What Is Kissel?

Angie Bates

Mentioned in Russian fairytales, kissel is an Eastern European dessert that consists of crushed berries in sugar-water thickened with starch. Depending on the version, the thickness of kissel is variable. The dessert may be thin enough to drink or thick enough to eat like pudding. Although it can be served hot, this dish is most often chilled before serving.

A bowl of cream, which is often served with kissel.
A bowl of cream, which is often served with kissel.

Normally, kissel contains very few ingredients. Only fresh fruit, sugar, water, and starch are necessary. Although usually just one type of fruit is used, two or three different fruits may be combined. Lemon juice and salt may also be included.

The fruit is almost always some kind of berry, and which berry is used often depends on the region or the tastes of the cook. For example, bilberry kissel is most popular in regions where bilberries grow wild. The starch is most often potato starch, but cornstarch or arrowroot can be used as well.

The way the kissel is made determines its thickness. In some versions the berries are mashed and their juice is reserved before the berry pulp is boiled in water. After it simmers, the liquid is strained, and then sugar is added and the mixture is boiled again. The starch is diluted with cold water before it too is added to the mixture, along with the reserved berry juice. Once mixed, the kissel is chilled for several hours.

In other versions, only a portion of the crushed berries are boiled and then sieved and mixed with the uncooked berries. Sugar, salt, and starch are whisked together, and the sieved liquid is combined with the sugar mixture and boiled. The resulting liquid is sieved onto the berries and then chilled.

Still others placed the sugar into the boiling water first. The starch is dissolved in cold water and added to the sugar water. Then the mashed berries, complete with juice, are added to that mixture. Once mixed, the kissel is poured into individual dessert dishes or a large serving bowl and chilled. These versions usually make a thicker kissel than the others.

Less traditional versions may add non-berry fruits, such as apples, and additional spices, like cinnamon, to the base ingredients. The berry ingredient may just be juice rather than fresh berries. These versions are not often strained, but the starch is still combined with water and added after the sugar and fruit have boiled.

Kissel is often served with cream or half and half. Sweetened sour cream can also be made by combining brown sugar and lemon juice with the sour cream. Crushed gingersnaps can be used for garnish.

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