History Dish Mondays: Cooking with Schmaltz, Part One

Chicken cookies triumphant.


I’m embarking on a new project with my friend Ilana. While at her bubbe‘s for Passover, Ilana came across a Manischewitz Matzo Meal cookbook from 1930. It was printed both in Yiddish and in English, and the recipes were in a similar vein, featuring Kosher preparations for America classics such as Boston Cream Pie.

I had remembered reading about these duel-language cookbooks in Laura Schenone’s book 1,000 Years Over a Hot Stove. Schenone writes:
“As the 20th century marched on, many Jewish women felt comfortable assimilating through the table, partaking in the fruits of American technology and convenience and all its symbols of progress. It was possible to do this, they proved, and still remain Jewish in identity, soul, and even according to religious law, if they wished.”
The assimilation of Jewish immigrants through food seemed to be happening largely from 1900-1935 and it resulted in an unique cuisine that was simultaneously traditionally Jewish and modern American. Product cook books, like the one printed by Manischewitz, seemed especially intent on creating this modern, hybrid woman.
So we got curious what these recipes tasted like. Ilana and I perused Tempting Kosher Dishes, and selected a few recipes that seemed like the best examples of the hybrid cuisine. This week, I’m cooking up a batch of Mock Oatmeal Cookies:

Yes, these cookies are made with “melted chicken fat.” Chicken cookies.
***
Mock Oatmeal Cookies
From Tempting Kosher Dishes, B. Manischewitz Co., 1930
2 cups matzo meal
2 cups matzo farfel
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup walnuts
2/3 cup schmaltz
4 eggs
1 tsp. cinnamon
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Cream together the schmaltz and the sugar. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each one.
3. In a separate bowl, stir together cinnamon and matzo meal. With the mixer on low, slowly add the matzo meal. Mix until combined.
4. Stir in the walnuts and matzo farfel. Drop teaspoon sized lumps onto a greased or silicon cookie sheet.
5. Bake 15 minutes, or until bottoms are golden brown. Cool and enjoy.
**note: I would recommend doubling the amount of walnuts (or raisins) and adding 3/4 salt to the matzo meal.
My lips had never touched schmaltz until I moved to New York. Traditionally Jewish, it’s chicken fat, used to replace butter when necessary according to Kosher laws. It’s commercially available, but traditionally skimmed off the top of stock. I was having a hard time getting my hands on it in my largely Greek and Hispanic neighborhood. But fortune smiled, and while out on a video shoot, I brought up my search for schmaltz to food journalist (and schmaltz advocate) Josh Ozersky and chef Marco Canora of Hearth and Insieme. We were on our way to Insieme, when Marco mentioned he had just cooked up a pot of chicken stock, and would be more than happy to skim me some schmaltz from the top. I was beyond thrilled–looks like I owe Marco some Mock Oatmeal Cookies.
Marco skims for schmaltz. What a great guy.

Matzo Meal is ground Matzo; while Matzo Farfel is crushed or crumble Matzo. It’s worth it buying it in canisters as opposed to breaking up Matzo crackers. It’s cheaper and saves time.
I mixed this recipe as I would a normal cookie dough, although this batter was definitely thinner. By mixing in the Matzo Farfel at the very end, it stayed crispier, and added more texture. I left out the raisins, because I hate fruit in my cookies. I sampled some of the dough before popping it in the oven: It had a disturbing chicken aftertaste.
Left: Matzo farfel. Right: Mock Oatmeal Dough.

A half hour was far too long a bake time for these cookies, and I burned my first batch. The second batch I baked 15 minutes, and they came out perfectly brown on the bottom. I offered one to my roommate without telling him what was in it.
The verdict? Well, we both ate two. The chicken aftertaste had somehow baked away. They had a great texture, similar to a scone: crisp on the outside, and surprising soft and cake like on the inside, despite the lack of leavening. The matzo farfel really crunched and popped in you mouth. It would be a good cookie with a cup of coffee.
I did find the cookies needed a bit of salt; I would probably add 3/4 tsp the next time I made them. Adding more walnuts wouldn’t have hurt either.
In fact, I would make these cookies again. I think they’re made even more appealing because of their unique origins. Not bad for a cookie that started off smelling like chicken soup.
Next week, Featherballs: a matzo ball seasoned with ginger or nutmeg, fried in schmaltz.

1 Response to “History Dish Mondays: Cooking with Schmaltz, Part One”


Leave a Reply