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February 26, 2006

Making Kuchen Memories

Most children have vivid memories of being handed chocolate chip cookies or some other round cookie treat when they visited their grandmas.

Visits to my German Russian grandmas were heralded with slices of another round treat – this one topped with rich custard and dotted with delicious fruit. We called it kuchen, the German word for cake, but it is unlike any cake Betty Crocker ever made.

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Kuchen is more like a fruit pie or a tart, with sweet roll dough for the crust. Everyone has his or her preference but apple, prune, apricot, peach and rhubarb are favorites. Some German Russians add dry curd cottage cheese for “kasekuchen� or cheese kuchen. As other influences have made themselves known, people have added such “exotic� ingredients as chocolate chips, strawberries or pineapple. German Russians living in Kansas and other more southern Central Plains states make “blackberry� kuchen with the berries in question from a variety of the nightshade plant.

About a month ago, I developed a craving for kuchen. The easiest way to fix that urge would be to make some myself. Funny, I didn’t know how.

So, I emailed my friend and fellow hometown gal Carol Just and asked if she would teach a group of other German Russian kuchen neophytes. She agreed and an e-mail invitation quickly went out.

Soon nine people ranging in age from early 30s to late 60s had Saturday, Feb. 25, on their calendars. They arrived at my house that day bearing pie pans, large ceramic crocks, old fashioned aprons and the need to reconnect with their heritage, to learn how to make a childhood staple before those who could teach us were gone.

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We had grown up in different places – from North Dakota to Kansas, Montana to California. Everyone had different memories of how kuchen was made by their family members. But the basic process, we knew, was the same.

Carol promised that, with her recipe, we could make an entire batch of kuchen in two hours. We actually made four batches, which did take us a little over our target, but by the time we were finished, 24 golden custard-filled treats filled us with nostalgia, a sense of accomplishment and not a few tummy rumblings.

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Here is the recipe. It is so easy that even I, a well-known failure at baking round cookies, can do it. Now I can have kuchen, my favorite round sweet treat, anytime I want!

GERMAN-RUSSIAN CUSTARD KUCHEN

From Carol Just

Sweet Roll Dough:

4 C. flour
1 tsp. salt
½ C shortening*
½ C. sugar
1 pkg yeast**
3 eggs, beaten. (The eggs should be a room temperature.)
1 C warm milk, divided. (You can warm the milk in the microwave to body temperature, as if you were heating a baby bottle.)

Mix flour, salt, sugar and shortening as you would a pie crust - to a fine crumb.

Dissolve the yeast in ½ C warm (not boiling) milk. Add eggs and remaining warm milk to the yeast mixture. The liquid should get foamy as the yeast becomes active. If the yeast is not working, perhaps because the milk was not warm enough, you can add a pinch of sugar to feed it. Once the yeast has achieved the desired foaminess, it can be added to the flour mixture.

Form a “well� in the flour mixture and pour in the yeast liquid. You can mix this dough with a spoon, pastry blender or your hands. Only knead the dough enough to get all the flour moist. Do not overwork it. It should form a shiny, rounded ball. If the dough is too dry, you can add a little water or milk. Let it rise in a warm place covered with a dish towel.*** By the time the custard has been prepared, the dough will be raised enough to be ready. (If your home is drafty, you can preheat your oven to 200 degrees, shut it off and put the dough in there.)

If you have a “crock-type� bowl that is great. I don’t, so I use a regular stainless steel mixing bowl. This recipe will make enough dough for five 9-inch pie pans or six 8-inch pie pans.

Custard Filling:

While the dough is rising, mix the custard filling with a hand mixer or mix-master on low until the filling reaches a creamy consistency. Then put it into a double boiler. (Water must already be boiling). Stir constantly as it thickens. If it gets too thick, add milk and keep stirring.

(If you don’t have a double boiler, don’t worry. You can just carefully cook it in a regular pan, stirring often. Some recipes don’t even call for the custard to be cooked, but you would probably need to bake the kuchen a little longer.)

6 eggs
1 and ½ Tbsp. flour
1-1/2 C sugar
3 C whipping cream****
1-1/2 tsp. Vanilla
Cinnamon

This recipe fits a regular size double boiler and fills 5-6 kuchen.

When the dough has risen sufficiently (about twice the size), divide it into five or six parts by cutting it with a sharp knife. Rub a little Crisco or lard on your hands. Take a chunk and work it with your fingers into a little pancake shape. Then put it into the pie pan and flatten it evenly, pushing the dough only a half-inch to an inch up the sides.

