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Kugelhopf, which may also be spelled Kugelhupf, gugelhupf or kugelhoph, is a classic cake said to have originated in Austria or in the Alsace region of France. Legend has it that Marie Antoinette, who was born in Vienna, Austria, brought the cake recipe to France upon her marriage to Louis XVI. There are some disputes regarding this, and the cake may have been introduced in France earlier. Variations of the cake are made in Germany, Switzerland, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Poland, and Hungary. It is also popular in many other countries today, including the US, UK, Australia and elsewhere.
Unlike most desserts we would term cake, kugelhopf is a yeast-risen cake, using active dry or fresh yeast instead of baking soda or baking powder. This gives the cake a slightly denser more “bready” texture, similar to the Italian panettone. Kugelhopf is also not frequently served as an after dinner dessert. Instead it’s considered more of a coffee cake that might be eaten for or with breakfast, or could be part of an afternoon snack. There’s certainly no reason not to serve it as dessert after dinner, since it is still nicely sweet, and especially if the dinner has been relatively light.
Traditional kugelhopf is made in a round pan with a hole in the center, most often what we’d term a bundt pan, though there are heavy pans specifically made for kugelhopf. Unlike the average bundt cake, which is often a variation of a pound cake recipe, this dessert needs time to rise due to its yeast. You can speed this process up if you have a bread machine, by setting the machine to knead and rise the dough. You’d then need to punch it down, place it in the pan in a warm area free of drafts and let it rise again prior to baking it.
The interior of kugelhopf may have a layer of raisins or currants, all together in the center. Alternately, the currants, and sometimes nuts, can be mixed throughout the dough. Some versions add a small amount of spice, like cinnamon. When the cake is cooked and unmolded, it can be given a light dusting of powdered sugar. Some add a simple vanilla or cinnamon glaze to make the cake a little sweeter.
Some chefs compare the kugelhopf to a brioche, since the recipe for the dough contains a little milk, eggs, and butter. It is typically not as rich as brioche, though this can vary from recipe to recipe. If you really want to be authentic, you should plump up the raisins by soaking them in a little kirshwasser (cherry brandy). Plain water will also work if you don’t want the alcohol or are serving the cake to children.