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Zwiebelkuchen (German Onion Cake)

Updated: Oct 12, 2023

I have another classic German cake but this time it is a savory cake made with a yeast dough. This onion cake is the ultimate comfort food that combines caramelized bacon and onions with eggs and sour cream and to make it better the crust is a buttery flaky yeast dough. It is like if a quiche and a pizza had a baby.

Now this cake is very German but not very famous. You won't see it on the menu (outside of Germany) at typical German restaurants. This cake is eaten only in the fall, usually October, and in areas of Germany that produce wine. You won't see this cake in Munich or Berlin. That is because it is ALWAYS enjoyed alongside a glass of Federweißer which is like an alcoholic grape juice. Once the wine harvest season begins many wineries make a batch of Federweißer which is unfiltered still fermenting wine. It is pronounced 'Fay-Daar-Vai-Sar' and is a cloudy and sometimes fizzy alcoholic beverage that is slightly sweet and enjoyed midday. The bottles can't even be sealed because the wine is still fermenting. If sealed, it would explode. So if you buy it, make sure to be careful transporting it home and enjoy the entire bottle that day because it will not last more than 24 hours.

Back to this onion cake. This cake warms my soul because here in Germany, come October, the weather starts to get wet and damp and cold but not quite like Chicago freezing winters. On the weekends you will see at the farmers markets fresh Federweißer and this German onion cake. Now this cake can be made two different ways but the recipe is still the same. I prefer to make it in a springform pan when it is just for my family and maybe a few friends. However, for large gatherings or parties you can also make it in a sheet pan.

Being from Chicago, I like my Zwiebelkuchen (Onion Cake) deep dish style so that is my preferred method.

The dough is pretty easy to make, but since it uses yeast you need to make sure to give it enough time to rest and rise. The dough is very similar to a pizza crust dough, but this recipe uses milk instead of water to give it a bit of extra softness.

German ingredients: The Dough

The Filling:

Kümmel is a very important ingredient that I think really makes this different than a quiche. Kümmel are caraway seeds and add just a bit of earthiness to the cake allowing it to pair so well with the Federweißer. You will see that I have two containers of it. 'Ganz' means that it is the whole seed and 'gemahlen' means that it is ground.

You can use any type of bacon that you like. I actually have used bacon strips in the past but I sent my 8 year old daughter to the grocery store with a backpack and some money asking her to get me 2.5 (6lbs) of onions, 8 containers of bacon (I thought she would get strips but these were actually WAY better) and a few containers of sour cream. I didn't need all of it for 1 cake but I knew I was going to make two of these cakes. I didn't realize her backpack would be that heavy but she did it! She went with a friend, no phone, and figured it out. I even told her to spend 5€ (about 6 US Dollars) for herself. She loves running errands for me and loves the independence of it all. I love that she saved me another trip to the grocery store!!

When your dough is resting and rising you have to get to work on your bacon and onion mixture. This part takes awhile, but the hardest part is really just chopping up all the onions. But don't skimp out on all those onions. You need them all to caramelize to a golden brown with all that bacon.

First, fry up the bacon. Then add in your onions and reduce the heat to low. Let them carmelize for about 30-40 minutes without letting them burn.

The smell of the bacon and onions is intoxicating!

While that is carmelizing you can work on forming your dough. I use a 10 inch or 26 centimeter springform pan. Once you have let that dough rest and rise you need to roll it out. I used the same technique when I made my pie crust. You need two pieces of parchment paper. Lightly flour the bottom and place your dough on top. Then sprinkle a little flour directly on the dough and then cover with the second piece of parchment paper. Use a rolling pin and roll it out to fit your pan. Then lift up the top layer of parchment paper and discard. Use one hand and place it under the bottom layer of parchment paper. Use your other hand to guide and invert the dough into your pan. The dough will fall apart and break. It is ok. Don't panic! Just break off some excess dough and press it back to where is should go.

The hard part is done! Now comes the easy part. Just mix the eggs and other 'filling' ingredients in with the bacon and onion. Then pour it all directly into your dough. Sprinkle with some whole caraway seeds and let it bake.

Around the 25 minute mark I got a bit nervous and took out my Zwiebelkuchen and wrapped the top part of the crust in aluminum foil. I thought it might get a bit too dark.

After it fully baked and cooled the springform pan came off really easily.

This cake is perfect for a weekend brunch in the fall when you are looking for something new. It is also a great snack to bring along when you are going on an autumn day hike.

I made this Zwiebelkuchen twice this fall. Once in a sheet pan (the photo posted above) for an event we went to and the organizers asked for donations of this exact onion cake to sell. I was so proud, especially as an American, to be able make this classic and authentic German dish. AND I made it gluten free! No one could even tell it was gluten free and said it tasted just as traditional as the other German onion cakes that were donated.

But this springform version I make every year for my family. We wait until the wineries around us start selling their own Federweißer and then we just ring the doorbell of the winery one Saturday morning and pick up a bottle. Usually an entire bottle costs around 3.50€.

We bought this bottle of Federweißer from Prinz Winery right here in my town of Kiedrich (no we are not related... but it would be SO cool if we were!)

Do you see how the top is just a flimsy piece of paper?!? You can't seal the bottle because it is still fermenting.

The weather was pretty mild that afternoon. Usually I also make a roasted butternut squash soup to go with the onion cake, but this time I opted for a light fresh fall salad with pecans, apples, and blue cheese and topped with a homemade apple vinaigrette dressing.


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