Chef Tim Freed rolled out a bowl of dough, topped it with bacon and onion and into the oven it went. Making a pizza? Nope. This was a flammkuchen, or German flatbread.
Don’t be embarrassed if you’ve never heard of it. Though a staple of German cooking and developed to be baked inside a wood-burning stove, flammkuchen didn’t migrate well from Deutschland. Freed has found the dish in just one German-American restaurant, where the wait staff said it’s not a big seller.
“It’s not a recipe that’s taken hold here in America because of our love affair with pizza,” Freed told a class gathered at Illinois Valley Community College to learn about Bavarian cuisine, the food of southern Germany.
Say the words “Bavarian food” and most people think pretzels, beer and plenty of pork. They aren’t wrong. Bavaria is steeped in traditional foods familiar to anyone who’s eaten and enjoyed German cuisine or celebrated Oktoberfest. Pork is indeed more prevalent than beef in Germany, where grazing land isn’t as plentiful as in the American West, for example.
“They don’t have the land for grazing,” Freed explained, noting that pasture typically is reserved for dairy cows. “Steak is not a big thing in Germany. Veal is a baby cow so you don’t have to raise it as long.”
Hogs require less space to cultivate and are in demand because many traditional Bavarian recipes call for wild boar, which are plentiful in the Black Forest. Similarly, the region has many lakes and streams, so freshwater fish, chiefly trout, make their way to Bavarian kitchens.
Freed showed his class how to make signature dishes such as spaetzle, pasta-like fare shaped like egg noodles in southern Germany and knobs or dumplings in the north. Whatever the shape, visitors will find spaetzle as common at German tables as French fries are at American ones.
“It’s really the main side dish in Germany,” he said.
Anyone daunted by the task of trying homemade noodles can rest easy; Freed recommends store-bought spaetzle as an alternative to the labor-intensive task of preparing homemade dumplings with a ricer or with a knife.
Similarly, sauerkraut soup — a favored dish throughout all Germany — can be approximated with a slow cooker and shortcut ingredients such as prepared cream of mushroom and chicken soups.
For dinner, try a quick-frying dish of veal cutlets with capers, finished with a demiglaze touched with evaporated milk.
If time permits, treat your guests to Black Forest cake for dessert. It is a decadent mixture of chocolate and cherries. The Black Forest, the birthplace of the cuckoo clock, got its name from foliage so dense that sunlight has difficulty wriggling its way beneath the tree canopy.
While Freed stuck mostly to traditional dishes found at German-American restaurants, he did challenge his class to try limburger, a cheese with a notorious smell.
Freed assured his wary diners that limburger actually is quite tasty when brought to room temperature. While the cheese needs to be refrigerated, Freed said it’s imperative to set it out 35-40 minutes before serving, otherwise the sweet taste is muted and the odor overwhelms the senses.
Black Forest home fries
2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled
1 pound bacon, cut into strips 2 inches long, 1/8 inch wide
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and finely chopped
½ teaspoon dried marjoram
freshly ground black pepper
Place the potatoes in a large saucepan, cover with water and then season lightly with salt. Bring to a boil and cook the potatoes until they are just tender, about 20-25 minutes. Drain the potatoes, cool slightly, and cut into slices about ¼ inch thick. Heat a large cast iron skillet or heavy bottomed sauté pan over medium-high heat, add the bacon and sauté until crisp.
Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon to power towels to drain, reserving about 3 tablespoons of rendered fat in the pan. Heat the reserved fat over medium heat, add garlic and onion, and sauté until golden brown. (If you wish to add meat to the dish, toss it in at this point.) Toss in the bacon, potatoes and marjoram and season with salt and pepper. Cook the home fries, stirring frequently, until well-browned and the potatoes come together to form one big cake.
