Kugel-what ?

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A sweetened bread, similar to brioche (although not as rich), flavored with raisins and almonds, baked in a ring-shaped earthenware mold, and usually dusted with powdered sugar before serving.

This much is clear.  As for spelling, origin, when, how and with what it’s eaten, well that’s a whole other story, or two or three!

It’s not so much a matter of spell check as it is a question of country.  In France, and especially in Alsace in the NE, bakers and gourmands alike dip their slices of kouglof into bowls of café au lait for breakfast, or savor it in the afternoon during the goûter, the almost always sweet snack between lunch and dinner (not just for children and their pain au chocolat).  They may even disagree among themselves on the spelling, with variations including kuglopf, kougloff and kougelhopf, but one thing is certain:  Alsace may have been German territory, but now it’s French and thus so is the cake!  The French city of Ribeauville even holds a festival in its honor every year.  The Alsatian version uses raisins, kirsch and almonds.  It is a yeast dough, left to rise for about 2 hours.  A pan with a crown-shaped bottom is lined with almonds.  The dough is kneaded, then put in the pan, left to rise again for another 2 hours and finally baked.  When inverted, the crown shaped bread is decorated with the almonds.

Germany and Austria too call it their own, minus the kirsch and extra almonds.  In Southern Germany and Switzerland, it’s called a gugelhupf, or I’ve even seen gouglof and gouglhof as well. Baked in the same high, round fluted center-tube mold, they were traditionally known as “turban cakes.”  The shape was apparently created after the Turks were defeated at the gates of Vienna in 1683, and Viennese bakers made a victory cake to resemble the sultan’s turban.  Or so the story goes…

We all know that Marie Antoinette didn’t really say, “Let them eat cake.”  But if she had, I’d like to think she’d be referring to gugelhupf!  Some food historians trace the connection to the 18th century, when it became popular in France during her reign.  So perhaps it was this Austrian archduchess, who married France’s future King Louis XVI at the Strasbourg cathedral in 1770, who originally brought the recipe with her from Austria.

Yet more stories abound, and spellings too.  The fact that this identity crisis cake is called a bundkuchen in Northern Germany brings a whole other image to mind.  H. David Dalquist took a 17th-century European invention and reinterpreted it, in materials and design, for use in 20th-century America, as what many Americans know as, the Bundt pan.  Kugelhopf, bundt cake…  One and the same?

Not exactly.  Either way, that leaves me, the American, living in Switzerland, in the heart of the kugelhopf kingdom – France, Germany and Austria – all just a hop, skip and jump away. I’ll just have to compare each one’s kugelhopf and decide on a legend of my own.

* Recipe: mini kugelhopf by Ladurée Pastry Chef Philippe Andrieu