What the hecken’s a “Schnecken”?

March 29, 2007 at 4:40 pm 48 comments

This past weekend, I went to a going away party for friends in Bethlehem, PA.  I brought along a plateful of my famous Schnecken.  After the oohs and ahhs people kept asking what it was.  I proudly announced…..Schnecken was the name of the delicious delicacy they had sampled.  This resulted in the usual reaction.  What the heckin’s a Schnecken?  So, I thought I would make the world aware of this special snack, so there is no more confusion. 


This is a schnecken (pronounced shnek-en).  I know it’s a strange word and even more difficult to say, unless of course, you come from Jewish or German descendants, but I want people to learn how to say it rather than confuse it for rugelach, which happens way too often. 

A schnecken is a tasty little croissant-like pastry generally filled with nuts and raisins and occasionally chocolate chips (however my brother Todd prefers them without chocolate), rolled in cinnamon sugar leaving a crunchy, chewy caramelized bottom.  While I am sure Schnecken is made in baked in many places around the world, this version is popular in and around the suburbs of Philadelphia.  I don’t know why, and will continue to search for the origins, but as far as I know, this kind of Schnecken has it’s roots in the city of Brotherly love.

I recently did an on line search and came across the Brusken Bakery in Cincinnatti that sells something called Schnecken which is very different than my version.  Theirs is more like a sticky or cinnamon bun and much larger, so don’t be confused.

 The word Schnecken actually means “snail” in German, so I think this baked good gets it’s name since it’s “rolled up” like a snail.    Some people make Rugelach that looks like Schnecken but it’s the dough that really makes the difference.  Schnecken is made with sour cream, whereas Rugelach is made with Cream Cheese.

What is it about this scrumptious little snack that causes people to close their eyes, lick their lips and mutter, mmmmm?  I have been baking Schnecken on my own for about 10 years.  I learned from my mother who taught me everything I know about Schnecken.  How to prepare the dough, how much cinnamon sugar to use, and the best direction to roll them up.  This is one of those recipe you must watch someone make before you tackle it. 

Some day, I may open up a Schnecken business to share this yummy treat with all of you.  So, stay tuned.


Entry filed under: Pastry, Pretzelgirl's Favorites, schnecken, Snack History, Snack Trivia, snacks. Tags: , , , , .

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48 Comments Add your own

  • 1. janice goren  |  March 29, 2007 at 5:59 pm

    Not only are you the 2nd best Schnecken maker in the world, but you are the best “describer” of Schecken of our Schnecken eating family.

  • 2. Theatre Guy  |  March 30, 2007 at 11:08 am

    I don’t mean to be personal, but just how big are your schnecken?

  • 3. Pretzelgirl  |  March 30, 2007 at 2:01 pm

    These schnecken are small, finger-sized treats, about 2-3 inches long. While other traditional German recipes make cinnamon bun sized pastries, these are perfect with a cup of coffee.

  • 4. Mr. Buzzy  |  March 31, 2007 at 2:39 pm

    No nuts on my Schnecken, bitte!

  • 5. Joy  |  June 7, 2007 at 5:46 pm

    My son’s graduation event would not have been as special, and certainly not as sweet, without Schnecken.

  • 6. alissa  |  August 26, 2007 at 10:36 pm

    please can i have the recipe i have been searching for shencken forever

  • 7. Lou Franco  |  September 13, 2007 at 12:09 pm

    My mom made schnecken when I was a kid in the 60’s. We lived in Bucks County Pa ouside of Phillie, so your Phillie suburb comment holds true. I haven’t had it since she passed away in ’93, but I used to love it.

    Thanks for bringing it up!

    Lou Franco

  • 8. Jane  |  September 17, 2007 at 8:58 pm

    Thanks for the information. I am from Philly and live in CA. No one here knows what I mean when I say schnecken. Now I know what to tell them. I just made some today using my mom’s recipe. The recipe uses coconut and jam also. They turned out great.

