AKugelhopf (also spelt as Kugelhupf, Gugelhupf, Gougelhof, Kugelhoph, Kugloff Kuelopf, Kouklouf, Köjlhopf, Koejelhopf, Koïlopf, Köjhupf!) is a yeasted sweet cake well known in the Alsace region of France, as well as in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria, and variations of this are also found in some countries of Eastern Europe.
Though this yeasted cake is really thought to be Austrian in origin, it is more known as Alsatian. The most commonly told story about the Kugelhopf is that Marie Antoinette (the same lady of the “let them eat cake” fame!) brought it from her home country Austria, to France upon her marriage to King Louis XVI.
There are others who think that the Kugelhopf was brough over from Poland to France by the Polish king Stanisław Leszczyn´ski when he came to live in Alsace in the early 1700s.
There are always stories, some believable, others not so believable and some true, about a lot of food and it’s the same with the Kugelhopf. Here’s one.
There used to be a potter called Kugel who lived in a village in Alsace (France). One morning at work, he created a deep round and fluted ceramic cake mould with curving sides and a tube in the middle. That evening, three strangers knocked on his door looking for a place to stay the night. Kugel shared whatever little food he had, and gave them some place to sleep.
Apparently, the three guests were actually the Three Magi on their way from paying homage to bay Jesus at Bethlehem! To thank him for his generosity to them, the three men baked him a cake in his new mould and left before he got up. That tall golden cake is said to have become the Kugelhopf that the Alsace region of France is famous for.
Here’s another story. This one contends that the turban-shaped cakes signify the turbans that Ottomans wore, and were ﬁrst baked by Viennese bakers to celebrate victory in 1683 over the Ottoman Turks at the gates of Vienna.
And then there the one that suggests that the first Kugelhopf was made when Monsieur Eugene the chef of the Austrian Ambassador Prince Schwartzenberg, gave to the well-known French pastry chef Carême.
And why is this yeasted cake called a Kugelhopf? Is there a story there too? No one seems to know for sure but some say the name comes from the German word “Kugel” for ball referring to its round shape, and “Hopfen” meaning “to brew up/ up or rise up under the influence of yeast.” Another thought is that it is from the Alsatian (German) word Gugelhut/Gugehüet, which refers to a kind of medieval round formal hat worn by members of the Strasbourg Sénat that governed that city.
Whether the origins of the name or the recipe/ dish are true or not, it makes for interesting reading and also tells you that the people to whom this yeasted cake is traditional, are pretty passionate about it.
The Kugelhopf is baked not just as an everyday food but also for special occasions and festivities and the shape of the mould and the Kugelhopf is decided by what the occasion is.
As mentioned in the story of Kugel the potter, the Kugelhopf is typically baked in a special pan that that is round with a hole in the centre, somewhat like a bundt pan but heavier. Since it is a yeasted cake, the Kugelhopf has a dense bread-like texture and is made from a somewhat enriched dough like brioche but is not as rich. It is considered similar to a coffee cake that might be eaten for or with breakfast, or could be part of an afternoon snack with coffee.
A lesser known version of the Kugelhopf is its savoury Alsatian version called the Kugelhopf aux Lardons. “Lardons” is the French word for bacon, and this version is typically made with onions, ham/ bacon, walnuts and herbs.
Since it is the sweet version of the Kugelhopf that’s very well-known and popular, I was attracted to the idea of baking the less known savoury version. It also helps that I like savoury more than sweet, generally speaking. I also wanted to bake something to serve with soup for dinner, but was looking for something different from the usual bread thing.
And after last month’s sweet doughnuts it seemed to be a nice idea to bake a savoury recipe. The recipe below is one that I have cobbled together after some thought and is much like a sweeter Kugelhopf but with savoury additions. Being a vegetarian, I have substituted for the ham/ bacon but if you are non-vegetarian feel free to bake the “Kugelhopf aux Lardons”
This bread/ cake contains eggs because they are a characteristic part of this bake, but feel free to substitute powdered flax seed for the eggs if you don’t eat them. You may also use sun-dried tomatoes and toasted pine nuts instead of the tomatoes/ bell pepper and walnuts. I used Cheddar because that’s what I had, but use a cheese of your choice if you prefer. A sharper cheese will taste better.
This Kugelhopf bakes in an 8” Kugelhopf pan, but you should also be ableto bake it in an 8” Bundt pan, a regular loaf tin (or 2 small ones), smaller Brioche tins or even muffin tins. If you’re baking this in muffin tins you might want to use half the recipe, though I understand that this bread freezes well.