I’m guessing it’s probably clear by now that I have a fondness for heirloom recipes. There is nothing I like better than to comb through old cookbooks, pamphlets, and fundraiser cookbooks. I don’t have than many heirloom recipes from my own family—unfortunately those were thrown out as each generation passed. But I love reading other people’s family recipes and hearing about their history. One of the many reasons I enjoyed writing my book is that I had free rein to delve into the provenance of each recipe and find out why it became beloved and designated as special for the holiday season.
A couple of weeks ago, one of my readers, Linda H. wrote and asked if would take a look at a German coffee cake recipe from her grandmother-in-law, Grandma Hartlaub, and give some thoughts on how to convert it to gluten-free. Linda’s father-in-law, the son of Grandma Hartlaub, is celebrating his 100th birthday this summer (wowee!) and she wants to make it for the celebration. How could I say no?
I did a little research and, as it turns out, the recipe is a version of a German cake called a “kuchen” which is usually used to designate a yeasted cake. Indeed, the word kuchen is German for “cake.” Further, it is a “streuselkuchen” which means a streusel-topped cake. As you may know, the word streusel is the German word for “something scattered or sprinkled” and it is the term we use for the butter, sugar, flour, cinnamon mix that is often used as a topping or a filling in cakes like this. I’ve been wanting to develop a kuchen recipe for years and this gave me the perfect opportunity to do so. The original recipe made three or four cakes, which makes sense since the Grandma Hartlaub had 10 kids (and was the middle child of a family that had 10 kids!). Since I have a small family, I reduced it to one cake. Linda also shared with me that Grandma Hartlaub’s husband, Sylvester, made large quantities of donuts. Since it was the Depression, the kids often sold them in the neighborhood to supplement the family’s income. With all of this baking, this sounds like a family I would feel right at home in!
Knowing this history explains, at least in part, why many older baking recipes make a lot of whatever the recipe is for. I’ve always wondered about this. It makes sense given that families used to have many more children than they do today. It wouldn’t do, in a big family, to have recipe that only made a small amount, given that there were many mouths to feed.
I understand why this cake is an heirloom in the Hartlaub family. It is really good! I’ve now made it several times for my family and it’s turned into a family favorite. I think it will be on regular rotation for us. It’s simple and easy to make (don’t let the fact that it is yeasted deter you), and goes well with my morning tea or as an afternoon snack.
Streuselkuchen, aka Grandma Hartlaub’s German Yeasted Coffee Cake, Gluten-Free
For the Cake
½ cup (120 ml) milk, room temperature
½ cup (120 ml) water, room temperature
¼ cup (50 g) plus 1 teaspoon granulated sugar, divided
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon fast acting yeast
2 ½ cups (350 g) Jeanne’s Gluten-Free All Purpose Flour mix
1 teaspoon xanthan gum (in addition to what’s in the mix)
1 tablespoon baking powder (double-acting and aluminum free is best)
¼ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest (optional)
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick; 55 g) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (can be reduced according to personal taste)
2 extra-large eggs, room temperature
extra melted butter and tapioca flour for the pan
For the Streusel Topping
½ cup (70 g) Jeanne’s Gluten-Free All Purpose Flour mix
¼ cup (55 g) brown sugar (I use dark)
¼ cup (50 g) granulated sugar
5 tablespoons (70 g) unsalted butter, room temperature
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
Grease and flour an 8 in x 8 in/20 cm x 20 cm pan with the extra butter and tapioca flour.
In a small bowl, mix together the milk and water. Add the 1 teaspoon of sugar and whisk until dissolved. Add the yeast and whisk until dissolved. Let proof while you prepare your other ingredients.
In a medium bowl, mix together the remaining sugar, flour, xanthan gum, baking powder, salt, and lemon zest if using.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, place yeast mixture, eggs, cooled melted butter, and vanilla extract. Mix on low to combine. Add dry ingredients mixture. Beat on low to combine, and then beat on medium-high for 3 minutes.
Scrape into prepared pan. Dough will be very stiff and sticky. I put equal blobs into the four corners of the pan and then use a rubber spatula to smoosh it into all the nooks and crannies. Smooth top as best you can—it will still be uneven and bumpy. Don’t worry, this will be evened out with the rising and will be covered by the streusel.
Cover lightly with plastic wrap and place in a warm-ish, draft-free place to rise for about an hour. At the end of the rising time, the cake will have risen a bit and will be noticeably puffy.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F/180 degrees C/Gas Mark 4. I let the oven preheat for a full 30 minutes to make sure it’s good and hot.
While you are preheating the oven. Make your streusel topping. Mix together all of the ingredients until all of the dry ingredients have bonded to the butter. I do the initial mixing with a spoon and then switch to using my hand to combine everything. Sprinkle the streusel clumps as evenly as possible over the top of the risen cake.
Bake at 350 degrees F for 45 minutes—until the cake has risen to about the top of the pan and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
Cool in pan on a wire rack.
Store at room temperature, loosely covered. This is best the day it’s made, but it does retain its moistness for about 3 days.