  • 9. Daniel  |  September 20, 2007 at 9:33 am

    I would also love a recipe. My grandparents always had these for me when I was a kid but now all they can find is rugelach. Please email me a recipe or post it here 🙂

  • 10. Gordon J. Johnson  |  October 1, 2007 at 6:35 pm

    Please don’t tantalize us with a picture of this treat and then tell us we have to have it demonstrated to be able to do it. Please sit down and type out a complete recipe and description of how to make schnecken other than the sticky bun variety.

  • 11. Stu Dreifus  |  October 10, 2007 at 10:57 pm

    I’m sorry, but being a foodie, and a Jewish one at that, what is pictured above is not schnecken, but the nearest rival in Jewish baking, the “Rugelach”, which can be nuts and raisins, raspberry, apricot, or chocolate. Schneckens are like a “sticky bun”, except more stickier! Take a look at them on William Greenberg’s web site. You can order them from Greenberg’s in NYC via the web, along with challah, hamantashen, and other 1st rate Jewish baking goods. They are known to be the best.

  • 12. n.quattrone  |  October 19, 2007 at 9:14 pm

    I love Schnecken!!!! My family is Russian and mine look much like pictured but we top with powdered sugar and they are amazing. I always thought my mom made the name up!!! We are also from Phila area – Havertown to Blue Bell …. I have made these for my family and they love them, thanks for triggering a great memory! I will dig up recipe and make over the weekend….

  • 13. Nikki  |  October 29, 2007 at 8:36 am

    I would like to make the Philadelphia version of Schnecken. I enjoy the versions raisins and nuts and also raspberry. I am originally from Pittsburgh and my mom still lives in there. I would love to introduce her to this tasty pastry. Where can I find a recipe?

  • 14. Mark  |  November 19, 2007 at 2:55 pm

    4 c. flour
    1 1/2 c. butter (3 sticks)

    1 c. sour cream
    3 egg yolks, slightly beaten
    1 tsp. vanilla

    Egg white mixture:
    3 egg whites
    3 Tbsp. powdered sugar
    1 tsp. vanilla

    Cinnamon and sugar mixture:
    2 c. sugar
    1/4 c. cinnamon
    Adjust according to your personal taste.

    Place flour in bowl and cut in butter. Add sour cream, egg yolks, and vanilla; mix well. Divide into 8- 10 balls, slightly larger than golf ball size or one to two inches in diameter. Slightly flatten and stack with waxed paper between. Put in covered container and chill 2 hours or overnight. Dough is easier to handle if it is kept chilled.
    For egg white mixture, beat 3 egg whites until fluffy; gradually add 3 Tablespoons powdered sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla. I multiply each ingredient by 3 since I apply it liberally. Egg white mixture peaks when beater is pulled up.
    One at a time, roll dough as flat as possible into a circle on a board that is dusted generously with powdered sugar. Ensure there are no holes in the rolled out dough. Cut into 8 wedges or whatever size of cookie you desire with pizza cutter.
    Brush circle with egg white mixture, and sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar mixture.
    Roll up each wedge loosely starting from outer edge and roll towards center. Place on greased pan and brush liberally with egg whites again. Cover egg white mixture on cookie with cinnamon and sugar mixture. Repeat. Bake on well greased cookie sheet at 400 degrees for 12 minutes or until golden brown. Makes about 80 cookies.

  • 15. Jim R  |  December 19, 2007 at 10:59 am

    After the loss of our parents, my siblings and I realized that we had also lost many of our family tradtional holiday treats since our mother seemed to make everything from memory. When a beloved aunt passed, I was handed down the family German Bible along with a box of very well worn family recipies. One of them was for the beloved Schnecken….ours is dated 1840 when they used “buttermilk” in placed of the more modern version of sour cream. Well, we tried to recreate them and after several attempts, we finally have done it !! Our recipe calls for finely chopped almonds to be mixed with the cinnamon and sugar. The difference between Schnecken and Rugelach is Schnecken is made with sour cream and Rugelach is made with cream cheese…alomost the same cookie….but by no means is REAL Schnecken to be confused with the LAZIER way of making them otherwise known as Cinnamon Buns !!!!!

