Early Easter Treat
By Angela Denstad Stigeler
The grass is greening, the birds are singing—may as well get started on some Easter baking! The following “cake” of German origin is actually a rich bread with a pastry cream and dried fruit topping. This makes it just right for an Easter brunch; not only are the dried apricots cheerful, they stand in nicely where fresh fruits are not yet in season. Even nicer is that this recipe can be done in stages, letting the dough rise overnight. Once baked, the kuchens can be frozen and rewarmed before serving. And since the recipe makes four breads, you really can get an early start on Easter by freezing three and enjoying one right away.
2 ¾ cups whole milk, divided
1 envelope active dry yeast
3 large eggs
4 ½ cups all-purpose flour, divided
1 ½ cups sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened, plus more for the pans
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 pound plump dried Turkish apricots, soaked in boiling water for 1 hour, drained and patted dry
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Warm 1¼ cups milk in a small saucepan to 110 degrees. Stir in the yeast and let stand for 5 minutes, until dissolved. Stir in one egg. Meanwhile, in the large bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook, mix 4 cups of flour with 1/3 cup sugar and the teaspoon of salt. Add the warm milk mixture and knead at medium-low speed until a stiff dough forms, about 3 minutes. Add 1 ½ sticks (12 tablespoons) of the softened butter and knead at medium speed until the dough is silky and soft, about 5 minutes. Transfer the dough to a buttered bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
Meanwhile, make the pastry cream by combining ¼ cup flour with ¼ cup sugar and ¼ cup milk and whisking to a paste. Whisk in the remaining two eggs and the vanilla. In a medium saucepan, heat the remaining 1 ¼ cups of milk and ¼ cup sugar over moderate heat until the sugar is dissolved. Gradually whisk the hot milk into the egg mixture, then transfer back to the saucepan and cook over moderate heat, whisking constantly, until thickened and no floury taste remains, about 4 minutes. Transfer the pastry cream to a bowl and cover with plastic wrap, pressing it directly onto the surface. Refrigerate overnight.
Butter four 9-inch pie plates. Divide the dough into 4 pieces and flatten into disks (it will be a firm dough). On a lightly floured work surface, roll out each disk of dough to a 9½-inch round. Place each round in a pie plate, making sure that the dough doesn’t extend past the rims. Cover the pie plates with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature until the dough has risen slightly, about 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and set racks in the upper and lower thirds. Lightly press the dough with your fingers to deflate it. Arrange the apricots on the bottom in a single layer, opening them into two halves. Spread the pastry cream evenly over the apricots.
In a medium bowl, combine the remaining sugar (a scant ¾ cup) with ¼ cup flour and 3 tablespoons butter and rub with your fingers until the texture is sandy. Sprinkle the topping over the pastry cream and dust lightly with cinnamon. Bake the kuchens for 40 minutes, until the crusts are deeply golden. Transfer them to a rack to cool completely before serving. The baked kuchens can be wrapped in foil and frozen for up to 1 month. Rewarm before serving.