The Thursday before Shrove Tuesday is a special day in some regions of Germany. If you happen to be a man and live in the Rhineland, don’t wear a tie today. If you do, someone or better some woman, armed with scissors, will cut it into two pieces. Why? Today is Weiberfastnacht (Women’s carnival). It is the start of carnival week in many parts of Germany, especially in the South, the West and some parts of the East. It starts with Weiberfastnacht or other customs depending of the part of Germany you live) and will end on the day that lent starts: the day before Ash Wednesday. The week reaches it’s peak on Rosenmontag ( Rose Monday, the day before Shrove Tuesday), which is a holiday in some areas in Germany. There are many different carnival traditions and customs and it’s a complex and although it is meant to be funny, it’s a serious matter. The most famous celebrations will take part in Cologne, Mainz, and Düsseldorf, cities which are very famous for their street carnival parades and celebrations on this day.
Carnival traditions developed in Catholic areas, where lent was an important part of the Catholic life. Because you wouldn’t party, drink, or eat fatty and sweet food during fasting time, people would do all of these activities right before lent season started.
Celebrating carnival means that all hierachies and public structures are reversed for a short amount of time. This explains why many people dress up in uniforms or why carnival parades make fun of politicians and deal with political topics. This also explains Weiberfastnacht. Women are allowed to take over power for one day and cutting off ties symbolizes taking away political (and sexual) power from men. (And in my opinion there is a reason that we still celebrate this day.)
In the South of Germany this Thursday is called Schmutziger Donnerstag. At first glance this translates as dirty Thursday, but in fact schmutzig in this case is derived from the word Schmotz which means Schmalz (lard or butterfat). In other countries this is celebrated as Fat Thursday or Mardi Gras because people indulge in fatty foods before they start lent. In Germany one famous fatty food of the carnival season is the Berliner Pfannkuchen or jelly filled doughnut. Actually, this sweet little cake is served all year round, but its popularity reaches its peak right before lent, when it is advertised in many bakeries.
As I might have mentioned before, I am from the Northern part of Germany. Traditionally people there don’t celebrate carnival because Northern Germany is an area which is mostly populated by Protestants. Carnival doesn’t have such strong traditions here. Of course, these days there will be a Rose Monday street parade in every village and children will dress up like in the US on Halloween. When I was a kid, we’d also celebrate carnival in kindergarten or at school. When I grew up, I turned into a complete carnival pooper and I still am. I don’t dress up and I’d never travel to Cologne to celebrate the “crazy days” as carnival is called. The only thing I like about carnival is the food. Doughnuts (called Berliner, Pfannkuchen, or Krapfen in German) are very popular and I love doughnuts. But making them at home? I dunno. On most days I am way too lazy for deep frying. And baking Berliner just doesn’t work. If you bake them, you have to serve them with vanilla sauce and call them Buchteln or Rohrnudeln (Rohr means pipe and is a colloquial term for oven, Nudel means noodle). Like Berliner these are made from sweet yeast dough and they can be jelly filled. They are not a typical carnival food, but have their roots Southern German, Austrian, and Bohemian cuisine.
Buchteln are arranged in a baking dish and it’s important that they touch, similar to pull apart rolls. Of course they don’t taste like Berliners/jelly filled doughnuts because of the missing fat, but these dumplings are a very nice alternative to this deep fried baked good.They are best when still warm. You can serve them with powdered sugar on top and with a nice cup of coffee, or like we did, with homemade vanilla sauce.
Buchteln or: the party pooper doughnut
(makes 8, serves 4)
240 g (2 cups) all purpose flour
10 g (0.35 oz) fresh yeast or 3/4 t active dry yeast
1/4 t baking powder
1 pinch salt
1/3 cup + 1 T soy- or rice milk
2 T + 1 t coconut oil
1/4 cup sugar
2 T soy yoghurt (plain or vanilla)
zest of 1/2 small lemon
Blackcurrant (or plum, strawberry, or whatever you have on hand) jam for filling.
Additional coconut oil, margarine, or vegetable oil for brushing.
1 cup vanilla soy milk (or plain soy milk and 1 t vanilla extract)
1 1/2 T corn starch
1 T sugar (more or less, according to the sweetness of your soy milk)
In a bowl, mix flour, baking powder and salt. If using fresh yeast, crumble it into the dough very finely. If using active dry yeast, just mix it in. Set aside.
Add milk, coconut oil, and sugar to a small sauce pan. Over low heat, melt coconut oil and stir until everything is well combined. Take from heat and let cool to room temperature. Stir in yoghurt and lemon zest. Add to flour mixture and knead, for approx. five minutes, into a smooth dough. Transfer to a lightly oiled bowl and cover with a damp kitchen towel. Let rise in a warm place until dough has doubled in size (this will take approx. 1 1/2 hours).
Divide the dough into eight equal pieces. Form into balls, then shape into disks. Place 1 teaspoon of jam in the centre of each disk. Fold over, carefully seal the dough and reshape into a ball.
Grease a baking dish (I used a 7 x 10 inch one, but I’m sure a 8 x 8 will work out fine as well). Put the dough balls, seam side down, into the dish, relatively close to each other. Cover with damp kitchen towel and let rise for 45 minutes. Meanwhile preheat oven to 350°F. Brush the dumplings with a little bit of oil and bake for approx. 20 minutes, until the tops are browned. Set aside to cool a bit.
To make the vanilla sauce: Mix ingredients very well in a small sauce pan and then cook over medium heat until the sauce ahs thickened (1-2 minutes), whisking constantly. Pour over dumplings and serve immediately.