Rhubarb lovers who’ve written in search of old recipes for the ruby-colored “pie plant”–here’s a “lost” kuchen recipe you’ll love from long-defunct Bill Zuber’s Restaurant and Dugout Lounge, in the Amana Colonies, Homestead, Iowa. The German Pietists who founded Amana and lived and ate in community there from 1855 to 1930 were well-known for their food. Fifty-two community kitchens—each with its own garden– prepared the meals for the villagers and usually had a little friendly competition going to see who could prepare the best-tasting fare. One of those competing recipes? Obst Kuchen—fruit-custard topped cake—a special, Sunday-dinner dessert. But be forewarned: This is not a cakey-crust–more like a simple puffy pizza dough.
Our version of the cake is from Connie Zuber, who was 12 when the community-dining aspect of village life ended. She grew up to marry another Amana villager—Bill Zuber, who had an illustrious major-league baseball career pitching for the Cleveland Indians, Washington Senators, New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. Retiring from baseball in 1948, Bill headed back to Homestead with Connie and operated Bill Zuber’s Restaurant and Dugout Lounge there for 45 years. This kuchen was their signature. “People would drive out to the restaurant just for that cake,” says Connie, who is now 90. Her version of the cake—which differs slightly from one published in a 1948 recipe collection by the Ladies Auxiliary of the Homestead Welfare Club–may have come from Bill’s Mother. “She was a Kuechenbaas—kitchen boss—in Middle-Amana,” Connie recalls, “and a very good cook.”
Makes Filling recipe is for one kuchen; Crust recipe is for FIVE kuchens, so you'll have to freeze some
- 1 cup milk
- ½ cup sugar
- 1 Tbsp salt
- 1 cake fresh compressed yeast
- 1 cup lukewarm water
- 6 cups sifted all-purpose flour, divided
- 6 Tbsp shortening, melted
- 1/2 cup sugar
Filling for one kuchen Ingredients
- 1 cup sugar, divided
- 3 Tbsp butter, melted
- 2 cups rhubarb, cut across the grain into ¼ inch slices
- 2 Tbsp flour
- 1 egg, beaten
- 2 Tbsp cream
- Sprinkle ½ cup sugar from filling recipe over rhubarb and let sit overnight. Drain juice from rhubarb. Set rhubarb aside. Cook juice down to a syrup, over medium-high heat. Recombine syrup with rhubarb. Cool.
- Make crust: Scald milk, ½ cup sugar and salt together. Cool to lukewarm. Dissolve yeast in lukewarm water and add to cooled milk. Add three cups flour and beat until smooth. Add melted shortening and remaining 3 cups flour. Knead well. Place in greased bowl, turn dough to coat, cover and set in warm place free from drafts. Let rise until double in bulk—about three hours. This makes enough dough for five, 9-inch kuchens. Separate dough into five balls. Wrap those you are not baking and store extra dough in refrigerator.
- To assemble kuchen: Roll out one fifth of dough and place in a greased, 9-inch pie plate pushing dough up around edges of plate to make a high rim. Freeze rest of dough for another time. Pour 3 Tbsp butter into dough. Sprinkle ¼ cup sugar over this. Let rise 15 minutes. Press reserved rhubarb you combined with syrup, into dough. Sprinkle with remaining ¼ cup sugar. Sprinkle 2 Tbsp flour over the sugar. Whisk cream with beaten egg. Spoon over cake, popping any bubbles that surface in the flour, and tipping to ensure custard covers entire surface. Place cake in preheated 425 degree oven and cover with large, inverted pan (I used a disposable turkey-roasting pan) Bake covered for 10 minutes. Lower temperature to 375, remove inverted pan, and continue baking about 25 minutes until crust is well- browned and custard topping is firm. Eat soon after baking.