Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Mützens of Elm Street: Mützen, Müzen, Mutzens, Mootsens

By any other name (or spelling!), a mützen would still taste as sweet . . .

Of course, it’s about much more than a delicious “donut”; it’s about our tradition of eating them. The pictures in this and the previous post hopefully give you a sense of how we associate them with fun and family.

I described our tradition of eating mützens on New Year’s Eve in my previous post, and I encourage you to read it first if you haven’t already.

But a quick recap: Apparently my grandma Edna Schroeder learned to make mützens from her mother, Wilhelmine Caroline Thomas, who grew up in the German-Dutch border region. In Holland, there is a similar recipe called Olle bollen (“oil balls”). In Germany, mützen are associated with Fastnacht (Mardi Gras) celebrations. Apparently the Thomases traditionally made them at New Year’s Eve.

I hesitate to call this “Grandma Schroeder’s Mützen Recipe,” because it’s only an approximation. Grandma Schroeder never seemed to use a written recipe for mützens; she generally cooked “by feel,” but for years we all knew that mützens were incredibly special, so some of us had made notes, following Grandma around the kitchen, during various years. Fortunately, then, I had someplace to start when Sue and I first tried to make them in 1997.

Particularly, we had three different versions of Grandma Schroeder’s “recipe” that were all written by different people at different times: My aunt Carole Schroeder, my mom, Pat Schroeder, and my brother, Paul, who was a kid at the time (his notes are especially entertaining). All these recipe notes were made approximately in the middle 1970s.

These recipes all differed (greatly!) in the relative amounts of various ingredients, particularly in the amount of flour. (Of course, flour is the one variable that changes the most, depending on humidity, how you spoon or scoop it out, etc.; you will just have to develop a feel for how much flour is sufficient for obtaining the “gukky” consistency young Paul described in his notes for the recipe.) Because of the meticulousness of her notes, we mostly followed my mom’s version.


Small batch; good for about ten people, with plenty of leftovers to send home with them for breakfast.

Scald 3 cups milk, with
  • 1/2 stick of margarine (or butter), and
  • 3/4 cup sugar, and
  • some salt.

Let cool. (Allow time for this to happen; it can’t be too hot, or it will kill the yeast when you add it.)


Dissolve 1 package of dry yeast with
  • a little warm water (ca. 1/4 cup), and
  • 1/2 tsp. sugar.
This will get foamy.


Slightly beat 2 eggs, and add
  • about 1 tsp. of ground mace to them. (Mace quantity varies depending on how strong or fresh your mace is. It is probably better to add a little too much than not enough.)


When the milk part is cool enough, combine the milk, yeast, and eggs mixtures in a big mixer bowl. Using a hand mixer, start adding flour gradually, about a 1/2 cup at a time. (Have plenty of flour on hand; you will need approximately 4–6 cups.) The batter should be sticky and thick enough to not be runny. It should be cohesive enough so you’ll be able later to nudge it off the spoon in globs or blobs and not in runny strings.

Fold in the currants: About one cup, more or less, to taste.


Set the dough aside in a big bowl someplace warm and preferably humid. Cover with a damp clean dish towel. We put it in our oven, whose pilot light keeps it nice and warm. In the past, with small batches, we have heated a Pyrex measuring cup with water in it in the microwave to make it humid, then put the bowl of batter in beside it. With the microwave door shut, it made a nice environment for the yeast to work.


Let rise until double in bulk; then stir it down and let it rise again. You can repeat the rising and “punching down” until it’s time to fry! Thus, you can prepare the dough in late afternoon before your guests arrive. Just check on it every once in a while and punch it down.

Frying. Grandma used a big pot on a burner, but we recommend using a FryDaddy or other frying appliance that will keep the grease at a constant temperature. We started using one of these in 2006 or 2007, and it makes deep-frying a lot easier. Or you can do it the old-fashioned way:

Get a big pot. A thermometer will help, if you have one that can clip to the edge of the pot. You’ll want the Crisco to be between 350 and 375 degrees F. You’ll need about 2–3 inches of hot grease so the batter can bob around, so you will probably need an entire (large-sized) can of Crisco.

Nudge the batter off of a spoon and into the hot grease, taking care not to splash. Remember, the dough will puff up a lot as the mützens cook. So smaller blobs are better: They will cook faster and more evenly, and they will serve more people; larger blobs will become “belly bombs,” especially if they are still doughy in the center.

It’s good to cut into one of the first ones to make sure it’s cooking right.

Drain mützens on paper towels or paper grocery sacks. (I hoard paper grocery sacks in December for this purpose!)

Take one large paper grocery sack and dump a bunch of powdered sugar in the bottom.

Batch by batch (about 6 at a time), shake the hot, drained mützens in the paper sack with the powdered sugar in the time-honored tradition. This is a great job for young people. Make sure they understand they need to roll the top of the bag and hold it closed while shaking it! Watch for holes developing in the corners; but then, hey, resign yourself to having powdered sugar dust everywhere. It always makes me smile the morning after.

Of course, you could try sprinkling on the powered sugar with a sifter or sieve. But what fun is that?

We have an enormous circular platter that we pile the finished mützens onto. At midnight (after we’re done outside making all kinds of noise), we carry the platter of mützens into the living room for everyone to enjoy with their champagne.

Happy New Year!

Mützens: Doubled Recipe for a Larger Group

This is a thumbnail recipe; see above version for important notes regarding dough consistency, etc.

1. Scald together, and then let cool:

  • 6 c. milk
  • 1 stick margarine
  • 1 1/2 c. sugar
  • some salt

2. Dissolve together:

  • 2 packages dry yeast
  • ca. 1/2 cup warm water
  • 1 tsp. sugar

3. Slightly beat together:

  • 4 eggs
  • 2 tsp. [actually, more like 2 Tbsp.; see note above] ground mace

4. When milk is cool enough, combine all of the above. Then starting adding the flour, 1/2 cup at a time, to desired consistency. Fold in currants.

  • ca. 6–8 cups flour, added gradually
  • ca. 1 box of Zante currants

5. Set aside in warm moist place to rise; punch down occasionally, until time to fry.

6. Fry in hot grease, ca. 350–375 degrees F; drain on paper grocery sacks; shake with powdered sugar; serve immediately.

  • Crisco
  • powdered sugar

Hey, if you make these, I hope you’ll let me know how they turn out!

Finally: This is a very special recipe that belongs to my family. Please do not copy it and pretend that it’s yours, or republish it without crediting my blog and this post. Thanks!


Cynthia Carrell said...

Sounds a lot like donuts - - I find it amusing just how many cultures have their own version!

Julianna Schroeder said...

Thanks for commenting, Cindy. Mutzens are a lot like donuts, but the flavors of mace and currants really make them distinctive. I don't know of any other pastries with that combination. They are very good--it's surprising Grandma didn't make them more often than just New Year's.