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Kuchen means cake. Yes, it’s one of those generic terms imported from a foreign language that takes on a specific meaning, like saganaki or katsu.
The key difference is in the type of cake – in Germany the ‘cake’ is made from sweet yeast dough, the skill common east of Luxembourg and until recently completely unknown to the UK. Digression: the popularity of sourdough and the success of panetones and Stollens have spread the knowledge and a very good thing it is too.
Kuchen, I recall, is what my Grandmother used to bake on Sundays, to be consumed, still warm, after lunch with a coffee. She’d knead the dough before lunch to top it with fruit, jam or just streusel and slip into the oven afterwards. That was pretty much the loveliest thing on Earth: still warm (hot in my case as I could never wait to tuck in however often she’d threaten that hot cake would give me a bad tummy (it never did)), with crisp streusel, fragrant with cinnamon or vanilla.
I can’t remember her ever make the variant with fruit topped with custard and baked together which is a shame as it must be divine (on the list).
Mine is very buttery dough which doesn’t rise very well until it goes in the oven. I roasted the apples as I detest raw-ish apples atop a cake but some – the Bramleys - did dissolve a bit creating interesting texture. If you want puree, use cooking apples; if you want chunks, use Cox or Braeburn.
apple kuchenServings: 12-16Time: 3-4 hours
- For the dough:
- 60ml (¼ cup) warm milk
- 60g (1/3 cup) caster sugar plus 1 teaspoon
- 10g fresh or 1 ½ tsp active dry yeast
- 300g (2 ½ cups) strong bread flour, plus additional for dusting
- 1 whole large egg
- 1 large egg yolk
- ½ tsp vanilla extract
- ½ tsp sea salt
- 85g (6 tbsp.) unsalted butter, softened
- For the topping:
- 4 large apples, cooking, eating or a mix (the cooking apples will become very soft when roasted)
- 30g (2 tbsp.) unsalted butter, melted
- 50g (¼ cup) dark brown sugar
- 2 tbsp. plain fine dry bread crumbs
- 3 tbsp. walnuts, toasted and chopped
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- ½ tsp ground cardamom seeds
To make the dough, dissolve the yeast in the milk with the extra teaspoon of sugar and leave for 15 minutes in a warm place.
Place the flour in a large bowl or in the bowl of a standing mixer with the dough hook attachment and stir in the yeast ferment. Add the egg and yolk, vanilla, salt and the remaining sugar and beat until smooth. Add the butter cut into a few pieces and knead the dough by hand or in the mixer until it becomes smooth, elastic and shows strands of developed gluten. Dust with more flour as you knead if it’s very runny. Cover with cling film and place it in a warm place for an hour, or overnight in the fridge but bring it back to room temperature before proceeding the next morning.
In the meantime roast the apples: peel and core them, cut in quarters or eights if very large and toss with the melted butter and the sugar. Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas 6.
Spread the apples on a large glass or plastic (not non-stick) baking tray, slide into the oven and bake for 30-40 minutes turning them around occasionally. The edges of the baking tray should show caramelisation but the released liquid should have evaporated again.
Remove the apples from the tray onto a plate with a slotted spatula. Pour the breadcrumbs into the tray and scrape all the bits of caramelised sugar and butter into the crumbs; scrub the flavours off the tray with them. Scrape the breadcrumbs into a bowl and stir in the chopped nuts, cinnamon and cardamom.
Scoop the dough (it probably won’t have risen much) from the bowl into a springform cake tin 24cm/10in or a similar baking dish. Stretch the dough to cover the tin and pull up around the side to form a raised edge. Let it prove, covered with cling film, in a warm place for 30 minutes.
Spread half the breadcrumb-nut mix over the dough, spoon the apples evenly over the crumbs and sprinkle with the remaining breadcrumb mix. Transfer the tin to the oven.
Bake for 15 minutes at 200C/400F/gas 6 then turn the oven down to 180C/350F/gas 4 and bake for further 15-20 minutes until the edges are brown and the Kuchen is well risen. If the nuts are burning, loosely cover the top with aluminium foil for the last stage of baking.
Cool in the tin for 15 minutes, then take off the side of the tin. Serve warm, with cream, ice cream, custard or just a large black coffee.