  • 16. Anne  |  December 22, 2007 at 5:58 pm

    I am truly amazed that I am finding a recipe for Schnecken online. My mother used to make this every year at Christmas. Schnecken is a fond memory of my childhood. My mother was German and she learned how to make Schnecken from her mother. She then taught my sister and I.

    Ive brought Schecken to work, to different parties and gatherings and no one seems to ever know what it is. Except for the people who mistake it for its jewish cousin, the Rugalah.

    It is also a nice memory for my childrens christmas and today we are making it for the upcoming Christmas holiday. We joke about it being a curse. Once you know how to make it you will have to make it for the rest of your life.

    The recipe we got from my Mom is very similiar to the one that Mark has above.
    The only difference is, is that we use 4 eggs… and 2 tsp of vanilla, we make logs out of the dough, chill and then cut into pieces to roll out, and we dont mix the sugar and cinnamon ahead… we put the egg white mixture on the circle, sprinkle the confectioners sugar then cinnamon. Oh and we also add 1/4 of a teaspoon of cream of tartar in the egg white when mixing. The cream of tarter keeps the egg whites stiffer longer.

    Merry Christmas Everyone… thanks for sharing…

  • 17. Tad  |  December 29, 2007 at 8:26 am

    I’m sorry but your Schnecken is not my Shcnecken. This treat has been a part of my Cincinnati family for generations. Schnecken is not a cresent roll, it is several sections of an unbelivable, swirled style cinnamon roll with an overdose of butter, raisins and sugar baked side by side, in a bread pan. As kids we would “fight” to pull apart the biggest piece. The best bakery was Virginia Bakery which was north of the “Over the Rhine” section of Cincinnati. Unfortunately Buskins is not the same. I think they scrimp on the butter, but who knows? The Cincinnati area has a very strong German heritage. There is a level of pride for this local favorite and this German/Polish Cincinnatian just wanted to set the record straight.

    • 18. anonymous  |  October 17, 2010 at 7:01 pm

      yes!! i know what you mean. i practically lived at virginia bakery as a kid! have you tried busken’s recently? i heard the reciped has been changed.

  • 19. Shaiel  |  January 9, 2008 at 12:04 pm

    Jim.. Any chance you would be willing to share your family’s recipe? Please..?

  • 20. jay r  |  February 1, 2008 at 3:09 pm

    As someone who grew up over a German bakery in Milwaukee, I can second the proposition that “schnecken” are swirled (“snail like”) sweet (usually cinnamon) rolls.

  • 21. Mark  |  February 1, 2008 at 7:42 pm

    You can multiply the egg white mixture by 3 as I brush quite a bit on the dough. Apply it liberally. For example, use 9 egg whites, 9 Tbsp. powdered sugar and 3 tsp. vanilla. Like chocolate chip cookies, there are several varieties. My recipe goes back to at least the 60s.
    Forgot to mention to keep the egg whites when you use the egg yolks for the dough.
    I will have to add the cream of tartar in the egg whites. Thanks Anne!

  • 22. Mark  |  February 1, 2008 at 7:44 pm

    Mine are not as brown as the ones pictured. The bottom of the cookie gets that brown though.

  • 23. Pretzelgirl  |  February 1, 2008 at 8:47 pm

    It’s so wonderful to know that so many of you out there are interested in Schnecken. From all your comments, I see that like me, it is an old family favorite which can take one of two forms. One is like mine (pictured), similar to Ruglach and yes, made with sour cream instead of cream cheese. And the other is more like a cinnamon bun but rolled to look like a snail.

    One major difference which makes my schnecken so brown and carmelized is that I roll the dough in a mixture of cinnamon and sugar. The dough turns darker and then carmelized when baked.

