Tag Archives: Joy of Cooking

German Immigrant Food: Sauerbraten

I had not eaten sauerbraten outside of a German restaurant until I discovered how easy it was to make, and adapted the recipe in the Joy of Cooking 1964 cookbook as my own.


Sauerbraten is a perfect example of the foods that German immigrants brought to America because it represents the sweet and sour main dish that is so prevalent. And in looking up the history of Sauerbraten, I notice that it is prevalent in several regions of Germany, including Bavaria and Rhineland where my ancestors originated. No wonder I love it.

I suspect that it originally was developed to mask the flavor of meat that was starting to “turn”, or at least to preserve meat that was getting too old.  The fact that Alexander reportedly cooked (or had cooked for him) a version of sauerbraten in the field would underline that it was a good way to preserve meat. So we know it is a very ancient recipe, at any rate.

Although it is not difficult to make, a sauerbraten dinner is not a last minute decision, since you want to marinate it for at least 2 days, and depending on the cut of meat–up to a week. Then it will take a few hours to cook. It is a fine way to use a cheap cut of meat, but ironically when I went to the store to get said cheap cut, the butcher had a sale on sirloin tip roasts making them a better bargain. So I had a falling-apart roast when I was through.

German Sauerbraten

well done sauerbraten

The bad news is–it does not freeze well.  Although I would think if you froze it before adding the sour cream and thickenings to the marinade/gravy, you could freeze it and then complete the dish when you thawed it out.

You can see a crock pot version of sauerbraten and more information at this blog by a person who is also a genealogy addict. Unlike this writer, I DID use gingersnaps.  They are easiest to crush by putting them in a ziplock bag and pounding with a wooden spoon or mallet.

Ginger Snaps

Crushing ginger snaps.

In Germany, it would be served with potatoes or spaetzle.  In the U.S. you are more likely to find potato pancakes on the plate.  Wanting something a bit lighter, I cooked some carrots, potatoes and cabbage in a separate pan when the sauerbraten was about ready.  But applesauce is a terrific side dish that I always have with this tangy meat dish.

We had lots of leftover meat, which I shredded and mixed with some Pennsylvania Dutch egg noodles and a scoop of extra sour cream. A second day of delish.

German Recipe: Sauerbraten


  • 3lb Beef (shoulder, chuck, rump or round)
  • pepper
  • garlic (minced)
  • 2 cups vinegar (or wine vinegar)
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/2 onion (sliced)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon peppercorns
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 8-12 ginger snap cookies
  • 2 tablespoons fat for browning meat
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 heaped tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup sour cream


First step
1. Rub beef roast with pepper and garlic.
2. Heat (but do not boil) vinegar, onion, bay leaves, water, peppercorns and 1/4 cup sugar.
3. Pour marinade over meat in glass bowl. Cover and refrigerate for three or four days, turning occasionally.
4. When ready to cook, drain and put marinade in saucepan and bring to simmer. Brown meat in fat in heavy pan.
5. Put meat in large covered pan and pour in heated marinade. Bake in 350 degree oven for 3-4 hours. Turn several times and add additional warm stock as needed.
6. When meat can be easily pierced by a fork, sprinkle brown sugar over top and roast uncovered for 5 to 10 minutes more.
7. Remove meat from pot and thicken stock with flour (stir in with whisk) and ground gingersnaps.
8. Add sour cream and stir just to heat immediately before serving.
9. Slice and serve with gravy. Traditional accompaniment is potato pancakes.

Christmas Cookies: Pfefferneuse (and a Confession)

Although this recipe for pfefferneuse cookies does not go back generations in my family as far as I know, it should. I feel justified in calling it a traditional cookie since its roots are Dutch and German and my own paternal line is German.

Pfefferneuse cookies and ornaments

Ornaments from our travels to Holland, Switzerland and Germany on the tray with pfefferneuse cookies.

