The traditional Passover greeting is to wish someone a “Zissen Pesach” – a sweet Passover. The phrase is probably meant as a reference to the sweetness of liberation, the holiday’s central theme. But it could just as well describe the flavors of the seder. Besides the spicy bite of the “bitter herb” and the blandness of the matzo, there’s an awful lot of sweet stuff on the menu, from fruity charoset and Manischewitz wine to honeyed tzimmes and all manner of desserts. In my house there’s also the chremsls.
Chremsls as I have always known them are golden matzo fritters fried in oil and soaked in hot honey. Dense and greasy and starchy, they ooze dark sweetness when you bite into them. My mother made them from a recipe she got from her mother-in-law, our Little Grandma, and served them as an entrée side dish, alongside the brisket and the asparagus. When I started hosting my own seders, she gave me the recipe. I’ve been serving them ever since.
For years it seemed that no one outside our family had ever even heard of them. Now I learn that the proper Yiddish plural isn’t chremsls, but chremslach. Most sources say they’re eaten for breakfast or dessert. But I found one that uses the word chremslach for mashed potatoes stuffed with meat and fried. A cottage cheese version is touted as an easier, Passover-appropriate variation on blintzes.
Joan Nathan says she has never had a seder without chremslach (or “grimslech,” as she says it can also be spelled). Her family recipe is included in her Jewish Cooking in America. The matzo meal fritter are stuffed with currants, almonds and apricots and served with prunes stewed in orange juice, or a wine sauce.
Little Grandma’s chremsls don’t include any fruit or nuts. They’re made with actual matzo that’s been soaked, drained and crushed, rather than matzo meal. David has never liked them but the kids love them as much as I do. One memorable year, when Sam was about six, his friend Alex was eating over, and I served leftover chremsls. Alex couldn’t get enough of them. It wasn’t until later, when he was telling Sam how much he’d enjoyed the meal, that we realized he thought he was eating chicken.
Here’s my recipe:
Beat and season with salt and pepper
1 egg for each person
Moisten with hot water and drain
1 matzo for each egg
Crush the matzos into the egg and mix
Add to the egg/matzo mixture
about 1 tsp matzo meal for each matzo, or enough to bind the batter.*
(*Less is better. Too much turns your finished chremsls in to hockey pucks.)
Heat in a wide pan
peanut oil, maybe 1/2 inch deep
Meanwhile, start heating in a deep pan
honey, maybe 2 cups
When oil begins to sizzle, form the batter into 2-inch diameter patties and fry them in the oil, turning once.
When chremsls are golden on both side, drop them into the hot honey turning them over a few times as they soak up the honey.
You’ll probably have to work in stages, adding more patties to the oil as room permits, and making room for newly fried chremls in the hot honey by removing them to your serving platter (or the baking sheet on which you will reheat them, if you need to make them in advance).
But now that I think about it, maybe my mother just kept adding more and fried chremsls to the hot honey and removed them all at once, so some ended up soaking much longer than any of mine do. Maybe that’s why my version of Little Grandma’s chremsls are never as dark and sweet as I remember my mother’s being. Or maybe that’s not the reason.