Back to childhood – Küchle have long been served on special occasionsFlour, yeast, sugar, butter and milk are mixed together in a bowl according to a traditional recipe. The ingredients form a light and airy dough, which is then moulded by hand into balls. They are covered and left to rest for around 10 to 15 minutes. They rise. They are then pulled apart so that they are thinner in the middle and thicker round the edges. Finally, the dough balls are baked in clarified butter until golden brown. Shortly after that, the whole building in the Franconian town of Kleintettau smells of fresh Küchle. The building is part of a small farm shop – anyone entering feels as if they have gone back in time: “It still smells like it always did.” This comment is one that food ambassador Kerstin Rentsch often hears from her many customers. Here at the foot of the Rennsteig she prepares old Franconian delicacies.
In the beginning was the KüchleIt used to be part of Franconian tradition to bake these special cakes on festive occasions. But it is hard to determine exactly where this custom originated. “There are only a few recipes whose origins can be traced back,” explains Kerstin Rentsch. One thing is for sure: the Küchle has been produced in her home region near Kronach for generations. The first forms of this typical Bavarian snack probably emerged around the 14th century in abbey bakeries. One thing the food ambassador knows for sure: the so-called “Dürren Küchle” (dry cakes) have been proven to be the oldest pastries in Franconia – and the Küchle is part of this family.
Just right for a special family dayThere are always plenty of festive occasions for enjoying the delicious taste of these speciality cakes: Families used to invite Küchle bakers to their home for baptisms, confirmations or weddings. After the baking, they would treat their relatives to this traditional Franconian delicacy, and even distribute them to the neighbours. An old saying translates as follows: “If you want to bake lovely Küchle, you need wide knees.” Originally, the women would stretch the dough out over their knees. This gave the cakes their distinctive shape: a wide, doughy rim with an almost transparent centre – known locally as a “hat”.
The bakers did not share the precise list of ingredients with anyone. Today, however, Kerstin Rentsch knows that the recipe for “Auszognen” (stretched ones) – as they are sometimes known in Bavaria – has remained virtually unchanged. The only variation was in the 60s and 70s when the trend was to bake the Küchle in palm oil instead of clarified butter.
A well-kept festival tradition
The food ambassador sees it as her duty to preserve the old recipes of her region for future generations. A big task for the baker from Kleintettau: families guard their recipes like gold. Only the children and grandchildren inherit them in the form of grandma’s old instructions. They do not specify quantities or temperatures. After all, the electric oven was not invented until many years later. “I had to do a lot of trial and error, and at first quite a few batches went badly wrong,” laughs Kerstin Rentsch, who has published her collected recipes in two booklets.
Baking Küchle is hard work and requires plenty of experience. “It certainly needs a certain dexterity,” explains the native Franconian. That’s why each village used to have its own Küchle baker. Today, this specialist craft has become quite rare. And ever fewer people bake for festive occasions these days. However, the food ambassador is still making it her mission to remind people of this lovely tradition.
Personal tips from Kerstin Rentsch:
In general I recommend the Rennsteig ridge trail. I know the stretch between Steinbach am Wald and Tettau particularly well because it’s the only section on the Franconian side. In Kleintettau we also have a tropical house, where they grow banana and papaya plants, for example, but also some wonderful spices. Then there’s the Flakonglasmuseum (flacon museum), which many women find especially interesting. They stage various exhibitions and displays of glassmaking so that visitors can see how the glass is made. And in the neighbouring village we have the very famous Confiserie Lauenstein. Here you can watch the pralines being made in front of you.