Baking Through History: Great Grandma’s Kuchen

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.

Kuchen
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

Kuchen Dough:

  • 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.

Topping:

  • 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:

Please sign up for my newsletter so you never miss an episode or new recipe.

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.


Baking Through History: Fudge Nut Cookies

Fudge Nut Cookies

Baking is sharing. A three layer cake, a pecan pie, a dozen cookies – each calls for sharing. Someone could eat a dozen or two dozen cookies, but why keep them for yourself?

But when did desserts become a thing? Food historian Deborah Krohn said in a Food & Wine article from June 2018 that the first cookbook for desserts didn’t surface until the seventeenth century, when the idea of having a separate course for sweets first came into existence.

“Up until the seventeenth century, sweet and savory dishes were put out on tables indistinguishable from each other,” she said to Maria Yagoda, who wrote the article for Food & Wine.

Recipes and home cookbooks are passed down from generation to generation, and favorite recipes are shared with friends. This is why old church cookbooks and centennial cookbooks for a community are created – people want to share their recipes.

Wyoming Centennial Cookbook

My mom recently sent me an entire box of old cookbooks. There is one from our old church in Glenburn, N.D. and one from her home state of Wyoming.

In the “Wyoming Centennial Cookbook (1890-1990)” published by the Johnson County Extension Homemakers Council, dozens of people shared their favorite recipes.

The book even has recipes from lawmakers from the time, including from former First Lady Barbara Bush, who submitted “Mexican Mound – a Great Bush Favorite!” This recipe is for a walking taco with corn chips, taco meat, cheese and toppings.

Former Wyoming First Lady Jane Sullivan submitted two recipes – Ambassador Black Bottom Pie and World’s Finest Chocolate Gateau, which has raisins and Scotch in it. Marilyn Quayle, wife of former Vice President Dan Quayle, shared her mother’s “fried biscuit” recipe. I love that the homemakers council reached out to them for recipes – and that they responded.

There are quite a few I plan to bake, but I’ll start first with Fudge Nut Cookies. It is unique because it uses cottage cheese!

It was submitted by a woman named Helen Rinker. From my research, she was a basketball player, a teacher, a past president of the Johnson County Homemaker’s Club and met her husband at a country dance. She passed away in February 2013 at age 91. She was noted in her obituary as a “great wife, mom and grandmother and loved spending time with her family.”

Her recipe for Fudge Nut Cookies makes 9 dozen cookies. I am not sure how many people were in her family – but that is a ton of cookies! The original recipe is below, but for my video I’ve scaled it down by one third, to make it more manageable. 

Fudge Nut Cookies
By Helen Rinker

  • 1-½ cup (307.5) shortening
  • 3-½ cup (703g) sugar
  • 4 eggs (200g)
  • 2 cup (324g) cottage cheese
  • 4 tsp vanilla
  • 5-½ cup (660g) flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 cup (100g) cocoa
  • 1 tsp soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 cup chopped nuts
  • 1 cup chocolate chips

Cream together shortening and sugar. Add eggs, cottage cheese, and vanilla. Stir in flour, baking powder, soda, cocoa, salt. Add nuts and/or chocolate chips.

Cover bowl and chill dough for 1 hour in the refrigerator. After chilling, form into balls. Roll in powdered sugar

Bake at 350 degrees for 10-14 minutes (depending on size of cookies.) Makes 9 dozen cookies.

After baking these cookies, I think I need to add more chocolate!! The bites without the chocolate chips were good, but the ones with them were excellent. I could also add a chocolate drizzle to the top to really bump up the flavor.

If you bake these, let me know! I’d love to hear how they went for you.

Other posts in Baking Through History:

Please also subscribe to my newsletter, so you never miss an update/

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

Enjoy the video below to see how I made them and how they turned out.