I have a friend named Willa who lives in Louisville, Kentucky. Willa is a special friend. We didn’t grow up together; we didn’t go to college together; we have never lived in the same city and I have only known her for about five years. But Willa is a kind, gentle, caring soul and although we come from diverse backgrounds and lead different lives, we share similar values. And when I launched my idea for a cookbook exploring the connection between food, family and tradition, Willa was one of my greatest supporters and was the first to respond to a request for family recipes. It seems only fitting to honor Willa and her family’s tradition by posting her Swiss Cake recipe today, as she fondly recalls making these fried cookies a week before Christmas with her grandmother, Lena.
Sharing a little bit about Willa’s family history will bring this recipe alive for you. Willa’s great grandmother came from Switzerland to New Albany on Silver Creek but the details of her family are sketchy as the family bible with birth and death records (along with her house) was destroyed in the Great Ohio River flood of 1937. Her great uncle Ebby and his wife Lorine lived in Louisville not very far from Willa’s house. Uncle Ebby was a cook by trade and enjoyed making these swiss cakes (also known as kekle). The recipe originated in Switzerland and became a family tradition every Christmas in Louisville.
As you will observe, this is a very large recipe. It took great uncle Ebby, great aunt Lorine, grandmother Lena, Willa’s mother, Willa and sometimes Lena’s boyfriend, Roy all evening to mix the dough, roll it into thin sheets and lay it out to dry. Willa explained to me that they would spread the pastry sheets out on her great aunt and uncle’s bed so they could dry overnight. Willa laughingly and fondly recalls that if the pastry was on the bed, where did they sleep? For Ebby and Lorinne lived in a one-bedroom house! The next day Willa would return to her aunt and uncle’s house to fry the dough and put the cookies in large tins to eat throughout the Christmas holidays.
Willa hasn’t made this recipe in years, but perhaps with the arrival of a new granddaughter, I suspect she sought to rediscover the joy, comfort and love of her much cherished and treasured family tradition. Judging from the pictures she sent me, the three generational culinary experience will be one that will be repeated for years to come.
Thank you Willa for understanding the importance of family traditions, supporting my project, and sharing your family’s history, stories, traditions and recipe with me and my readers. I only wish they had the opportunity to taste the finished product. Evan and I were the lucky recipients of one of those beautifully adorned Christmas tins, filled with lots of lightly browned kekle, topped with powdered sugar- perfect fare for sitting by the fire with a cup of tea. A cherished recipe; a cherished friend.