The holidays are a whirl-wind for everyone, but working in a bakery makes them even crazier. I am always amazed how quickly October through December fly by, it is like boarding a roller coaster that continuously picks up speed and you can do nothing more but ride it out until the momentum abruptly stops after New Year’s Eve. This was my third holiday season to work as a pastry cook and I am always simultaneously relieved and a little depressed after the season is over. I am glad to catch my breath at work, but it is always a bummer not to be able to enjoy the holidays like everyone else does. When you are in school, you gauge your year around semesters, finals, and breaks, my rhythm is now set by chocolate covered strawberries, pumpkin pie, bûche de Noël and the holidays that accompany them.
When it is all said and done though, the sugar/retail-crazed customers, long hours, irritated coworkers, paper cuts from handling too many pie boxes, and my managers’ high-expectations result in satisfaction of a job well done.
Luckily, we are closed on Christmas and I was able to enjoy time with my family and celebrate my baby’s first Christmas. I cooked these scrumptious short ribs (which is becoming quite a Christmas tradition) and this tres leches cake (but with cranberry compote instead of peaches) and of course my dad’s frozen cranberry salad joined the party.
We also indulged in a Swiss family recipe called kuechli, fried pastry dusted in sugar. When my grandma was growing up in Missouri, she remembers her Aunts and Uncles making kuechli on their farm during the holiday season. They gathered in the kitchen to knead and stretch rounds of dough over their knees into irregular circles before adding them to the frying oil where they would become golden and blistered until they finally dusted the finished pastry with sugar and enjoyed the fruits of their labor.
My family made kuechli a few times when I was younger. I mostly remember many people jammed into a not-so-big kitchen, getting flour and sugar all over the place, and reveling in the season and each other. It was a lot of fun with a particularly tasty outcome. It has been years since we made kuechli together, but while planning our Christmas day activities for this year, my sister suggested we make kuechli again.
As with anything involving food and cooking, I was all in and my mom consulted my great-grandmother’s handwritten recipe to prepare. And, as usual, I was curious to know more about kuechli than only my childhood memories held. I found that if you just type “kuechli” into a search engine, nothing comes up related to these fried Swiss treats. After searching around and looking at the family recipe a bit more, I learned that these can also be called Fasnachtsküchlein (carnival cookies) or Chnüblätz (knee cookies), as they are traditionally stretched over the knee instead of rolled out with a rolling pin, and are often served at festivals or carnivals in Switzerland (their version of funnel cake I suppose).
As it should be, making kuechli was a group effort – my sister rolled the dough into thin rounds, I manned the frying, my niece made sure the hot pastries were liberally coated in sugar, and well…everyone else ate. It was perfect.
A belated Happy Holidays to all! I hope you celebrated traditions old and new with your family and that 2013 brings much joy and peace.
Makes 24 7-inch pastries
Recipe from my Zulauf family and a page written by my great-grandma Zulauf
Note: I wrote the recipe exactly as it was written my my great-grandmother. I love how old recipes are written with such assumption and informality so I wanted to keep it as is.
2 tablespoons whipping cream
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoons sugar
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
Vegetable oil for frying
Granulated sugar for dusting
Beat eggs, cream, salt, and sugar with 2 1/2 cups flour until well mixed – the dough is quite soft. Turn out onto a well floured board. Knead lightly for five minutes until dough feels smooth on the surface. Cover and let rest for 20 minutes.
Shape dough into a log and cut into 24 equal pieces. Keep covered with clear plastic while you shape each cookie. Roll out each piece on a well floured pastry cloth or board to make a randomly shaped circle about 7 inches in diameter. Lift from cloths and with a soft brush whisk off excess flour. Stack between sheets of clear plastic.
Heat about 3/4 inches oil to 325° to 350° in deep sauce pan of 8 or 9 inches in diameter [Note: I used a 10-inch cast iron skillet which worked fine]; maintain temperature over moderate heat. Push cookies – one at a time – down into fat and cook until a light golden color, turning once with tongs. Drain on paper towels and dust with granulated sugar.
Serve at once or store in an airtight container at room temperature unto to 2 weeks, or freeze. To refresh, spread on a baking sheet and warm 2 or 3 minutes in a 350° oven.