Pennsylvania Dutch Butter Semmels

Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Makes about

    2 dozen


Appears in

These Pennsylvania Dutch specialties are puffy pillows of light, yeasty dough kept moist by the addition of potato. This version is adapted from a recipe from Sue Hoffman, a cooking teacher in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

Begin making the pastry the night before, so it can rise overnight. For the lightest, most delicate texture, be sure to let the shaped pastries rise fully.


  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • ½ cup lukewarm water
  • 3 tablespoons solid vegetable shortening
  • 10 tablespoons (1 stick plus 2 tablespoons) unsalted butter
  • ½ cup plus cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon (kosher) salt or ¾ teaspoon table salt
  • 1 small potato (about 3 ounces), cooked, peeled and mashed or grated
  • teaspoons ground cinnamon


  1. Dissolve the yeast in the warm water; set aside until foamy. In a food processor or a bowl, combine the shortening, 3 tablespoons of the butter, the ½ cup sugar, the egg, 1 cup of the flour and the salt; process for 15 seconds or mix until smooth. Add the yeast mixture and the potato and process for 20 seconds, or stir vigorously with a wooden spoon for about 2 minutes. Cover the bowl with an oiled sheet of plastic wrap, oiled side down (if using a food processor, just cover the work bowl with the plastic), and let rise at room temperature overnight. (If the mixture rises to more than 2½ times its volume, you can stir it down and refrigerate it until needed.)
  2. The next day, stir down the batter. Return it to the food processor, if you are using one. Add the remaining cups flour and process for 20 seconds, or beat with a wooden spoon until the dough is smooth and slightly sticky, 3 to 4 minutes.
  3. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to a neat 12-x-8-inch rectangle ½ inch thick. Cut the dough into 24 neat 2-inch squares. Butter 2 baking sheets. Place each square of dough on a baking sheet and bring the 4 corners into the center, pinching the corners together and twisting them into a topknot.
  4. Place a thin pat of butter (about ½ teaspoon) over the center of each pastry. Cover the baking sheets with plastic wrap and let rise until nearly doubled in bulk, usually 1¼ to 1½ hours.
  5. About 15 minutes ahead, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Bake the semmels until lightly golden, 10 to 12 minutes (don’t overbake). Transfer the baking sheets to wire racks to cool. Melt the remaining 3 tablespoons butter; brush the warm pastries with the butter. Combine the remaining cup sugar with the cinnamon; sprinkle it over the pastries. Serve warm.