Food History

A Not-Too-Sweet, Streusel-Topped Treat to Serve with Tea

September 30, 2013

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. 

Shop the Story

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.

Listen Now

On our new weekly podcast, two friends separated by the Atlantic take questions and compare notes on everything from charcuterie trends to scone etiquette.

Listen Now

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Bee
  • Assonta Wagner
    Assonta Wagner
  • Greenstuff
  • Lizthechef
I grew up in a restaurant family (my parents owned the now closed Quilted Giraffe in NYC) and I've always loved to cook. My interest in the connection between food and health led me to pursue a graduate degree in naturopathic medicine. I don't practice medicine anymore; I have a blog called Healthy Green Kitchen that I started in May of 2009 and I wrote a book called One Simple Change that will be published in January, 2014. I live in upstate New York with my family and many pets.


Bee February 7, 2017
If I wanted to make the original one from Aunt Bessie, do I simply add the pecans and the extra 1/2 cup of sugar? I'm REALLY into vintage recipe and I don't believe in "modernizing them". I eat healthy enough with everything else in my life so I feel that bakery should have my full attention and indulgence. If I want "healthy", I'll eat kale!
Assonta W. October 3, 2013
I made the Kuchen for my family's Friday breakfast..they loved it! I used brown sugar instead of white and a whole tablespoon of vanilla. (We like vanilla!) The brown sugar gave it a caramel-y flavor throughout..paired with the cinnamon streusel, the kids went through half of it before they left for school! I will be making it again!!
Assonta W. October 1, 2013
I think I have that copy of The Settlement Cookbook. I collect old cookbooks and love them. The recipes are amazing and I often go to them for meals and snacks. I am definitely trying this recipe!
Greenstuff September 30, 2013
Wonderful story! I always like it when families adapt and adopt their own names for dishes, and I also love it when we are aware of the continuing changes we all make to traditional family recipes.

But wait! Under "Known Forms of Kuchen," Wikipedia lists "A coffee cake–like pastry, with veins and pockets of cinnamon and sugar baked throughout; its primary components are butter and sugar. (Most popular in Montana and Southern Indiana.)" Coincidence or some connection?
Lizthechef September 30, 2013
There is nothing I love more than a recipe with a family story. This looks like a winner for certain -