A Kugelhopf is an iconic cake of the Alsace. If you ever travel to this part of France, especially for the famous Christmas markets in the picturesque village of Strasbourg, you will find stores overflowing with the traditional and colourfully decorated Kugelhopf moulds. It’s tempting to purchase a few, either as a decorative souvenir or indeed as intended for use in the kitchen, but they are rather heavy and make juggling cups of Glühwein (mulled wine) amongst the crowd a bit difficult, especially if one hand is also holding onto a thick slice of Lebkuchen (gingerbread). I had a brief moment with the Kugelhopf moulds before sighing with resignation to join the rest of my friends who I understood had not travelled to Strasbourg to pay homage to a piece of kitchen equipment. Next time, there is a blue enamelled Kugelhopf mould with my name on it …
I first tried a Kugelhopf when I was at Sprüngli one day for their popular brunch. Sprüngli is a famous, long-standing confiserie in Zurich which, once upon a time, was part of Lindt & Sprüngli, the famous Swiss chocolate company. Their flagship store is at Paradeplatz, a busy tram interchange in the middle of Zurich city where most of the big Swiss banks are headquartered and where luxury stores like Louis Vuitton and Prada line the streets. On Sundays, they offer a lovely continental brunch buffet filled with their famous breads and cakes, a selection of seasonal bircher muesli, cold cuts, a variety of cheeses and – my staple – soft-boiled eggs.
Alongside the croissants and brioches offered at the brunch buffet is usually also a Kugelhopf which you can help yourself to. Hubby, having grown up in France and who had a great-aunt who frequently baked Kugelhopfs at home, recognised a treat when he saw it. I simply followed his cue in taking a few slices with a little pot of jam to go with. And since then, I’ve been hooked. A little spread of jam on a slice of Kugelhopf, together with a cup of Earl Grey on the side, makes for a really lovely breakfast in my world.
So when I saw the recipe for Kugelhopf in Ladurée’s Sucré cookbook, I fleetingly thought about trying it. Baking with yeast is not something I am particularly comfortable with so I put that thought away quickly. And then I saw that Julie from Mélanger had published a post on this recipe and her photos simply left me awe-inspired.
The Ladurée Sucré cookbook, luxuriously bound in a soft green suede cover with gilded pages, is probably the prettiest cookbook out there. It even comes beautifully wrapped in its own box, similar to those which you can buy filled with macaroons from their stores. My first thought was, no way was this book going to sit stove-side in my kitchen! And besides, who would ever attempt to make their cakes and pastries when their pastry chefs probably train for years in some fancy French école and have degrees that justify the painstaking effort to produce these exquisite creations? But the book lends itself well to dreamers like me who love to look at the pictures and occasionally try out a recipe or two.
It probably goes without saying that the Ladurée Kugelhopf recipe is a bit complicated, in my opinion. Okay … the (minimum) 7.5 hour resting time (over three different periods) should have put me off from the beginning but I had managed to convince myself to devote a whole Sunday to making this cake. The Ladurée recipe doesn’t provide any tips on how the Kugelhopf can be made over two days so that it can be baked just in time for breakfast, but my guess is that once you have reached the stage of leaving the dough to rest in the fridge, you could leave it there overnight and do the final bit of proofing the next morning before baking. In any event, I found that the Kugelhopf actually tasted better the next day when it was slightly stale than when it was still warm and soft from the oven.
The only change I had made to the recipe was to soak the golden raisins in some rum which I had heated first in a small saucepan. It is a habit which I have picked up whenever a recipe calls for raisins and one which I follow faithfully.
One part of the recipe which baffled me was the use of “cake flour”. Having recently discovered that a fellow expat in Zurich (Kerrin Rousset of the wonderful food and travel blog, MyKugelhopf) actually translated this book from French to English, I was tempted to contact her to quiz her on what this ingredient was. But then I realised that, well, she was only the translator, not the person who created the recipe. My memory recalled something about a mix of plain flour and cornflour but I was unsure of the ratio, so I ended up using normal plain flour.
The dough was really soft and sticky due to the high fat content, so it is probably best to only attempt this recipe if you have a standmixer. I found that I had to mix the dough for about 20 minutes on high speed before the dough started to pull away from the sides of the bowl and become elastic in texture.
The resting phases were quite anxious moments for me. During each period of proofing, I was frequently checking on the dough to make sure that it would rise, fearful that the yeast had died and all of my effort and ingredients had gone to waste (not to mention my Sunday). Either it was the yeast I was using or the temperature of my kitchen, but I had to be quite patient as the dough took about 2.5 to 3 hours to double in size each time.
I’m not sure if I was a bit impatient with the last bit of proofing because I only had enough dough for just one Kugelhopf mould of 22 cm diameter; the recipe suggests using two Kugelhopf moulds of 19 cm diameter.
All in all, despite the sticky and messy dough, and despite the anxious periods of proofing, my Kugelhopf turned out rather well. It rose beautifully upon baking and only required 35 minutes in the oven (not 40 minutes as per the recipe). The Orange Flower-Scented Syrup gave a lovely aroma when brushed over the warm Kugelhopf. But, to be honest, I think you could do without the syrup and just brush over melted butter before dusting generously with icing sugar. In any event, if you were to make the syrup, Julie from Mélanger suggests scaling down the recipe to a quarter. I gratefully followed her advice and still ended up with more syrup than I needed.
The Ladurée recipe is essentially a rich brioche studded with raisins. By comparison, the Sprüngli Kugelhopf is a more restrained cake, less sweet and less buttery; it could almost pass as a bread but for its decorative shape. And if I had to choose, my preference would be the Sprüngli Kugelhopf, but maybe that’s only because it was the first one I had ever tried. And you know the saying about first loves …
Overall, I am really glad I tried this recipe. Despite the long hours required to arrive at the finished product, at least the effort was worth it in the end. Now I wonder if Sprüngli has published a book …