Pear and Apple Kuchen

melting pot adventures in food

A quick perusal through what I’ve been cooking these past few months leads me to believe that I have inadvertently turned winter and spring into the Seasons of Streusel.  I’ve been capping pie with a crisp streusel lid, making breads with buttery streusel toppings, and now we have this little streusel and almond-studded beauty.

“Kuchen” means “cake” in German, but I would argue that this treat is so much more than a simple cake.  With a yeasted base, a fresh fruit middle, and a crisp, lightly sweetened top layer, the sum of this kuchen’s parts is elevated past that of what one would consider a cake.  Somehow, the elements come together—crunchy and soft, sweet, yet not overly so—to create a cake that is complex without being complicated, indulgent without being grief-inducing.  You can eat it as a dessert, or as a special breakfast treat, and it magically manages to exist as both without ever leaving you feeling as though you just did something slightly wrong.

Of all the things I am loving about this cake, my favorite attribute just might lie in its ability to adapt to the seasons.  The mellow flavor of the cake base, combined with the cinnamon in the streusel, just begs to be paired with a variety of fruits.  Though this version uses apples and pears, the original recipe called for apples and blackberries (a combination that sounds absolutely fantastic).  When summers rolls around, you better believe I will be giving that version a whirl, along with an iteration that includes blueberries or raspberries, and maybe even cherries.  This is an awfully friendly cake, so I can’t imagine it not playing well with just about any fruit you try out.  As you might imagine, I can’t wait to start testing out my theory.

Pear and Apple Kuchen
Adapted from Nigella Bites, by Nigella Lawson

Cake Base
2 ¼ cups bread flour
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon rapid-rise yeast
2 large eggs
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
grated zest of ½ a lemon
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ cup lukewarm milk
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened to room temperature

Topping
1 egg beaten with a splash of cream or milk and a pinch of cinnamon
1 small tart apple
1 medium to large pear
zest of ½ a lemon
1/3 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
heaping ¼ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons ground almonds
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold and diced into chunks
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons sliced almonds

To make the cake base, put the bread flour in a large bowl with the salt, sugar, and yeast.  In a smaller bowl, beat the eggs, then add to them the vanilla extract, lemon zest, cinnamon, and lukewarm milk.  Stir to combine.  Add the egg mixture to the bread flour mixture, and stir to make a medium-soft dough.  Work in the soft butter, then knead for 10 minutes by hand, or 5 minutes if using a stand mixture.  If the dough is having trouble reaching a stage of being smooth and spring, add more flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, as you knead.  The dough will be thoroughly kneaded when it is glossy and plump.

Cover the dough with a kitchen towel and allow it to double in size (this should take anywhere from 1 hour to an hour and a half, though you could also leave the dough in the refrigerator to rise overnight).  Punch down the dough and place it in a 9” x 13” jellyroll or baking pan.  Press the dough into the pan to cover the bottom.  The dough may take a bit of coaxing to stretch the entire way (especially if the dough is cold), but allowing it to rest for a few minutes while you are stretching it will help your efforts immensely.  When the bottom of the pan is covered with the dough, brush it with the egg and cream mixture and allow it to rest for 15 to 20 minutes while you preheat the oven and make the topping.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Peel and chop both the apple and the pear into ¼-inch chunks.  Toss the apple and pear in a small bowl with the lemon zest.

In a medium bowl, combine the all-purpose flour, ground almonds, and cinnamon.  Stir to combine, then add the cold butter.  Using your fingertips, rub the butter into the flour until the mixture appears clumpy.  Fork in the sugars and the sliced almonds.

Spread the fruit over the rested dough, then sprinkle the streusel topping on top of the fruit.  Bake the kuchen for 15 minutes in the center of the oven, then reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and cook for an additional 20 minutes, until the dough is puffed up and golden at the edges.  The crumble should settle, but still remain somewhat soft.

Allow to cool for 5 to 10 minutes before slicing.  Serves 8 to 10.

About the contributor:

Elizabeth Miller is a freelance writer who runs Savory Salty Sweet, a food and kitchen appreciation website. She also writes the Melting Pot column here on Indie Fixx, which appears bimonthly on Fridays. Read more about her on the contributors’ page.

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