From Nonna's Kitchen: Oma Susanne's Appelkoken
One of the most magical aspects of an heirloom recipe is that it can transport you. It can take you to a simpler time and place. A time when you were young, and childhood was filled with love from doting grandparents and dishes that represent who we are. A bite of a dish like this will fill you up with warmth, happiness and a sense of family. Our grandmother’s kitchens were a sacred place where love was in abundance and the stove was always working hard, making something good to eat.
I especially felt this when a recipe for Appelkoken was shared with my heirloom kitchen. This recipe comes from Hamburg by Susanne Kidd. Susanne is a German immigrant that came to the U.S. in her early twenties. She married, raised two children and like all of the immigrants I have cooked with, embraced the American dream. Susanne went to law school at night and graduated at the top of her class. Not only is she a successful attorney, she recently completed a rigorous program at New York University in language translation.
When she retires next year, she will, begin a new career in German translation but most importantly, spend more time with her beautiful grandchildren. She knits, weaves and of course, teaches the little ones about their German heritage and culture. Frequent trips to Hamburg to visit her mother; Oma Susanne makes certain her grandchildren know where they come through language, culture and of course, good food.
Her beloved grandmother, Oma Hildegard, taught this recipe to her. Susanne remembers her important task of helping her grandmother on New Year’s Eve when these delicious little donuts are made. A huge ceramic bowl for mixing, a warm radiator for rising, the big wooden spoon (for discipline) and of course, some knitting needles for flipping, were the critical components to get the recipe, just right.
Susanne’s job was to fetch the apples, left over from the fall harvest, from the cellar. The apples may have been a bit wrinkled but with a good peeling, a fine chop, they were ready to drop in the batter with the rum raisins and fine vanilla sugar. As baker’s helper, she had the important task to taste the first batch to make sure they were acceptable. Still warm, they were showered with powdered sugar and served to the lucky New Year’s guests.
In order to make these special treats, an ox eye pan is needed. I purchased mine, a pair of long flipping sticks (I don’t knit!) and got to work. The result? Perfect little spheres that melt in your mouth and cover your lips with white powder, oh boy. I got better as I went, each round of donuts looking better than the last. By the end, they were rounder, lighter and even more delicious. I couldn’t eat just one!
As I listened for the shortening to sizzle, and gingerly flipped the little donuts around, I pictured myself, far away, in a small, warm kitchen in Hamburg, awaiting the promise of the new year and most importantly, feeling the love of past grandmothers in my heart.
Oma Susanne’s Appelkoken
3 cups AP flour
1 envelope, active yeast, or 2 ½ teaspoons
1 T sugar
1 cup warm milk
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
zest and juice of one lemon
2 large eggs
7 T unsalted butter, softened
½ cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 tart apples, granny smith are good, peeled and chopped into ¼ inch dice
½ cup raisins
2 T rum
confectioners sugar, for dusting
shortening, for the pan
In a small bowl, combine raisins and rum. Let raisins sit until they plump. In a large bowl, add flour and make a well. Add yeast, 1 tablespoon of sugar and 2 tablespoons of the milk into the well. Gradually mix the flour into the well until the mixture is fully incorporated. Place in a warm place, covered with a kitchen towel for 10 minutes. Mixture should bubble slightly.
Add butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla sugar, salt, lemon zest and juice and mix thoroughly with wooden spoon till batter is bubbly and drips slowly from spoon. If batter is too thick, add warm milk. Now, drain the raisins, and mix into the batter with the apples. Cover the bowl and let the batter rise in a warm place for about 40-50 minutes until it doubles in size.
Heat up the ox eye pan, add a pea sized about of shortening to each well and wait for it to sizzle a bit. Use medium heat or the pan will smoke. Add batter to each dent not quite up to the rim of the dent but doesn't go over. Fat will bubble around the side and you can see the sides begin to brown. A wooden stick is useful in tilting the apple ball slightly to check on color, which should be light brown. While the center is still soft, use the wooden stick to turn the apple ball upside down. That will allow the batter to fill out the indent and make for a round ball when it's done. Check for doneness by inserting wooden stick in the middle. Remove apple balls from pan and place in a flat bowl or on a plate and dust with powdered sugar, turning each ball to cover it. Repeat.
Buon Appetito and Happy New Year!