“Food inspired by books” is an ongoing initiative of trying out dishes and experimenting with cuisine referenced in literature. The recipes might be shared by the authors themselves, it might be food that occupies a prominent role in the narrative, or an item mentioned offhandedly in relation to a specific character. There’s an unparalleled joy in experiencing books beyond reading. It’s fun exploring places and meeting people through books, and food is such a powerful part of culture.
The book in focus this week was “Stierhunger” by Linda Stift – originally a German book, with an English translation from Peirene Press available as “The Empress and the Cake“. The crux of the story is about a young woman invited by an elderly lady to share a piece of cake , as the Gugelhupf is too large to consume by oneself. Accepting a simple gesture unravels a nightmare for the protagonist, who is battling her own demons as well as the ones presented by her newfound “friend”.
Having heard of Gugelhupf for the first time through the story, I looked it up and decided to give it a try. Native to Austria, the cake is known by various names in different parts of the world – Kugelhupf in Germany, Kuglof in Hungarian, Guguluf in Romanian, Kouglof in France, Babovka in Czech, and Babka in Polish; closely related to the Pandoro in Italy and the American Bundt cake. The yeast-raisin cake is traditionally baked in a circular Bundt mold. Claims of the origin of the cake date back to Roman times, and even the Three Wise Men. It was popularized by Emperor Franz Josef in Austria and Marie Antoinette in France. Gugelhupf comes from the words “gugel” (a long, pointed hood or bonnet) and “hupf” (to hop or jump). The Grimm Brothers described the hupf as a “jumping of the dough” caused by the yeast.
While the cake is primarily a yeast dough, additional ingredients vary depending on where it is made. I used raisins, almonds and orange rind peels, but it can also contain brandy or poppy seeds, or have nothing at all and just be a plain marble cake with its characteristic angled, ridged pattern.
The recipe, for anyone interested to give it a go:
1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
2 tablespoons warm water
1 cup whole milk
7 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 tablespoons granulated sugar
3 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups golden raisins
1 teaspoon grated orange zest (Lemon rind can be used as well)
20 whole blanched almonds
1 tablespoon confectioners sugar
~Stir the yeast and water and let them stand together for ten minutes, till the mixture gets foamy.
~Heat milk with sugar and 6 tablespoons of the butter on low heat, till the butter melts and the sugar dissolves.
~Sift the flour and salt, add in the yeast mixture and warm milk mixture, followed by the eggs, raisins and zest, all the while beating continuously till the dough turns smooth and elastic. The consistency will be very sticky.
~Line a bundt mold with the remaining 1 tabespoon of butter. Put in almonds at the bottom in any decorative pattern, and place the dough over it, pressed into an even shape. Cover the mold with an oiled plastic wrap and a cloth napkin, and leave in a warm place for two hours for the dough to rise.
~After pre-heating the oven, remove the towel and peel off the plastic layer. Bake for fifteen minutes. Loosely cover the mold with foil (so that the cake doesn’t rise uncontrollably), and continue to bake for another twenty minutes. A needle poked in the center should come out clean and the surface should be golden. After cooling, invert the cake onto a rack or plate. Let it cool and then dust with confectioner’s sugar. (It’s important that it cools completely, or the dusted sugar will just melt on the surface.)
A fun recipe to try out in the Christmas season – there’s nothing like the warm aromas of freshly baked bread. The Gugelhupf can be enjoyed over breakfast, brunch, or a tea-time snack like I did, depending on how it is made. My version wasn’t very sweet, as the sweetness of the raisins was balanced by the tanginess of the orange.