My Father’s Koochen – In the oven … at last!

I rushed downstairs.

On the kitchen counter, I saw:

• A cutting-board

• A rolling pin

• Melted butter

• Flour.

In a glass bowl near the sink, I saw:

• Dry cottage cheese

• Eggs

• Sugar

• Vanilla.

My father mixed the contents of the bowl until it became a thick, lumpy yellowish goo. He next turned his attention to the dough, which had risen above the lip of the bowl’s horizon like the bald head of a Peeping Tom. He (my father. Not Peeping Tom) thumped a clump of dough onto the floured cutting board, and flattened it out with a rolling pin. Then he slathered the dough with glistening, golden butter, dumped the goo of eggs, sugar and cottage cheese in the center, and rolled it up so that it looked like dinosaur blintzes. After than, he subdivided his work-in-progress into smaller, more manageable pieces, pinching the ends of each piece to keep the goo from falling out.

Then Samuel Reuben brushed the tops of the koochen with egg whites to make them shine, sprinkled them with cinnamon to give them tang (my mouth is watering), and shoved them in the oven.

This was a critical point in the proceedings, because koochen has to be cooked perfectly or it simply isn’t koochen.

By which I mean that it has to stay in the oven until the bottoms are black, but not charred, and the entire pastry, from stem to stern, has become a thick and impenetrable crust.

That is perfection.

Which brings me to the secret of my father’s koochen… a secret that I wish could somehow be nudged, prodded, nipped and tucked until it encompasses more than just cooking, but a Philosophy of Life.

The secret of koochen is this: It cannot be eaten without dunking.

The secret of life is this: It cannot be lived without perfectly dunked koochen.

Teeth and courage alone would not make a dent in Samuel Reuben’s koochen. You needed a glass of milk, a cup of coffee, or a glass of tea to soften the crust sufficiently to gain access to the tasty pastry inside.

Other important facts about koochen:

• It has not been experienced at its fullest when it is used with a bat and a catcher’s mitt at the local park.

• It can do great harm when we wack it against our sisters’ heads because one of them tricked us into doing the dishes when, indisputably, it was her turn.

No, indeed. Koochen is neither a contact sport nor an instrument of retaliation. It is a gourmet treat that can only be appreciated after it has been dunked.

For a long time.

For a long, long time.

Then nothing in the whole wide world tastes as good.

Soggy koochen crumbs at the bottom of a milk glass is still my definition of Heaven.

So is the smell of koochen baking in an oven. Cinnamon and vanilla. Love, childhood, and a dear, slightly daft inventor set loose in a kitchen, where I am certain that from the first sift of flour to the last ting of the timer when the stove finally went off, my father’s heart didn’t just purr or smile or soar.

It absolutely sang.

Shelly Reuben is an Edgar-nominated author, private detective, and fire investigator. For more about her books, visit

Copyright © 2009, Shelly Reuben.

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