Basler Kaeswaie: Cheese-filled Tart Recipe for Swiss-Style Carnival
Basler Kaeswaie

When we Americans think of pre-Lenten free-for-all known as carnival, we tend to think of ear-splitting samba beats in the streets of Rio de Janeiro or of riotous debauchery in New Orleans' French Quarter. We don't think of tightly wound Switzerland.

You may be surprised to learn, however, that every year the Swiss city of Basel puts on an impressive three-day carnival bash called Fasnacht, in which its citizens party all night, watch fabulous parades and costumes, and indulge in the best in traditional food and drink.

Baslers have been doing Fasnacht since the Middle Ages, but with a twist: After the Reformation, Protestant Basel moved its carnival to the Monday after Ash Wednesday, asserting its religious independence from Rome. (This year it begins February 22.)

Fastnacht gets underway at Morgestraich ("morning strike"), a thrilling moment to witness. People start milling around the city center's market square around 2 a.m., and you can feel the excitement and anticipation building. By 3:30 the square is as packed as Times Square on New Year's Eve. Precisely at 4, all the lights go out as a cry of celebration rumbles through the crowd.

Then the faint sound of drums and piccolos wafts into the square as the fife, drum, and lantern-toting cliques, the official carnival societies, begin to converge from all sides. The pre-dawn darkness is illuminated only by the lanterns atop the drummers' and piccolo players' masks, though each clique also sports a single 5-foot high rectangular lantern depicting its yearly theme in words and pictures.

As the day begins to dawn, the lights come back on and many head to a favorite restaurant or Kaeller (the cliques' private headquarters, open to the public during Fasnacht) for a fortifying meal. Delicacies include Maehlsuppe (brown flour soup), an unappetizing name for a really delicious onion soup; Kaeswaie or cheese tart (see recipe below); and Ziebelewaie or onion tart, first cousins of the quiche, only better.

All that salty food needs to be washed down with plenty of beer, which flows more generously during Fasnacht than the Rhine, the storied river that divides Basel in half. Good Baslers look forward to Fasnacht every year to also eat Kiechli, a deep-fried pastry like a funnel cake covered with sugar, and Faschtewaie, a buttery roll sprinkled with caraway seeds.

Later that day after everyone has had a fortifying nap, followed by much parading by cliques, their members decked out in fantastic get-up. Tuesday is Kinderfasnacht or children's carnival during the day, with fanciful costumes and lots of Kiechli. Tuesday evening, the cathedral square is the scene of the reading of the lanterns. Each clique writes satirical, sarcastic or critical verses on its main lantern. They may be about events in Basel, Switzerland or elsewhere in the world, but are always hilarious.

Wednesday afternoon is another parade as on Monday, though throughout Fasnacht portions of cliques march around the city 24 hours a day, keeping the upbeat mood from flagging. Wednesday evening, as Fasnacht begins to draw to a close, there is the famous brass concert in the Barfuesserplatz. One player carries the melody and all the others play out of tune sending most observers for something a little stronger than Maehlsuppe! Fasnacht officially ends at daylight on Thursday, when the normally staid and formal Baslers return to work and their regimented daily lives.


After eating my way through Basel's Fasnacht last year, I came up with this recipe drawing on information from my friend Erika Lieben, a native and part-time resident of Basel, as well as on the recipe in the cookbook "Basler Kochschule" (Friedrich Reinhart Verlag) by Amalie Schneider-Schloeth.

Makes one 10-inch tart, about 8 servings.

Pastry dough:

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (spoon flour into dry-measure cup and level off)

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, cold and cut into 8 or 10 pieces

4 tablespoons cold water

Cheese filling:

2 cups (about 4 ounces) coarsely grated Swiss Gruyere

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 cups half and half, or 1 cup each milk and heavy cream

3 large eggs

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Pinch each of salt and freshly grated nutmeg

One 10-inch tart pan with removable bottom

1. Set a rack in the lowest level of the oven and preheat to 375 degrees.

2. For the dough, combine the dry ingredients in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade and pulse several times to mix. Add the butter and pulse until the butter is in 1/4-inch pieces. Add the water and pulse until the dough forms a ball. Invert the dough to a floured work surface, carefully remove the blade, and form it into a thick disk.

3. Flour the dough and roll it to a 12-inch disk. Fold the dough in half and transfer it to the pan, lining up the fold with the diameter of the pan. Unfold the dough into the pan and press it well into the bottom and side of the pan. Use a bench scraper or the back of a knife to sever the excess dough at the rim of the pan.

4. Toss the cheese with the flour and evenly distribute it on the pastry crust. Whisk the remaining ingredients together and pour over the cheese.

5. Bake the tart until the crust is baked through and the filling is set and well colored, about 25 to 30 minutes.

6. Cool the tart briefly on a rack and unmold it to a platter; serve immediately or later at room temperature.

Serving: Unmold the tart and slide it off the pan base onto a platter. Serve warm or at room temperature as a first course or as the main course of a light meal with a mixed salad.

Storage: Keep the tart at room temperature on the day it is baked. Wrap and refrigerate leftovers and bring to room temperature or heat briefly at 350 degrees before serving again.

Nick Malgieri is the award-winning author of "Perfect Cakes ," "A Baker's Tour: Nick Malgieri's Favorite Baking Recipes from Around the World ," and "Perfect Light Desserts: Fabulous Cakes, Cookies, Pies, and More Made with Real Butter, Sugar, Flour, and Eggs, All Under 300 Calories Per Generous Serving.



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Basler Kaeswaie: Cheese-filled Tart Recipe for Swiss-Style Carnival - Nick Malgieri Recipes

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