If you think back to when you used to visit grandma’s house as a child, I am sure grandma always had some special kind of dessert for you. Whether it be some sort of cookie, brownie, or cake. For children who grew up in Germans from Russia households, that special treat is kuchen, pronounced “ku-gen”, which is the German word for cake. Kuchen is a rich custard dessert with fruit poured into a sweet dough for the crust.
Kuchen is kind of like a fruit pie or tart. Everyone has their preference and kuchen comes in a wide variety of flavors using fruits like apple, prunes, apricot, peach, rhubarb, and even more exotic things like chocolate chips. Some Germans from Russia added dry curd cottage cheese for cheese kuchen called “kasekuchen”.
Kuchen is a tradition that dates all the way back to pre-emigration from parts of Russia and Germany for the original homesteaders here in the Dakotas. At that time, kuchen was primarily made for weddings because the ingredients were expensive to buy in places like the Black Sea where they lived before emigrating. Sugar and fruit were hard to come by because of rationing. Back in America during the Great Depression, German immigrants would fill kuchen with items available on most Midwestern farms like onions or cottage cheese.
Kuchen continues to be a staple at community gatherings, family gathering, and holidays. In fact, kuchen was designated the official state dessert of South Dakota in 2002. My mother-in-law always keeps a few frozen ones in the freezer for company. The best thing about kuchen is that they are fairly thin and thaw out fast. Kuchen makes a great after supper dessert or morning snack with coffee.
There are as many recipes for kuchen as there are recipes for chocolate chip cookies. Everyone has their own little added secret or flair. This recipe comes from my mother-in-law who grew up in South Dakota. She’s my resident expert when it comes to Germans from Russia recipes. This recipe was also featured in the cookbook I made for our wedding favors, With A Dash of Love. If you are interested in purchasing a copy, you can do so at this link.
- 2 cups warm milk
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 (1/4 oz.) package yeast
- 6 cups flour
- 1/2 cup oil
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 eggs
- 1 quart heavy cream
- 6 eggs
- 1 cup sugar
- dash salt
- Fruit or topping of choice
- Cinnamon & Sugar mixture
- Mix all dough ingredients together well. Form dough into one large ball and place in well oiled bowl. Cover and set in a warm place to rise until doubled.
- While the dough is rising, combine all filling ingredients (except fruit, cinnamon, and sugar) in a small saucepan over the stove. Cook on medium heat, stirring until thick. Set aside and let cool.
- Prepare your fruit of choice. Divide dough into balls and roll to fit into pie pans.
- Lay fruit on top of dough and add filling (about 1/2 cup each kuchen). Sprinkle with equal parts sugar and cinnamon.
- Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes. Custard filling will set as kuchen cools. Store in refrigerator or freeze once cool.