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Castroville: Little Alsace of Texas

Kugelhopf Kugelhopf
by Lori Grossman

In the mood for some great Alsatian food? Head for Castroville - a.k.a. "The Little Alsace of Texas."

Any time of year is a good time to visit this lovely town on the banks of the Medina River, approximately 25 miles west of San Antonio. Henri Castro (for whom Castroville is named), brought colonists from Alsace, a region of northeastern France bordered by Luxembourg, Germany, and Switzerland. They sailed for Texas, and upon arrival at Port Lavaca, set off for their new home. Castroville was founded on September 3, 1844.

The Granddaddy of Church Festivals

The St. Louis Day celebration - now over 120 years old - began when a few parish families and friends gathered to mark the feast day of St. Louis IX of France.



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The small celebration has turned into a giant picnic highlighted by the Alsatian sausage and barbecue beef dinner. A crew of local sausage makers produces about two tons of sausage, along with potato salad, pinto beans, and coleslaw. Getting hungry? The celebration takes place each year on the Sunday closest to August 25. Visitors come from all over Texas, the United States, and even many foreign countries.

If St. Louis Day isn't on your travel itinerary this year, you can whip up a few Alsatian specialties yourself. We'll start off with a recipe for kugelhopf, the signature pastry of Alsace, followed by recipes for two more Castroville Alsatian specialties.

Kugelhopf

You will need either a kugelhopf mold or a 6-cup soufflé dish for this.
  • 3/4 cup golden raisins
  • 2 tablespoons kirsch, or other fruit-based liqueur
  • 1 cup milk, lukewarm
  • 1 scant tablespoon (1 package) active dry yeast
  • 3/4 cup Vanilla Sugar (recipe follows)
  • 2 eggs
  • 3-3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 12 tablespoons (1-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut in small pieces, at room temperature
  • Whole almonds
About 1 hour before you plan to bake the kugelhopf, combine raisins and kirsch in a small bowl. Stir, and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the lukewarm milk and the yeast. Stir, then add the vanilla sugar and mix well. Let sit for 5 minutes, until the yeast begins to foam. Whisk in the eggs, one at a time, until thoroughly combined. Then gradually add the flour and salt, mixing well with a wooden spoon. The dough will be quite sticky. Continue mixing the dough, using a wooden spoon or your hands, by slapping it against the side of the bowl until it is quite elastic, about 10 minutes (about 5 minutes if you're using an electric mixer).

Gradually add the butter piece by piece, kneading until it is incorporated and the dough is smooth and elastic, and comes cleanly off the sides of the bowl, about 5 minutes (2 or 3 minutes in an electric mixer).

Mix in raisins until they are distributed evenly throughout the dough. Leave the dough in the bowl, cover it with a clean dishtowel, and let it rise in a warm spot (68° to 70°F) until it has nearly doubled in size, about 1-1/2 hours.

Punch down the dough and knead it briefly to remove all of the air. Then return it to the bowl, cover and let it rise again until nearly doubled in bulk, about 1-1/2 hours.

Generously butter a 6-cup kugelhopf mold, and place the almonds in the indentations in the bottom of the mold (if using a souffle dish, first place the dough in the dish, and then arrange however many almonds you desire on top of the dough). Punch down the dough and place it in the mold or dish as evenly as possible, then let it rise until it reaches the top, about 1 hour. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Bake the kugelhopf in the center of the oven until it is golden and sounds hollow when the mold is tapped, about 1 hour.

Remove the mold from the oven and let it sit for 5 minutes. Unmold the kugelhopf and let it cool on a wire rack. Dust it with confectioners sugar before serving, if desired. If you used a souffle dish, cool the pastry almond side up on a wire rack, and serve it so the almonds are showing. Makes about 8 servings.

Vanilla Sugar
If you fall in love with the taste of vanilla sugar, this recipe will ensure that you have plenty on hand. You can cut the amounts in half if you prefer.

  • 8 cups (3-1/2 pounds) sugar
  • 2 fresh vanilla beans, or 4 dried vanilla beans
Pour the sugar into an airtight container and push the vanilla beans down into the sugar. Cover and let ripen for at least 1 week. Replenish the sugar as you use it, pouring out the sugar that is already flavored, adding new sugar to the container, and topping it with the flavored sugar. Replace the vanilla beans once every 2 months.

Recipes

Castroville Parisa

This is a Castroville favorite and is served at football, graduation, and card parties. The Castroville Chamber of Commerce serves parisa at the Alsatian booth at the Texas Folklife Festival in San Antonio.
  • 1 pound very lean ground beef
  • 1/2 pound onion, chopped fine
  • 1/2 pound grated American cheese
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Lemon juice
  • Crackers
Mix beef, onion, and cheese. Add lemon juice, salt, and pepper to taste. Mix well. Serve on good, crisp crackers.

St. Louis Day Coleslaw

This is the original coleslaw as prepared by Lora Mae McVay at Castroville's Alsatian Restaurant.
  • 1 large head cabbage, shredded very fine
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 green pepper, chopped
  • 20 pimiento-stuffed olives
  • 1 cup sugar
Combine the first four ingredients in a large bowl and pour sugar over vegetables. Let stand 15 minutes.

Dressing

  • 1 cup white vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon celery seed
  • 1/2 cup salad oil
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon prepared mustard
Combine ingredients and pour over vegetables. Toss to combine. Chill before serving.

For more information about Castroville, its historic buildings, and the St. Louis Day celebration, try their web site at www.castroville.com.

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