Memories of the Mosel
Federweisser & Zwiebelkuchen, this ultimate autumn combination alone is already a great reason to visit the wine areas of Germany around this time of year. One of these wine areas is the Mosel region, located along the river Mosel between Koblenz and Trier. Like most wine regions it is beautiful all year round. There are small villages with pretty timbered houses, cute squares and many family-owned wineries. But the region is extra special in autumn when the grapes are being picked. During the harvest period you can feel the life and activity everywhere in the villages and in the vineyards. All family members of the smaller wineries help with the harvest, seven days a week. Little tractors come and go, carrying the grapes that have just been picked or the skins that remain after pressing them. The air is filled with the smell of freshly pressed grapes. A beautiful time to hike through the vineyards that stretch all over the hills and try a few of the grapes that are still on the vines.
But back to the Federweisser and Zwiebelkuchen. Federweisser is a light and refreshing drink, made of freshly pressed, fermented grape juice. It is only available during the harvest period, from September until the end of October, because you cannot keep it long. But during this time you can find it everywhere in the Mosel area. You can get it in the stores, in restaurants, and of course directly from the wine producers. It is low on alcohol, a bit sweet, and lightly sparkling; perfect after a walk through the vineyards. The traditional dish to go with it is Zwiebelkuchen (onion cake). This savoury pastry is different everywhere you order it, but obviously it always has onions as its main element. A delicious combination with the Federweisser, both on the cold and on the sunny autumn days!
Although I don’t have any Federweisser here, I still created my own version of Zwiebelkuchen. Not traditional, but it keeps the autumn spirit and memories of the Mosel alive and goes well with a good glass of white wine.
Ingredients (8 good pieces)
For the dough:
- 350 grams of flour
- Sachet of dried yeast – 7 grams, or 25 grams fresh yeast
- 200 ml milk
- 60 grams of butter
- 1 egg
- Pinch of sugar
- Good pinch of salt
For the filling:
- 2 large sweet potatoes – a bit less than a kilo
- 200 grams of walnuts
- 4 large onions – a bit over 1 kg
- 2 eggs
- 200 ml of cream
- Honey – 3 teaspoons
- Garam Masala – 2 heaped teaspoons
- Turmeric – 1 heaped teaspoons
- Cumin – 2 heaped teaspoons
- Salt and black pepper
Start by turning the oven on at around 220˚C. Wrap each sweet potato in aluminium foil and place them on a tray. Roast the potatoes in the oven for around 45 to 60 minutes. Roasting the potatoes really brings out their sweet flavour. The cooking time depends on the size of the potato, so just open the packages after 45 minutes and check with a knife if they are soft all the way through already. Be careful, because it will be properly hot. When they are done, turn off the oven and leave the potatoes in there to cool down slowly and develop their flavour.
In the mean time, start on the dough. Warm up the milk until it is lukewarm. Add the yeast, a pinch of sugar, and around 20 grams of the flour. Stir it and then leave the mixture for about 10 minutes until the yeast wakes up. Mix the other ingredients for the dough in a bowl and add the milk and yeast mixture. Knead well, until you have a soft dough that doesn’t stick to your hands anymore. Add more flour if it is too sticky, or a splash of milk if it is too dry. Try a little bit to see if you added enough salt. Then leave the dough in the bowl and cover it. Leave it in a warm spot to let it proof.
Next, roast the walnuts in a dry frying pan for around 5 minutes over a medium heat. Keep a few of them whole as garnish. Roughly chop the rest and set them aside. In the same pan, you can fry the garam masala and turmeric for around 2 minutes over high heat until they are fragrant. The heat will wake up the flavours, just stay close so that the spices don’t burn. Set the spices aside as well.
Peel the onions and chop them in half rings. Wipe out the frying pan you used before. Heat a knob of butter in the pan and add the onions, a pinch of salt, black pepper, and the cumin. Fry this for around 10 minutes over medium heat, until the onions start to soften up. Try the onions to see if you have seasoned them enough. Meanwhile, mix the two eggs and 150 ml of the cream in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper and also set this mixture aside.
The sweet potatoes should be cooked and cooled down by now. Peel them and cut them in pieces. Mash them with a proper potato masher, a beer bottle, or a fork when really nothing else is available. Add a knob of butter and the other 50 ml of cream. Then stir in the honey, garam masala and turmeric, a pinch of salt, and some black pepper. Try the sweet potato mash and season to taste.
Finally, preheat the oven till 200˚C. Lightly grease a tin with a removable bottom of around 26 cm. Knead the dough one more time and roll it out thinly. Place the dough into the tin and remove any excess dough that comes over the edge of the tin. Add the sweet potato mash as a first layer. Spread a thin layer of the onions over the mash, then add the roasted walnuts. Finally, mix the remaining onions with the eggs and cream mixture. Spread this out on top. Then bake it in the oven for around 45 minutes, until the Zwiebelkuchen is golden brown. Decorate with the walnuts you have kept aside.
Let it cool down a bit and enjoy with some white wine. Or of course, if you live somewhere where you can get it, with a glass of Federweisser so you can imagine being surrounded by the vineyards.