Share |
South Dakota's official state dessert — kuchen. Photo by Chad Coppess of SD Tourism.
South Dakota's official state dessert — kuchen. Photo by Chad Coppess of SD Tourism.

Cookin' Kuchen

Editor’s Note: This story is revised from the January/February 2004 issue of South Dakota Magazine. To order a copy or to subscribe, call 800-456-5117.


You don’t have to be German to appreciate kuchen, South Dakota's official state dessert. Kuchen is a traditional German pastry that roughly translates to “cake.” Typically, kuchen is made with a sweet dough and contains a fruit or custard filling. There are about as many different recipes and styles of kuchen as there are people who make it.

German immigrants brought kuchen to South Dakota in the 1880s. Homesteaders often brought very little with them besides their clothes, basic tools, self-sufficiency and a determination to face the challenges that a rough and unsettled South Dakota threw at them. Many of them settled in McPherson County in north central South Dakota, in towns like Leola, Eureka, Wetonka, Long Lake and Hillsview.

Their hard work and agricultural prowess turned McPherson County into one of the largest wheat-producing areas in the country. In fact, in the late 1890s Eureka billed itself as the “Wheat Capital of the United States.” In 1892, 3,300 railroad cars of wheat were hauled out of Eureka. This was a remarkable achievement in an era before the internal combustion engine, when the horsepower that planted and harvested crops was still provided by horses, oxen and people.

German was the first language for many county residents until the past two generations. Even people born in the 1960s and 1970s remember their parents and grandparents speaking German when they didn’t want their children to know what they were talking about. 

There aren’t many lutefisk feeds in this part of the state; it’s a kuchen-eatin’ crowd if there ever was one. Eureka holds a Schmeckfest every fall, and Leola celebrates Rhubarb Day every other year. Kuchen is prominently featured at both events. 

But kuchen is not limited to McPherson County. Delmont has an annual Kuchen Festival, and bakeries in many small towns make the treat. Those who’d like to try kuchen can ask whether their local bakery produces it or their grocery store carries it, they can make their own, or they can contact the Eureka Kuchen Factory or Pietz's Kuchen Kitchen of Scotland. 


Clean Your Plates for Aunt Edna's Kuchen


Growing up in Leola, kuchen was something we always looked forward to — if we cleaned our plates. Since my mother and grandmother were great cooks, this was never a problem. Like many family recipes, the one for kuchen has been handed down and around our family for years. My grandmother’s sister, Edna Neuharth, shared it with my grandmother, Adeline Ehley, who handed it on to my mother, Leta Guthmiller.

A great thing about kuchen is that it comes in so many styles and flavors. While this is good, it sometimes led to divisions at the dinner table. Adults preferred rhubarb and prune kuchen, while children favored apple, peach or strawberry. To get around this, my mother often made a sugar kuchen, which she knew everyone would like. Her recipe is flexible enough to make kuchen with or without fruit.

When cooks made kuchen to feed men working in the field, they didn’t make just one; they made several, and extras to freeze. Great-aunt Edna’s original recipe makes about eight kuchen. To make fewer, adjust the ingredients. Or make eight, some plain and some with fruit.


1 package dry yeast
1/8 cup warm water
2 beaten eggs
1 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup vegetable oil
4-5 cups flour 

In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. In a stainless steel pan, scald the milk by bringing to a boil and then reducing heat. The milk should have a film on top of it. Add sugar, salt, eggs and vegetable oil into the milk. Add milk mixture into the bowl of yeast and water. Mix in 4-5 cups of flour, enough to make a good dough. Let rise about one hour. Divide the dough into eight equal pieces. Roll each to about 1/4 inch thick and place in a greased pie pan so that the dough covers the bottom and comes about halfway up the side. Let dough rise in the pan for 15 minutes. Add a layer of thinly sliced apples, strawberries or other fruit if desired.


4 eggs
1 cup sugar
2 cups cream
2 cups milk
3 tablespoons flour

On the stove, heat the milk and cream together. In a large bowl, mix the sugar, flour and eggs together. Add the milk and cream mixture to the sugar, flour and eggs and return it to the stove and cook until it thickens. Pour about 3/4 of a cup of the filling mixture into each crust.


2 cups sugar
2 cups flour
1 cup margarine

Mix the sugar, flour and margarine together so that it is somewhere between smooth and lumpy. Pour the topping on and bake it in the oven for about 30 minutes at 350 degrees. After the kuchen comes out of the oven, let it set for five minutes, then remove from the pan and let it cool.


About the author: Trevor Guthmiller, a native of Leola, lives in Brandon with his wife Melissa and their children Adam and Ashley.  


