My partner and I grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, eating something we knew simply as “kuchen” from various bakeries (Heitzman’s, Plehn’s, and so forth): a yeasted, mildly sweet bread topped with good, very sweet things, extra-nummy served with coffee and a super breakfast treat. I liked runny butter kuchen best, my husband’s family used to get cinnamon kuchen (of which I had actually never heard), cheese kuchen is super-yummy, and there are lots of types of fruit kuchen, too. My partner asked for a kuchen as his birthday cake a couple years ago, and I started searching the internet for a recipe. Unfortunately, as you may know, “kuchen” just means “cake” in German, so it’s a dreadful search term. Fortunately, on the other hand, I have a Ph.D. and, therefore, well-honed research skills. In short, though it was a pain to find a reasonably appropriate recipe and then modify it to turn out how we hoped/remembered, we ended up with tasty birthday kuchen (two, actually: one cinnamon and one butter). And, as a public service, I’m sharing my recipe here.
kuchen base (for two):
- 1/2 c milk
- 1/2 stick butter, melted
- 1/4 c sugar
- 1 t salt
- 1 3/4 t instant yeast
- 1/4 c warm water
- 2 eggs
- 3 1/2 c flour
(note: I use little t’s for teaspoons and big T’s for tablespoons)
Stir together milk, sugar, salt, and butter. Stir the yeast into the warm water until it dissolves; stir that into the milk mixture. With a whisk, beat in the eggs; switch to a wooden spoon to stir in the flour one cup at a time; switch to kneading with your hands if necessary to incorporate the final couple cups. (I’m sure you could also use a Kitchenaid for all this mixing.) Cover and allow to rise 1 1/2 hours.
Butter two nine-inch cake pans. With a floured knife and floured hands, cut the dough into two pieces; one at a time, gently stretch and pat each piece in your hands until it’s a circle slightly larger than the bottom of the cake pan (or roll it out–I just have limited counter space and no patience for extra messes); lay it in one of the pans, stretching to fit properly and pinching the edges a bit more than two-thirds of the way up the pan’s sides.
Allow to rise for a further 45 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 and make the topping(s). Spread or sprinkle or pour it/them on the crust after its second rising, and bake 25-30 minutes.
I typically make twice this much dough, bake two kuchen, and freeze the other two for later. Right before the second rise, cover the dough-in-pan with plastic wrap and put the whole thing in a freezer bag and then into the freezer. The night before you want to eat it, take dough-in-pan out of the freezer before you go to bed and leave it in its wrappings on the counter. When you get up, take it out of the bag and carefully peel the plastic wrap off the now-very-puffy dough; add a topping and bake as usual. It has a slightly tangy flavor because of the longer rise, which I love.
Mix flour, sugar, and cinnamon in a medium mixing bowl. Cut the butter into chunks and toss it into the dry ingredients. With your hands (or a pastry blender, if you must), work the butter into the flour mixture until it’s all in quite coarse crumbles. If the dough is still rising, stick it in the refrigerator so it doesn’t turn into homogenous mush.
butter topping (for two–not the ‘runny’ kind, by the way; more like a chess pie filling):
- 1.5 stick butter, softened
- 2 c sugar
- 4 eggs + 1 yolk
- 3/4 t vanilla
Beat together butter and sugar with a fork; beat in the eggs and vanilla until smooth. (For this topping, the dough needs to be pretty even/flat, or the filling gets distributed all crazy-like.)
cheese topping (for two–but we haven’t tried this one yet–and it may be a lower topping-to-crust ratio than we’d like …):
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/2 c sugar
[a couple pinches nutmeg: optional]
Beat together cream cheese and eggs; beat in the sugar and nutmeg (or not) until smooth. You can top this with a little fruit topping, too, if you’d like.
Anything you’d put in a pie works here too. One very tasty option: a peeled and sliced apple or two, tossed with a couple tablespoons of flour, about a tablespoon of granulated sugar, a big squeeze of lemon juice, and a couple pinches of cinnamon and nutmeg, arranged on the dough and then topped with about 1/4 of the recipe for cinnamon crumb topping (above–but I used brown sugar instead of granulated in this case).