The many spellings of the name indicate the provenance of this bread to be from countless places and nations of Central Europe. It is very popular in Alsace, where it is Kugelhopf, and it became a staple among the vast array of cakes in Vienna, where they say Gugelhupf. Other places that lay claim to it, include Switzerland, the Balkans, Czech Republic and Poland. It is found at Christmas and Harvest Festivals, as well as private celebrations like weddings and baptisms.
The bread is rich and soft, and often features raisins and almonds. Like a brioche it is easily described as cake rather than bread. In Alsace and through the southern German regions, the name is used to refer to any type of coffee bread which has the distinct shape of the central hole with steeply fluted sides and top. The fluted sides make the bread look very imposing. It is thought that the shape of the mould inspired its name since in medieval times it was known in some places as the hat bread. Gugel in ancient German means hat or pointy hood.
The original moulds were enamelled ceramic, but metal is most common today. The ceramic moulds can be so pretty that they are hung up as decoration when not in use, and the Alsatians would include an elaborate mould as part of a woman’s trousseau, with the family’s kugelhopf recipe being given to her by her mother on her wedding day.
The shape of the mould ensures easier cooking as the heat penetrates quickly to the centre of the loaf. This would not necessarily be the case with a heavier ceramic mould which would take a longer baking time.
Towards the end of the mix I predict you will become in awe of the amount of eggs and butter that can be beaten into the dough. A well made kugelhopf is so runny that you could virtually pour it into the mould.
I like the look of whole almonds studded into the outside crust, right at the top of the splendid-looking bread. For this feature, you must remember to toss a dozen or so almonds into the greased mould before pouring the mix into it.
The recipe below will make one large bread in a mould of 23cm (9inch) wide.
- 400 gm (14oz) white flour of medium-strong strength
- 5 gm (1/2 teaspoon) salt
- 200 ml (7fl.oz) milk, warmed
- 20 gm (2/3oz) fresh yeast
- 60 gm (2oz) sugar
- zest of either one lemon or orange
- 3 eggs
- 120-140 gm (4-5oz) butter, room temperature – still firm, not soft
- 150 gm (5oz) sultanas and raisins (soaked in rum-optional)
- Almonds for decoration, about 50 gm
- Mix the flour, sugar and salt together in a bowl wide enough to make a well in the centre.
- Disperse the yeast in the warm milk and pour the liquid into the well.
- Draw enough flour down from the steep sides to make a wet batter in the centre.
- This is the first stage, the ferment, which will get the yeast feeding actively. At this point make sure the butter is out of the refrigerator.
- After about half an hour, when the ferment is frothing vigorously, add the eggs and begin making the dough. It should be a wet dough, but it should be firm enough to leave the sides of the bowl when it starts becoming stretchable and elastic.
- Beat it with a rotary action with your hand or a wooden spoon, employing a lifting action that pulls and stretches it. A mixing machine would be a fine alternative if you wish to avoid any risk of exhaustion. When the dough feels pliable and elastic it will also appear glossy.
- Beat the butter into it in two or three bursts.
- Stop the kneading when you are confident that the butter has been worked in evenly. Don’t be alarmed if the dough is so slack it will almost pour.
- Now gently incorporate the fruit and zest. If you have soaked the raisins in booze, make sure they are well-drained before mixing them in.
- The proof will occur in the mould, which should be made ready by a heavy greasing with butter, and whole or slivered almonds strewn around the indentations at the bottom (which will be the top of the cake when it is baked).
- Scrape the dough out into the mould, which should be approximately half full.
- Cover it carefully, and prove in a warm place until it has risen almost to the top of the mould, about an inch short of the top. This will probably take 40 minutes to 1 hour, depending on the warmth of your kitchen.
- The oven should be medium in heat. Brick Oven. In brick oven baking this means all the bread baking is over and the temperature of the oven has slumped down to temperatures suitable for casseroles, pastry, cake. Domestic Oven. For domestic, ovens you must make sure your oven is not too hot, because the Gugelhupf is a sugary bread which will burn easily. Somewhere around 190C, 380F or gas mark 6 should be the setting.
- The baking time will be 30-40 minutes. The colour should be a deep golden brown, and a test to see whether it is done can be the skewer test: when inserted into the belly of the bread, the skewer should come out clean if it is properly baked.
- Further, after turning it out, you can confirm that it is baked by a gentle finger poke to the inside top, whereupon it springs back when you poke a dent in it.
- Turning it out must be done with care. Gently shake it out of the mould onto a cooling wire. Before serving, dust with icing sugar when it has cooled.