German-Russian Kuchen: Grandma's Recipe (2024)

German-Russian Kuchen: Grandma's Recipe (1)
Kuchen, fresh from the oven. Yum!

Once a year or so, when the air is cold and the snow is blowing, I bake a batch of my German Russian grandmother's kuchen. Kuchen, pronounced "kooga", is the food from Grandma's kitchen that I remember best.

There was always kuchen at Grandma's house. She baked it at least once a week, and she made eight or ten at a time. Kuchen was usually dessert, but it could also be breakfast or an anytime snack with coffee or milk fresh from the cows.

German-Russian Kuchen: Grandma's Recipe (2)
My grandparents. Circa 1946

Each time I bake kuchen, I am swept back in time and find myself with my grandmother in her fragrant, farmhouse kitchen. It's 1947, and I'm five years old. There's is a big, black, wood burning stove, polished to a shine, and mismatched wooden chairs gathered around a long table covered with an oilcloth tablecloth. A hand pump sits over the kitchen sink, and pink depression glass cups and saucers are neatly stacked in the cupboard. Grandma bustles around humming softly, as she churns up wonderful fragrances that make my mouth water. Her hands and apron are covered in flour, but she stops to give me a kiss on my forehead. Sometimes she gives me a bit of pie dough and helps me turn it into sugar and cinnamon roll-ups. If she's baking bread or kuchen, I get to help with the kneading. I may be a child, but I'm already learning about cooking and baking.

My mother didn't enjoy cooking or baking, and kuchen is time consuming. After my grandmother passed away, I only got to taste this special pastry when we visited my aunts in North Dakota. All six of my red-headed aunties were cooks who followed the old traditions. If they didn't have freshly baked kuchen, they could more than likely find one in the freezer.

When I was married and settled in my own kitchen, I asked my aunties for the recipe. It's easy, they said. You just make a sweet dough, layer fruit on top, and pour egg custard over it all. Not one of them could give me measurements. Making kuchen was so instinctual, that they never thought about how much flour or how many eggs. They just put it all together. Years later, when three of them were visiting in Lincoln, my daughter gathered them in her kitchen. They baked the kuchen with my daughter while I wrote down the steps and the measurements along the way.

I've modified the recipe a bit since that day, but it still makes five or six kuchen. Fortunately it freezes very well, so we can make it last for a couple of months.

German-Russian Kuchen
Makes five 9" kuchen or six 8" kuchen

Lightly grease five 9" pie pans or six 8" pie pans.

In addition to dough and custard, you will need about five 15 oz cans of canned fruit.
Traditional fruits include sliced peaches, apricots halves, sliced pears, or seedless plums. Dried prunes are often used, too.

Drain the fruit, and pat it dry with a paper towel. Soak prunes for fifteen minutes or more in warm water to soften them. Cut the prunes in half.

Sweet Dough

  • 4 c flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 c sugar
  • 1/2 c butter, room temperature
  • 1 c warm milk, divided
  • 1 pkg yeast
  • 3 eggs, room temperature,

  1. Place flour, salt, sugar, and butter in a large bowl. Mix to a fine crumb as you would a pie crust.
  2. In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast in 1/2 cup of warm milk. Beat the eggs with a fork. Add the eggs, a pinch of sugar, and the remaining half cup of warm milk to the yeast mixture. Let it rest for a few minutes until it develops a thick foam on top.
  3. Make a well in the flour mixture. Pour the yeast liquid into the well.
  4. Mix the dough with a spoon or your hands. Place it on a lightly floured board.
  5. Knead briefly, just enough so it forms a shiny ball. Do not overwork the dough. If the dough is too dry, you can add a little milk or water.
  6. Put the dough into a lightly greased bowl. Turn to cover with a thin film of oil and cover with plastic wrap. Place it in a warm place.
  7. Let it rise until double in bulk, 1 - 1 /2 hours.

If the kitchen is cool, I heat the oven very little, to about 150 degrees, then I turn it off and place the bowl of dough inside. If the oven is too warm, the yeast can be killed or the dough can rise too fast and be ruined.

German-Russian Kuchen: Grandma's Recipe (3)
Dough rising in the oven, custard cooking in the double boiler.

While the dough is rising, make the custard.


  • 6 eggs
  • 1 1/2 tbsp flour
  • 1 1/2 c sugar
  • 3 c cream or half and half
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • cinnamon

Mix all of the ingredients with a wire whisk or hand mixer. Cook the in a double boiler, stirring constantly until the custard begins to thicken.

If you don't have a double boiler, cook it in a heavy pot over low heat stirring constantly. Make sure to scrape the bottom of the pot as you stir to prevent scorching.

Assemble the Kuchen

German-Russian Kuchen: Grandma's Recipe (4)
Kuchen dough with fruit layered on top. I made peach and apricot kuchen.
  1. When the dough is ready, punch it down. Divide it into either five or six equal pieces. Cover it with a towel and allow it to rest for ten minutes.
  2. Shape each piece of dough into a flat pancake.
  3. Place the dough into a pie tin, and use your fingers to spread it evenly over the bottom and 1/2" to 1" up the sides.
  4. Top with a layer of prepared fruit.
  5. Carefully pour equal amounts of custard over the fruit layer. Sprinkle lightly with cinnamon.
  6. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes or until the dough is golden brown.
  7. Cool on a wire rack

German-Russian Kuchen: Grandma's Recipe (5)
Kuchen in the oven. Smells good already.

Slice each kuchen into six or eight wedges. It can be eaten either warm or cold. It's delicious either way. Wrap tightly and keep in the refrigerator for no more than one or two days. Any excess kuchen can be stored in the freezer for up to a six weeks.

German-Russian Kuchen: Grandma's Recipe (6)
Yum!! So good.

Wishing you a fantastic Thaknsgiving!

German-Russian Kuchen: Grandma's Recipe (2024)
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