    Keep those schnecken baking……

    • 24. jamie  |  January 6, 2011 at 9:10 am

      My family has been making these cookies for years- we learned from our mother who always made these at christmas- I took out my recipe from my mom and compared it to yours – it is exact except our calls for 3/4 cup chopped walnuts in the sugar & cinnamon filing- the other difference is we do not put anything on top once it is rolled out but after cooking we cover with confectioners sugar- these bring back fond memories of our mom who got this recipe long ago from a german friend- we live in staten island, ny and no one ever knows what these are- I am going to try them your way also- jamie

  • 25. Shneck  |  June 2, 2008 at 2:20 pm

    I just married a Schneck of the Schnecksville Schnecks. Schnecksville is a in PA…near Allentown, Bath, Bethlehem outside of Philly! We live in California while the rest of the Schnecks are still in the Schnecksville area. Thank you for this recipe…I think it’ll score me tons of points with the new in-laws.

  • 26. Lyds  |  June 29, 2008 at 8:52 am

    I grew up in NE Philly and schnecken was a regular goodie for a Sunday breakfast or as an end to a meal of cold cuts. I don’t remember ever having a rugalach until I moved to Central Jersey. I wondered why they didn’t call it a schnecken-now I know why-it’s the dough.

  • 27. akacreations  |  November 22, 2008 at 12:24 am

    The schnecken my mom made were different than the ones pictured and the recipe I have is different than the one posted.

    1 envelope active dry yeast
    2 tbsp warm water
    1/4 c. sugar
    3 ounces unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, room temp
    2 tbsp milk, scalded
    1 egg room temp
    1/2 c. sour cream, room temp
    1/2 tsp salt
    About 2 3/4 c. unsifted all-purpose flour

    Prepare yeast with warm water.
    Put sugar, butter and hot milk mix till butter is melted. Add egg, then sour cream, then yeast. Add salt and 1 3/4 c. flour beat till smooth. butter a bowl and put dough and cover airtight. Refrigerate overnight or up to 3 days.
    Put this in muffin pans- melt 5 tbsp butter to coat pan. Keep extra butter for rolled out dough. Beat 1 stick 3 tbsp butter with 1 tbsp and 1 tsp of light corn syrup and 1c. 3 tbsp light brown sugar. Place 1 tsp in bottoms of muffin pan (36 muffins). Press 2-3 pecans pieces (1cup total) into butter mixture , flat side up.
    Use 1 cup of flour on large board, knead dough for 8 minutes, using all the flour. Make a ball with the dough, flour it, and cover with towel for 10 minutes. Even shape the dough into a cylinder about 15 in. long and 2 1/2 in. diameter. Flatten slightly by hand. Using additional flour roll out dough to about 25 inches long and 9-10 inches wide. Brush dough with melted butter.
    For the filling use- boiling water, 1/2 c. currants, 1/2 c. sugar, 2 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 3/4 c pecans chopped, 2 grated lemon rinds. Pour boiling water over currants, soak 1 minute, strain, dry with paper towels.Mix sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle over buttered dough, then sprinkle the rest of the ingredients. Go all the way to the ends of the dough. Roll tightly from long side of dough. Pinch ends. Stretch rolled dough till 36 inches in length. Slice with knife based on your muffin pan, either 1 inch or 1/2 inch. Place in muffin pan and press firmly down. Cover pan to let rise for about 1 1/2 or 1 3/4 hour. May not double in size but will feel light and airy when touched. Preheat oven to 375, bake 20-25 minutes or until browned. Take out of oven and immediately put a cookie sheet against the muffin pan and flip over pan. Wait only 15 seconds and remove muffin pan and scoop up any droppings and put back on schnecken.

  • 28. Annee  |  December 3, 2008 at 12:22 am

    My mother has made Schnecken for over 50 years. (I now make it with my family). Not a cinnamon roll. Made pretty much like this recipe except we do not put egg white or sugar on it before it is baked. After baking and cooled slightly we roll in powdered sugar.

    This is THE most requested cookie at Christmas. So yummy and when stored properly, it even gets better tasting as all the flavors meld together.

  • 29. abi  |  December 3, 2008 at 2:50 pm

    Schnecken is german for two or more snails, actualy

  • 30. Beer City Bruiser  |  December 5, 2008 at 11:51 am

    Schnecke apparently is German for “snail,” but also means a type of cinnamon roll whose spiral shape is reminiscent of a snail, and this seems to have been generalized to mean any kind of pastry in Milwaukee. As Liberace said when he endorsed Blatz beer, “I’m from Milwaukee, and I oughta know.”

