Zwiebelkuchen offers a taste of the season

Zwiebelkuchen offers a taste of the season

by Karen Bradbury
Stripes Europe

Among Germany’s many culinary treats whose English-language names leave much to be desired when translated into English is the Zwiebelkuchen, literally, onion cake. To call it cake is a stretch though, as tart or quiche is a closer approximation to what this treat’s all about. Zwiebelkuchen is a food product with a definite season, and that is the autumn. From mid-August through November, you’ll find this savory snack sold as an accompaniment to the fizzy, still-fermenting and slightly alcoholic grape drink known as Federweiβer or new wine.

There’s no one definitive recipe for Zwiebelkuchen; in fact, a visit to one of Germany’s biggest recipe sharing websites reveals over 300 variations submitted by home cooks throughout the land. It can be prepared on baking trays, tart pans, and in muffin tins. Common to all is a yeast or shortbread crust topped with caramelized onions and eggs, along with sour cream or crème fraîche; optional ingredients include bacon, Black Forest ham, cheese, caraway seeds and autumn vegetables such as leeks or pumpkin.

A good place to indulge in a hearty slice of this onion-y goodness would be an autumn harvest festival or cozy tavern in one of the wine-making towns. Traditionally, though not this year, a handful of communities hold specific events or festivals dedicated to the consumption of Zwiebelkuchen. Many bakeries serve it by the slice as well.

Federweiβer, the aforementioned drink, is the term used to describe sweet and fizzy grape must with an alcohol content hovering around 4%. Other names for this seasonal, cloudy potion include Sturm, Bitzler, Rauscher, Suser or Sauser. It’s made from freshly pressed grapes to which yeast has been added, jump-starting the fermentation process. As much of the natural sugar in the grape has yet to turn to alcohol, the drink is sweet to taste.

Federweiβer demands special care for a couple of reasons. If you pick up a bottle from a farmer’s market or supermarket, you’ll find its cap has tiny holes in it, as sealing the contents up tight while it’s still undergoing fermentation could cause the bottle to explode. For this reason, it’s important to keep the bottle upright at all times. It’s also not a fabulous idea to imbibe too much of the new wine in a single session, due to a similarly explosive effect it can have on one’s stomach.

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