What is Kifli?

Let’s talk about Kifli!

To set the stage for this discussion, let’s talk about the game Telephone! If you have ever played this game, you know that someone starts it off by one person whispering a sentence very quietly to the person next to them and then that person restates the sentence to the next person and it goes on down the line. Often, what is heard is not at all like the initial statement. We know how distorted things can become during a 10 minute game.

Now apply this to how people refer to the names of Hungarian food — particularly if their families came to the USA in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. That is a lot of generations of passing down words, often with no physical spelling for reference! It is so easy to see where words, both in pronunciation and spelling, have been compromised! Most of my family came to the USA over 100 years ago and, depending on the region they were from, words were different. So, if you are inclined to be intolerant and unforgiving when it comes to pronunciation and spelling errors when it comes to Hungarian, take a deep breath. Celebrate that there are people striving to pass down Hungarian food traditions!

The delicious yeast rolls pictured above are known as kifli all over Hungary. Their aroma and taste are wonderful. But they are not a sweet item. They are similar in shape to the croissant, but with a different dough. The idea behind the word “kifli” has to do with the shape of the item. Recipe for the KIFLI picture above.

But as I was growing up, we referred to these sweet little treats pictured on the left as kifli. In fact, many people in the USA with Hungarian heritage have called these types of cookies kifli, kiffles, kipfel, kolatchy, crescent cookies, and even the very basic, Hungarian cookie. In the end, these all taste pretty similar. The fillings are often a thick jam of apricot, prune, raspberry, walnut, poppyseed, or farmer cheese filling. But the key to using the word “kifli” has to do with its shape. Is it crescent shaped? Then it can be called kifli. Is it open ended where the filling peeks through? Then it is called papucs.

Papucs means “slipper” in Hungarian. I do love saying the word papucs so, for that reason alone, I have started calling these papucs in our family.  Pa’pooch is the way you might say it phonetically, with the emphasis on the first syllable. The recipe for papucs and the sweet version of kifli is similar. CLICK HERE!

To add to the confusion, there are other variations of kifli! When visiting a little bakery in Hungary, you might see tiny, bite sized hókifli, which are tiny kifli dunked in powdered sugar. is the word for snow in Hungarian. And, don’t forget about Pozsonyi Kifli, named after the city of Pozsony, now known as Bratislava in Slovakia. They are a bit different — a larger crescent but with walnut or poppy seed filling inside.

Do you have other names you use to describe the cookies above?

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8 People have left comments on this post

» Pat Valdata said: { Feb 15, 2020 - 12:02:21 }

What my grandmother called kifli were rectangles of dough on which we spread a bit of apricot butter and a spoonful of ground, sweetened walnuts. We rolled them into a tube shape and after they were baked, sprinkled them with powdered sugar. We never called them papucs, nor did we ever use a different filling.

» Liz said: { Feb 16, 2020 - 07:02:21 }

I love the variations in the language and the style and how each family carries out traditions. Thank you for sharing!

» Mary Papp said: { Feb 15, 2020 - 02:02:51 }

I loved this month’s issue of the Magyar Living! What I found most interesting was the article about Kiflis. As illustrated, the Kifli shown was more of a bread dough made into a crescent roll. It looked delicious, and I’m sure it is, but growing up in a Hungarian home and in a neighborhood of Hungarian immigrants, I always knew Kiflis as a pastry…..not a bread roll. The recipe of one such pastry featured in your article (cream cheese Kifli) always looked wonderful. I knew of many different varieties of the sweet version….but I still think the recipe given to me years ago was one of the best I have ever eaten! It was so flaky that it literally fell apart in your mouth. No wonder as you had to roll out the dough 3 times and spread Crisco over it each time. After rolling it up at the last time and cutting it into 8″ lengths, you had to refrigerate it overnight. The following day each piece was rolled out to about 1/4″ thickness, but in rectacular pieces, filled with lekvar or nut filling, rolled up and baked till golden. Your end result was pastry so flaky. The final step was a good sprinkle of powdered sugar. This recipe received so many praises……….even from the old Hungarian ladies who were experts in baking. As I said, there are so many variations of what we call “Kiflis” and I’m sure all of them are delicious. Some day I will have to try the two recipes included in this month’s Magyar Living newsletter. I love hearing about different recipes and where they originated.

» Liz said: { Feb 16, 2020 - 07:02:18 }

Hi Mary! I would love to see that recipe! All these pastries are a labor of LOVE!

» Margaret Szlabonyi said: { Feb 16, 2020 - 08:02:49 }

Mary Papp,
I would so love to try the recipe you wrote about for Kifli. Would you be able to send it to Liz to include in a newsletter? Thank you for helping preserve tradition!

» Priscilla A. Jenkins said: { Feb 19, 2020 - 05:02:37 }

We call the kifli crescent rolls. we have them every Sunday at coffee hour in church. The little Hungarian cakes are just that – little Hungarian cakes!

» Susan Juliana Blatz said: { Feb 26, 2020 - 06:02:16 }

I read that the crescent shape came from the Turkish symbol. Biting into a kifli was a political statement! My mother made sweet vajas kifli in the rolled crescent shape, and also made delightful four pointed stars from a square of dough with sweets in the middle. She was a wonderful baker.

» Liz said: { Feb 27, 2020 - 06:02:37 }

I had heard that the shape was connected to the Turkish symbol but I did not hear about the political statement — but it makes sense!