  • 31. Wilma  |  December 14, 2008 at 12:11 am

    I grew up in suburban Philadelphia and made cookie-like Schnecken at Christmas in the mid-1950’s. I had gotten the recipe from one of my mother’s magazines she bought at the grocery store. Thanks for the memories!

  • 32. Glenda  |  December 23, 2008 at 12:56 am

    I’m with Tad. I hail from Cincinnati – a great town with a strong German heritage (my grands are from Wales and Cornwall, though). The Virginia Bakery that he mentions was fabulous and I agree that Buskens’ Schnecken is not nearly as good as that fromThe Virginia Bakery that closed several years ago. I think they open one or two weekends in December and sell only Schnecken and sell out within an hour – people line up around the block. I used to live down the street in the Clifton Gaslight District from the bakery in Cincinnati.

    Tad – Do you have the Virginia Bakery recipe? I’d love to have it. Do you remember their Pull-Apart Cake? Oh… wait… the sugar coma….arrgghhh!

  • 33. sean  |  December 28, 2008 at 5:41 am

    I have to agree with Tad’s comments above. I grew up in Cincinnati – by history, a largely German town. In Clifton, one of the neighborhoods just outside of downtown, there was a bakery – Virginia Bakery to be precise – that made a seemingly unduplicated Schnecken. As a kid in the 70’s, I had a paper route and used to go in the back door of the bakery way too early in the morning and was treated to all kinds of wondrous delicacies by a group of older ladies who seemed to work through the night. Interesting, this was right next to another hometown treat, a Skyline chili restaurant. At any rate, Virginia Bakery went out of business and the recipe was sold to Busken Bakery – yet another indigenous Cinti tradition. My brother…moved to the west side for some unknown reason, still sends Shnecken from Busken every Xmas. It’s too cool because they still use the same Virginia Bakery box to package the goods. As a matter of fact, I had the good fortune of tasting my childhood again just last week. I’m not a chef or a learned culinary expert…but I will go to my maker with Cinti Shnecken branded on my mind! Happy Holidays!

  • 34. kristin  |  February 23, 2009 at 9:15 pm

    The schneckens I ate as a young girl in CenterValley,PA were muffin shaped. I’ve since had the cresent shaped schneckens and they are more on the order of rugelach. Both are delicious but different.

  • 35. Jan  |  March 1, 2009 at 10:18 pm

    I was just in Cincinnati at Graeters and sampled their Schnecken. It looked like a loaf but was super sweet and seemed to be soaked in a syrup. These recipes don’t seem to be the same. Can anyone help me find one similar to what I tasted?

  • 36. Lynn  |  April 9, 2009 at 12:50 pm

    How about Virginia Bakeries “Butterscotch Gems”, anyone have the recipe?? I can not find them or a recipes anywhere??? Help!

    • 37. sweets lover  |  October 17, 2010 at 7:03 pm

      they’re coming out with a book!!!!!!

      • 38. bakerygirl  |  November 15, 2010 at 3:46 pm

        it’s exciting!! the book is now out! there are books signings all over the city where tom is present! and they are also on sale at amazon, borders.com, and soon a website will be up!
        virginiabakeryremembered i think.

  • 39. Denise  |  April 28, 2009 at 9:14 pm

    I also grew up in Philadelphia..The NE…88′ Grad from GWHS…I own a small dessert company now in suburban Santa Clarita, CA…I am making your recipe for a Jewish Food Festival…I called a dz bakeries in town and nobody knew what I was asking for…so thanks bunches for your post…Think we may have something here…

  • 40. Jane McCarthy  |  July 16, 2009 at 4:08 pm

    Loved your article, especially since my husband calls me Schnecken. It all started on our honeymoon to Austria and Switzerland; he kept ordering escargot or schnecken and I kept saying, “Eyuh, how can you eat that stuff?!” I said it one too many times to which he uttered back to me, “What’s the matter, Mein mein kleines, schoene schnecken?” (sorry for the spelling…) but it roughly translates to “my cute, little snail?” It stuck and I’ve actually grown to like this term of endearment. My Mother objects, however; she told my husband in no uncertain terms that she hardly thinks of her daughter as a snail. Thanks, Mom, but we’ll celebrate our 23rd anniversary next month.

