What Is German Coffee Cake?

Emily Daw

German coffee cake, sometimes called Kuchen, is a type of cake that originated in Central Europe. It can be served either as a breakfast food or as a light dessert served with coffee. Some types of German coffee cake are served with toppings or fillings, such as cinnamon-sugar, various fruits and nuts, or chocolate.

Gugelhupf usually contains raisins.
Gugelhupf usually contains raisins.

There are a variety of cakes that can be generally referred to as German coffee cake. One type, called Gugelhupf, is traditionally baked in a ring-shaped pan. It is similar to a bundt cake pan, but deeper and often more ornate. Gugelhupf usually has raisins, dates or almonds slivers, and sometimes also flavored brandy.

Baking soda is used in some German coffee cake recipes.
Baking soda is used in some German coffee cake recipes.

Streusel coffee cake, or Streuselkuchen, always has a layer of crumbled topping.The word streusel comes from the German word meaning "strewn" or "covered." This topping is most commonly made by cutting butter into a mixture of flour and sugar. It often contains cinnamon as well.

Gugelhupf, streusel and other types of German coffee cake can all be modified with various other ingredients or flavorings. While cinnamon and fruit, such as raisins, are the most common flavorings, some recipes call for orange or lemon zest, peaches or chocolate chips. These can form a separate layer as a filling or topping, or they can be mixed into the dough or batter.

Unlike most American styles of coffee cake, German coffee cake usually uses yeast as a leavening agent. This makes preparing German coffee cake more difficult and time-consuming than most other types of cakes. The yeast must usually be dissolved in milk or water, carefully warmed to temperatures that will activate but not scald the live cultures. The dough must also be allowed time to rise, usually around two hours. For those who prefer not to work with yeast, however, some recipes are available that instead call for baking soda or baking powder.

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