If there’s one dessert that trumps all other desserts in my husband’s opinion, it’s my mother-in-law’s Italian Plum Kuchen. As a wife (and a baker), you might think I’d be jealous that he wouldn’t choose something I make- but I’m not. I come from a family of great bakers and I love that I married into one, too! We all seem to have our specialties and THIS is one of hers.
And it’s sooooooooooo good 🙂 !
It Starts with a Pillowy Soft, Subtly-Sweet Yeast Dough
You’ll dot the dough with dark purple, tart-juicy Italian plums before generously sprinkling with a blanket of sweet-graham-crumble goodness. Then you’ll bake it just until the edges are lightly golden and the plums start giving up their juice …letting it ooze gloriously into the surrounding dough.
Gahhhhhhhhhhh … My mother-in-law knows what she’s doing!
Is Kuchen Dessert?
Eric pointed out to me that to call this recipe a dessert isn’t quite accurate. So I asked him, “If it’s not dessert, then what is it?”
Right away he said “It’s breakfast.” And then, as if he knew I was about to point out we’d eaten it after dinner last night (as dessert) he added, “…and lunch…and dessert…” and his voice just kind of drifted off at that point.
The takeaway? This beautifully sweet-tart-yeasty treat is appropriate literally anytime of the day (or night). It’s the kind of thing you think about at 2 am, remembering that it’s waiting for you on the counter just down the stairs.
It’s something that you wrap up before bed- counting 12 pieces left in the pan- but when you get your morning coffee and go to put a piece on your plate there are only 6 left.
And NO ONE knows what happened to the other 6.
So, What IS Kuchen?
The word kuchen literally means “cake” in German. Somewhat of a cross between cake and pie, consisting of a batter topped with fruit, it’s not as sweet as most cakes or pies. I’ve found recipes with shortbread like crusts, recipes with yeasted cake batters, and recipes with a combination of cake batter and custard. All of them topped with fruit and sprinkled with sugar.
But, I’ve never seen a recipe like this one, which is why I’m excited to share it with you!
What if I can’t find Italian Plums?
The absolute MOST IMPORTANT PART of Italian plum kuchen is the plums. They have to be the small, tart-sweet Italian prune plums that you only find during this fleeting window of time in September. This is definitely one of those recipes dictated by the season…which is also one of the reasons it feels so special!
This year I’ve decided I don’t want to wait an entire twelve months to have it again. So I bought 5 pounds and I’m going to freeze them so that we can enjoy it at least a couple more times before next fall. You might want to do the same 🙂
Do Yeast Dough Recipes Intimidate you?
If so, you’re not alone! I totally understand and encourage you to try this anyway. This dough is just beautiful to work with, it’s not sticky and feels really good when you’re rolling it out and shaping it. Plus, this is a humble, rustic kind of dessert and I think it tastes even better when it isn’t perfectly shaped and a little wabi-sabi 🙂
That said, here are some tips for the dough:
- You’ll be using instant yeast, which means you don’t need to “proof” it first, you’ll just mix it right in with the dry ingredients. If all you have is active dry yeast, I have instructions in the recipe notes for you.
- Warming the liquid is important, but you don’t want it too hot. Use an instant read digital thermometer to be confident you’ve got it right, 120-130°f is perfect (see notes if using active dry yeast)
- There’s some leeway in the amount of flour you’ll need. Start with the lesser amount and add more, a couple Tablespoons at a time until it’s not sticky.
- Rise time will vary with the temperature of your kitchen. Pay more attention to the dough volume than to the amount of time that’s passed.
Making The Dough
The base for this recipe is a simple yeast dough that my mother in law also uses for her sweet rolls.
What you’ll need:
- All purpose flour (I prefer King Arthur)
- Instant dry yeast
- Kosher salt
- Milk and water
After you make the dough, let it rise until doubled. Then roll it out and place in greased jelly roll pans, stretching gently to completely fill them.
Assemble The Kuchen
What You’ll Need:
- Italian Plums
- Brown Sugar
- Crushed graham Crackers
Cut each plum in half the long way and remove the pits. Arrange the plumbs, cut side up, all over the dough.
