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Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

By Darra Goldstein

Published 2015

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Mehlspeise, literally “flour food dish” in German, is today roughly translated as “dessert” or “pastry,” but in earlier times the meaning was quite different. Until the late nineteenth century, in Catholic Austria, Bavaria, and the adjoining regions, Mehlspeise referred to a wide variety of flour-based foods, from strudels and vegetable tarts to dumplings and noodles.

J. G. Krünitz’s Oekonomische Encyclopädie (Economic Encyclopedia, 1802) defined Mehlspeise as “any dish prepared from flour, so that [the word] can therefore also be understood to include dumplings, pancakes, noodles, etc. In particular, only certain soft-textured (pap-like) foods are considered Mehlspeisen, which are baked in a mold or bowl and contain mainly flour but also rice, sago, noodles, etc. with various fruits and other nourishing or flavor-enhancing additions.” As the Encyclopädie implies, these dishes were predominantly sweet, but not always; a strudel might be filled with crayfish or apples, while pasta could be sprinkled with sugar or baked with Parmesan cheese. What characterized them was that they were all meatless and thus permitted on the many fast days prescribed by the Catholic calendar. Many regional cookbooks include a Mehlspeise category in the fast-day recipe section.