My blogging has suffered, as of late, as has my cooking, due to a constellation of issues – a remodel, a heavy workload, and a short-term food-writing project, which has occupied much of my evenings, and which I think I’ll be able to talk about soon. The longer I go between posting recipes, the guiltier I feel, and the more I convince myself that I need to burst back with something truly awesome. With this recipe, I’ve leant more toward the prosaic, but in a friendly holiday-cooking type of way. Kuchen, the German word for cake, is generally used to describe coffee cakes made from sweet yeast dough. For me, sweet yeast cakes are classic holiday food. Later this winter, I’ll wrest from my mother her recipe for Polish poppy seed cake, which she used to make at Christmas time and send to family; for now, I offer this old-fashioned kuchen.
Traditional recipes for kuchen exhibit a splendid disregard for calories and cholesterol. A single cake might contain eight or ten egg yolks and a pound of butter. A memorable recipe in a wonderful old cookery book of my mother called for sixteen egg yolks—a recipe for a heart attack, but surely a good way to go. This recipe is substantially more heart-healthy. It’s a nice, easy, comforting coffee cake, good for breakfast or with tea after dinner. You can top your kuchen with any kind of fruit – pears, plums, apricots, or berries would all be lovely. Depending on the type of fruit you use, you may want to decrease the amount of sugar in the topping – these quantities are intended to compensate for the sourness of the cranberries — or you may want to substitute a streusel topping or cinnamon sugar for the lemon sugar.
Dough for yeast cakes should be a good deal softer and stickier than bread dough to keep the cake from being dense and heavy. Yeast dough for cakes is difficult to work by hand, so if you have a stand mixer, I recommend you use that to spare yourself frustration. Note that yeast cakes require a lengthy cold rise, so factor this into your time plan. Bake the cake in a cake tin or a jellyroll pan, as you wish, and serve it warm, to good friends.
For the cake
½ cup milk, scalded and then cooled to lukewarm
1 tablespoon heavy cream (whipping cream)
1 packet (2 and ¼ teaspoons, or 5 grams) active dried yeast
1/3 cup (65 grams) sugar
1 teaspoon lemon zest
½ teaspoon salt
2 medium eggs
2.5 cups (360 grams) of flour
¼ cup (1/2 stick, or 55 grams) softened butter, cut into small chunks, plus additional butter for the cake pans
For the topping
1 cup (100 grams) fresh or frozen cranberries (optional: ¾ cup (85 grams) fresh or frozen cranberries; ¼ cup (15 grams) fresh or frozen raspberries)
4 tablespoons sugar, divided
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 egg, beaten
Combine the milk and yeast in a small bowl and allow the yeast to bloom for 10-15 minutes, or until the milk has started to foam. Transfer this mixture to your mixing bowl, and using a flat beater, beat in the cream, sugar, salt, and lemon zest. Beat in the eggs one by one at medium speed until thoroughly mixed.
Sprinkle in the flour. When the mixture starts to become thick, switch out the beater for a dough hook. Continue to add the flour until a soft dough has formed. If in doubt, err on the side of less, rather than more, flour, to create a lighter cake. When you have added the flour, add the softened butter, one piece at a time, until it is thoroughly mixed. Then continue to mix the dough for another fifteen minutes. The dough should become shiny and elastic, and start to pull from the sides of the bowl.
Transfer the dough to a buttered bowl, cover with a damp cloth, and allow it to rise for an hour, or roughly until double. Punch the dough down, remoisten the cloth, and put the covered bowl in your refrigerator for a minimum of four hours, or up to overnight.
When you are ready to bake the cake, butter the cake pan of your choice – I used a nine-and-a-half inch springform pan – and transfer the dough to the pan, pressing and patting it with your fingers to spread it to fit the pan. Let the dough rest and come to room temperature (about one-and-a-half to two hours), then preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius).
The dough should at this point be at room temperature and slightly puffy, but not quite doubled. Brush the top with beaten egg. Arrange your fruit on top of the dough. Remember that as the dough rises, the fruit will spread, so leave a margin at the edges. Combine three tablespoons of sugar with lemon zest, reserving one tablespoon, and sprinkle over the top of the cake.
Remove from the oven and cool on a rack for ten minutes, then transfer to the cake to the rack to cool completely.