What is a Kuchen?

Brown sugar, which is used to make streusel topping for kuchen.

Kuchen, pronounced “KOO-gan” or “KOO-ken”, is a traditional German cake made from dough, cream, and usually fruit. While any type of fresh or dried fruit can be used in kuchen, it is popularly made with seasonal and plentiful fruits – extra cakes are often made and frozen. The fruit rinds can be removed if preferred, although dark or brightly colored rinds are sometimes left on to improve the appearance of the finished cake.

Almost any fruit, including peaches, can be used in a kuchen.

While any sweet cake recipe, or even a tube of rising dough, can be used as a base, the traditional way to start making this type of cake is to make a yeast dough. The dough consists of flour, melted butter, yeast and milk or cream. Finely grated lemon zest, taken from the thin yellow rind on the outside of the fruit, is also added to the dough. The white inner rind of the fruit is not used, as it is bitter. After the dough is fully mixed, it is covered with a towel and left to rise in the dark and, if possible, in a warm place for about an hour.

Cream, dough, and fruit are often used to make kuchen.

When the dough rises, place it on baking sheets and let it rise once more. While you can start arranging the fruit in the dough, pre-baking the cake for about 10 minutes allows the dough to continue rising, which results in a lighter texture. Once the cake has cooled, it’s ready for the fruit and cream.

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Many fruits, especially ripe ones, are sweet enough on their own; however, you can add sugar to the fruit slices before placing them on the cake. Some bakers arrange fruit in designs, while others prefer a more casual approach. Fruit kuchen mixed with berries, kiwis, and pitted fruits like apricots and peaches can be appealing and flavorful, regardless of how the fruit is arranged.

The cream, which is poured over the fruit, is made with cream or sour cream, eggs and sugar. Flavors like vanilla or almond extract can also be added. Some bakers use cream cheese, ricotta, or mascarpone instead of cream.

Kuchen is then topped with streusel, or crumbs. The streusel frosting is made with bread crumbs, melted butter, cinnamon and brown sugar, which are mixed together until small lumps form and then sprinkled on top of the cake. Finely ground nuts, such as almonds and walnuts, can also be used in the streusel topping.

Some varieties of kuchen are made without fruit and are more like coffee cakes. Kuchen butter is made from dough that is placed on a baking sheet and lightly cut with your fingertip. Melted butter is spread over the dough and a generous amount of streusel topping is added.

This cake was named the state dessert of South Dakota, an American state with a large German population, in the spring of 2000. It is served at Schmeckfest, an Oktoberfest-like festival that takes place in various parts of the state at different times of the year. Festival-goers nibbling on slices of kuchen are a common sight.

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