The History Dish: Coffee Pretzels

 coffee_pretzelA coffee-cookie-pretzel.

The History

This is the last recipe I’ll be featuring from The Practical Cookbook; it’s a for a German staple with a “twist”: coffee pretzels.

The origin of pretzels are shrouded in myth.  Scholars believe that they were first baked around 610 AD in a monastery in Northern Italy or Southern France.  Their creation may have been associated with Lent; at the very least, there has long been a Christian association with them.  The classic pretzel shape has been said to represent arms crossed in prayer and the Holy Trinity.

Pretzels have long been considered an inseparable companion to beer in German tradition.  Pretzel making in Germany was, historically, very regional, featuring a variety of flavors, textures, and shapes.  In Bavaria, starting in the mid-19th century, pretzels were dipped in a lye and water bath before baking, which gave them a deep brown color and distinctive taste.  These Bavarian-style pretzels are the ones we’re most familair with in the United States, known simply as “soft pretzels.”  Swabian pretzels have thin arms and a fat belly; pretzels from Fanconia could be flavored with anise; while pretzels from other areas could be sprinkled with caraway, sesame, or poppy seeds

I decided to try this particular pretzel recipe because, honestly, I’ve never seen anything like it before.

The Recipe




Coffee Pretzels
adapted from From The Practical Cook Book by Henriette Davidis, 1897 (English Version)

I busted out my kitchen scale for this one.

8 ounces flour
1 ounce finely ground coffee
Pinch salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature
5 ounces white sugar
Zest of one lemon
2 eggs
2 egg yolks and 2 egg whites, separated

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, coffee, salt, and baking powder.  In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together sugar, lemon zest, and butter until light and fluffy. Add eggs and egg yolks, one at a time, mixing after each addition.  With mixer on low, slowly add dry ingredients.  Scrape bowl and mix until evenly combined.

Flour a work surface (parchment, cutting board, non-stick mat).  Take dough about 1/2 cupful at a time, rolling it first in the flour, then gently rolling dough into long “snakes.”  Using fingers to apply pressure to dough, roll back and forth, and gently stretching it side to side.  When dough is about 1/2 in thick, cut into 4-5 inch length and fold into a traditional pretzel shape.  Place on a cookie sheet.

Wash pretzels with egg whites and sprinkle with sugar.  Bake at 375 degrees for 10 minutes. Remove from cookie sheet and cool on a wire rack.

The Results

These turned out more like a coffee shortbread than a pretzel.  However, I am a poor judge of their flavor, because I hate coffee.  Tomorrow, I’ll distribute to my coworkers, and we’ll see what the verdict is.

Update (1/29): The results are in! The texture of these little cookies was generally praised, as was the sprinkled-sugar topping.  But opinions on the flavors were extremely divided: either tasters loved the strong coffee flavor, especially for dipping IN their morning coffees; other thought it was the most terrible taste they’d ever had, like chewing on coffee grounds.

The History Dish: Silesian Cheese Cake

silesian3A Silesian Cheese Cake!

The History

When The Practical Cookbook was penned in 1844, Germany wasn’t a unified country: it was a collection a various city states, each with distinct languages, cultures, and foodways.  The recipes is this book are often titled with the region of their creation: “Pork Croquettes in the South Germany Style,” “Frankfurt Sausages,” “Baden-Baden Pudding,” “Westphalian Cake,” and this recipe, Silesian Cheese Cake.  Silesia was a part of Prussia, which today is part of Poland–although when this book was written the area was German-speaking.  The Cheese Cake is a yeast risen dough, topped with a mixture of cheese curds, sugar, and cinnamon.


The Recipe


For the Dough:

2 1/2 cups white flour
1 cup yeast starter (It’s a moist, doughy yeast culture that lives in my fridge.  More on this in a future post.  If you don’t have fresh yeast, use 3 cups flour and 1 packet yeast dissolved in 1/2 cup warm water.)

1/2 cup apples, pared and diced.  (The original recipe calls for raisins.  I hate raisins.  But this dough needed some sweetness, so apples instead!)
1/4 unsalted butter, melted (The recipe calls for half butter and lard; I used schmaltz instead.  Butter will do just fine)
2 cups warm milk
2 tablespoons sour cream (or buttermilk)

Put everything in a bowl and mix it up, stirring in the apples last.  Cover with a clean towel and set somewhere warm to rise for 30 minutes.  Spread into a baking pan, and allow to rise 30 minutes more.