Top with desired cut-up fruit. If using apples, choose a tart variety such as Granny Smith. Peel, core and slice it into thin pieces. If using dried apricots or prunes, you need to soften them in warm water by letting them soak. Or cover them with water and put them in the microwave for one to two minutes. Divide them in two with your fingers before putting on the crust. For canned, sliced peaches, drain and pat dry with paper towels. For rhubarb, cut the stalks into small pieces. If the rhubarb is frozen, allow to thaw and then pat dry. For cottage cheese, use the dry curd variety and mix with sugar. If you cannot find dry curd, you can use the large curd and drain first.

Carefully pour two ladles of the custard filling over the fruit and dough. Sprinkle with cinnamon.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes or until the dough is golden brown. You may want to set the timer for 15 minutes, check and then bake longer.

Remove from the oven and allow to rest. Custard will set as it cools.

I find that I can usually do this project from start to finish in 2 hours. The kuchens can be eaten immediately or stored in the refrigerator. They can also be frozen and reheated later in the oven or microwave after they’ve thawed.

*You can use lard if you can get it. Crisco or any vegetable shortening will do.

**I use “quick rise� yeast to speed things up.

*** To honor my heritage I try to cover the dough with a “day-of-the-week� dish towel that a long-deceased relative embroidered for my wedding 37 years ago. Trust me….the dough likes being blessed with the wisdom of elders.

**** If you are REALLY worried about your cholesterol, you could use 1/2 and 1/2.

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This recipe (slightly modified) can be found on Pg. 61 of the “Kochbuch Der Deutschen aus Russland,� a cookbook published in 1968 by the Rugby, ND, Heart of America Chapter of the Germans from Russia Heritage Society (GRHS). Irene Friederich submitted the recipe. Irene and her husband, Judge Ray Friederich (both deceased), were founding members of GRHS.

Introducing Flickr

My husband continues to push the envelope on new blog development. Over on his blog, the Viking Underground, he has introduced mobile blogging, podcasting, videocasting, and interactive polls. Som of these things has introduced to my blog as well.

I now bring you the beta-testing phase of Flickr. Flickr is the best way to store, sort, search and share your photos online. Flickr provides a way to organize them in such a way to make it very easy for you to navigate through them.

Over the years I have had people ask me for the original sized photo so they can download them and make their own prints and such. On the other hand, I've had people ask for smaller versions as they have limited broadband resources. With Flickr, the issue is solved.

Click on any of the photos in the "Jackie's Flickr category in the navigation area to the right of this entry and you will be able to view more photos from the kuchen party. Just click on any of the kuchen related photos and this will take you to the actual photo within my Flickr account. Notice the "All Sizes" link above the photo? Click on that and you will have your choice of 5 photo sizes to view from. You can also run your own slideshow.

Enjoy!

What I’m Reading

In the middle of: “Success Planting for Year-Round Pleasure� by Christopher Lloyd. Just started: “Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell� by Susanna Clarke, at Brian’s recommendation.

Listening to: “Outlander� by Diana Gabaldon. Romantic time travel in Scotland. What a combo!

Graham’s current favorite: He has moved on to yet another series of chapter books –
�The Littles,� both the originals by John Peterson and those adapted by Teddy Slater.

Remaining Garden Chores

Start reading through those garden catalogs that are piling up and make some decisions!

Clean out my gardening tote. It’s filled with old plant tags, clods of dirt and other detritus.

Pack the canna, four o’clock and sweet potato tubers in sawdust for the winter and store them someplace in the house that won’t be too hot or too cold.

Today’s Grahamism

While watching a television program, “That was in the old times when everything was in black and white.�

“My superhero name is Speedy Boy. I don’t fight crime until nighttime.�

“Mom, do you love snow? You should because it makes a blanket for your flowers when they sleep.�

“Pteradons make sounds like the chickens of the dinosaurs.�

Posted by maasx003 at February 26, 2006 5:30 PM | Cooking

Comments

where are pictures of you jackie?
sounds scrumptious!

Posted by: dvora at February 26, 2006 6:36 PM

I'm a flickr fan, too. I despise photobucket. Flickr is so easy to navigate and share. I also like that you can send someone JUST the url of your photo and not share the entire album.

Posted by: Kasmira at February 27, 2006 12:47 PM

I have looked, asked, begged for the old fashion German-Russian Custard Kuchen recipe from many, many people and I think now I have gotten it, thanks to you.
Can't wait to try it.

Posted by: ArLynn (Schmalz) Archer at March 22, 2006 4:03 PM