Zwiebelkuchen is onion cake in German. It is a main dish traditionally served in late summer and early Fall along with new wine. The recipe combines a layer of homemade bread dough with a layer of onion and sausage, then cheese and it is topped with a sour cream based custard seasoned with nutmeg and caraway seeds. It is sort of like a pizza and quiche stuck together. It smells heavenly while baking and tastes even better.
This recipe is my own variation of the standard recipe. I was attempting to recreate what I had tasted over twenty years ago. Having no recipe I searched the net for ideas. The usual version calls for bacon and has no cheese. I had no bacon and I like cheese. Some recipes dice the onions and bacon and after cooking mix them in with the savory custard. People also bake the onions, bacon and custard in standard pie pastry or puff pastry instead of bread dough. The use of a spring-form pan is suggested in many recipes. Big batches are baked in roasting pans. In most recipes the bread dough is rolled out thin and always comes up the side of the pan. The bread dough in my experimental batch was a mistake but tastes so good I’m keeping it. I added cheese just because I like it and used sausage instead of bacon because that is what I had.
It is thought by food historians that the combination of bread topped with other ingredients such as meats and vegetables is as old as cooking on hot rocks around a fire. Savory custards date from the 14 th. Century so this dish probably dates from around that time period. Simpler and earlier versions spread sour cream on bread dough and added sliced onions and bacon over the cream. Sometimes mushrooms or other vegetables were added.
I believe this might be one of the dishes my great grandmother made that my father hated because of the sour cream. He would rather starve than eat any thing he thought contained it. His grandmother would often add it into something thinking he would never notice only to have him refuse to eat whatever it was. Mom would not consider making anything Dad didn’t like so she didn’t copy any of the many recipes calling for sour cream from my great aunt’s large collection. In later years the hatred Dad had for sour cream worked to Mom’s advantage. Dad never touched the container of French onion dip Mom often kept in the frig for herself.
This recipe will take approximately 2 1/2 hours to prepare. The onion cake will serve 8. Serve it with a green salad, fruit salad, any vegetable in a cheese or cream sauce or sliced tomatoes.
- 1 package of dry active yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)
- 1/4 cup of warm water, body temperature
- 1 teaspoon of sugar
- 2 cups of all purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon of salt
- 1 tablespoon of cooking or olive oil
- 3/4 to 1 cup of warm water
- 1/2 cup of all purpose flour
- 1 large onion peeled and sliced thin
- 2 tablespoons of butter
- pinch of salt
- 2 1/2 Bratwurst, skins removed and the meat crumbled (I used beer brats)
- 3 eggs
- 1 cup of sour cream
- 1/4 cup of milk, scant
- 3 tablespoons of all purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon of salt
- 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon of caraway seeds
Heat the oven to 350 degree F, and butter, grease or spray a 13X10X2 inch Pyrex baking dish.
Make the dough.
Proof the yeast by stirring 1 teaspoon of sugar into 1/4 cup of warm water in a small bowl or measuring cup. The water should be body temperature. When a drop is put on the inside of your wrist it should not be felt. After stirring the sugar into the water sprinkle on the dry yeast and stir. Sit the bowl in a warm place free of drafts for about 10 to 15 minutes or until it increases in volume and bubbles.
Mix the flour and salt in a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the center of the flour. Pour the proofed yeast, the oil and the water into the well. Mix with a wooden spoon until well blended and smooth. It will be sticky. Scrap the dough off the spoon and from the sides of the bowl, push the dough to the center of the bowl. Cover the bowl and put it in a warm place free from drafts to rise. It should take about an hour to double in volume.
While the yeast dough rises make the filling. Peel and cut the onion in half and then slice each half into about 1/4 inch slices. Melt the butter in a large frying pan and add the sliced onion. Sprinkle with salt and black pepper. Stir and cook until the onion begins to soften. Do not brown. Remove the skins from the sausages and crumble the meat into the pan with the onions. Stir and cook the onions and meat until the sausage meat is no longer pink. Sit the meat and onion mixture aside to cool.
Make the custard.
Break the eggs into a large mixing bowl. Add the seasonings including the caraway seeds. Beat with a wire whisk. Add the sour cream and milk. Sprinkle 3 tablespoons of all purpose flour over the top and beat until the mixture is smooth.
Stir in about 1/2 cup of flour into the yeast dough. It will still be sticky. I used the last of the flour bag I had open and I was too sticky to get the new bag out and open it. So I didn’t add as much additional flour as I might have. I think the results were better.
Spread the dough in the pan working it well into the corners and trying to pull some dough up the sides of the pan or simply level the dough layer. Use a wet wooden spoon. In traditional recipes a thin layer of dough should come up the sides level with the top edge of the pan. Don’t bother trying to get the dough up the sides. It doesn’t matter and unless you roll out the dough it won’t work.
Spread the onions and sausage meat evenly over the yeast dough. Include the small amount of fat left in the pan, it flavors the dough. Put slices of cheddar cheese over the top of the meat and onions down the center. Pour the custard mixture evenly over all.
Sit the pan on a baking sheet in case it bubbles over. Mine didn’t but it was very full. Bake it about 40 to 50 minutes or until it tests done in the center and the top is lightly browned. I baked it for 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow it to sit at least 20 minutes or longer before cutting and serving. Run a knife around the edge of the pan and then cut into squares. It can be served hot or cold.
Frozen or canned pizza dough or bread dough can be used instead of homemade dough. Homemade tastes better.
The yeast dough recipe can be used for homemade pizza. Add some garlic and use olive oil in the dough. No kneading or rolling required. Spoon the dough into a greased sheet pan. Top the dough with browned meats, sliced vegetables and canned or homemade seasoned tomato sauce. Top with cheese. Bake at 425 degrees F. until browned and the cheese is melted.
The meat can be left out of this recipe and sliced mushrooms used instead. Other possible combinations are bacon, mushroom and onion; chicken, mushroom and onion with tarragon seasoning instead of caraway seed; hamburger, onion, tomato, and cheese with Southwest seasonings.
The traditional way to make this recipe is to mix fried diced bacon and diced onions into the custard. I used the quiche method and layered the meat and onions on the crust and then covered it all with the custard.
The seasonings are essential in this recipe. I made a second batch and forgot to add the nutmeg. It was not as good. The caraway seeds add a wonderful flavor and smell. Do not leave them out or use subsitutes.