Why is this dish called Scheiterhaufen? Translated into English this word would mean something like funeral pyre or the stake at which for example witches or heretics were burnt. It seems like a rather strange name for such a delicious sweet. I could not find any official sources for the name, so I came up with two plausible explanations on my own: The name possibly refers to the way the slices of bread and fruit are layered to make this dish, which seems representative of the way in which ancient cultures used to pile up chunks of wood to make a funeral pyre. The name could also refer to the way the dish looks when served, since it tends to fall apart when put on a plate. If you have any other suggestions, feel free to add them!
Scheiterhaufen is a traditional sweet dish in Austria and Southern Germany. It was mentioned for the first time in a Roman cookbook in the 1st century AD by Marcus Gravius Apicius. In 1691 it first appeared in a German cookbook under the name Gueldene Schnitten (golden slices). The term Armer Ritter (poor knight) was first used in 1787 and had its breakthrough in the 19th century.
- 17.5oz (500g) (stale) white bread
- 2 apples
- 2 peaches
- 4 tbsp. (60g) refined sugar
- 1 pinch ground cinnamon
- 2 cups (1/2l) milk
- 4 eggs
- 4 tsp. (2cl/20ml) rum or a few drops of rum aroma
- 1 tbsp. butter
- Wash the apples and peaches and peel them if you like, but this is not mandatory. Then cut them into slices approximately a quarter of an inch thick (1 cm, not too thin).
- Next, cut the bread into slices about the same size as the fruit. You can use any kind of white bread that you have on-hand, but for an extra soft Scheiterhaufen, something like the white bread used for toast yields the best result.
- Pour the milk into a bowl and add the eggs. Mix well. Then take the slices of bread and let them soak in the mixture for a few seconds. (This will take longer if you use stale rather than fresh bread.)
- Mix the refined sugar and the cinnamon in a cup or a small bowl.
- As a next step, grease an ovenproof dish. Now layer the slices, bread and fruit alternately. Sprinkle a bit of the sugar-cinnamon mixture on top of every layer. For the best result, start and end with a layer of bread. You can decide whether you want an apple and a peach layer or whether you would like to mix the different kinds of fruit. Last, sprinkle a few flakes of butter on top and put the dish into the oven for 45 min at 180°C/350°F.
- As you can see, this recipe is rather a guideline; you can alter it according to your taste and wishes. Generally, there is not only one recipe for Scheiterhaufen as people in former times were forced to use what they had available.
- You can take any kind of white bread you like, stale or fresh. One variation is to roast the bread in a pan with a bit of butter before layering it. (In this case you would have to pour the milk-egg-rum mixture on top of your layers.)
- Moreover, you can use other kinds of fruit to suit your taste. However, the traditional Austrian Scheiterhaufen recipe uses only apples. Plums are also a good choice, but frankly, you can use any fruit of the season. The selection above is a summer variation.
- Some cooks like to add nuts like almonds or hazelnuts to create a distinctive taste. You can also add raisins; they are often used together with apples in Austrian cuisine.
- In Portugal this dish is eaten on Christmas Eve (Rabanadas) and in Spain it is called Torrijas, a traditional sweet dish to celebrate the end of the Lenten season.
- Other names for Austrian and German variations are Armer Ritter, Rostiger Ritter, Fotzelschnitten, Semmelschnitten, Kartäuserklöße, Weckschnitten, Gebackener Weck, Pofesen or Blinder Fisch.
- There are also international variations and terms. For example this dish is called Poor Knights of Windsor in England, French Toast in the USA or Grenki in Russia. Pain Perdu is the name of the French version and the Dutch call it Wentelteefje.