Oktoberfest

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When we crafted our mission for the Festive Food Project–to bring amazing, celebratory dishes to a larger audience–we knew we’d be diving deep into familiar holidays as well as exploring more far-flung traditions that were new to us. What we didn’t expect was the new things we’d learn about the holidays we thought we knew: for example, how many of you know that Oktoberfest is actually traditionally celebrated in…September? Or that the raucous beer festival began as a royal wedding celebration?

It’s true that Americans largely think of Oktoberfest as a time (in October!) to drink enormous quantities of beer, soaked up by bratwurst and pretzels–and, except for the date, most Germans would agree. Its origins and history, though, run deeper. It’s also not a national holiday so much as a local Munich party featuring Bavarian culture in particular, with parades, traditional costumes, music and–perhaps most important–extra-strong beer. Yes, Oktoberfest beers are 2% stronger in gravity (not what you think it means, unless you’re a chemistry nerd, in which case it is), which translates into greater potency. With more than six million people participating in Munich’s celebration each fall, that adds up a lot of drinking, which needs lot of food to go along with it.

We feel justified in putting this post out in October not just because of the holiday’s misleading name, but because it’s really an autumn festival and in New York, fall only really begins around now. The bite in the air, the donning of light jackets, the smell of woodsmoke: sweater weather is when we want to eat the kinds of dishes Oktoberfest brings us. Two foods traditionally served in Munich, in addition to the ubiquitous wurst and sauerkraut, are roasted ox, which has its very own tent, the Ochsenbraterei, and Steckerlfisch, small whitefish grilled on sticks. We laser-focused on our own favorite German meat dish, schnitzel. Traditionally made with veal, we also like it with pork or chicken cutlets: the key is just to make sure they are pounded thin. With some aromatic sweet-and-sour cabbage and a starch like german potato salad or our spaetzle, this is a menu that has something for everyone, and will absorb a lot of beer if that’s on your agenda! Leave some room for a slice of our awesome apple-almond cake, which rounds out this fall feast. In October. It’s ok.

schnitzel1

Crispy Schnitzel

2 lbs boneless pork, veal or chicken cutlets, pounded to ¼ inch thick

½ cup flour

⅛ tsp cayenne pepper

⅛ tsp nutmeg

2 eggs, beaten

2 cups breadcrumbs

2 tbsp fresh parsley, finely chopped

Salt and pepper

Vegetable oil for frying

For garnish:

Thinly sliced scallion and chopped parsley

Season the cutlets generously with salt and pepper. Mix flour with cayenne and nutmeg. Stir chopped parsley into breadcrumbs. Place flour mixture, beaten eggs and bread crumbs in three different shallow dishes large enough to accommodate the cutlets.

Heat ¼ inch of oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Dip cutlets one at a time first into flour, then the eggs and finally, the breadcrumbs. Be sure the cutlets are completely covered in breadcrumbs.

Add cutlets into pan, but don’t crowd them. When bottom of cutlet is golden brown, flip and brown the other side. Remove from pan and transfer to a baking rack or a paper towel lined baking sheet. The baking rack will give you a crispier schnitzel.

Garnish generously with sliced scallion and fresh parsley.

Serves 4

cabbage

Braised Red Cabbage

4 tbsp butter

1 head red cabbage (about 2 lbs) cored and finely sliced

1 red onion, thinly sliced

1 tart apple (granny smith works well) cored and cut into ½ inch pieces

2 tbsp brown sugar

2 tsp salt

1 tsp freshly ground black pepper

¼ cup balsamic vinegar

¼ cup apple cider

⅛ tsp allspice

Melt butter in a heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and saute until translucent. Add cabbage and the rest of the ingredients, stir well. Lower the heat to medium low, cover the skillet and simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Adjust the seasonings and serve hot.

Serves 4

apple-almond cake

Apple-Almond Cake

Slightly adapted from Classic German Baking, by Luisa Weiss

We need to give a shout-out to this beautiful cookbook, which brings together all kinds of traditional recipes from German baking, from Christmas cookies to sweet yeasted cakes to savory breads and strudels. Some of the recipes require specialized ingredients like spiced plum butter or a Kugelhopf pan, but this cake is not one of them. A golden batter enriched by almond paste makes a fine-crumbed cake full of juicy apples, beautifully topped with apple slices glistening under an apricot jam glaze. It makes a beautiful hostess gift, if you can bear to give it away.

1¼ cups minus 1 tbsp flour/150g all-purpose flour

9½ tbsp/85g cornstarch

2 tsp baking powder

5 small-medium apples

Juice of 1 lemon

7 oz/200g almond paste

¼ tsp salt

14 tbsps unsalted butter, melted and cooled, plus more for pan

¾ cup/150g granulated sugar

1 tsp almond extract

4 eggs at room temperature

¼ cup smooth or strained apricot jam

Line the bottom of a 9” springform pan with a round of parchment paper, and butter the sides of the pan. Preheat the oven to 350 with a rack set in the middle of the oven.

Prepare the apples by peeling and coring them. Cut three of the apples into ⅓” dice, then place in a bowl and toss with half the lemon juice. Slice the remaining two apples into neat wedges, six per apple, then toss in another bowl with the remaining lemon juice.

Whisk together dry ingredients in a medium bowl: flour, salt, cornstarch and baking powder.

Using grater with fairly large holes, grate the almond paste into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the salt and melted butter, then mix n medium-high until smooth. Beat in almond extract and add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down sides of bowl as necessary. Add dry ingredients and mix until just combined, then fold in apple cubes by hand, with a spatula. Pour into pan and smooth down top.

Place sliced apples decoratively on top of cake in concentric circles–you may need to trim some in the internal cicle to make them fit. Using the flat of your hand, gently and evenly press apples into batter so they are not submerged but loosely anchored.

Bake for at least 80 minutes, or until cake is golden brown and a tester inserted in center of cake comes out clean (ours took at least 90 minutes–make sure cake is cooked through). Remove pan from oven and place on a rack to cool. Immediately heat apricot jam (we used a microwave for one minute) and brush evenly over the top of the cake. Allow cake to cool completely before removing sides of pan.

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