“Roßknecht” onion layer pancake from the Oeconomia

A second dish from Sunday’s meal – I could not resist this recipe.

To make a Rossknecht (lit. a stablehand)

Take fine wheat flour and warm milk, an egg and a few onions cut into it and stir it together well. Let butter melt in the pan and pour in some of the mix, always a little after a little. Turn it over often and pour on more and let it cook again. When that has been done, add a little more butter to the pan alongside it, turn it around again and pour on more until all (the batter) is in (the pan). Then move (lift) one side after the other so that it fries nicely for this must be done by experience (nach dem Augenmaß). That way, the good Roßknecht is finished.

Coler, Oeconomia, Book III, p. 60

You can see how this is an absolutely fascinating way of turning comparatively basic, but still status-affirming ingredients (wheat flour, butter and milk) into a rich, hot and filling meatless dish. I am fairly certain these were main courses in their own right. The very name of the dish – Roßknecht means an ostler or stablehand – suggests a certain rustic, robust appeal.

I made a batter from 250g of all-purpose flour, an egg, and enough milk to make it thick, but liquid. Then I added three onions chopped coarsely and a little salt. One ladle of the batter went into a pan with a generous tablespoonful of butter in it and I spread it out with a spatula. Initially, I was too timid with the heat and produced rather too soggy a consistency, but the batter firmed up and could be flipped with enough care and two spatulas.

Another layer of fresh batter ready to flip.

I then proceeded to spread another landle of the batter on top of the pancake and flipped it again, repeating the process until about half the batter was used up. Gradually increasing the heat and frying on one side for longer improved both the process and the flavour. The gradual buildup ensures that all the onions are cooked all the way through if you give them that time. As the pancake builds up, it becomes easier to handle, but it also starts soaking up butter sop you need to add some more along the way.

I served the Roßknecht at a thickness of about 4 cm, but could easily have added more layers. They are likely not easy to handle if they get larger than maybe 30cm across, but even m,y smaller ones would have made ample portions. It is a good idea to salt them generously as they can be fairly bland.

Johann Coler’s Oeconomia ruralis et domestica was a popular book on the topic of managing a wealthy household. It is based largely on previous writings by Coler and first appeared between 1596 and 1601. Repeatedly reprinted for decades, it became one of the most influential early works of Hausväterliteratur. I am working from a 1645 edition.

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