How to make Zwiebelkuchen – the famous German onion pie. This recipe is from the Bavarian region of Swabia.
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Read on for relevant information and step-by-step pictures (about 2 mins)
What is Zwiebelkuchen?
Zwiebelkuchen is a savory German onion pie. It is prepared with a crust filled with a mixture of eggs, cream, cooked onions and frequently bacon. Essentially a hybrid between a deep dish pizza and a quiche. Flavor wise it is remarkably similar to Flammkuchen.
In direct translation from German the meaning of the specialty is onion cake (Zwiebel=onion and Kuchen=cake).
The traditional shape is round but modern versions include sheet style rectangular onion pies.
In Germany onion pie is enjoyed year round, but it reaches the peak of its popularity during the fall harvest each year. It is the main gastronomic focus of the wine festivals of Germany’s wine regions (Baden, Rhine, Palatinate, Franconia, etc) as well as the Weimer onion market. It is also a popular offering during Oktoberfest and on beer garden menus in Bavaria.
Zwiebelkuchen has many regional variations. They involve both the ingredients used and the method of preparation.
For example in Southern Germany the crust is typically thinner than in other areas because the onions and bacon are added pre-cooked to the filling. In Saxony, the opposite is true.
In some areas people use a more pie like crust made with cold butter, in others a yeasty dough.
Ingredients for Zwiebelkuchen
- Crust. Here we made a traditional Schwäbischer Zwiebelkuchen (the style popular in Southwestern Bavaria) so the crust is a yeast dough with milk (yeast, milk, sugar, salt, flour, butter). Alternatively, you can use store-bought pizza dough or pie crust.
- Onions. For the star ingredient of this dish you can choose yellow onions or an even sweeter variety such as vidalia. Red onions work too.
- Eggs. Classic binder used in the filling.
- Cream. Some regional versions especially those from areas near the French boarder use creme fraiche while in other areas heavy cream is added. You can substitute one for the other in the same quantity in this recipe.
- Butter. Added both to the crust dough and scattered on top of the assembled onion pie before baking. Skip the latter if you do not wish your Zwiebelkuchen to be too rich.
- Bacon. High-quality, thick cut, lightly smoked bacon is the traditional choice.
- Flour. Besides being used in the crust a bit of flour is added to the cooked down onions to absorb some of their moisture and to later on add as a thickening agent in the custard.
- Seasonings. Salt is used liberally to flavor the filling. Regarding spices, caraway seed is a traditional option, famous for its digestive benefits. If you like nutmeg add a pinch or two to the custard.
- Garnish. Frequently chopped chives or German thyme are used as a garnish, a dollop of sour cream is complementary as well.
How to Make German Onion Pie
Step 1. Make the dough for the crust.
- To make the crust activate yeast with a bit of milk and sugar, then add flour, salt, more milk and butter and using the dough hook of a stand up mixer knead into a dough.
- Let rest covered at a warm temperature until the dough rises enough to double in size before you roll it out.
Skip entirely if using store bought pizza-dough or pie crust.
Step 2. Prep the Bacon and Onions for the Filling
- Cut the bacon and onions as shown, set the onions aside and over medium heat cook the bacon until most of the fat is rendered.
- Remove to a paper towel lined plate and let cool down. Remove excess rendered fat from the pan, leave just enough to barely coat the bottom.
- Next, melt butter in the same pan and cook down the onions (it helps if you partially cover them to retain more of the moisture).
- After a while add flour, mix, remove the onions from the heat and allow them to cool down.
Step 3. Mix the filling, assemble and bake.
- Whisk eggs and cream, add salt, cooked down onions and most of the bacon bits. Mix together.
- Line your baking dish with parchment paper, arrange the crust and add the filling.
- Sprinkle with caraway seed, a few bacon bits and add flakes of butter. Bake.
TIPS: (1)You don’t have to use parchment paper to line the baking dish of your choice, but using it certainly makes things much easier and is common practice in Germany. (2) The height of the crust will depend on the baking dish. The smaller it is the higher up the crust will reach along the sides.
Serving & Pairing German Onion Pie
Zwiebelkuchen is best served warm. A slice can be presented very casually as finger food or served plated, sometimes accompanied with sour cream and fresh herb garnish.
During the autumn wine festivals the most popular beverage pairing is a white new wine known as Federweisser. Riesling is also a favored option. Various German lagers such as Pils, Helles, Marzen, and Dunkel are another well-loved alternative.
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We adapted this recipe from Chefkoch.de
Yeast Dough for Crust*
- 1 packet dry active yeast
- 2/3 cup milk, lukewarm
- 1 tsp sugar
- 2 cups flour
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/4 cup butter, at room temperature
- 4 oz bacon, diced** (preferably smoked, leaner, thick cut)
- 1 lb onions (about 2-3 medium sized)
- 2 tbsp butter (for cooking the onions) + 1 tbsp butter (for optional topping before pie is baked)
- 1 tbsp flour
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1 tsp salt (or to taste)***
- pinch of nutmeg, optional
- caraway seed, to taste
1. In the bowl of a stand up mixer combine the yeast with the sugar and about half of the milk. Stir and let activate in a warm place. Anywhere from 5 to 20 mins, as necessary.
2. Attach the dough hook to mixer, add flour, salt and the rest of the milk to the activated yeast. Knead on low for a minute, then stop and add the butter. Knead again until a soft dough ball forms. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm spot, until doubled in size.
3. On a clean, lightly floured surface roll the dough into a round or rectangular shape sized to fit your baking dish. (Use a 9-10 inches diameter round dish or 9x9 square or about 9x10 rectangular dish).
1. In a pan over medium heat cook the diced bacon until it renders most of its fat. Remove to paper towel lined plate and let it cool down. Discard excess rendered fat from the pan, leave a coating or so.
2. Peel and thinly slice the onions. In the same pan melt 2 tbsp butter, add the onions and cook until soft. Partially cover the pan with a lid to help them sweat. Once soft, add 1 tbsp flour, mix and cook for 1 more minute. Remove from heat and let cool down.
Assemble the filling only after you have rolled out the dough and are ready to place it inside the baking dish.
3. Preheat oven to 390 - 400 F.
4. In a bowl whisk eggs and cream, season with salt (liberally). Add nutmeg if using. Fold in the cooked onions and most of the bacon (reserve about 1 tbsp).
5. Line your baking dish with parchment paper, place the rolled dough and adjust it around the edges (how high the sides will go depends on the size of the dish) and add the filling. Sprinkle with caraway seeds, the reserved bacon and add a few flakes of butter.
6. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, until the filling is nicely set and fully cooked and the crust golden brown. Allow the onion pie to cool down a tad bit, slice and serve warm.
*Alternatively use store-bought pizza dough or pie crust. Make sure you have enough to cover a 9 to 10 inch round dish or 9x9 or 9x10 square or rectangular dish (with plenty to fold up the sides of either one).
**If you skip it for a vegetarian version (popular in many areas of Germany) you do not have to increase the amount of onion. Simply omit the bacon.
***Different brands of salt have different densities and therefore will bring different degrees of saltiness to offset the sweetness of the heavy cream.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 8 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 361Total Fat: 20gSaturated Fat: 10gTrans Fat: 1gUnsaturated Fat: 8gCholesterol: 98mgSodium: 1205mgCarbohydrates: 34gFiber: 2gSugar: 4gProtein: 12g