Fred Bernstein shared with me this recipe from his mother, Mildred Bernstein, who was a much-loved caterer in Charleston, South Carolina. She and her partner, Minnie Weinberg, were famous for their babkas and other baked goods. This rich yeast dough is rolled around a filling of cinnamon-scented sugar, pecans and currants to create a pastry that looks like a snail, thus the name, schnecken, the German word for snail. Plan ahead because this dough has to be prepared the night before and refrigerated.
Note: Recipes in Marcie Cohen Ferris’s book Matzoh Ball Gumbo were compiled from a diverse mix of Jewish Southerners who have blended religion and region through home cooking.
- Yield: 4 dozen schnecken
For the dough:
- 1 cup cream or half-and-half
- 2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter
- 2 envelopes dry active yeast
- 1/2 cup lukewarm water (100° to 110°)
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 6 large egg yolks
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 5 1/2 to 5 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
For the filling:
- 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, melted
- 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar, mixed with 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 2 cups finely chopped pecans
- 1 3/4 cups currants or coarsely chopped dark raisins
- 1 egg yolk, beaten with 1 tablespoon cream or milk
For the dough:
- Warm the cream in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the butter until melted. Remove from the heat and let cool to lukewarm. Meanwhile, sprinkle the yeast over the lukewarm water in a small bowl. Stir in 1 teaspoon of the sugar. Let stand until frothy, about 10 minutes.
- Transfer the cream mixture to the large bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the egg yolks, salt, cinnamon, remaining sugar and the yeast mixture. Beat at low speed until blended (flecks of cinnamon will be visible).
- Add about 3 cups flour and beat at medium speed until smooth and elastic. With mixer at low speed, gradually beat in enough of the remaining flour to make a smooth, soft, tacky dough that forms a ball around the beater. Scrape the sides of the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate the dough in the mixing bowl overnight.
- The next day, turn the dough out onto a floured board and press into a smooth ball. Divide into four pieces. Working on a floured surface with a floured rolling pin, roll one piece into a rectangle, about 12 inches long and 9 inches wide, with a long side facing you. Line four large baking sheets with parchment paper.
For the filling:
- Brush the rolled-out dough generously with melted butter. Sprinkle with about 1/4 of the cinnamon-sugar, leaving a 1/2-inch border all around. Press the sugar into the dough. Sprinkle with about 1/4 each of the pecans and currants or raisins, gently pressing them into the dough. Brush the long edge farthest from you with beaten egg.
- Starting at the nearest long side, roll up the dough like a jelly-roll, shaping it as you roll it. Make sure the edge is sealed; if not, brush with more egg and press firmly. Cut the log into 1-inch-thick slices and arrange cut sides up, 2 inches apart, on the lined baking sheets. Press any filling that has fallen out back into the slices. Sprinkle with additional cinnamon-sugar. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and set aside.
- Repeat with remaining 3 pieces of dough, filling and cinnamon-sugar. Set aside to rise for 1 to 1 1/2 hours (depending on the warmth of your kitchen) or until lightly puffed; they should not double in size. Meanwhile preheat the oven to 350°. Bake the schnecken for 20 to 25 minutes, turning the pans around once, until golden brown. Transfer to wire racks to cool.