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Bessie’s Bundt Kuchen

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Every week, we’re unearthing Heirloom Recipes -- dishes that have made their way from one generation's kitchen to the next.

Today: Winnie Abramson of Healthy Green Kitchen shares a modified version of her grandmother's kuchen. 

My grandma Bessie’s bundt kuchen was a legend in my family. A drop-dead gorgeous, streusel-embellished coffeecake, my mom recalls that Bessie began making it sometime in the mid-1960s. Bessie baked her kuchen for holiday meals and whenever family and friends gathered at her home, until she died in 2005.


Kuchen is German for “cake”. According to The Joy of Cooking, traditional kuchens were breakfast pastries made with yeast and sometimes filled with fruit. Kuchens were very popular among American Jews: my 1954 copy of The Settlement Cookbook contains eight whole pages of kuchen recipes. I don’t know for sure where Bessie got her recipe (which my Aunt Beverly gave me after Bessie passed away): it relies on baking powder as a leavening agent instead of yeast, but we’ve still always called it a kuchen. 

There was nothing not to love about Bessie’s recipe, but I’ve made a couple of small changes since I began baking it for my own family. The original called for a mixture of butter, brown sugar, and whole pecans to be pressed all over the greased bundt pan before the batter is spooned in, but since my kids don’t love nuts in baked goods, I did away with the pecans. I found that adding cinnamon and flour to the streusel made for a tastier mixture: one that bakes into the top of the cake and creates a thick ribbon running through the center. Lastly, because the streusel is quite sweet, I reduced the amount of sugar in the cake by half of a cup.

I'm pretty sure that Bessie would approve of the ways in which I’ve adapted the recipe; I know for certain that she’d be overjoyed by my continuing the tradition of sharing it with people I love. It makes a great brunch accompaniment and a lovely dessert -- and while it's a coffeecake, don’t let that stop you from serving it with tea.

Bessie’s Bundt Kuchen Recipe

Serves 12-16

For the streusel:
1 generous cup light brown sugar
1 cup organic Einkorn wheat flour (or unbleached, all-purpose flour)
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 stick salted organic butter, cut into 8 pieces

For the cake:
3 cups organic Einkorn wheat flour or unbleached, all-purpose flour
4 teasoons baking powder
Zest from 1 small lemon
1 cup milk (I use organic, whole milk)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 sticks salted organic butter
1 1/2 cups sugar (I use organic sugar)
5 large eggs (I use organic, pastured eggs)

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Tags: heirloom recipes, kuchen, coffecake

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