Not only that, but I learned from the Internet, that pfefferneuse is a traditional cookie among Mennonites. My father-in-law, a Mennonite whose family came from German Switzerland, loved these cookies. He said they were his favorite among all the ones I made.  And they are  a tradition in our household ever since the late 1960s. I know that because of a little incident that I’m going to confess to in a minute.

According to my findings on the web, pfefferneuse (pepper nuts) are traditionally eaten on the date of Sinterklas–December 5 or 6 in Holland or Germany–when Sinterklas (our Santa) delivers the goods. I’m not sure where I got this recipe, which diverges from the mid-19th century origins,mainly because it does not contain pepper–which is the pfeffer in the name. Instead, it relies on other spices and anise for its peppery goodness. It also calls for coffee (although I rarely have any around so I use water or tea) and it uses some butter, which makes it a bit lighter.

But the more I searched, the more I became aware that there are approximately a zillion different ways to make a cookie that is called pfefferneuse. And of course anyone who makes the cookies a different way than you do, will refuse to acknowledge yours as genuine.  See for example, this Pinterest page.

Pfefferneuse being glazed.

Pfefferneuse cookies being glazed.

Powdered sugar, glaze or bare naked? Almonds, walnuts, or no nuts at all. Baking soda, baking powder or the original ammonium carbonate? Shortening or not? It can drive you crazy.

You can see in the picture below that, as usual, I make the cookies too large. Despite trying to rein in the size, every year, I forget how much they spread. Some year, I’d like to keep the cookie small enough that it really is a little ball instead of a flat cookie.

Now the confession of wrongdoing in the kitchen. Once upon a time when I was a young mother, my husband and I got an invitation to go to a holiday event that was somehow related to his job.  Unfortunately, I had forgotten that I had put pfefferneuse dough in the refrigerator to cool, and was running out of time to get the cookies baked  and glazed before company arrived.

So when the baby sitter arrived, and I was in my spikey high heels and bouffant hair-do, all ready to go out on the town, I informed her that not only was she watching my three little darlings–but she also needed to shape, bake and glaze several dozen cookies.  For this she was being paid fifty cents an hour, mind you.

To this day, I have no idea whether she had ever baked anything before in her life, and I can’t believe I would just dump this job on somebody who already had their hands full with watching three ornery boys. She must have really needed the few dollars she was going to make.

Pfferneuse ready to bake

Pfferneuse ready to bake

I explained to her how to shape the cookies with floured hands, told her she could wait until the boys went to bed, and put the cookies out on a cookie rack.  The cookies turned out great. I don’t know if she ever baby sat for us again.

Pfefferneuse Fruit Cake Cookies

Serves 6 dozen
Allergy Tree Nuts
Meal type Dessert
Occasion Christmas


  • 1/2 cup dark corn syrup
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup coffee
  • 3 1/4 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup candied cherries or mixed candied fruit
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 1/2 cup walnuts
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon anise seed
  • 1/2 teaspoon anise extract
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup water or rum
  • 1/4 teaspoon Cream of tartar
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar


1. Combine 1/2 C sugar, corn syrup, butter and coffee in large (3-quart) saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer 5 minutes.
Dry ingredients
2. Sift together flour, soda, cinnamon, salt and nutmeg
3. Grind or pulse in food processor candied fruit, raisins and nuts
Combine ingredients
4. When syrup has cooled, add two eggs lightly beaten, and anise flavorings. and mix well.
Combine and finish.
5. Stir in dry ingredients, then fruit mixture.
Combine and finish
6. Chill dough at least four hours--will hold for a couple of days.
7. Let dough come to room temperature, flour your hands and shape the dough into one-inch balls. Place on greased cookie sheets and bake at 350 degrees for 15-18 minutes.
8. While cookies bake, Combine 1 C sugar, water, cream of tartar in small pan and boil until clear. Cool.
9. When glaze is cooled, whisk in 1/2 C powdered sugar.
10. Put cookie racks on waxed paper to catch drips. Dip slightly cooled cookies into glaze and set on racks. You can decorate with bits of red or green candied cherry if you wish. Let glaze harden before packing in cookie tins or plastic containers, with waxed paper between layers.


Cookies can be baked and frozen and you can warm them and add glaze when you are ready to use.

When I do not have coffee on hand, I have used strong tea, but the bitterness of the coffee adds a different flavor.

Don't make the cookies too large, as when they bake, you want them to maintain their rounded top rather than flatten out.  While I generally think the bigger the better with cookies, I believe these are better in smaller bites.


American Fruit Dessert. Is It a Crisp, a Crunch, a Slump, a Grunt or a Buckle?

Buckle out of pan

Buckle out of pan

Writing about Aunt Sarah and her Cherry Pudding the other day, got me thinking about all that enormous variety of American Fruit Dessert and which ones were most common in our family. As part of the parsimonious nature of our rural foremothers, nothing could go to waste.  So there had to be lots of fruit recipes. You couldn’t use all of them up in jams and jellies, after all, and after a while you wanted a change from pies.

By the way, I was chastised for saying that Aunt Sarah’s cherry pudding is not really a pudding because in Brit-speak any dessert is pudding. I still maintain that in British English you might call it pudding, but you wouldn’t necessarily say “cherry pudding.”

Confession: my motivation for talking about Aunt Sarah’s cherry pudding was that I had bought more cherries than I could eat and they were going to go to waste if I didn’t cook them. Like great-grandmother, like great-granddaughter.

American Fruit Desserts in Joy

Stained, taped together Joy of Cooking (1997)

Although I paged through a bunch of old recipe books for traditional fruit desserts, the most complete answers came in Joy of Cooking 7th Edition (1997 edition by Erma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker and Ethan Becker), which is as much a research tool as a cookbook. This edition was updated by Ethan Becker and lost some of the traditional recipes of the Rombauers, so I kept a previous edition (1964) on hand. I’ve worn both of them out. On page 894, you can find a whole section called American Fruit Desserts.


These American fruit dessert recipes all combine some sort of dough–usually close to biscuit or pie dough– and any kind of fruit you have on hand. As Joy says, “These desserts seem descended from puddings on one side and pies on the other.” In essence pretty much anything goes, and every new version seems to get a new name.

So here goes, a short primer. **Indicates some family favorites of the American Fruit Dessert.

American Fruit Dessert

Apple Pandowdy (We usually think of Apple Pandowdy as a pioneer recipe, but other fruits can be used).

Boiled fruit with a biscuit or pie dough crust surrounding the fruit. Traditionally sweetened with molasses or cider. Sometimes the crust is broken toward the end of cooking and partially submerged in the fruit juices.

Brown Betty

Sweetened buttered bread crumbs layered with fruit.

American Fruit Desserts: Blueberry Buckle

Blueberry Buckle


Fruit mixed into the dough, topped with a sugar/flour streusel topping. (See recipe below for Blueberry Buckle)


Deep dish with single crust on top, but sometimes the biscuit-like dough goes on the bottom


Like Brown Betty, except the crumbs all go on top.


According to Joy, the British refer to crisps or crumbles made with oatmeal as ‘crumbles.’ It is an entirely appropriate name. This was one of my traditional family favorites, only my mother called it a Brown Betty and. I like to think that this (unwritten) recipe had been passed down for generations from our British ancestors. I must admit I never ever saw mother or grandmother use breadcrumbs in a dessert.


Like Brown Betty, layered, but drier so it comes out like a bar cookie.


A pouch of dough with fruit inside. This was one of my mothers BEST desserts.  She made pie dough, rolled it into a square and piled on sweetened, spiced apple slices. Then she brought the corners up to form a pouch, sprinkled the top with sugar and baked. In a bowl with milk it made a meal.


I think my three sons would have laughed me out of the kitchen, had I told them we were having Grunt for dessert. This sounds very British, also.  It is a  fruit pudding steamed in a mold with a pastry lined mold.


Grunt’s first cousin, the Slump is fruit cooked with dumplings on top in a covered pan.


Large sweet biscuits, split and topped with fruit–most commonly strawberries and served with milk, cream or whipped cream. Another of my mother’s specialities. A Strawberry shortcake in each bowl and some slices of cheese and cold meat and call it a meal!

Upside Down Cake

Usually pineapple, but I’ve made a delicious pear upside-down cake, these are best in a cast-iron skillet. Fruit on the bottom with lots of brown sugar and butter for a crust, cake batter on the top,and baked in the oven.

And of course I’m taking for granted pies, tarts and turnovers, all made with pie dough.

Other desserts with foreign roots that have made their way into American favorites:

Kuchen: German for cake, in this case it generally means a fruit-filled yeast dough pastry.

Clafoutis: Since reading David LebovitzThe Sweet Life in Paris, I have become addicted to the incredibly easy-to make light cake with fruit concoction from France.

Plum Cake Cockaigne: I’m guessing this is a German dessert, but the only recipes I find for it in a quick search on line are the one called Plum Cake Cockaigne (an imaginary ideal land) in the Joy of Cooking. Works for me. One of my families favorites. I’m sure it is good with other fruits, but so good with plums, why bother? Cake, topped by pretty rows of sliced fruit and a light streusel topping.[Update: I learned in a story about Joy of Cooking, that the Rombauers, authors of the cookbooks, slapped the label “cockaigne” on anything they made up themselves. Made it sound fancy. So I still don’t know the origin, other than the Rombauer family.]

So what is your family’s favorite traditional American Fruit Dessert? Got one I didn’t think of?

And now here’s my take on Joy of Cooking‘s Buckle recipe, my personal favorite of the American Fruit Desserts, in this version, I add a small twist:

Blueberry Buckle

Serves 9
Prep time 20 minutes
Cook time 45 minutes
Total time 1 hours, 5 minutes
Allergy Egg, Milk, Tree Nuts, Wheat
Meal type Dessert
Misc Serve Cold
From book Joy of Cooking, 1997, pg 903, Peach and Bosenberry Buckle
Favorite American fruit dessert--the Buckle.



  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 6 tablespoons flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest (finely grated or chopped)
  • 4 tablespoons butter (cold, cut in bits)


  • 1/2 cup almonds (flaked)
  • 1 3/4 cup flour (all purpose)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons butter (softened)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg (large)
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 cup Milk

Fruit filling

  • 2 1/2 cups Blueberries (washed and drained well)


1. You will need 3 separate bowls for preparation, plus a 9 x 9 inch pan or pyrex dish for baking.
2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees
3. Mix topping ingredient in medium bowl, using finger tips, until crumbly like cookie dough. Put in refrigerator until ready to use.
4. In small bowl, mix butter, sugar, egg and vanilla.
5. In larger bowl whisk dry ingredients.
6. Mix the sugar/butter mixture into the dry ingredients with an electric mixer, just until blended into a thick dough.
Finish assembly.
7. Spoon dough into bottom of baking dish, and level. Top with blueberries. Top that with streusel topping.
8. Bake at 375 for 45 minutes.


Called the Buckle because it buckles after rising. When you take it out of the oven, it will be domed, but it will be craggy and bumpy after a few minute of cooling.

Good warm or cool, with milk or whipped cream or plain.

I substituted almond milk with no ill effects, and the almonds are optional, removing two possible allergens.

Use with many different fruits. I took this recipe from The Joy of Cooking cookbook recipe for a Bosenberry and Peach buckle.

Be sure to combine the ingredients separately as instructed--the sugar, butter, egg, milk and vanilla mixed together and then into the dry ingredients for best combining.