Nearly every holiday season, I go back to my roots and make my great-grandma’s kuchen!
Kuchen (ko͞okən), as defined by dictionary.com, is a cake, especially one eaten with coffee.
Every family of German heritage has their own version of kuchen – including mine. It is a very popular holiday treat in North Dakota and South Dakota. It has gotten so popular, there are now a few companies that make it in large quantities and sell/ship them all over the country.
Kuchen – to my family – is like a pie and cake combined. It has a very tasty yeast dough that is baked in a pie pan with a cream and egg custard on top. The most common way to top the custard before baking it is with cinnamon and sugar, but you can add fruit like strawberries, blueberries, plums, peaches, figs, cherries, etc.
My family’s recipe has been passed down for generations. My great grandma, Laura Berreth, who lived to be 95 years old, used to make it every Christmas. Our large, extended family, who always gathered at her home in Herreid, S.D., ate every bite of her kuchen.
When I was around 7 or 8, my grandma, Carol, and my aunt, Laurie, started to teach me how to make this delicious dish – and I’ve made it almost every year since.
I’ve tweaked the recipe, modernized a few of her methods and added my own twists, but it is still the same family recipe that’s been used for decades. This dish takes about one day to make – and I haven’t yet figured out how to cut down on that time.
I enjoy giving them as Christmas gifts, so right now they’re not on my menu. Perhaps one day, they’ll be added – but for now, they transport me to Christmas Day at my great grandma’s house… Including to that one year when there was a blizzard, everyone had to sleep on the floor because there weren’t enough beds – and the next day we had a family snowball fight and my cousins made the largest snowman I’d ever seen.
By Laura Berreth
Makes 10-12 kuchen
Kuchen Filling: (can be made the night before baking)
- 1 1/2 cups whipping cream
- 2 eggs
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
Mix all three ingredients into a sauce pan and heat over medium heat, stirring consistently, until thickened.
Let the filling cool on the stove top. If making the night before, put filling into container and refrigerate overnight.
*The filling can be doubled or tripled
- 1 cup warm water (110 degrees)
- 2 packets active dry yeast
- 1 cup milk, scalded and then cooled to 105 degrees
- 2/3 cup cooking oil
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1 tsp. salt
- 2 eggs
- 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
- 7-8 cups of flour
Scald milk in sauce pan on stove top. Cool to 105 degrees so it doesn’t kill the yeast.
Dissolve yeast in warm water (110 degrees) until blooming (about 5 minutes).
Add milk, yeast water, oil, sugar, salt, eggs and nutmeg into a bowl or into a stand mixer with dough hook.
Slowly add in flour until the dough mixed and the dough is not sticky and feels elastic.
Place dough into lightly oiled bowl, cover, and let rise 60-90 minutes until double in size. Punch down and let rise again 60-90 minutes.
Slice off pieces of dough to fit the bottom of a pie plate, roll out and place in pie plate. (The dough does not go up the sides like a pie)
Top with filling to cover bottom of dough, sprinkle with topping (recipe below).
Bake at 325 degrees for 25-30 minutes until sides of dough are browned slightly.
- 1/2 cup flour
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/4 stick butter
- Optional fruit like strawberries, apples, plums, peaches or blueberries can be added, if desired
Mix together non-fruit items together with fingers until crumbly. If adding fruit, spread fruit onto filling first and then add topping.
Other posts from Baking Through History:
- Great Grandma’s Cinnamon Rolls
- Ginger Cookies
- Fudge Nut Cookies
- Potato Chip Cookies
- Casserole Cookies
- A Series of Stories from Vintage Recipes
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