Thursday, March 13, 2008

From Traditional to Trendy, German Rote Grüte Dessert

by Sharon Hudgins

"What are 'Red Grits with Vanilla Sauce'?" asked my American companions at a big hotel banquet in Berlin. "Sounds like something from our own Deep South," one of them chimed in.

They had all been reading the English translation of the German menu for a massive banquet buffet set up to serve a thousand people that day.

I explained that "Red Grits" is the literal translation of Rote Grütze, the German term for a sweet-tart red berry pudding that some people consider to be "the national dessert of Germany." And just a few spoonfuls of the ruby-red pudding were enough to convince my American friends to head back to the buffet tables for second helpings.

In almost every region of Germany I've found Rote Grütze listed on menus, from small family-owned eateries to beer halls to fancy hotel restaurants. But this popular pudding actually originated in the northern part of the country, in the region of Schleswig-Holstein, where it's known as Rodgrütt. That term is very similar to the Danish rødgrød—and indeed this same dessert can also be found in most of the countries bordering the North and Baltic Seas.

Summer is the best season for eating Rote Grütze, which is sometimes made from a single type of fresh berry, such as raspberries, but more commonly consists of a combination of raspberries, strawberries, red currants, even pitted cherries (a fruit). Occasionally blueberries, blackberries, and black currants are added, too, which gives the pudding a deeper, darker color. Now that frozen berries are readily available, you'll find Rote Grütze on some German menus year round. But summer is still the best time to sample this dish, when the berries are at the peak of their flavor.

So what do grits have to do with this classic German dessert? The term "Grütze" means "grits" or "groats," which are coarsely ground grains. In the past, a simple, very thick, peasant porridge dish was made by cooking cereal groats (wheat, barley, oats, buckwheat) in berry juice or fruit juice. Often this frugal dish constituted the main part of an evening meal in poor households. But over time, the emphasis shifted from the heavy, filling grains to the berry or fruit juice itself—just lightly thickened with cornstarch, arrowroot, sago, or tapioca—as the popularity of this tasty, easy-to-make dish spread throughout the country, from farm to city.

According to the late German food expert Horst Scharfenberg, in the 1970s this old-fashioned farmhouse pudding was "unexpectedly acclaimed as a treasure of home-grown haute cuisine and started turning up on 'gastronomic menus' all over Germany." Today, some chefs even tart up their Rote Grütze with red wine, brandy, or rum—hardly old German farmhouse fare. Traditionally this dessert was topped with milk, heavy cream, or vanilla sauce, and now it's also often garnished with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream—all of which provide a pleasant contrast to the color, taste, and texture of the red pudding underneath.

On a recent trip to Germany, I noted that Rote Grütze was on the menu of every place I ate. It even turned up on the breakfast buffets of some North German hotels. At a hotel in Berlin, it was presented in a big serving bowl with a pitcher of cream on the side. On a Berlin sightseeing boat, the lunch buffet featured Rote Grütze in small individual dessert bowls with vanilla sauce on top. At several tony North German restaurants, rustic Rote Grütze was served in miniature glass canning jars, like little Mason jars—obviously the latest fad in food presentation. Other chefs dished up their red-berry puddings more elegantly, in stemmed wine glasses with swirls of whipped cream on top. And one put a thick portion of this dessert on a large dinner plate, topped it with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, and added a couple of rolled-up crêpes on the side, all garnished with a sprinkling of toasted pine nuts.

As with any unrecorded recipe that surely originated in many locations and several centuries ago, there are as many ways of making this dish as there are cooks who prepare it. Some people prefer a perfectly smooth pudding, made from thickened berry juice or berry purée. Others—including me—like a slightly chunkier version where a few of the berries or cherries are coarsely chopped or left whole. But whatever your own personal preference, always avoid Rote Grütze made from a packaged mix, which is nothing more than an insipid imitation of this fine German dessert.

(German Red Fruit Pudding)

6 cups fresh or frozen unsweetened berries (raspberries, strawberries, red currants, or any
combination of these, with some pitted red cherries if desired)
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 cup cold water
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Garnish: Light or heavy cream, whipped cream, vanilla ice cream, or vanilla sauce

* Thaw frozen berries before using them. Some recipes include a few blueberries, blackberries, black currants, or dark cherries, too, but the primary color should be red.

Stem and wash the berries; shake them dry in a colander. For a smooth Rote Grütze, process the berries in a blender, 2 cups at a time, until they are completely pureed. For a chunkier version, puree 4 cups of berries in a blender and coarsely chop the remaining 2 cups. Or process all 6 cups in a food processor, using the chopping blade and pulse button, until the mixture reaches the consistency you want. If you want a Rote Grütze without seeds, press the pureed berries through a fine strainer or sieve.

Combine the processed berries and sugar in a medium-size non-aluminum saucepan. Dissolve the cornstarch in cold water in a small bowl.

