Triple Berry Kuchen

I’m about to head down to New York for the weekend. I’m pretty excited to see friends and relatives, and to get together with the Best Book Club Ever for afternoon tea and discussion of Patti Smith’s Just Kids. Because I’m traveling by bus, I can’t bring this berry kuchen.

This kuchen comes from one of my favorite books: Out of Kentucky Kitchens. I adore this book. Every recipe I’ve tried in it has been totally spot-on, totally Deep South, and utterly delicious. I don’t know how many of you have checked out the “Collection” page since I added book cover pictures…but if you’ve done so and you’ve looked closely, you may have noticed Kentucky Kitchens is so Deep South it’s got a really, really unfortunate cover. I didn’t notice until I got around to photographing it, but…this cookbook is seriously racist. I’m not exaggerating: it’s got a picture of African Americans in some state of servitude cooking over open fires on the front.

Blogging about food history sometimes brings one into stark confrontation with the not-nice parts of the past. When I first saw this illustration, I actually considered taking it down to avoid offending people. Last year, however, I had a great professor for a class in equal protection law, who both encouraged us to take an honest approach to confronting tough issues surrounding race, gender, and class. One of the reasons many bloggers wind up writing about food is its connection to community; it’s a short step from community to society, but not one that recipes in, say, Mark Bittman, force you to take. History, however, often bridges the gap between food and society. It raises issues regarding who cooked it, who grew it, what class expectations surrounded it. Finding problematic aspects about food history can remind us to consider the problems that still surround what we eat. This book presents some discomfort in its portrayal of who cooks food, but it also can remind us to think about who cooks our food today, and about how far we’ve come since the publication of this book, and how far we still have to go to reach full equality.

Enough preaching. Back to food itself; I definitely think issues with the cover of a book should in no way impact enjoyment of a recipe contained within. I had no idea what a “kuchen” was going into this; this one turned out to be a kind of biscuit/scone topped and baked with fruit. It’s pretty delicious. I found some gorgeous berries to go in it.

The key to this dough, as with scones or biscuits, is keeping the butter cold and blending it into dry ingredients fast. As with those other baked goods, the butter-flour mixture should reach a cornmeal-like texture.

Where you’d then mix in milk or buttermilk for scones, though, for kuchen dough you add eggs.

This forms a sticky dough which gets pressed, rather than rolled, into a round or square pan.

The pressed-out dough pretty much turns into something resembling the ugliest pie crust ever.

The beauty of this recipe is that it really showcases the fresh fruit placed on top of the dough. You just sprinkle sugar, flour, and a wee bit of cinnamon on top, and dot the fruit with butter.

Triple Berry Kuchen (Serves 6-8)
For the Dough:
1 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
1/4 c. granulated sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 c. unsalted butter, chilled
1 large egg
1-2 tbsp. milk

For the Filling:
2 c. mixed berries (raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, or strawberries)
2 tbsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 tbsp. unsalted butter

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Whisk the flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder together in a medium mixing bowl.
2. Cut the butter into 1/2-inch pieces, add it to the dry ingredients, and use your fingertips to blend the butter into the flour as fast as possible. It should have a cornmeal-like texture. Mix the egg in with your hands and add milk until the dough binds.
3. Press the dough into the bottom of a 9-inch pie pan or an 8-inch square pan. Spread the berries evenly in the middle.
4. Mix the flour, sugar, and cinnamon for the filling together in a small bowl and sprinkle evenly over the berries.
5. Bake the kuchen for 15 minutes at 450 degrees, then reduce the temperature to 375 and bake for 30 minutes more. Serve it up hot or cold; I pair it with plain yogurt for brunch and with whipped cream for dessert.