An Ode to German Restraint: The Apfelkuchen

Sweet dough + apples + cheesecake = "Oh, my!"

Sweet dough + apples + cheesecake = "Oh, my!"

Almost every Sunday, our friend Mary Lou has a group over to her house for dinner.  We are very happy to be among the invitees, because it is always a good time.  Well, last night the theme of the evening was Berlin street food.  Mary Lou lived in Germany for awhile as a very young girl, and according to her facebook 25 Random Things list, she can still speak it with a perfect German accent.  Keen.

At any rate, she emailed a week or so ago saying that she’d be serving currywurst–excellent grilled German sausages smothered in a red curry sauce–fries and hard rolls.  She asked for folks to bring beer, etc, and I volunteered to be responsible for the dessert.  I cavalierly emailed back, “I will make some sort of kuchen.”  Then, I went on a frantic search for a kuchen recipe.  See, this is what I do.  I say I can do something, and then I sort of have to figure it out as I go.  Sometimes things work out well.  Other times, maybe not so much.  Anyway, years ago, Auntie Ev had given me a great recipe for a peach/plum kuchen, but The Beloved and I thought that apple would be the most appropriate fruit for the season.

The bottom line:  I had no idea how to make apfelkuchen.  So, I tied a piece of colorful twine to the door jamb and ventured forth into the Hinternet to retrieve a likely sounding recipe.  Now, apple cake comes in many forms.  I saw chemically leavened cakes galore.  As a matter of fact, Auntie Ev’s kuchen is made with the biscuit method:  cutting fat into the flour, etc.  I wanted something a little older.  And before chemical leaveners came yeast.

I found a reasonable, yeast-leavened recipe, followed my twine back to my kitchen, and tweaked it a bit.  This is a rich recipe, so I imagine it wasn’t made terribly frequently.  On the other hand, I guess there were plenty of eggs, cream and cheese around knocking around the countryside, what with chickens and cows and all.  So, I don’t really know the provenance of this recipe.  I will say that last evening’s consensus was that it was Very Very Good.  It is a three part recipe:  a yeasted dough, an apple mixture, and a cheesecake sort of topping.  That post title up there, An Ode to German Restraint, is ironic, not literal.

Restrained Apfelkuchen
The Dough

  • 2 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1.75 oz. sugar (about 1/4 cup)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 4 oz. whole milk
  • 3 oz. butter
  • 1 egg, at cool room temperature
  • 8-12 oz. unbleached all purpose flour

The Apples

  • 3-5 smallish Granny Smith Apples
  • 1 TBSP lemon juice
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp apple pie spice (or cinnamon, nutmeg and a tiny bit of clove)
  • 1/2 oz. flour (2 TBSP)
  • 2 TBSP sugar

The Cheesecake Part

  • 8 oz. cream cheese (1 block), softened
  • 1 egg, at cool room temperature
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 4 oz. sugar

Lots of parts, I know, but it’s pretty straightforward.  Honest.  Here’s how it goes:

  1. Lightly spray a 9″ spring form pan with some non-stick cooking spray.  Set aside.
  2. Mix yeast, sugar, salt and about 4 oz. flour in the bowl of your stand mixer.
  3. Heat the milk and the butter together.  Don’t let it boil.  You want it to be decidedly warm, but not hot.  If it’s hot, let it cool off a bit.  You’re looking for about 125-130 degrees, F.
  4. Add the milk mixture and the egg to the mixer and mix with the paddle attachment for a couple of minutes.
  5. Add another 4 oz. of flour, a bit at a time, and mix for another couple of minutes.  You should have a pretty thick batter/soft dough.  Change to the dough hook.
  6. With the mixer on medium-low and the dough hook doing its thing, add flour, an ounce at a time until you have a soft dough.   It might stick in the bottom of the bowl a bit, but it should clear the sides.
  7. Set the mixer on medium and let the dough hook develop the gluten in your very rich dough for about seven minutes or so.  At this point, you may wander off to check your email.
  8. Once the dough is silky and stretchy, cover it and let it rise for an hour or two, depending on the temperature of the room.  Like I said, there’s a lot of fat weighing this dough down, and it’ll take hours to double.  I didn’t wait that long, and the dough did not double in size.  Too bad; I had a dinner to get to.
  9. Once the dough has risen, take it out and press it into the bottom and about 1-11/2″ up the sides of the pan.
  10. Prep the apples.  Peel and core them, and slice them into 1/4″ slices.  Sprinkle them with lemon juice (to prevent browning, and also to add a little extra tartness)
  11. Mix all the dry ingredients together, and toss with the apples.
  12. Arrange the apples in a moderately attractive manner no more than 2 apple slices thick.
  13. Mix the cheesecake portion together.  With the paddle attachment, cream the cream cheese until smooth.  Add the salt and sugar and cream on medium speed for about a minute.  Scrape the bowl often.  Add the egg and vanilla and mix until smooth.
  14. Pour the cream cheese mixture over the apples, spreading it around with the spatula and making sure that it oogies down into the apples.  Don’t let the cream cheese mixture flow over the lip of dough around the outside of the cake.
  15. Cover and let rise until the dough is somewhat puffy.  I let it hang out for 2 hours.  If you were more patient during the first rise, you might only need 45 minutes to an hour.
  16. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  17. Bake in the middle of the oven until the sides are a lovely golden brown, most of the cheese mixture is set and there’s just a little wiggliness in the center.  The recipe said 30 minutes.  The recipe lied.  The recipe was a lying liar.  I left mine in for close to 50 minutes.
  18. When it’s done, take it out and let it cool to warm.  Slice and serve.