Bring the berry mixture to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Stir the cornstarch in the bowl again to make sure it is dissolved, then slowly stir it into the berry mixture. Reduce the heat and let the Rote Grütze simmer for 3 minutes, stirring constantly to prevent scorching—just until the mixture begins to thicken. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the lemon juice and vanilla extract.

Pour the Rote Grütze into a large serving bowl or individual dessert bowls or stemmed wine glasses. Cover and chill in the refrigerator for 24 hours. Serve cold, with the garnish of your choice.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.


2-1/2 cups milk
3 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Bring the milk to a simmer in a small saucepan, then let it cool to lukewarm. Whisk the egg yolks, sugar, and salt together in the top of a double boiler until they are well combined. Whisk the lukewarm milk into the egg mixture very slowly. Cook the mixture in the top of the double boiler set over, not in, simmering water, stirring frequently, until the sauce thickens. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla. Serve chilled or at room temperature as a garnish for Rote Grütze.

Makes approximately 2-1/2 cups of Vanilla Sauce.

Sharon Hudgins is the Food Editor of European Traveler ( and the Food Columnist for German Life magazine (

Thursday, March 06, 2008

HAT’S OFF TO JULIA: A Pilgrimage

Just outside of picturesque Valbonne in Provence, there is a villa on a gentle hill that attracted a very famous American food lover’s eye in the early 1950’s. Julia Child embarked on a journey of conquest to learn everything about French cooking. She and her husband, Paul, made this heavenly spot their home. Today Kathie Alex and her cooking school, “Cooking with Friends” inhabit the same villa “La Pitchoune”. Sitting in her garden in the warmth of the afternoon sun, enjoying a glass of her specially selected pink sparkling wine and being served Pissaladiere together set the stage for her story about how she acquired this property. The tale is as intense and effervescent as what we are served and she is making it a bit sweeter than it probably was, but not as sweet as the caramelized onions. As for many of us who have been captivated by the food world, although not necessarily working within the culinary profession, our love for food and culture triggered us to travel and challenged us as human beings. Kathie certainly has a story like that.

She teaches groups from four to six people, all within her home. There are three double bedrooms with separate bathrooms, a lovely garden with a "piscine", an impressive herb garden and a beautiful vista enveloping an ancient landscape. Valbonne is about 35 min from the coast (and the airport in Nice), near the Cote d Ázur, named for its color and beauty.

Kathie focuses on simple and genuine French cooking and there is a lot to learn from her through the many stories she tells. If you go, we are quite sure you could get her to tell you the story of how she met with the former owner of the house, Julia Child and her association with her neighbor and pal, “Simca”, better known as Simone Beck.. What better way to celebrate the legendary diva in a “hat’s off” tribute? We guarantee that you will not regret traveling the journey to sit in the garden and hear the story. In the mean time here’s Kathie’s recipe for the traditional Pizza style snack from Nice.

By Lars Røtterud & Scott Givot, CCP

For more information about La Pitchoune visit

Pissaladière originated in Nice, France. Made principally with caramelized onions and traditionally on pizza dough. About the 16th century, young sardines or anchovies were preserved with salt until they were softened into a paste. The residue, (pissalat) from this process was mashed with herbs and spices and then was added to the onions to balance the sweetness of the onions. Today, there are many variations of this recipe. Anchovy fillets and olives are used as a decoration.

Onion and Anchovy Pizza

For 20 appetizer-sized servings or
6 to 8 first course servings

8 cups thinly sliced yellow onions
4 to 6 tablespoons olive oil
bread dough or other pastry
1 teaspoon Herbes de Provence or dried thyme
Salt and pepper
1 2-ounce cans flat anchovy fillets, packed in olive oil
24 Niçoise olives or any Mediterranean type, olive
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (optional) a sheet pan, about 11 x 17 inches
Parchment paper

Cook the onions over low heat in a large covered frying pan with 1/4-cup olive oil, stirring occasionally until they are soft and tender but not browned, about one hour. Add a little water if onions begin to burn. Remove cover, add Herbes de Provence and continue cooking for about 20 minutes, stirring frequently or until onions are caramelized.

Roll out chilled dough on parchment paper into a rectangle, 1/8 inch thick. Transfer to pan and trim off the overhanging edges. Fold edges of dough down against the bottom and make a decorative border. Prick the inside surface of the dough all over with the tines of a fork. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

When onions are tender, season with salt and pepper, and cool. Spread over the prepared crust. Cover and refrigerate until ready to bake. (Can also be wrapped and frozen at this point.)

Preheat oven to 425°F.

While oven is preheating, arrange a design of anchovies and olives over the onions. Sprinkle with cheese and drizzle with a tablespoon of olive oil. (The oil from the anchovies can be used.) Bake in the lower third of the oven until the pastry has browned and is beginning to shrink from the sides of the pan or about 15 minutes.

Slide onto a cutting board or work surface and cut into serving pieces.

Photo by U Cuccu