Food

Adventures in Kuchen-Making

I have many fond memories of sitting around my Great-Grandma Katie Kopp’s kitchen table. There was always comfort food. I remember her making homemade noodles, the delicious strips of dough laid out on flour sack towels on her bedspread. My brother and I would sneak a raw noodle once in a while. We’re fine.

The food I remember most from that table was kuchen. Kuchen is a custard dessert in a homemade crust. It is creamy, crispy, and comforting. The word kuchen simply means “cake” in German, and it is a family tradition for many of us descendants of German immigrants. It is also the state dessert of South Dakota.

This past weekend I decided it was time for my daughters and I to learn the art of kuchen-making. It turns out that the making of kuchen is a long, floury process. The making of kuchen with a three-year-old and a six-year-old leads to a full-on deep-cleaning of the kitchen. You know what? It was so worth it!

Grandma Kopp’s recipe was, in typical Grandma Kopp recipe fashion, vague. She frequently used phrases like “stir it until it looks right.” I knew that if I was going to stand a chance at succeeding in this venture, I needed a little more guidance. So the recipe posted below is a hybrid of the notes scrolled out in Grandma’s cursive and a couple recipes I found online.

My goal was for my kuchen to turn out as similar to Grandma’s as possible, and it came very close! Grandma passed away when I was 11, but I remember eating kuchen at her table so vividly. As we made kuchen together the girls asked dozens of questions about Grandma Kopp. It was a special time of reminiscing, and I feel like the process brought the girls closer to this woman who would’ve loved them so very much.

Recipe:

Crust:
1 package dry yeast
1/8 cup warm water
2 beaten eggs
1 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup vegetable oil
4-5 cups flour 

In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. In a stainless steel pan, scald the milk by bringing to a boil and then reducing heat. The milk should have a film on top of it. Add sugar, salt, eggs and vegetable oil into the milk. Add milk mixture into the bowl of yeast and water. Mix in 4-5 cups of flour, enough to make a good dough. Let rise about one hour. Divide the dough into eight equal pieces. Roll each to about 1/4 inch thick and place in a greased pie pan so that the dough covers the bottom and comes about halfway up the side. Let dough rise in the pan for 15 minutes.

Filling:
4 eggs
1 cup sugar
2 cups cream
2 cups milk
3 tablespoons flour

On the stove, heat the milk and cream together. In a large bowl, mix the sugar, flour and eggs together. Add the milk and cream mixture to the sugar, flour and eggs and return it to the stove and cook until it thickens. Pour about 3/4 of a cup of the filling mixture into each crust.

Topping:
2 cups sugar
2 cups flour
1 cup margarine

Mix the sugar, flour and margarine together. Pour the topping on and bake for about 30 minutes at 350 degrees. After the kuchen comes out of the oven, let it set for five minutes, then remove from the pan and let it cool.