipe the drool away). I love how the filling allows for endless creativity and can’t wait to make them again!
Can’t be bothered to make your own? Try knish in Toronto at the following establishments: