German people love to eat, and they certainly know how to cook. My grandfather was born and raised in the communal society of the Amana Colonies in Iowa, and I’ve attended many family reunions and dinners in the Colonies over the years. Food was designed to stick to the ribs and keep hard-working men healthy and strong. Although my grandfather passed away while my mother was still a little girl, some of the recipes for foods he loved have come down through the family. Special German dessert recipes for cookies and rich pastries, such as Peppernuts (sugar cookies) and Apfelstrudel (apple strudel), were a beloved part of my childhood.
Peppernuts were among the German dessert recipes I remember. You start making Peppernuts with 1 cup of softened butter, one cup of lard, and 3 cups of sugar. Cream them together until fluffy. Add 4 eggs and beat until very creamy. Stir in 1/2 teaspoon salt, 2 teaspoons baking ammonia, 1 teaspoon vanilla, and 4 cups flour. Beat well. Form into small balls and bake at 350 degrees until the edges are brown, around 10-12 minutes.
All the cooking in the Amana Colonies was done in communal kitchens. After graduating from 8th grade, girls were put to work in the kitchens under the direction of a head cook. Their job was to turn out all the food, including preparing the German dessert recipes, which the colonies would eat each day. At mealtime children were sent to the kitchens with covered pails so that they could pick up the food allotted to their family and bring it home. Everyone worked hard, and no one worried about calories.
Apple strudel is another of the delightful German dessert recipes that smells heavenly while it’s baking. For this recipe you need to start with 10 1/2 oz. of flour, 1/6 oz. of salt, 1 1/2 oz. of melted lard, and 5 1/3 oz. of warm water. This will give you the basic dough for the dessert. Knead the dough until it becomes smooth and elastic. Divide into 3 loaves, brush each with melted butter, and allow to raise in a warm place for an hour.
While you’re waiting for the bread dough to rise, you can mix your filling. Start by peeling, coring, and slicing 5 1/2 lbs. of Golden Delicious apples. Mix 5 1/3 oz. of sugar with 1 1/2 oz. of dark rum, 5 1/3 oz. of raisins, the zest and juice from two lemons, and 1/8 teaspoon of cinnamon. Toss this mixture with the apples. Mix 10 1/2 oz. of bread crumbs with 10 1/2 oz. of melted, unsalted butter. Take one loaf of dough and stretch it to fit a strudel sheet. Cover 2/3 of the sheet of dough with bread crumbs. Spread apple filling on the remaining third. Cut the edges even and roll the dough up. Place on a cookie sheet, brush the top with melted butter, and bake at 400 degrees for for 60-90 minutes.