06:41 pm - Wed, December 25 2013
Lou Ann Guthmiller Frasch said:
I was looking for recipes and run across your recipe for kuchen. I have been making kuchen for about 45 years. My recipe is just about identical. Not a lot of people know what a kuchen is but once they eat one they don't forget what they are. If you see this drop me an e-mail.
Lou Ann
06:09 pm - Mon, June 9 2014
Sharon Goetz said:
Your recipe calls for way to much liquid per flour, I had to add 2-3 more cups of flour and more yeast. This recipe needs to be corrected!!!
07:15 am - Wed, June 11 2014
Laura said:
Honestly, this is the first time that I know of that someone's had trouble with this recipe, and it's appeared twice in South Dakota Magazine! If I knew how to get in touch with Trevor, I would.

In the meantime, any other kuchen makers have recommendations?
02:56 pm - Wed, July 9 2014
wendy leif said:
For making the crust I also had trouble , I had to add also more flour then it called for to make a dough. otherwise it would of been a batter not a dough. I'm hopeing I don't have to throw out the dough cause I only use 1 pkg of yeast.
12:12 pm - Thu, July 10 2014
Trevor Guthmiller said:
The correction for the crust should be: In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast into the warm water. In a stainless steel pan, scald the milk by bringing to a boil and then reducing heat. The milk should have a film on top of it. Add sugar, salt, eggs and vegetable oil into the milk. Add milk mixture into the bowl of yeast and water and mix together. Mix in 4-5 cups of flour, enough to make a good dough. Let rise one hour. Divide the dough into eight equal pieces. Roll each to about 1/4 inch thick and place in a greased pie pan so that the dough covers the bottom and comes about halfway up the side. Let dough rise in the pan for 15 minutes. Add a layer of thinly sliced apples, strawberries or other fruit if desired.

Like a lot of these old recipes, measurements weren't always very precise.
07:41 pm - Sun, July 13 2014
Ron Deane said:
Request advice: years ago in Buffalo, NY we could purchase from local bakeries a coffee cake we used to call Apple Strudel or alternately Apple Kuchen out of ignorance. But, it was nice and chewy not the dried out crust one usually gets from the grocery store bake area.

Please advise how does one can make and bake an apple strudel/kuchen ?? and have it somewhat chewy and moist and look like a typical coffee cake. It would typically feel a bit heavier than the typical grocery store coffee cakes. Unable to find these kuchens/strudels anywhere here in Houston, TX

Your thoughts will be most appreciated.


Ron Deane
04:08 pm - Sun, July 20 2014
sandy lamovsky said:
Although kuchen is certainly of German descent, it was adopted by German Jews and then spread to all of the Jewish homes throughout Europe.It has remained a staple of American Jewish cooking since the arrival of European Jews in the latter part of the 19th and early to middle 20th centuries. I am Jewish and my mother regularly made this sweet treat and also her friends made it. In place of German they spoke Yiddish, a derivation of German, as do. It can be found at any Jewish bakery to this day. I love your recipe, although I make it with a cocoa, sugar, and butter filling. Hopefully, you will add some of this information to your introduction. Although the Jewish population of South Dakota is small, this ethnic group has played a large part in the spread of this sweet all over the USA.
09:10 am - Fri, September 19 2014
Jackie Hieb said:
We're having a German dinner at church this Sunday. I asked my MiL for her recipe but she couldn't remember it. Ironically when I searched kuchen, this was the first site and my MiL was raised in Leola! Will share the history of kuchen also this Sunday! Thank you!
10:46 am - Fri, October 10 2014
Mary said:
I was wondering are you related to the people who used to run the bakery in eureka sd. I'm sure we are related. Please email me.
10:31 am - Thu, November 6 2014
Deb said:
My great-grandmother made prune kuchen. It was made more like a yeast dough than a batter. It was oblong, rolled out, filled with prune puree, the sides were folded over on top of each other & baked. after baking it had a drizzle of icing on it. It was SPECTACULAR!!! Does anyone know how to make this? So sad the recipe went with her when she passed. Thanks for any help you can give me. My dad would love this again!!
03:44 am - Sat, November 29 2014
Cynthia French said:
My grandmother made this for me and my family my whole life. I LOVED IT! She was born and raised in New Leipzig, North Dakota. But she never put a topping on it. How can you pour it on? Do you melt the margarine? And why use margarine if you live in South Dakota? Why not butter?
07:23 am - Sat, February 28 2015
Linda Gross said:
My grandmother lived in Bowdle, South Dakota. Whenever I would go visit, I got to help her make Kuchen. Many of the recipes online using baking powder, not a yeast dough. Fleischman's Bread booklet has a kuchen recipe in it but I have not compared the two,. Thanks for posting this.
04:20 pm - Sat, March 21 2015
marla said:
Dearest Trevor I have never had a piece of your family kuchen you talk do highly of but I am sure it is scrumptious.
10:22 am - Fri, May 8 2015
G said:
I have made this recipe many, many times since South Dakota Magazine first published it. My husband exclaimed "Finally, the kuchen I remember!" In fact, I thought eight kuchen were excessive, but I ended up making three batches the first week I tried it. Everyone loves it.

