Kifli (kifla or kipferl), is a traditional pastry known across Central and Eastern Europe. Commonly known as kifli (meaning “twist” or “crescent”) in Hungarian, kipferl in Austrian German and kifla in Serbo-Croatian, this yeast roll made in a crescent shape is a popular breakfast item.
In the Czech Republic, wheat rohlík (along with houska which is of identical dough and taste) became the most basic breadstuff, maybe more popular than local traditional rye bread. In Serbia and North Macedonia, kifli are sometimes made with sesame and cheese, are known as regular kifli. Some would say that the kifla is actually a croissant.
What is a croissant?
Croissants and other viennoiseries are made of a layered yeast-leavened dough. The dough is layered with butter, rolled and folded several times in succession, then rolled into a sheet, in a technique called laminating.
The process results in a layered, flaky texture, similar to a puff pastry. This is where the kifla is actually different from the croissant, since butter is not used in the kifla dough.
Crescent-shaped breads have been made since the Renaissance, and crescent-shaped cakes possibly since antiquity.
Croissants have long been a staple of Austrian and French bakeries and pâtisseries. In the late 1970s, the development of factory-made, frozen, pre-formed but unbaked dough made them into a fast food which can be freshly baked by unskilled labor. The croissant bakery, notably the La Croissanterie chain, was explicitly a French response to American-style fast food, and as of 2008, 30–40% of the croissants sold in French bakeries and patisseries were baked from frozen dough.
What is the origin of kifli (kifla or kipferl)?
The kipferl, the original croissant can be dated back to at least the 13th century in Austria, and came in various shapes. The kipferl can be made plain or with nuts or other fillings (some consider the rugelach a form of kipferl). Some sources claim, arguably, that the kipferl may have been based on the feteer meshaltet pastry known to the Egyptians.
There is a strong belief that these baked rolls originated when the Christian forces managed to free Buda from the Ottoman occupation in the year 1686.
Immediately after the victory, the bakers of the town baked and sold fresh crescent-shaped bread rolls to celebrate the victory. This trend soon caught on and ever since, the kifli has been popular in the Eastern European region.
The birth of the croissant itself is from a plainer form of kipferl, before the invention of viennoiseries (baked goods made from a yeast-leavened dough in a manner similar to bread, or from puff pastry) can be dated to at least 1839 when an Austrian artillery officer, August Zang, founded a Viennese bakery (“Boulangerie Viennoise”) at 92.
This bakery, which served Viennese specialties including the kipferl and the Vienna loaf, quickly became popular and inspired French imitators. The French version of the kipferl was named for its crescent (croissant) shape and has become an identifiable shape across the world.
It is why it is believed that kipferl is actually a precursor to the croissant.
How to make kifli
They are made out of most simple ingredients, found in every pantry and can easily be prepared at home. Kifli are made by cutting sheets of soft yeast dough into triangular wedges then rolling them into crescent shapes which are then baked. Kifli differs from the French croissant in that it is made from a plain, bread-like dough and being both thinner and longer. They may also come in different sizes, some of them equaling in weight a small bread loaf.
Varieties of kifli
Kilfi made with spelt flour
When they come out of the oven, the rolls can be left plain or given a water brushing to make them shiny, or can be given an egg wash and be sprinkled with either poppy seeds or caraway seeds mixed with coarse salt.
The latter variety is often made into a straight shape, instead of curved like a crescent. Kifli is eaten like bread or rolls, usually made into a sandwich, sometimes plain or with butter like a fresh baguette. Often, especially for breakfast, the topping is jam or honey, or they may be used for dunking.
There are a couple of sweet rolls that carry the name kifli to describe their shape but they are eaten at the end of a meal or with an afternoon tea or coffee.
Vaníliás kifli is a small soft cookie made from a dough of ground nuts, instead of flour. It is usually made with walnuts but almonds are more often used outside of Hungary. Once baked they are rolled in vanilla flavored confectioners’ sugar before allowed to cool.
This is the same as the regular style, but the dough may contain butter or other shortening and/or milk. It is sweeter than the regular variety which is common in Serbia and Macedonia and is therefore especially well-suited to be eaten with jam or honey, as is often done for breakfast with coffee, hot chocolate or milk.
Kifle are one of the most popular Bosnian breakfast breads. In the US, kifle are known as a Christmas pastry filled with walnuts, but in Bosnia, kifle are actually any type of bread or pastry made in a shape of a crescent.
Whatever name you choose to call it, we can all agree that it is equally delicious and would make an excellent addition to any table at any given time.
- 6 cups all-purpose flour
- 3 teaspoons active dry yeast
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1¼ cup warm water (more or less at 95 F / 36 C)
- ¾ cup warm milk (at 95 F / 36 C)
- 3 oz. yoghurt
- ¼ cup oil
- 1 egg white , slightly beaten
- 4 tablespoons melted butter
- Mix the flour, yeast, and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer.
- Dig a well in the center.
- In a large bowl, mix the water, yogurt, milk and oil.
- Add this mixture to the center of this well and, using the dough hook, knead at low speed for 3 minutes.
- Increase the speed to medium, add the salt, and knead for 5 minutes.
- Stop the stand mixer and let stand for 5 minutes, then knead again for 5 minutes.
- The kifli dough is supposed to be moderately firm. If it is too soft, add a little flour.
- Sprinkle flour on a work surface and place the dough on top.
- Roll the dough for 2 minutes.
- Add the dough back in the bowl of the stand mixer and cover it with a cloth.
- Let the dough rise for one hour in a warm place away from drafts.
- Divide the dough into two pieces of dough.
Roll each piece of dough into a circle of about 18 inches (45 cm) diameter.
- With the help of a dough cutter or pizza wheel, cut each circle in its center to obtain 8 triangle slices.
- Using the tip of a knife, make a small incision in the center of the right side of the triangle.
- Roll each triangle into a crescent ending with the tip.
- Place them as you go on the baking tray lined with parchment paper, spacing them well, with their end facing down.
- Cover them with a cloth and let them rise again for 20 minutes in a warm, draft-free place.
Heat the oven to 390 F (200 C).
- Brush each kifla with egg white and sprinkle with salt.
- Bake for about 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown.
- Remove from oven, and immediately brush with melted butter and cover for 10 minutes before serving.