  • 41. Jamie K  |  November 29, 2009 at 7:07 pm

    I make Schneken each year- it is WONDERFUL! Different people make it differently, but i find it great with just a touch of cinnamon and sugar…

  • 42. Beth  |  December 25, 2009 at 2:27 pm

    I was hunger-ing for some Schechen, and found my grandmother’s recipe. It is like the sticky bun description, dough rolled with cinnamon, sugar, raisins, and cut side up in a pan with brown sugar and butter–to invert upon baking. “pull apart” style. Lots of butter. But unlike all those above, no sour cream or cream cheese, only milk, eggs, butter, flour.
    My grandmother was English, and this recipe is at least 150 years old.
    Loved reading all the comments, and it could be a lot like akacreations, above.

    • 43. kathy  |  January 21, 2012 at 3:54 pm

      I would love a copy of your recipe for schnecken. I first tasted it this Christmas when my daughter went to Buskins Bakery and bought me one to bring home. It was great and had the raisins and no nuts in it. It is so good and would love to make some for my family. I appreciate it so much.

  • 44. thesweetestpea  |  December 27, 2009 at 6:27 am

    My mother makes what she calls Schneckenen cookies and they look so similar to the pastries pictured here but her recipe uses yeast. The dough is refrigerated overnight and then rolled out and the egg white/cinnamon sugar mixture is spread onto the circle and then cut into wedges and rolled up. More egg white/cinnamon mix is then put on the top of the cookies. She makes a similar cookie called Kiefi which has egg whites, sugar and ground walnuts spread on the dough before cutting and rolling. They are then sprinkled with powdered sugar. She also makes one called Kolache that is made with the sour cream dough, spread with an egg white/sugar/ground walnut filling and rolled up like a jelly roll and sliced into pinwheels. She was taught these pastries, along with another yeast dough cookie called Love Letters that has almond, apricot or prune fillings, cut into squares and two of the corners folded in upon each other, by a group of her family’s Hungarian neighbors upon her marriage in 1953. She was also taught how to make Hungarian cabbage rolls, goulash and paprikash — this was their wedding shower for her. I did a google search of Schneckenen and everything was in another language, not German so perhaps Hungarian, Russian or Polish, not sure. Schnecken is referred to as the ‘cinnamon” style rolls of the Germans in the Midwest or Jewish rugelach cookies.

  • 45. Tom Thie  |  October 9, 2010 at 12:15 pm

    The schnecken recipe at Busken is on loan from Virginia Bakery, both old Cincinnati german bakeries. Check it out @ http://hstrial-VirginiaBakery.intuitwebsites.com/

    You can have them shipped when in season, which is coming soon

  • 46. anonymous  |  October 17, 2010 at 6:58 pm

    I commend you for knowing that it means snail. Not many people do. But, I am actually a relative to the recipe owners of the Busken’s schecken. it was originally from virginia bakery. the recipe came from Germany. the bakery was famous for it, not just in cincinnati either. i’m sure yours are good.

  • 47. Lindala  |  December 29, 2012 at 3:32 am

    Hi. Your schnecken look extremely yummy. Unfortunately they look nothing at all like the delicious pastries my aunt has been sending for years. Slug v. snail.. who knew. Wikipedia says the difference between schneken and regulach is the dough and shape. Schnecken have sour cream and are rolled and sliced and regulach has cream cheese and is shaped into trianges. I don’t know. I’m only a happy eater.

    Happy New Year.

  • 48. Stanley Leather  |  October 24, 2013 at 6:54 pm

    You all have it all wrong. Simply, Schecken is made with a yeast dough or baking powder. Rugaelach dough has NO yeast in the dough. Generally Rugalach are shaped like a Croissant and Schecken are Cinnamon Buns.
    Stanley Leather


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