It’s hard for a Southerner to pronounce the word kuchen, which means cake in German. It ends up sounding like kook or cuckoo – not exactly the impression you want to make when baking a dessert for others. But I persevered in learning to pronounce the word (it sounds like koo-ken) and then trying this recipe from my grandmother, Hanna. It was labeled “easy” and also called for sliced fresh fruit, another easy thing to find in August.
Nobody in my family spoke German from the time my great-grandparents died until my son moved to Berlin, but that heritage remains in expressions like nichts fur Kinder (not for children) and recipes like this one. It’s basically two steps: A bottom cake layer and a topping of fruit, all baked at once. Ideally, it’s served warm but room temperature works, too. Originally, I planned to just use a layer of sliced peaches, but my daughter took one peach for lunch and the other one turned to mush when I tried to slice it. So I dug around in the refrigerator and came up with one peach, one apricot, and several cherries. Feel free use whatever fresh fruit you have on hand.
As it bakes, the cake puffs up and the fruit softens. Make sure to check the cake before it’s officially done. I left this in a tad too long, making the cake layer a bit dry, but who can resist any combination of butter, sugar, flour, and fruit at this time of year?
Hanna’s Easy Kuchen (circa 1930)
1 cup flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons butter, softened
2 tablespoons milk
Approximately 1 cup sliced summer fruit (such as peaches, cherries, apricots, or a combination)
Cinnamon, sugar, and butter, as needed for topping
- Butter an 8-inch round baking pan. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
- In a bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.
- Cut the butter into small pieces and use your fingers or a pastry cutter to work it into the flour mixture until the mixture resembles coarse sand.
- Add the milk and egg, mixing it in with a fork and then your hands. (This will take a few minutes. At first you may think you don’t have enough liquid, but keep going).
- Pat the batter into the prepared pan, making an even layer.
- Arrange the sliced fruit on top in one layer. Dot with butter and sprinkle generously with cinnamon and sugar.
- Bake about 20-25 minutes until the cake layer has risen and the fruit has softened.