Sunday, March 22, 2009

AmiExpat's Sauerbraten challenge!

AmiExpat has been challenging other bloggers to a weekly session of German cooking from recipes she has translated herself out of an old cookbook. This week's recipes were Sauerbraten and Schneebaellchen ("little snowballs" - potato dumplings). I actually don't usually care for either thing that much, which is strange because I love most food. But, they looked like an interesting thing to attempt so we decided to do it anyway.

We had to start on Thursday by marinating the big hunk of meat. The marinade involves boiling red wine vinegar (photo at left). I knew right away why I never liked Sauerbraten. Vinegar reeks! Our apartment smelled for about a day like vinegar despite trying to air it out. We don't have a mortar and pestle so we crushed up the pepper and stuff under the handle of a garlic press (see right). (Actually, we do have a mortar and pestle. In a box in Damon's parents' basement in the US.) The roast started out nice and red, but turned sort of gray in the marinade (see below)!

Collecting the ingredients was interesting. We found some kind of sugar syrup stuff. The package says it's for spreading on bread. But we couldn't find the Saucenlebkuchen and in fact got the "crazy foreigner doesn't know what the ass they're talking about" look at the store when asking about it. At a party last night we brought it up and none of the Germans there had ever heard of it either. Maybe it's a regional thing? Having not even seen Saucenlebkuchen before, and having no luck searching for pictures on the internet, we didn't even know if they were actually baked-up cookies, some kind of ground thing, or what! We ended up substituting with the closest-looking thing to Lebkuchen that's available at this time of year: some kind of cinnamon cookies.

The recipe seems to be written for people who have made this before. At points it wasn't entirely clear to us what we were supposed to do. We render the bacon, then do we take out the bits or leave them in? (We assumed we should take them out.) Are the cookies layered whole on top of the meat? (We did that - see picture at right.) It sounds like it, but that's kind of strange. Then the recipe brings up "the warmed red wine" as if it had already been referenced, which it hadn't. We didn't warm it, though. It was such a small volume we figured that having it at room temperature wasn't going to cool down the meat very much. What is "a piece" of celery root? I figured it must be about the same size as what you see in a package of soup greens (see photo at left - at the top is the size of celery root we used), since a whole root is really big. But, I wouldn't have been able to guess that if I hadn't lived here in Germany and seen soup greens sold like that. So, it's definitely a grandma, someone-who-already-knows kind of recipe, leaving us wondering pretty often if we were doing it right!! The dumpling recipe was no problem to understand, though, and very easy! We thought we had marjoram on hand and it turned out we didn't. Since it's Sunday in Germany, we were SOL and subbed in thyme (a smaller amount) instead. We have no potato-mashing tools so we just boiled them really well and Damon mushed them all up with a wooden spatula.

As it cooked, the cookies got all swelled up and we couldn't really baste with the wine but just sort of poured it over everything. It was getting late so we took it out about 15 minutes short of two hours. We didn't bother with the sieve (we don't have a good one - here - anyway, only a pasta pot insert) and just scooped out all the vegetables and cookies with a slotted spoon. The cookies looked really gross. All that out of the way, we reduced the leftover liquid (there wasn't much), added the raisins, and tested it. We did add pepper and about two spoons of the sugar syrup, but it didn't seem to need salt. Then it was time to eat!!

So, after all our feeling like novices and troubleshooting and vinegar stench and my preconception that I wasn't all that into was really good. The meat was perfect, the dumplings weren't too gummy, the sauce had a good flavor.... I would definitely try making it again!! (But it does require planning! And our kitchen is a disaster right now - too small for big projects.) I can't believe how well it came out even without the correct ingredents or knowing if we interpreted it right. Very good recipe!


  1. I got that "crazy foreigner" look last week when I decided I wanted to make baklava and asked at the Real if they had Phyllo dough. No idea what the heck I was talking about. Ends up it's best found at Turkish markets.

    I agree that a lot of the recipes involve guesswork. I think I'm lucky to have a live-in expert (well, sort of, he hasn't made a lot of these things himself, but he's an expert on how they should look and taste!). It would be tougher if you'd never lived in Germany or had a German relative who cooked these things on occasion.

  2. this is the Speiselebkuchen you were looking for:

  3. Christina: I remember having a discussion about Phyllo dough at a party once too! No one here knew of it. Good info to know!

    Anon: So it comes from eBay!! :D

    Note: I just looked up Sauerbraten on Wikipedia and now I know why I never liked it before - I think I only ever had the Swabian version, which isn't sweet. I love sweetness, so that pretty much entirely explains why I liked this recipe but never liked it before!

  4. I absolutely love Sauerbraten - with an extra shot of vinegar, as sour as possible - but absolutely hate the sweet variant with Lebkuchen.

    With the sour version, one can use Graubrot or similar for the same effect on the sauce without adding the ... special taste of Lebkuchen.

  5. I think the Bavarian version is more like the Rhineland version, but it's still a little different. I haven't had it in a while so it's hard to remember the difference. I'd be interested in trying the Swabian version, I like the sweetness of the Lebkuchen though, so not sure what I'd think of it!

  6. Glad to see that the recipe turned out well for you also!

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  8. Hey, I think you did not find it because it actually isn't called Lebkuchen although it is one, it runs under "Soßenkuchen", the most known brand is this one:

  9. Never ever heart of "Saucenlebkuchen" until I came across this blog. And mind you, I am quite knowledgeable about cooking...

    Other than that I am w/ Kato: a "Sauerbraten" needs to be sour! Not sweet!

    P.S.: Clauer is out, Seeger is in! You can step off the HSB at Eternit (Leimen) and walk right over! The 2007 Blauer Spaetburgunder is lovely.

  10. Kato & Anon: My husband sort of agrees with you guys - he likes it sour. Mleh. I can eat that too but prefer this.

    I swear people, I'm not pulling this "Saucenlebkuchen" thing out of my ass, it was right from Christina's book. Maybe it's an old word or something.

  11. The cookie part really freaks me out. Cookies? And meat?

    C said he sent you the recipes you wanted this morning - I didn't even know you'd asked for the corn one! Picasa doesn't send me emails when people comment! I re-signed up for them.

  12. I swear as well, it's right there in the German cookbook: "Saucenlebkuchen (Honigkuchen)"

    I can scan it in if you still don't believe it ;-)

    I asked a couple of locals and they all knew what I was talking about, so perhaps it is a regional thing.


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