Monday, February 8, 2010

Ready for Anything: Zwiebach

Zwiebach. There is nothing quite like it. I was unfamiliar to this type of bread until I went to college in Hillsboro. At freshmen orientation, we could sign up for two mini-courses. I signed up for water skiing and Mennonite cooking. Water skiing got rained out but Mennonite cooking stops for no weather pattern! A bunch of freshmen crowded into Katie Warkentin's house where she got us all involved in making zwiebach and verenika. This was very much a participatory course and we rolled, pinched, browned, and baked until happily, we were able to partake of the fruits of our efforts. It was all delicious. Zwiebach and verenika are typical to this area and they quickly became some of my favorites as there were plenty of opportunities to enjoy them.

Tonight I will host my youngest daughter's basketball team for dinner. Twelve hungry young ladies, straight from practice, seeking fortification for their upcoming game, will descend upon our kitchen. What to make? I thought about what another Mennonite woman told me a few months ago as we were discussing meal preparations for a homeless shelter dinner. She said, "When I have a dozen zwiebach in my freezer, I feel like I'm ready for anything." I tend to agree. I think many women in this region keep a bag of zwiebach available as ballast for any obligation to feed the masses. We always want to be ready to show our Midwestern Mennonite hospitality. Somehow, to give someone zwiebach, is to care for them. Tonight, on the table for the Lady Railers, there will be zwieback.

Years after my mini-course when I was a young mother, I tried to make my first batch of zwiebach on my own. They came out quite hard, more like zwiebricks! I told my friend Donna Jost about this, and she took me under her more experienced wing. "Come over" she said, "we'll make them together." We did and they turned out very well. While working alongside her, I discovered what I had done wrong. I had failed to knead the dough long enough and I had worked in too much flour. The dough should be manageable but just a bit sticky. The yeast, like the love in our hearts, must be worked through and through until it becomes part of everything around it. And so, thankfully, friendship saved my zwiebach.

Here is the recipe:
2 cups scalded milk
1 cup warm water
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp salt
4 Tbsp. sugar
1 cup shortening (I used half margarine and half shortening)
1 egg
1 package of yeast
8-10 cups of four (I use right around 9)

Scald milk, add shortening, salt and 4 T sugar. Put yeast in a small bowl, add 2 tsp sugar and 1 cup lukewarm water. Set in a warm place until spongy.
Add yeast mixture and beaten egg to lukewarm milk.
Mix well and stir in flour gradually. Knead dough until very soft and smoooth. (Like I said you want it to be just a little sticky so they don't get heavy. I love the way the dough feels when it is just right-supple and satiny, like my babies when they were brand new or the shiny top of my husband's bald head!)
Cover and let rise in a warm place until double in bulk.
Pinch off small balls of dough the size of a small egg.
Place these 1 inch apart on greased pan. Put a slighty smaller ball on top of the bottom ball. Press down with thumb. (It springs right back up, no worries)
Let rise until double in bulk. Bake at 420 degrees for 15-20 minutes.

They turn out like a partial snowman. I always, always pull them apart and eat one ball at a time. It is so much more fun that way.

This recipe is adapted from the Mennonite Community Cookbook (1950).

May you also feel ready for anything!


  1. i found this post while googling pictures of zwiebach to use on my own blog! i LOVE the idea of posting about mennonite food and i might have to incorporate that into my blog as well. my mom has made zwiebach every other weekend my entire life (and i'm 26)! she is a professional and i hope someday mine can be as good as hers. however i live at 8000ft and mine tend to be a little dense, i'm gonna mess around with the flour this weekend and hope they turn out softer.

  2. I grew up in AR and was baptized into the MB church (Martin Box Chapel). I have wonderful memories of there and the sweet aroma of zwiebach that often wafted from the parsonage. Ed and Helen Hinz...our pastor, our friends, our family.

    Thanks for the memories evoked by your blog.

  3. I've heard so much about these - I'm Mennonite - but I've NEVER eaten them or made them. So they're basically rolls? What do you eat them with?

    1. Butter and jam!

    2. Or take apart the Zwiebach apart and put a slice of ring bologna and cheese in there! Delicious!

  4. Margo, My family also had zwiebach all the time. My father is a "dunker" he dunked his in coffee. I guess this was very common with the older mennonites. However, the rest of us break them apart and spread jam and or butter on both halfs. They are also good warmed in the microwave for 10 seconds prior to spreading the jam.

  5. I found this post in a google search! Love your stories an they so ring true!! While I learned swiebach at MCc sales and cooking at a Mennonite camp I love the idea of the mini class!

  6. There's nothing like warm zwiebach! One of the last living memories of my 84 year old mother was of her kneading dough for zwiebach! Such a tradition, while growing up in our household! Being a "dunkard" as well, coffee, zwiebach and translucent sand plum jelly just exudes memories of childhood in Central Kansas!

  7. Thank you so much for the post! I have so many memories of zweiback while growing up - I probably ate way too many if that is even possible. I will be getting back to my roots ASAP with this recipe! Thanks again!

  8. My husband grew up eating these. He remembers his grandmother making them every Saturday. I had them last Christmas when we visited his family in CA. I tried my first batch for Thanksgiving but wasn't happy with them. I've only made verenika's once :) So fun to hear about your Mennonite cooking!