With Easter coming up (or having come up) and my family being asked to contribute a dessert, I got the chance to tackle one of my French sweet recipes, and I’ve had a few that I wanted to save for holiday parties of sorts. These are often those brioche-based or light cakey favorites normally saved for celebrations as-is. Now that I finally have a mixer with a dough hook, too, I can tackle these recipes with even more enthusiasm than before!
After some deciding, and a noted dismissal by the mother against the idea of a certain cake made with Pastis (anise-flavored liqueur), I settled on Kouglof… or, much like Flammekeuche, one of the other tens of European names which this dish goes by. Hailing mainly from Alsace, this bread-like dessert made in a special ceramic ring-mold features an inclusion of raisins, almonds, and booze (typical additions for bread-based desserts). And, much like quite a few dishes from this highly Germanic-influenced region, one can safely claim that France is NOT the country of origin for this. No, we see various other cakes going by the same name and same or similar recipe in various countries; It’s kuglof in Hungary, guguluf in Romania, babovka in Czech-Slovakia, babka in Poland, and wacker/wacka in Austria.
It’s this last country which most likely made the biggest introduction of the recipe to France, Marie-Antoinette having supposedly introduced the pastry to her friends in Versailles. After which it became one of the most fashionable cakes at the time. Though the popularity may not be as big now (at least in the US), it still proves why, when made right, it’s such a much-loved dish, the smell of warm toasty bread mixing with the sweet notes of kirschwasser and almonds.
Chef’s Overdramatic Self-Centered Lecture Corner
It’s difficult for me to narrow down different bread-based recipes when I don’t have too much experience with the formula effects, not to mention no clue given in research towards how that particular brioche traditionally leaned. Luckily, though, I was able to find certain requirements that I just had to have in the final mix, so that helped eliminate possibilities.
First, obviously, there had to be Raisins; Golden, in my opinion, since the wine grapes that would be most abundant and likely dried in Alsace, Germany, and the other countries that make this dessert would most likely be White varieties (I could be wrong, maybe they use a different variety which is red, but if anything I found a really good looking bag of organic Californian goldens at Trader Joe’s). But more importantly, it had to have some Alcohol to soak these in.
Speaking of which, though many recipes call for Rum (likely as it’s the most handy for home cooks), Kirsch or Kirschwasser (cherry brandy) is most properly utilized, a classic spirit distilled near the regions. And French Brandy would pose a reasonable substitute. But do please get in some booze, it’s not a proper dessert without the use of good alcohol!
Finally, I had to have a recipe that used Almonds (surprisingly not all did), the higher quantity of this, raisins, and kirschwasser in the recipe the better, so as to properly display the additions and not just make a plain, simple brioche. I wanted to make sure these elements actually COUNTED with the flavor they brought in. Which is why, instead of following recipes which just sprinkle all of them on the bottom of the pan (to top the cake after baking), I moved all required inside, after having previously chopped and toasted them in the oven. Extra was utilized for ‘garnish’ of course; gotta try making it pretty.
Besides required must-haves, there were also things I avoided; mainly, those recipes that made really small versions of the cake and/or glazed it with an icing of sorts. Though I bet they would get the idealistic cake-ish or high-butter brioche crumb that I was ideally looking for, it just didn’t feel like it embodied the kind of kouglof I wanted today. I want the big cake, unadorned but for the raisins and almonds already inside, sliced thick and only sweetened by any fruit or whipped cream one would top it with.
As for final recipe notes, I tried finding one that didn’t seem TOO bread-y (we’ll see how that worked out), but in particular I found interest with one yeast-starter strategy, where instead of simply leaving with warm milk/water, one made a little dough-ball to rest and rise for a bit before mixing the whole batch in. Not really sure what it did, but the idea seemed intriguing, so I just had to do it. It also had me cover the dough in flour as it rose/’proofed’… not sure what reason that is, besides maybe being a natural substitute for covering the bowl with plastic/a towel?
Oh, speaking of rising, creating the optimum slightly-warm and moist environment is ideal for any bread-type preparations. The best way to do this, if not privy to some ideal location in your own house, is to boil a pot of water and place in the oven along with the covered dough. So sayz Zool, all hail Zool! (da-na-nana-na-na)
Final note: no matter the country, this pastry has a traditional fluted, round pan in which it is baked in. I am TOO LAZY to go out and buy one of these for this one recipe that, as much as I want to, I will likely never make again. Luckily for us, bundt pans work just as well.