Yes, I've always thought the bread dough recipe was a bit odd. I have tried to make it using enough flour to make the dough elastic. That took 3-4 cups of flour. The result was a tough bread.

I've resigned myself to the fact that the dough is sticky. After the second punch down, I scoop about a cup of dough onto a thickly floured surface. I thickly sprinkle more flour on top. I work the flour into the dough, roll it out a little, then press it into the pie pan. Tender, delicious bread!

Some great cooks have recommended that I use frozen bread dough or the dinner roll box mix for the bottom. I haven't tried either so can't say how they compare.

Definitely scald the milk for the custard. I also heat the milk in the bread dough for 60 seconds so it isn't cold.

Forget the margarine. Use only butter. We always have topping left over, even after liberally covering the top of the kuchen. The butter in the topping should be room temperature. You are making a crumb topping. Do not melt it.

Can someone share the recipe for a prune filling or a poppyseed filling? Also, the measurements for the cocoa and sugar filling would be appreciated.

Happy baking!

(I'm off to sample my latest rhubarb kuchen right now!)

05:38 pm - Thu, May 28 2015
Brenda said:
I was born and raised in MN but my parents were from Hosmer/Leola area and I always would love to go out and see my grandma who would make the cheese kuchen....that was my favorite...I just came back from SD yesterday and bought some at Kesslers....but it just isnt the same...My grandma always made her pies with dry curd cottage cheese whether it was prune or raisin, rhubarb or just cheese....only I dont have her recipe...I really wish i could pass on the tradition....any help would be appreciated if anyone had this recipe.
07:37 pm - Sun, June 21 2015
Here is a link to a kuchen recipe that includes the option of using the dry curd cottage cheese if you want to make a cheese kuchen.