It’s about 10 degrees outside in Queens right now, so finding a warm spot in my house for the dough to rise was difficult.  But I found it by following the cat–she knows best.  She’s been camping out by the steam heat pipe in the bathroom.

silesianMoxy helps the dough rise.

For the topping:

The recipe’s directions confused me in regards to the cheese curds–“…The evening before wanted take 3 quarts of thick milk with the cream, put into a cheese cloth bag, and the next morning use for the cake.”  Okay, so she’s instructing cooks to strain the liquid out…but usually you have to make it curdle first.  Would the cook add salt?  Would the natural bacteria in the milk make it curdle? Would it be more like Greek yogurt? Maybe someone who’s reading this post knows better.

I found a package of “French Yogurt Cheese” in a weird, small grocery store near my house.  It looked, and tasted, like large-curd cottage cheese, which seemed to be about what I needed.

silesian1What is this? I don’t know.

1 cups vaguely defined cheese curds (try cottage cheese)
1/4 cup cream
1/2 stick melted unsalted butter
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 large egg (I put in two–but the recipe would have used 2 medium eggs, not two large. Ooops.)

Put it in a bowl and mix it up!

silesian2Mixing the Topping.

After the dough had its second rise, I poured the cheese mixture on top, then baked at 375 degrees for 30 minutes.

The Results

I cut a slice of this cake while it was still warm.  It had surprisingly moist, dense, and gummy texture.  I’m not sure if that’s the nature of the recipe, or if my yeast didn’t do much of anything.  Either way, I didn’t really mind.  It kinda worked.

I think this cake could use some technical improvements.  Perhaps the dough should be baked first, then spread with the cheese topping, and put in the broiler a few minutes to melt and brown it.  I think the ultimate incarnation of this recipe would be a slightly sweetened yeast dough, topped with poutine-style cheese curds, and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar.  Salty, sweet, and a little gooey–I think it could be a real winner.

 sliesian4Gummy, but decent.



The History Dish: Beer Soup

beersoupHot German beer soup.

The History

Beer soup!  Soup made from beer!  And there is no cheddar cheese or Guinness in sight–this is a sweet, German lager soup.

This recipe comes from the generically named Practical Cook Book one of the most popular German cookbooks of all time.  First published in 1844 (first English version in 1897), the book was written and compiled by Henriette Davidis, a woman known as the German Mrs. Beeton for the scope and scale of her work.

A reprint of this cookbook is available, titled Pickled Herring and Pumpkin Pie: A Nineteenth-Century Cookbook for German Immigrants to America; the evocative title makes me  think of this book tucked in the suitcases of the thousands of German immigrants that made their way to America in the middle of the 19th century.  Separated from their mother, young women could have brought this book with them as a reminder of the tastes of home.  Or, as the different German cultures mixed and married in the Kleine Deutschlands of the U.S., perhaps they used it to learn to cook a new regional cuisine for their husband.

I first worked with Davidis’ book while researching food for the Lower East Side Tenement Museum’s new Shop Life exhibit, which features a fully restored 1870s German lager beer saloon.  I made lebkuchen, a honey spice cake, and sauerbraten, a sort of pickled pot roast, from Davidis’ recipes.  They were molded in latex and cast to create the faux food on display in the exhibit.

But a few more recipes in this cook book caught my eye, so I’m going to revisit this tomb of classic German cooking to see if we can discover some gems.  First up, beer soup!

The Germans were responsible for bringing lager beer to the United States: a lighter beer with a lower alcoholic content, it became wildly popular in America, replacing ale as the favorite draught.  Currently, all of this country’s major beer producers make lager beer.

The Recipe


Beer Soup

From The Practical Cook Book by Henriette Davidis, 1897 (English Version)

1 cup beer
1 cup water
1/2 cup light brown sugar
Pinch salt
1 egg yolk
1 heaping tablespoon flour

Place egg and flour in a heat safe bowl; set aside. Heat beer, water, sugar, and salt until just before boiling.  Pour beer slowly over egg and flour, constantly whisking.  Return to pan. Serve hot.

beersoup2Beer, measured for soup.

The Results

I ended up using a hefeweizen beer, which is not a lager, because I thought its natural sweetness would work well in this recipe.  When I sipped my soup, it had a wonderful, soft, creamy mouth-feel.  But it tasted like the day after a party smells: warm, stale beer.