100g Golden Raisins
20g Active Yeast
320ml Lukewarm Milk
550g AP Flour
130g Butter, Diced and softened
80g Chopped, Toasted Almonds
Whole, non-toasted Almonds for display
- Place Raisins and Kirschwasser in container together, let macerate overnight
- Combine the Yeast and 70g of Milk, mixing briefly, letting sit for 5-10 minutes to activate.
- When soft, lightly foamy, and smelling distinctly of the yeast, add to 100g of flour. Knead briefly into a ball
- Cover in some of the remaining flour. Set aside for ½ hour in an oven alongside pot of boiling water to briefly rise, about ½ hour
- Combine remaining Flour, Eggs, Sugar, Salt, Kirsch (drained from raisins), and the starter ball in mixing thoroughly by hand for about 10 minutes, or with a stand mixer dough hook 4-6, until the ball is fully incorporated (dough should start stretching a bit)
- Add Diced Butter, mixing on medium-high until incorporated (or hand-kneading about 10 minutes) and dough becomes smooth and elastic
- Toss in Raisins and Chopped almonds, kneading briefly to distribute as evenly as possible
- Cover bowl with clean towel, let rise in warm area of your choice for 30 minutes
- Butter the desired Kouglof or Bundt Pan mold thoroughly, placing a whole almond in the grooves for a decorative top
- Punch down, BRIEFLY knead again, and transfer dough into desired pan. Cover and let proof again for 30-60 minutes, until doubled in size
- Turn oven to 360F
- Move pan to oven, back 30-45 minutes, until top is crusty, brown, and a knife inserted comes out clean (Note: may want to cover top with aluminum foil partway through if browning too fast)
- Remove, let cool 2-4 minutes before upending over cooling rack, allowing it to sit 5-10 minutes before serving.
- Slice and enjoy as desired
I think it came out exactly as it was supposed to (maybe a TOUCH over, there was a bit of a dryness to the crust, which came out exceptionally golden brown, beautiful, and crispy btw omg lol afk yjk… okay I’m gonna stop that now), but it didn’t fit my ideal goal; I clearly kneaded it too long for my preferences, as it really came out more brioche-y than sweet bread/cake-y like I was hoping to get. Not complaining completely though, this is one of the completely acceptable outcomes; it IS a brioche-style recipe.
On its own it’s a nice, rich little slightly eggy bread, as I said with an awesome crust, I love how it came out looking! The almonds and raisins added a nice touch; not fully transforming the flavor as if you were eating something stuffed with marzipan or almond extract, just a subtle little addition so it’s not plain bread. With the maceration, those raisins provide a happily little pop of flavor in the pieces of kouglof we find them in.
At the end of the day, though, this guy is just so much better eaten with other stuff. A big dollop of hand-whipped vanilla cream and some raisin-fig-strawberries soaked in balsamic, sirup, and other yummy stuff. Sweetens it up and adds some much needed moisture, for what’s the best use of sponge and breadcakes but to use them to soak up delicious fruit compote things. Not to mention the leftovers make for EPIC Bread Pudding the next day (which this one did as well, topped with chopped almonds and leftover soaked fruit).
Obviously we can’t consider eating a slice of kouglof without a sipper of the same Kirschwasser we used to cook it with; it makes sense regionally, culturally, and deliciously. Gotta love that combination of deep fruit and almond-y tones from cherries with this lightly nutty and fruit-jeweled bread.
Though since we’re technically in Alsace, for the French purposes of this recipe at least, we should consider one of their delicious sweet wines… or at least what I’d say for any other dessert from there, I would love to consider a proper VDN (basically a special late-harvest, sometimes botyrized, awesome). But kouglof (this version anyway) really is barely sweet, so this isn’t an ideal pairing. Instead, I would so love to try one Alsace’s rare Moscatos. Fermented dry or, more realistically, a bit off-dry (the Alsace wine Region and Germany have shared much history, and have slowly started affecting each other’s styles; certain German vintners are starting to make drier, more robust bottles while the traditionally bone-dry Alsace is starting to incorporate more sweetness in some Grand Crus), with that distinctly floral, naturally sweet and raisiny/grapey flavors the wine exudes, perhaps with a bit of fleshiness from their long, full fermentation to go with those baked bready notes. Doesn’t that just sound like it’d be perfect with these flavors?