1 (10¾-ounce) can condensed cream of mushroom soup
1 (10¾-ounce) can condensed cream of chicken soup
2½ cups water
4 cups chicken broth
½ pound sauerkraut
1 onion, finely diced
1 (15-ounce) can carrots, drained
1 (15-ounce) can potatoes, drained
1 pound smoked sausage of your choice, sliced
1 teaspoon dried dill weed
1 teaspoon minced garlic
Salt and pepper, to taste
In a 4- to 6-quart slow cooker, blend the cream of mushroom and chicken soups, water and chicken broth. Stir in sauerkraut, onion, carrots, potatoes and sausage. Season with dill and garlic.
Cover and cook on high for four hours, or low for up to eight hours. Taste and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Black Forest cake
2 1/8 cups flour
2 cups white sugar
¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1½ teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
½ cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 (20-ounce) cans pitted sour cherries
1 cup white sugar
¼ cup cornstarch
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups heavy whipping cream
1/3 cup confectioners sugar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease and flour two 9-inch round cake pans. Cover bottoms with waxed paper.
In a large bowl combine flour, 2 cups sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add eggs, milk, oil and 1 tablespoon vanilla. Beat until well blended. Pour batter into prepared pans.
Bake for 35 minutes or until wooden toothpick inserted in centers come out clean. Cool layers in pans on wire racks for 10 minutes. Loosen edges and remove to racks to cool completely.
Drain cherries, reserving ½ cup juice. Combine reserved juice, cherries, 1 cup sugar and cornstarch in a 2-quart saucepan. Cook over low heat until thickened, stirring constantly. Stir in 1 teaspoon vanilla. Cool before using.
Combine whipping cream and confectioner’s sugar in a chilled medium bowl. Beat with an electric mixer at high speed until stiff peaks form.
With long serrated knife, split each cake layer horizontally in half. Tear one split layer into crumbs; set aside. Reserve 1½ cups frosting for decorating cake; set aside. Gently brush loose crumbs off the top and side of each cake layer with pastry brush or hands. To assemble, place one cake layer on cake plate. Spread with 1 cup frosting, top with ¾ cup cherry topping. Top with second cake layer; repeat layers of frosting and cherry topping. Top with third cake layer. Frost side of cake. Pat reserved crumbs onto frosting side of cake. Spoon reserved frosting into pastry bag fitted with star decorator tip. Pipe around top and bottom edges of cake. Spoon remaining cherry topping onto top of cake.
Veal cutlets with capers
4 veal cutlets, about 6 ounces each
2 tablespoons of lemon juice
½ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
½ teaspoon paprika
1 tablespoon of vegetable oil
2 ounces capers, drained
¼ cup dry white wine
1 bay leaf
3 tablespoons of evaporated milk
Sprinkle cutlets with lemon juice and season with salt, pepper and paprika.
Heat oil in a fry pan and fry cutlets for 3 minutes on the first side. Turn cutlets over and add drained capers to the pan. Fry another 3 minutes.
Remove cutlets and arrange on a preheated platter. Pour wine into the pan and scrape loose any brown particles from the bottom. Add bay leaf and simmer liquid 3 minutes. Remove bay leaf, blend in evaporated milk and adjust seasonings. Pour mixture over cutlets and serve.
2 cups flour
2½ tablespoons canola oil
2/3 cup water
1 tablespoon water
pinch of salt
1 cup Crème Fraiche
1 large sweet onion, quartered
2 tablespoons butter
¼ pound bacon
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 clove garlic
Combine ingredients for crust. The dough should not be sticky.
Slice onion into rings and sauté in butter until clear. (Do not caramelize.)
Cook bacon until crisp.
Finely chop garlic and add it with seasonings to the cream.
Roll out the dough as thinly as possible and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
Spread crème fraiche seasoning mixture on to the dough, then top with onions and sprinkle with bacon.
Preheat oven to its highest setting (or around 400-450 degrees Fahrenheit) bake for 10-15 minutes, or until the dough has begun to create bubbles and you see nice browning.
Serve with a green salad.
Tom Collins can be reached at (815) 220-6930 or TCollins@shawmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @NT_Court.