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.

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Baking Through History: Potato Chip Cookies

Potato Chip Cookies

I found the cookbook “Pass the Plate: The Collection from Christ Church” is a massive antique shop outside of Charlotte.

The shop, called The Depot at Gibson Mill, has aisle and aisle of antiques, some junk, and books. Lots and lots of books – including old cookbooks.

If you’re ever in the Concord area – I definitely recommend stopping there. But, make sure you have at least two hours to go. Even then, however, you won’t see it all. It is big.

In one of the aisles, I found this old church cookbook, which was published in 1981.

The book was published by the Episcopal Churchwomen and Friends of Christ Episcopal Church in New Bern, North Carolina. In the foreword of the book, there is a short history of the town and the church parish.

According to the book, New Bern was settled in 1710 by a colony of Swiss and German Palatines. It was named in honor of Baron Christopher deGraffenried’s native Bern, Switzerland. In 1715, in the Province of North Carolina, the “Act for Establishing the Church and Appointing Select Vestrys” was created and that marks the start of Christ Church in New Bern. The site where the church is currently located in the town has been used for more than 300 years.

New Bern has a special place in my heart because it was where I met my husband when we both attended the annual U.S. Marine’s Ball in 2005. He was there with his mom and I was there with a friend. We danced the night away. I called him a stud muffin. And, we’ve been together ever since.

So this recipe, Potato Chip Cookies, are cookies with crushed potato chips in them. Salty. Sweet. How could this recipe be bad? The recipe doesn’t say what type of potato chips to use but I would assume it is plain chips with salt – nothing too crazy like jalapeño. 🙂

So, here is the recipe:

Potato Chip Cookies
Submitted by Patricia Byrum McCotter and by Carol Coleman Pursell 

  • 1 cup butter or margarine
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 ½ to 2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • ½ cup potato chips, crushed
  • 4x powdered sugar
  • ½ cup pecans, finely chopped (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream butter, sugar, flour and vanilla well. Add nuts. Add potato chips. Pinch into marvel-sized pieces and place on cookie sheet. Press flat with fork. Bake 13 minutes and sprinkle with powdered sugar. Yield: 5 dozen

I cut this recipe in half because even though I share with my coworkers – I don’t need 5 dozen cookies.

This recipe is just OK. It is not my favorite, but I definitely don’t hate it. I could tweak it a bit to maybe add more salt or more sugar, but I’m not sure that would help. I could also make the bigger, but, that could alter the way it bakes. If you try these and love them, let me know! I’d love to hear from you.

There are so many more recipes in this book that I can’t wait to tackle including Applesauce Cupcakes and what’s called the “Totally Amazing Tomato-Spice Cake.” That one even has a note that says, “A delicious way to use up your garden’s bumper crop! Children refuse to believe there are tomatoes in this cake.”

…We’ll see about that one… stay tuned!

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Baking Through History: Casserole Cookies

Cookies…baked in a casserole dish. I have never heard of such a thing. And…I likely won’t try them again.

In the “Wyoming Centennial Cookbook (1890-1990)” published by the Johnson County Extension Homemakers Council, there is a recipe for Casserole Cookies. This book is also where I got the Fudge Nut Cookies recipe.

Johnson County, Wyoming has quite the history. According to its county website, it is a “place of sheep herders and cattle barons, renegades and rustlers. Where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid holed up after their outlaw exploits. Where miners consumed with gold rush fever passed through on the Bozeman Trail. Where some of the most famous Indian battles in American history occurred. And where the Johnson County Cattle War, a rangeland dispute which historians often deem one of the most notorious events in our history, left its mark here in the late 1880s … and that Owen Wister wrote about in his epic American novel, The Virginian. One of Johnson County’s biggest attractions is the magnificent Bighorn Mountains.”

This recipe was submitted by Mildred Ann (Weber) Anderson, I couldn’t find much on her life in Wyoming. She might still be living (which would be awesome) because there is no obituary for woman by that name that matches a time in Wyoming. I hope, somehow, this video and blog post finds her and I can ask her about this recipe.

In all my recipe reading, I’ve never seen casserole cookies. And, after baking it, I think I know why…

Casserole cookies
Recipe from Mildred Ann (Weber) Anderson 

  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup dates chopped
  • 1 cup coconut
  • 1 cup walnuts
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • ¼ tsp almond extract

Beat eggs in buttered 2 quart casserole dish. Add sugar, mix well. Add dates, coconut, nuts, vanilla, almond extract.

Bake at 350 for 30-35 minutes, stirring 4 or 5 times while baking. Cool and stir occasionally. When cold, form into balls, roll in powdered sugar and flatten with fork

This recipe is not my favorite. I did halve it, which I really should not have done. They did not have enough moisture to eventually make them into cookies. It made more of a crumbly granola (which my husband liked) rather than a cookie you could bring together and roll in powdered sugar.

If you happen to make these – and they turn out – please let me know! I want to see what they look like.

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Baking Through History: Great Grandma’s Ginger Cookies

I think I get my love of baking (and gardening) from my great grandma. She was a great baker and always had something sweet to eat when I visited her home in Herried, South Dakota.

Ginger Cookies from Laura Berreth

My great grandma, Laura Vossler Berreth, lived to be 95 years old. Her family was part of a group called “Germans from Russia” who started arriving in the U.S. in the 1870s.

I remember my great grandma fondly, and I love the recipes she passed down to my grandma and my aunt, who then passed them to me.

According to her obituary, she was born in 1915 on the family homestead near Terry, Montana. When she was quite young her parents moved back to the Vossler homestead, located northeast of Zeeland, North Dakota. They lived in a sod house, which her grandparents built when they homesteaded the land.

She led quite the interesting life painting, working, crafting, growing roses and irises and even moving to Lodi, California for a time before coming back to the North Dakota/South Dakota area.

One note in her obituary that made me smile was this: “She will always be remembered for her kuchen and gingersnap cookies.”

I’ll be making her kuchen (German for cake) in an upcoming video. 

My grandma, Carol, shared this ginger cookie recipe with me recently. She said it was one of her favorites that her mother made – along with Peppernut cookies (a post on that also coming soon.)

The recipe is below – and in the video, I scaled down the recipe by half so I wouldn’t have quite as many cookies to eat.

Ginger Cookies or Ginger Snaps
By Laura Berreth

  • 1 cup (201g) sugar
  • 3/4 cup (143g) shortening
  • 1 egg (50g)
  • 1 cup (280) molasses, I use light
  • 2 tsp. soda
  • 1 tsp. ginger
  • a pinch of salt
  • 3 1/2 cups (420g) flour

Mix everything but the flour with a mixer, then add the flour and mix by hand, as it gets too thick for the mixer to handle.  Lightly form balls the size of a walnut, dip in sugar and put on a cookie sheet. 
Bake at 325 degrees about 13 minutes for a soft cookie like Mom used to make, also how I make them. If you bake them longer they will get hard, more like Ginger Snaps.

After baking these cookies, I’d have to say, they’re quite tasty. They are an acquired taste, however. You either love them or you don’t.
The cookies were soft in the middle and crunch on the sides right after baking. After sitting out, covered, for a few hours, they got more chewy.
If you’re not expecting that, it can be different. However, it is how I remember them when I had them at my grandma’s.

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