Combine sugar, cinnamon and crushed graham crackers in a bowl and sprinkle the mixture generously over top.
You’re going to cover your prepared kuchens with a clean towel and let them rise for about 30 minutes while you preheat the oven. They don’t rise a lot, just to the top of the pan edges and maybe a tiny bit higher. The pan on the left is pre-rise. The pan on the right is ready to bake.
Now, put them in a preheated oven on the middle rack and bake for 18-24 minutes, just until the edges are golden and the plums start releasing their juice.
Cool the kuchen in the pan but PLEASE make sure you have at least one piece while it’s still warm! HEAVEN 🙂
Can You Cut The Recipe In Half?
Yes. But why would you want to?
(I’ve calculated measurements for a half recipe in the recipe notes section, but trust me…you’ll want to make two :))
- 6 1/2 to 7 cups all purpose flour
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2 packages instant dry yeast (4 1/2 tsp)
- 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 1 cup milk
- 1 cup water
- 1/2 cup butter
- 2 eggs, room temperature
- 36-ish Italian plums
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 4 tsp cinnamon
- 4 crushed whole graham crackers
- In a large mixing bowl combine half of the flour (reserve the other half) and all of the sugar, yeast and salt. Mix well.
- In a saucepan, warm milk, water and butter to 120-130°f (butter does not need to be melted). You can also do this in the microwave, just make sure not to overheat (it takes 1 1/2 minutes in mine)
- Add the milk/water mixture and the eggs to the flour mixture and blend on low speed until moistened. Increase to medium speed for 3 more minutes, scraping once or twice.
- By hand, gently stir in enough of the remaining flour to make a soft dough. Knead on a floured surface until nice and smooth and elastic, about 5-8 more minutes. (if you prefer to use the mixer for the whole thing, see notes)
- Place in a greased bowl, turning to cover, lay a clean towel over and let stand in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.
Make The Topping
- Combine the brown sugar, cinnamon and crushed graham crackers in a bowl and set aside.
- Halve plums and remove pits.
Assemble and Bake
- Prep two 11x16" jelly roll pans by coating with cooking spray.
- Once dough had doubled, punch it down gently and turn onto a lightly floured surface. Cut dough in half and roll each half into a rectangle approximately 11 x 16 (it doesn't need to be perfect). Place dough on each prepared sheet and use your hands to push/pull to the edges of the pan.
- Arrange plums, cut side up, evenly over the dough and sprinkle with the crumb topping.
- Cover and let rest about 30-45 minutes, or until nice and puffy.
- Bake in a preheated 375°f oven, on the middle rack, for 18-25 minutes or until edges are just lightly golden.
- Cool in pans and make sure to have at least one piece while still warm!
- Subbing active dry yeast: the general rule is to use 25% more active dry yeast when a recipe calls for instant. I would use 5 1/2 teaspoons for this recipe. You'll also need to proof the yeast by combining it with your warm milk/water/butter mixture (instead of adding to flour) and letting it stand for 10 minutes (or until nice and foamy) before proceeding with the recipe. Note that the liquid needs to be a little cooler (90-110) when proofing the yeast.
- If you want to make the dough completely in the stand mixer, start with the paddle attachment and switch to the dough hook just before you add the remaining flour. Scrape bowl and hook several times while mixing to make sure all of the dry ingredients are incorporated. Once it looks cohesive let it continue kneading on low for 2 minutes. The dough will climb up the hook, just stop the mixer, pull it down and continue kneading. Don't over work the dough, 2 minutes is long enough if kneading with the machine.
- If you are using dark pans, reduce the temperature to 350 (dark pans cook quicker)
Measurements for half a recipe (1 Italian Plumb Kuchen)
- 3 1/4-3 1/2 cups flour
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 package (2 1/4 teaspoons) instant yeast
- 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1/2 cup water
- 4 Tablespoons butter
- 1 egg
- 18 Italian plums
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
- 2 whole graham crackers, crushed