The Ovens of Imhoffhaven: Cincinnati Schnecken
In the last few years I have been researching online and at the library for an authentic Schnecken recipe in the Cincinnati style. Our local Schnecken, or sweet roll similar to a cinnamon roll or sticky bun (but not), was popularized here by German bakeries in the mid twentieth century and sold by The Virginia Bakery and other local establishments around the holidays. Most recently I have seen renditions of the confection sold by Buskens Bakery, Frieda's, The Cincinnati Cookie Company and a few others. Being a relative newcomer to the Queen City, I have only tasted the Busken Bakery version.
Cookbooks, including the Settlement Cookbook published by a Milwaukee woman, and William Greenberg's New York bakery cookbook, present a wide range of iterations of this sweet concoction. Some recipes appear similar to rulache, others to sticky buns, and still others to pecan rolls. Some are baked in cupcake pans, others in cake pans. Our local Schnecken is distinct in that it is a glowing buttery sweet 'yellow' dough filled with a pinch of cinnamon, white sugar, and butter and shaped in to a spiral roll, sliced, and placed on a melty white sugar butter mixture. It is most often baked in an 8 x 4 loaf pan and reversed out of the pan upon being baked. There isn't much cinnamon, only a few raisins, no nuts, and its final form is golden colored, very gooey, and flattened into a rectangle loaf.
The other day I came across the traditional Virginia Bakery recipe for Schnecken in the "Virginia Bakery Remembered" book. While I have made several other versions of generic schnecken and spiral cinnamon rolls, including those by Martha Stewart, Nigella Lawson, Bradley Ogden, Reinhardt, and some posted on TFL, none are quite like our local recipe. I confess though that I have not yet made this version and I am a little apprehensive about it. And while this version has a host of loyal devotees, I was caught off guard and you will be too when you note that it calls for margarine for the gooey layer and the 'yellow' dough recipe calls for one cup of vegetable shortening. Oh, my! Well, we shall see. I plan to make these for New Years and I will report back with photos.
Schnecken Cincinnati Style (edited and adapted by me from the schnecken recipe found in the book "Virginia Bakery Remembered".)
Homemade Schnecken can take some time. Consider making your ‘yellow dough’ the day before or well ahead and refrigerating or freezing until needed. Then defrost or leave the dough at room temperature for an hour or so until pliable. For the original recipe, how to 'do ahead' much of the schnecken making, and additional hints on how to make your Schnecken in true ‘Virginia Bakery’ fashion, consult Tom Thie  and Cynthia Beischel 's notes in "Virginia Bakery Remembered" found in your public library or through Amazon (check VBR's "Look Inside" feature for the schnecken chapter) here:
‘Yellow Dough 1 12 oz. piece (see below or page 109 of “VBR” for the recipe)
3 oz. unsalted butter
3 oz. margarine
Mix together and spread evenly over bottom of an 8 x 4 inch loaf pan. Cincinnati style ‘schnecken’ are shaped in a loaf/bread pan as opposed to a square, round, cupcake, or 9 x 13 inch pan.)
3 oz. melted butter
12 oz. ‘yellow dough’
½ cup + 1 T sugar
¼ t. cinnamon
1 T. golden raisins (presoaked in water for a few hours and drained.)
Egg wash (one egg whisked with equal amount of water)
Flour your work surface and your 12 oz. portion of yellow dough. Roll dough into a 4 X 18 inch rectangle. Brush off flour and reroll, squaring corners. Wash bottom 1” edge of dough lightly with egg wash and spread remainder of dough with melted butter. Combine cinnamon and sugar and spread over the buttered portion only. Scatter the raisins over same area.
Roll up dough starting with 4” top side and seal with egg wash at the bottom. Keep the roll tight and edges straight. Cut the roll into 3 equal pieces and place in pan, spiral side up, as for sticky buns.
Let your dough proof, covered with plastic wrap or a clean dish towel until ready to bake. Rolls will double in size and fill the pan. Proofing may take 45 minutes or more.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place your filled pan into a hot oven on middle rack on a cookie sheet to collect any drippings. After baking for 20 minutes, open the oven door and flatten the surface of the schnecken with a spatula, gently pressing dough back into pan. After 15 or 20 more minutes you may need to flatten dough again to make a level loaf. When the schnecken are golden brown on top the rolls are done. (You can use personal preference on doneness.) Remove from the oven and let rest for 5 minutes. Then turn the Schnecken out of the pan. Delicious served warm.
Yellow Dough Recipe
This recipe yields about 6 ½ pounds of dough and can be made ahead. For convenience it can be divided into nine pieces (approximately 12 oz. each), wrapped securely and refrigerated or frozen for future use in sweet rolls and coffee cakes. Additional instructions on making Yellow Dough can be found on page 109 of “ VBR” or online.
2 cups warm water
3 envelopes instant dry yeast
3 cups all purpose flour
Bloom yeast in warm water for 5 minutes. Add flour and mix well. Cover bowl and let rise until mixture is doubled. This could be one to two hours.
1 ¼ cup sugar
4 tsp. salt
1 cup vegetable shortening
4 oz. salted butter (1 stick) softened
½ cup egg yolks
1 cup cool milk
1 cup cool water
9 cups flour (try 3 cups winter/pastry flour if available and 6 cups all purpose flour)
Mix all ingredients to form a soft dough which should be quite sticky, i.e., soft, pliable and moist. If dough makes a tight ball add a little more water. Divide into 9 12 ounce portions and wrap and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature when you are ready to make your schnecken.
Next week I'll report on my Schnecken and have photos too! Happy New Year!