Schnecken, is a German word for snails. This spiral shaped sweet bread is the grandfather of the pecan roll, the morning bun and even those awful Pillsbury cinnamon biscuits that come in the cardboard tubes. As an aside, according to my brother-in-law, a long serving police officer in the mid-west. A schneck is any sweet baked snack, as in “I went over to the Mister Donut, there’s a box of schnecks in the break room”.
I was leafing through my copy of Joan Nathan’s Jewish Cooking in America and started reading about schnecken. She described how the Settlement Cookbook revised the recipe over the years as reflection of the gradual assimilation of the dish from the plainer German version made in a cast iron skillet to the nut and cinnamon laden version made in a muffin pan. As someone who grew up in Milwaukee (home of the Settlement Cookbook Co.) I own a few different copies of this book, including a 1931 edition from my New Yorker mother of all things. My curiosity piqued I pulled it off the shelf and after several minutes of hunting through the index (at the front of the book no less) I found a recipe for cold water schnecken. I was confused since the recipe didn’t call for cold water, in fact no water at all.
Instead it called for a heart attack’s worth of eggs, heavy cream and butter along with a cake of yeast. The cold water it turned out was part of the chilling process, of either 3 hours on ice or overnight in cold water. A reference to the lack of home refrigeration in the late 20’s. In addition the slightly cryptic instructions advised me to, “Bake light brown in a moderate oven 350 F. Watch carefully.” Intrigued I knew I had found a project to share.
I decided that I would try to stick to the recipe as much as possible making a few changes in light of changing materials.Yeast now comes dry, not in cakes and the call for 5 egg yolks was evaluated as to the size of those yolks in 1931. Also, I used up all the cream in the house making butter, so I used milk instead. My last thought is that you should line your sheet pan (I use a Silpat), when I was in college I worked as a dishwasher and I remember how many trips through the machine it would take to melt the sugar off the pecan roll pans.
Recipe after the break.
3 large egg yolks
1 cup soft butter
2/3 cup warm milk
2 tsp yeast
3 cups all purpose flour
1/2 white sugar
1/2 cup chopped nuts
Cinnamon to sprinkle
In the work bowl of a mixer cream the butter until smooth. Add eggs and combine. Mix yeast and flour together and then add to butter/egg mixture. mix until it has an even crumb like appearance. Then add the the milk and mix until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. Form dough into a ball, cover and place in the refrigerator overnight or four hours.
Take cold dough and roll out into a sheet, work slowly allowing the dough to rest for 5 minutes whenever it starts to snap back. During the rest use the sugar to cover the dough sheet top and bottom. Once the dough is rolled to about a 1/2 inch thickness allow it to rest again and then spread the nuts on the top. Roll up like a carpet and then slice into 3/4 thick pieces. Place each piece in a sheet pan and allow to rest for 45 min in a warm place (your oven works well, turn it on for 2 minutes and then use as a proofing box).
Remove pan, heat oven to 350. Sprinkle rolls with cinnamon and bake for 25 minutes.