A favourite holiday dessert mastered!

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... Or as she calls it in her very diluted German, "Sugar Kuga". I call it kugen.

This is an old family recipe which is a different but, I've discovered, very similar to German coffee cake, zuckerkuchen. I think my family's recipe must have been derived from that traditional cake at some point but after two emigrations, first to Russia then America, and god knows how many generations of cooks, it's become more of a tart than a cake.

It basically consists of two thin layers of crust with a fruit filling spread thinly between, topped with sugary cookie crumbs, baked and sliced into wafer-like bars. It's a simple enough concept, except that if the crust or filling is too thick the result is distinctly pie-ish. The trick of the recipe is to roll out the crusts to something like an even sixteenth of an inch [or until you can just start to see through it] and maneuver it onto a baking sheet. My grandma has an uncanny ability to do this by hand but I've found that rolling the dough onto parchment or wax paper makes the whole process much easier. I've tried it with plastic wrap as well, but the plastic stretches when you're rolling the dough and is awkward to handle. Also a double-wide unrimmed baking sheet will prevent a headache.

As for the filling, date and pineapple are both traditional in my family [date being my favourite :angry2: ], and I've also had success with pumpkin. I've tried some of the more common fruit fillings like blueberry, cherry, and apple but they were too thick and produced an uninteresting flavour [much more suited to pies]. Though, whatever you like, this recipe lends itself to experimentation. My improved and clarified recipe is as follows:

You'll want to start the filling first since they tend to take a while to boil down.

Date Filling:

In a sauce pot mix 1 pound finely chopped dates, 1 cup sugar, 1 cup water and boil on medium until it reduces to a smooth consistency. Stir often and watch that the sugar doesn't burn.

Pineapple Filling:

Mix 1 can of crushed pineapple, 1 cup sugar and 1 tblsp. flour in a sauce pot and boil on medium until it thickens to a spreading consistency. Stir often, the pineapple is less likely to scald than the date, but still needs to be stirred.


Mix together 5 cups all-purpose flour, 1/4 cup sugar, and 1/2 tsp. baking soda in a large bowl. Cut in 1 1/2 cups [10 oz] lard until it's a flaky crumbly paste-like mixture. In a separate bowl beat together 1/2 cup whipping cream, 1/2 cup water, 3 eggs, and 1 tsp vanilla extract. Mix in the liquid ingredients with the flour-lard dough. It will be very sticky, but you don't want too much flour in the dough, so carefully mix in 1 tblsp increments of flour until it just becomes workable with your hands.

By now the filling should be nearing the correct consistency. So divide the dough into 8 parts and roll a single part out onto parchment or wax paper until it's an even 1/16th of an inch or as thin as you can make it, whichever comes first. Use the paper to transfer the rolled dough onto a baking sheet and peel it off carefully to reuse for the other 7 parts of dough. Spoon the filling from the burner onto the rolled dough and spread it thinly. Roll out another portion of dough and transfer it on top of the filling. Pinch the edges together so the filling doesn't boil out. Brush the kugen with melted butter or margarine and prick liberally with a fork. Top with a crumb mixture of crushed sugar cookies [vanilla wafers], cinnamon, sugar, and anise seed [or extract] to taste. This process works much more smoothly if you have one person rolling the dough and another assembling the kugen. Bake at 450 degrees for 5-10 minutes or until it has browned nicely. Set out to cool on a rack, then trim the edges and slice into bars.


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