Here also is a link to a picture:
07:39 pm - Sun, June 21 2015
Carlton Anderson said:
You need to click on my name on the previous comment to get to the recipe. Or, i am re-posting it here:
03:16 pm - Tue, November 24 2015
Karin Lager said:
In looking at you recipe, the crust is quite like a sweet dough I have used for the last 42 years. My husband was born in the Heron Lake, Minnesota are. His grandmother (a Warschatka) made kuchens with either a prune filling or a cottage cheese filling. They came from the Bohemia area of Austria (now Czech). In my family we are mongrels made of Austrian, German, Irish, English, Swedish& French, but we also have a trace of Eastern European Jewish heritage. I agree with the others hoping for recipies on how to make a cottage cheese or prune fillings.
08:23 am - Thu, December 24 2015
Betsy mcGillivray said:
My grandma of german descent was born around Bowbells, ND in 1900 in a soddy. At Christmas she always sent us her kuchen but it was a sweet yeast bread that was a round loaf. To the sweet dough she would sometimes add raisins or currants or candied fruit - not sure if it was candied orange or lemon - or citrus rind. It had a soft dark brown crust and as a kid I did not like it ... but as a bigger kid it was a great treat! This is the only kuchen I know but my cousin's rendition of the recipe is, of course, "some of this and maybe that and baked in a moderate oven until done!" Anyone have such a recipe to share? I will check back - am baking today and it would be fun to make it for christmas breakfast 😊 thank you!
11:25 am - Thu, March 10 2016
Robin said:
Betsy, the Christmas bread you describe sounds like Italian Panettone.
06:20 am - Thu, March 31 2016
Kathy Hancock said:
My grandmother was from a German settlement in Russia and made kuchen for us. I learned from her, mom and Aunt Alma. Sweet bread recipe with custard layer, then prunes that had been softened in boiling water. cover the fruit with more custard and sprinkled with cinnamon. Yum - may kids love blueberry, apple, peach, apricot but prune will always be the best for me. Of course, Grandma made at least 8 each time.
11:26 am - Mon, July 18 2016
Shannon said:
Dear Deb;
The recipe you are thinking of is call Fugen
It is a sweet dough mixed. The dough is rolled out on of heavily floured board. My grandmother then to a crystal glass from the Quaker Oat Company press the bottom down on the dough lightly leaving the glass imprint then flip it around push the top of the glass down through the dough. Then this piece she would roll the glass lightly leaving imprints. She would then that a shot glass and push the top though the center of this piece. The first piece she spreads the pureed prunes on then flip the other dough piece with the hole top needs the sides together and then stuff more prune puree into the hole.
Then she would dump this in into boiling lard. When it floated she would pull it out of the lard onto a paper towel or brown bag let cool for five minutes then put icing or sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon, or brown sugar, or powder sugar and serve! The secret is cook it in lard.
08:26 am - Sun, August 14 2016
Pat said:
Betsy McGilvray, I think you are describing German Stollen. Yummy! I make it every year for the holidays
01:03 pm - Tue, November 22 2016
A Hardt said:
I grew up just SW of Aberdeen and my mom taught me how to make kuchen. YUMM! I love it, my favorite is probably either blueberry or peach. I've never tried rhubarb, but think that with the sweet custard would be really good too. On my TO DO list before Christmas - MAKE KUCHEN!
06:36 pm - Fri, December 9 2016
Vicki L Richardson said:
I was born in Aberdeen South Dakota. My Grandmother was Rose Jakober and later Rose Obermeyer. She made the best Kuchen ever. I am going to attempt to make it this week for Christmas presents for my siblings. She had a very small hand written cookbook but I really don't know what happened to it. If anyone has any suggestions for me I would love them. I think Grandma always used lard instead of and oil and she just melted it.
04:52 pm - Sun, April 9 2017
Beau Weber said:
Perfect recipe...I just used enough flour needed for the liquid. Easily made 7...with leftover for 1 plain brown sugar and cinnamon. Just like I remember as a kid. Thanks so much!
07:39 am - Tue, May 9 2017
TheGrumpyBaker said:
The fact that this thing is called "kuchen" is a travesty in itself, when compared to the authentic German cakes. This "kugen, "as I have heard it called is more like a torte and a pathetic attempt at that: thin, sloppy, cheap. Immigrants did for kuchen what the did for the German language: they garbled it into an unrecognizable mess.
08:12 pm - Mon, May 29 2017
Barbara Herrera said:
Years ago, my family would always stop in a small town in South Dakota, to pick up kuchen and cinnamon bread, on our way to my great great aunts house in Java, South Dakota. I know the train was not far from the bakery that my mom and dad would stop at. I don't know the name of the bakery, bit I remember the sugar kuchen they'd always buy. And the round loaves of cinnamon bread. My aunt died over 20 some years ago, and I haven't found a kuchen anywhere since. I'm going to have to try some of these recipes and pray I can make one.
06:58 am - Thu, July 5 2018
Pam Geffre said:
Thank you for your lovely article and recipe! My husband is from Leola and he always talks about the desert. Will put my skills to the test. Blessings to you!
07:20 am - Sat, June 8 2019
Joseph Ransom said:
My grandmother was born two weeks after her parents arrived at Ellis Island from Russia and grew up in the Dakotas. She always had plenty of kuchen for us but she was the only person I knew who made kuchen with bananas as the topping. I have come close to duplicating her recipe but haven't quite succeeded yet. Has anyone else tried a cottage cheese kuchen with bananas?
10:05 am - Fri, December 4 2020
Eleanor said:
I had an old recipe from a good friend, who many years ago, made a wonderful prune pastry that she called Minnesota Kuchen. But she didn't write down oven directions. In scouring kuchen recipes to find the missing recipe elements, I noticed someone asked about an authentic prune filling. This is from Minnesota Babs's recipe:
Cook 2lbs large prunes & 6 oz. apricots. Add 2 cups thick applesauce, some sugar and 2 tablespoons melted butter.
That's what she wrote. If you find you like this filling, I credit Barb Guida, my old United Airlines friend. Between rooting for the Vikings and the Bears (I'm the Bear) we two old birds talked about authentic immigrant dishes - German, and Filipino. I miss her.

08:32 am - Tue, July 13 2021
Gloria Harrell said:
My Granny and Grampa (Rev & Mrs Henry Vorrath) had a Lutheran church in Long Lake SD. My brother and I lived with them when our Mom went to college. Granny made this type of kuchen (usually wIth dried apricots softened in a bit of boiling water) and another she called Rieble (spelling?) Kuchen. It was a sweet bread/coffee cake type of dough about 1 1/2 inches thick with a thin layer of preserves, topped with a flour, sugar, butter mixture crumbled over the top. Anyone have this recipe?

Thank you for this recipe. Others I've found don't have a yeast dough base. This is the closest I've found to what my Granny made.
08:12 pm - Thu, July 20 2023
David Little said:
My grandmother made enough sweet yeast bread to fill two 9" cake pans and let it rise. She would then punch holes in the dough with her finger and pour uncooked custard into and top of the dough and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. As the cake baked the custard formed throughout the cake and on the bottom. I believe she used whole milk or cream for the custard, which made the cake bigger and richer. it was my favorite cake and she always made it for special occasions.

Share your thoughts, post a comment to this story:

Your Name:
Your Email Address:  
Your Website:
2000 characters remaining
Web Design by Buildable