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What The Heck Is Kuchen?

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What The Heck Is Kuchen?

Kuchen (pronounced “koo-ken”) is the German word for “cake,” but a real kuchen is so much more than that! Traditional kuchen is like a delicious mash-up of cake and pie, topped with creamy custard. This dessert is very popular in Germany, and you’ll find that many communities in the United States carry on the tradition of cooking kuchens. In fact, kuchen is the official state dessert of South Dakota. So where did it come from? And how do you make it? Read on!

The Origins of Kuchen
It’s unclear exactly how long custard-topped kuchens have been around. However, we do know that Kuchen is part of a 400-year-old “Kaffee and Kuchen” (or Coffee and Cake) tradition. This tradition is much like teatime in Great Britain – on Sundays, between 3:00 and 5:00 p.m., many Germans gather with friends and family to enjoy cakes, kuchens, and other confections, over a hot cup of coffee or tea.

How Kuchen Differs From Cake
You might think that cake is cake, no matter where in the world you happen to be eating it, but that just isn’t so! German cakes are quite a bit different from those we’re familiar with in the United States. In fact, German Chocolate Cake is actually an American invention, first made by a Texas woman in 1957, and named for a chocolatier by the name of Samuel German.

In general, true German cakes tend to have much less sugar and a bit more butter or shortening than the cakes we’re most familiar with. That’s why you’ll quite often see German deserts topped with fruit, streusel or whipped topping. When you eat a traditional kuchen, you’ll notice that the dough itself isn’t particularly sweet. Rather, it’s more like plain pastry dough – sometimes with extras like oats for more flavor and texture, or yeast to make it a bit puffier.

When it comes to kuchen toppings, anything goes. Peaches are among the most popular topping, but historically, kuchens were made with whatever fruit was abundant at the time. You’ll find recipes that include apples, plums, apricots, berries, figs and more. Custard is an optional topping – most recipes include it, but not all. Like the dough, you’ll find that the custard is simple and unsweetened, made with only egg yolks and cream or milk.

The recipe below is for a traditional peach kuchen with a rustic oatmeal crust.

Peach Custard Kuchen

Crust:

1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup old fashioned oats
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup shortening
1 egg
2 tablespoons milk

Filling:

16 ounces sliced canned peaches, drained (or you can use fresh)
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

Custard Topping:

1 cup whipping cream
2 egg yolks

Preheat your oven to 400º F. Sift flour, oats, baking powder and salt together and then cut in the shortening, egg and milk with a pastry blender. Once the dough is well mixed, use cooking spray to oil an 8-inch square baking dish or a pie plate and then press the dough evenly across the bottom of the dish.

Mix the pumpkin pie spice and brown sugar, and then add it to the peaches, mixing until the peaches are coated well. Then pour the peach mixture over the dough and bake it for 10-15 minutes.

While the kuchen is baking, beat the cream and egg yolks together to make the custard. Once the kuchen has been in the oven for 10 minutes, pour the custard mixture over the top of the kuchen, and then put it back in the oven and let it bake for another 25-30 minutes, or until the custard is firm. Serve your kuchen with coffee or tea while it’s still warm!

18 comments

1 Clara Coffey { 06.10.17 at 5:10 pm }

I have made and eaten Lebkuchen a lot. It was a traditional Christmas cookie treat. Made with candied fruit, but we never had custard on it just powdered sugar. Maybe that’s po-folks version.

2 Susan Higgins { 09.07.16 at 4:31 pm }

Jeannette, is your allergy to daily (milk) or also eggs? Because you can try coconut milk or Almond milk but you’d need the egg yolks. Be sure to use the non dairy milk in the crust portion of the recipe, as well.

3 Jeannette { 09.07.16 at 9:35 am }

I have a dairy allergy and love these recipes, my Grandma made them when I was a child. Any good suggestions for a substitute for the custard filling?

4 Kim { 07.23.16 at 12:11 pm }

In my family we sometimes made our custard topping with heavy cream and egg yolks but we would alternately use sour scream and egg yolks. I my problem is that I can never decide which I like best lol both are delicious. I use reduced fat sour cream. That cuts the calorie count a bit although I wouldn’t substitute low fat if it changed the taste. Thank goodness it tastes just as rich and satisfying

5 Heidi { 03.06.16 at 8:57 am }

I forget what my original search online was for, but in that I came across this recipe/article and loved it. My sister has at her home in MA the Quince bush that was my grandmothers. When our Gram passed, sis dug up the bush and planted it in her landscaping. In the fall of 2015 the bush fruited for the FIRST TIME EVER….Gram never even saw fruit! We were thrilled for so many reasons and we know Gram somehow made it happen and was smiling at us 🙂 Sis and I gathered the fruit and began recipe searches. I made this Kuchen with the quine and it was fabulous! Thank you. I also made quince paste (membrillo?) What a great fruit. Thank you Amber for your recipe/article. Happy Cooking all xoxo

6 Nina { 11.02.15 at 7:21 am }

Hello there!
I stumbled upon this post and I liked it a lot!
I’m from Germany you know and I always wondered about the German Chocolate Cake which was topped with something that looked like coconut and pecans. But you can rarely find pecans here…and they’re very expensive, too. So thank you for the explanation. Finally I can stop wondering 🙂

I’d also agree with what Susan Wolter-Brown said: Kuchen [ˈkuːkən; ˈkuːxən] is any kind of cake. Also what you call pie or sweet bread. In this case there’s an addition to the name so you can see what kind of Kuchen it is.
And everything with a lot of cream in it (not Kuchen topped with whipped cream) I call “Torte”.

Many Regards to all of you!

7 Ione { 10.21.15 at 10:37 am }

I always imagined living on the farm, company just dropped in….always had cream, always had fruit even if it was prunes Yum!

8 Karen { 10.21.15 at 12:26 am }

I have had Apple Kuchen.. It was so good!!

9 Amber Kanuckel { 10.20.15 at 3:50 pm }

Pumpkin kuchen sounds AMAZING — I’ve got to try it! 🙂

10 tonya beltran { 10.20.15 at 2:43 pm }

Momma used to love it with figs.

11 Veronica Jantzen { 10.20.15 at 11:28 am }

I’m from North Dakota and I make it with a delicious custard and it can be topped with anything including cottage cheese and prunes. I’ve also made pumpkin for the holiday! Yummy!

12 Laura { 10.20.15 at 10:55 am }

Oh yes, I remember the season when plums were ripe and the German bakeries in Milwaukee made Plum Kuchen. I always looked forward to it.

13 laura { 10.20.15 at 10:41 am }

Quoted from the article: “Peaches are among the most popular topping, but historically, kuchens were made with whatever fruit was abundant at the time. You’ll find recipes that include apples, plums, apricots, berries, figs and more.”

14 Cheryl { 10.20.15 at 10:31 am }

Mary Ann,oh yes you can use apples, or any other fruit. They are all tasty.

15 Mary Ann { 10.20.15 at 10:05 am }

Can you use Apples in place of Peaches?

16 Susan Higgins { 10.25.15 at 6:08 pm }

Mary Ann, yes, any fruit will work, really.

17 Mary Ann { 10.20.15 at 10:04 am }

? Can you use apples in place of peaches?

18 Susan Wolter-Brown { 10.20.15 at 9:16 am }

In my German family Kuchen was any kind of cake. All of it works for me… 🙂

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