Things to know:

  • If you serve it without letting it chill and then reheating it, the center will still be a bit liquid-y.  It will have gotten hot enough in the oven to get rid of pesky bad guys, but if you’re concerned, use pasteurized eggs.  The good thing about the liquidy center is that it is like a thick sweetened cream–sort of a self-saucing dessert.
  • This isn’t an overly sweet dessert.  You can add a little more sugar to the cream cheese mixture and/or to the apples, but I didn’t think it needed it.
  • If you do chill this, let it come to room temperature and then warm it in the oven before serving.  This dessert is Very Good warm.

Like I said, this cake was a big hit.  I would definitely make it again.  And I wouldn’t think twice about trying to do some variations:  Maybe kneading some liqueur-soaked raisins into the dough.  Maybe caramelizing some of the fruit, first.  Maybe changing up the fruit and the spices.  This is certainly a Dish with Possibilities.  And did I mention it was really good?

*For a variation on this theme, go check out [no recipes].  His version is lovely, and his picture looks very much like the version I made.  (Read the comments for an explanation)!

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Comments

  1. says

    My German “restraint” tells me to add rum raisins and lemon zest to the cheese mix. And streusel on top. And – “oogies” is not a word I remember from my 30-year German upbringing. (On the other hand, there are probably several things I don’t remember due to my very frequent curry wurst AND beer stops, in the streets of Munich and Berlin.)

    God, this is a truly great recipe and one of my all-time fav’s. You can’t beat the apple & cream cheese connection! It oogies me out every time I have some…

  2. says

    You are killing me with that picture and your description, Jenni. Seriously, did you just say “self-saucing” dessert? I am going into withdrawal…

    Anyway. This sounds like a great recipe to start lazily at 10:00 on a Sunday morning and work on periodically throughout the day. (A little specific, but you get the idea).

    Excellent, excellent post.

  3. norecipes says

    I need to run out and get some onions for my chicken paprikas, but you’ve just added to the list of things to get with this one. This sounds absolutely perfect:-D

  4. says

    Oh, this looks awesome, I must try it and will send the students in my home-based bakery class to your site. Do you photography the food, it is absolutely divine. Run soaked raisins, would bourbon work too? Thank you so for sharing this, it is wonderful.

  5. says

    This looks absolutely amazing. I’m intrigued by the combo of dough, cheesecake and apples! I think I’ll take some of your other commenters’ advice and throw in some soaked raisins. I can’t wait to try this.

  6. says

    I think this pic is not of this recipe, but very close. I also think that if you’d put an original photo of this recipe in this post, it would oogie off the screen and mess up your keyboard.

  7. says

    Yup, I have to fess up. I am such a dork and can never remember to take pictures of what I make. This picture is the closest approximation to the look of mine as I could get. I promise that, next time I make it, I will take a picture and replace this one :)

  8. says

    Made two of these yesterday, one for home and one for the office. There was a little bit of the cream cheese mixture leftover so I made a small kuchen in a 6″ dia. pan using apricot preserves.

    The result? The office apfelkuchen disappeared faster than anything I’ve brought in before. Most said, “it was to die for.” My little apricot kuchen was delicious, if a bit sweet. So now I’m eager to get home and try the apfelkuchen. Damn you, onlinepastrychef, for setting the baking bar so high. Now I’m sure my officemates and husband will be expecting baked nirvana all the time!

  9. says

    I forgot to mention, for the dough I used a hybrid brioche/challah from the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes book. The dough had been sitting in the fridge for almost a week and needed to be used. Unlike the usual ABin5 way, I followed your instructions to let the apfelkuchen sit for a couple of hours before baking. Next time I’ll give it a try with your dough. Thanks, onlinepastrychef, it’s a keeper.

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