When I was a junior in college back in the ’70s, I spent five weeks of winter break in France – much of it in a small town in Alsace. I was the guest of a family that I have long since lost contact with, but that holiday was indelibly written into my food memories. Breakfasts consisted of cafe au lait with Kugelhopf (an Alsatian brioche) and beautiful breads baked in whimsical figures. We slathered the bread with fresh, creamery butter and homemade raspberry confiture. Every day we would take long walks on the snowy mountainside and would return ravenous. What we call lunch was the main hot meal of the day and the entire family would sit down together for at least a 2-hour meal. There was no central heating and so afternoons were spent by the fireplace, reading, talking and playing chess. We somehow managed to survive until supper by eating handmade chocolates filled with delicious liqueur and other fillings from a small shop in the village. We then sat down to a late supper of different “wurst” and cheeses and I tasted Clementines from Spain for the first time in my life. There was always a tisane before bed to help us sleep and to “cleanse our liver.” We ate wild boar for Christmas dinner and delicious fish in a cream sauce for New Year’s Eve, ending the celebratory meal with a gorgeous Mont Blanc of chestnut puree and whipped cream. No wonder the French obsessed about their livers! Amazingly, I didn’t gain an ounce that trip. Perhaps it was all of the walking and the energy required just to stay warm in houses lacking central heat. Of course, there was also the compensation of sinking into a feather bed every night where I dreamed about what food wonders the next day would bring.
While I can’t recreate those wonderful five weeks, I am including a small taste with this kugelhopf recipe. The Italians have their panettone and the Alsatians have their kugelhopf. There are many versions of this delicious treat, but all are a yeast dough, rich with eggs, almonds and raisins. Try it dipped in cafe au lait for breakfast or with a sweet dessert wine later in the day.
As with so many recipes, I always read several and pick and choose judiciously what I believe are the best features of each. This kugelhopf comes from two pastry chefs – David Lebovitz and Christine Ferber. I looked at a third recipe, but since I didn’t use any take-aways, I haven’t included it here.
Yield: One Bundt cake serving 8 to 10
- In a small bowl, soak the raisins in the kirsch and 2 tablespoons of water. Heat on high in microwave for 30 seconds. Cover and soak for 30 minutes, then strain, discarding liquid.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook attachment, combine 2⁄3 cup flour with the milk and yeast. Let stand for 30 minutes, then add the remaining 2 3⁄4 cups flour, the sugar, and the salt and mix until evenly combined. Add in the egg yolks and continue kneading until incorporated.
- Add in the butter and knead on low speed until smooth and shiny, about 8 minutes. (If you are making this by hand, it will probably take 10 to 12 minutes of kneading.) Add in the raisins, lemon zest and toasted, chopped almonds and knead 2 minutes longer. Cover the dough with a dry towel and place in a warm place until the dough has doubled in size, about 1 1⁄2 hours. (My house was pretty chilly so it took considerably longer for this first rise, but under normal circumstances 1.5 hours should do it.)
- Punch the dough back down, cover with a dry towel again, and let sit until the dough has risen again, about 45 minutes longer.
Lavishly butter an 8 cup Bundt pan, scatter the sliced almonds around the bottom and sides and set aside. Using your fist, punch a hole in the middle of the dough and place dough in prepared mold. Cover with a dry towel and let rise an additional 45 minutes.
Heat the oven to 400°. Place the Bundt pan in the oven and lower the temperature to 350°. Bake until golden, 45 to 50 minutes. Immediately turn out onto a wire rack and let cool. Dust with confectioners’ sugar to serve. After the first day, assuming you have any left-overs, you can lightly toast thick slices of the kugelhopf that have been buttered in the oven. Okay, so this may not be exactly on the heart-healthy diet, but once a year, this is heaven!