On a recent visit to Breads Bakery to reacquaint myself with their canele, I spotted a pastry that I didn't recognize. It looked like a miniature bundt cake. I was embarrassed to learn it was a Kugelhopf. Even though I'd heard the name Kugelhopf for years, and vaguely thought it to be some kind of Austrian (only partially true) coffee cake, I didn't know much else about it. It turns out to have an interesting and controversial history.
Though small, Breads Bakery's Kugelhopf ($3.50) is a dense affair and packs a lot of cake into a single pastry. True to tradition, raisins and sugar are used sparingly. A small amount of orange and lemon zest add some additional flavor complexity. The outside is lightly browned with a subtle crust and the entire cake is coated with granular sugar. Kugelhopfs are typically made with active yeast in the dough, which makes for a chewier, almost doughnut-like experience. This held true for Breads Bakery's version. The low sweetness and slightly yeasty flavor also give credibility to the claim that a kugelhopf can be eaten at any time of day and with any food.
To learn more about kugelhopfs I reached out to Zurich-based food and travel blogger Kerrin Rousset, who runs the blog MyKugelhopf. She said that while there is definitely more than one way to spell it—kugelhopf, kougelhopf, kouglof, etc. (she prefers the English "kugelhopf")—it has to be baked in a terra cotta enamel mold with fluting on the sides and a hole through the center. She also claimed "it's best served at least a day after baking, when it has dried out a bit. It can be dipped in coffee for breakfast or eaten later with a glass of white wine." Her blog has two excellent features dedicated to the bread-like sweet.
If your interest hasn't been piqued yet I'll leave you with some final words from David Lebovitz, who once proclaimed on Serious Eats that a kugelhopf from one Paris bakery is a "life changing experience." And if Paris or Vienna (or Alsace) is too inconvenient, try Breads Bakery's near Union Square.