On Fridays, for Shabbat, Ima baked Kokosh, a Hungarian rolled dough cake that melts in your mouth as the chocolate bursts through the buttery dough. You could smell the melting cocoa and sugar as far as the recreation center at the end of our Canarsi neighborhood. Neighbors would stop on the sidewalk and take it in. Mailmen would often linger at the screen door a little longer, they’d often leave with a piece my grandmother wrapped for them if it was done baking. In fact on any given Friday you’d see a parade of mailmen, handymen, plumbers, cleaning ladies, and assorted families leaving my grandmother’s house with aluminum foil-wrapped packages under their arms.
In the afternoon I’d rush past them, sneakers squeaking against the linoleum, straight to the table where there’d be a rolling pin, mat, cocoa and a piece of dough waiting for me— and a small glass of orange juice and foil-packed dinosaur fruit snacks. There I’d sit, prolonging it for as long as I could. Rolling out the dough, spooning on the cocoa and sugar mix and spreading it around with the back of a metal spoon as my Ima showed me. My grandmother would help me roll it up and pinch the edges. Then came my favorite part, poking the soft doughy flesh with a fork and painting on the egg wash.
This is one of the recipes that my grandmother brought with her through World War II. Her portfolio of favorites is a modge podge of every country she’s been to as a refugee, but Kokosh is from home. So at her counter I pictured her at her mother’s counter and I never asked, but I wonder if she had the same viewpoint in all the places she baked in.
For years the Kokosh was everywhere. Aluminum-wrapped rolls poured out of the freezer, lined trays in my grandmother’s sewing room, filled plastic shoe boxes in the guest room. You could find slices sheather in plastic on the kitchen table, dining room table, coffee table, behind closet doors, on the counters of every doctor’s office in the neighborhood, in the tool shed, and next to cashiers in the local market. But as the years went by and I stopped making my mini cakes and the Fridays my grandmother’s house smelled like Kokosh grew fewer, it’s harder to find. You might be able to dig around the freezer, but mostly you’ll only find it through neighbors’ chatter or in a recipe taped to my fridge. Over time I took over, in secret.
Ima forgot the recipe. Maybe not totally, but the rolls she made started to show her age and the presence of those was worse than the absence of the cakes I grew up with. I can confidently say I don’t think my mother has ever baked Kokosh before. I could call her as I write this and ask her, but I prefer the memory of it belonging solely to my grandmother. Plus, if my mother had attempted it at some point in her life, it was way before my time so outside my canon of memory. So I alone struggled to fill the void and bring back the smell of Friday afternoons. It was for me only because I didn’t want the job, and I didn’t want Ima to feel bad or replaced. I’m sure that’s why my mother didn’t bother with it either, she couldn’t bring herself to. But I didn’t see another way, it’s selfish. I couldn’t keep up with the flow or supply the town, but I’d make rolls for my peers, friends, professors, and even family but they had to eat it behind closed doors, or sneak slices to the bathroom. It’s been awhile since I last baked Kokosh. It’s process that deserves time, attention, and intention— something that’s in short supply usually. Maybe, I’ve been thinking it might be time to bring the Friday tradition back to my home. You’ll know what I’ve decided if you see mailmen, freelancers, and people who sorta look like me strutting around Williamsburg with aluminum-foil packages under their arms.
On to the recipe. For those of you who didn’t like the lack of a detailed recipe in my last post, you’ll be happy to know this cake (because it involves baking) actually has a recipe that I’ve gotten down. It also has a variation: cocoa or nuts (my favorite).
2 sticks margarine
3 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
3 cups flour
1 tspn baking powder
1 tspn vanilla extract
1/3 cup warm water
1/2 tspn dry yeast
1 egg for egg wash
1 1/2 cups ground walnuts
3/4 cups sugar
Apricot jam ( you can use whichever you prefer, but apricot comes out the best in my opinion).
1/2 cup cocoa
¾ cup sugar (if it doesn’t seem sweet enough for you, add up to a 1 cup)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Combine margarine in a bowl with sugar, egg yolks, vanilla extract.
In a separate bowl, combine flour and baking powder. Add the yeast to the warm water, give it a mix and stir into flour mixture.
Add everything together and mix until you have a dough that’s not sticky (think a regular sugar cookie dough)
Add flour as needed.
Cut dough in half.
1 at a time roll out into a circle.
Spread dough with jam and then spread nut mixture over that.
Just spread the cocoa mixture around evenly.
For both: leave a little room at the ends, about ½ inch so you can roll it up.
Then roll it up, carefully, pinch ends, poke dough with fork and brush with egg wash.
If it’s cracking a little, don’t worry about it.
Bake for around 50 minutes, but keep checking on it once you hit 40 minutes. When it’s golden brown, it’s ready to take out!