Thursday, December 9, 2010


Yes, Zwiebelkuchen. Don’t be scared. I’ll walk you through it. Svee-bell-coo-tschen. Well, that’s basically right, the tschen is really more of a throat noise, like if you were pretending to hiss with the back of your throat like a cat – that’s the noise we’re going for. Go ahead, give it a try. No one is judging you here. Zwee-bell-coo- (hiss like a cat)en. Good!

Ok now that we got that out of the way, Zweibelkuchen is an onion cake. Don’t say eww just yet! Onion cake is not literally a layer cake made from onions, it’s more like a quiche or savory tart. A crust, onions, bacon and a light custard make this little baby up, and it is delicious. This dish is found in many different countries with slight variations, but the alpine region in Europe does it the best (in my opinion). So whether you are in France, Switzerland or Italy, try it! But if you are in Germany, I implore you to get a slice.
This was another one of those experiences that was a perfect food memory for me. I had Zwiebelkuchen twice while in Germany, and now ever since I found this recipe I have been hooked. The first time I had it, was at a traditional wine harvest dinner. This was a bit more commercialized than me harvesting grapes from a sun drenched vineyard. But never the less, there was a farm, and the farmer sold tickets to his harvest dinner. In south-west Germany, it was common for farmers to need extra hands in the fall. Workers were fed a light dinner of Zwiebelkuchen and given the Neuesüsse wine to drink that evening.
Neuesüsse is the sweet, barely fermented wine that is bottled and shared directly after harvest. It is very sweet and everyone recommends not having too many glasses of it for the sake of your bowels. But it is good and it is cheap, which of course, is even better. If you can find a bottle at a farmer’s market, you can let it ferment more on a shelf, but be sure to uncork it, or the bottle is rumored to explode on you as the pressure builds.
The other time I had Zwiebelkuchen was when a roommate of mine (and I will save some of the fabulous stories about my roommates in Germany for another time)made it with some friends. This was an opportunity for onion googles, if I have ever seen one. They chopped so many pounds of onions, that the tiny apartment kitchen was lethal to be in. If someone walked into the kitchen they were hit with a wall of onion gas. It was beautiful.

So if you are stuck in a rut for holiday potluck options. Give this a try. You can follow the recipe I will share below, or you can cheap it up a bit, and use refrigerated crescent rolls, ham and a little bit of cheese for a quick brunch option.

As adapted from The New German Cookbook by Jean Anderson and Hedy Würz

2 sheets puff pastry, defrosted and at room temperature
7-8 slices of thick cut bacon, chopped into small squares
1 lb. yellow onions, thinly sliced
2 tsp. caraway seeds
½ tsp. nutmeg
½ c. whole milk
¼ c. heavy whipping cream
2 eggs, beaten
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 400°. Pinch together the two sheets of puff pastry dough and roll out to fit into a 15”x12” cookie sheet (standard size), there should be about a ½” overlap up the sides of the baking sheet.

Sauté the chopped bacon in a large skillet over medium heat, then remove the bacon, but keep the grease in the pan. Add sliced onions into pan and sauté for about 7 minutes until translucent. Then add caraway seeds and nutmeg and continue to sauté until the onion is very soft, another 7-10 minutes. If the onions start to get brown, turn the heat a little lower and stir more frequently. A little brown on the edges is fine, but not burnt or completely caramelized.

Next, pour the onions onto the puff pastry and sprinkle with bacon bits. Pull the extra puff pastry over top of the onion and bacon, forming a bit of a lip around the entire tart. Bake the Zwiebelkuchen for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, combine the milk, cream, eggs, salt and pepper. After 15 minutes remove the cookie sheet, and pour the milk mixture over top of the onions. The milk mixture should not cover the onions completely, so feel free to reserve any excess milk and egg mixture for another purpose (scrambled eggs or like Joe and I did for a ghetto carbonara). Return the cookie sheet to the oven and continue to bake for another 20-25 minutes. If the edges of the pastry get too brown, cover the sheet loosely with aluminum foil.

Once the custard has set (is no longer jiggly) remove the Zwiebelkuchen from the oven and let cool about 20 minutes. Then slice and serve! I like Zwiebelkuchen warm, but I love it cold or even reheated the next day.

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