South Dakota: Apple Kuchen Cookie Cups

South Dakota’s cookie is a mini pie version of apple kuchen, a traditional German dessert. It has a bread-like crust, tart spiced apple pie filling, and a creamy vanilla custard on top.

Recipe sources:

My Oma is German and I’ve never to my knowledge had kuchen. She’s made fruit cakes of course but nothing with custard like this. Like a few other recipes in the Bob’s Red Mill United States of Cookies, this isn’t really a cookie as much as a mini pie, or really a mini apfelkuchen


Kuchen is German for cake, and usually refers to a sweet yeast dough coffee cake, often containing fruit and nuts. Kuchen was designated as the Official Dessert of South Dakota in 2000.

So that explains why this is South Dakota’s cookie, and why the dough for the crust is essentially an enriched yeast dough. Something like a baguette or Italian bread is a lean yeast dough: pretty much just flour, water, yeast and salt. An enriched yeast dough adds fat like eggs and butter, and sugar.

Dough family photo.
First bit of flour added in.
Coming together a bit. This is basically a bread dough.
The recipe said to knead in the softened butter. Since I was using my machine, I switched to a dough hook and added it, hoping it wouldn’t just turn into a greased dough whirling around the bowl but not incorporating. This is what it started as.
After awhile it started looking more like a cookie dough. I kept at it, because the photos at the originating site looked closer to a bread dough.
Now it’s looking more like a soft, sticky bread dough again. Of course what really makes this all iffy is that I used regular AP flour instead of a gluten-free 1-for-1 blend. Can’t really match “gluten development.”

The recipe said to either used canned filling or make your own. Luckily I am a classically trained pastry chef with access to my old textbook, which is great for basics like this, so I definitely was going to make my own.

These are Granny Smiths I picked in season, peeled, wedged, and froze. I’m glad to finally use them up as they were taking up limited room in my freezer.
The thing about baking texbooks is that almost everything is done by weight, which rocks. The downside is that my usual baking scale only measures to one decimal place. My husband got me this one when a colleague of him bought a few on sale and gave him one. It goes to three places so it’s perfect for small stuff. I had fun shaking the cinnamon and nutmeg into the bowl until it reached the proper weight, instead of just measuring out the approximate volume measure listed.
I finally got fancy with the ingredients in their own bowls, impressed yet?
If I was really diligent I would have done smaller dice than this even, but I at least wanted them small enough to fit the scale of the cookies.

If you don’t want a pie that’s runny, if you want your slices to keep their shape, do like the pros do and cooking and thicken the filling ahead of time. You can probably use the same recipe you are currently using the “old-fashioned method” with, only instead of combining, filling, and hoping, you can add more cornstarch slurry if it’s not thick enough for you. Saute the apples with a little butter and some of the sugar the recipe calls for, make a slurry of cornstarch and water, add it to the apples once they are slightly tender and stir while it comes to a boil and the liquid is clear again instead of cloudy, and the mixture thickens. Stir in the rest of the filling ingredients (usually the rest of the sugar and spices, sometimes lemon juice). Let it cool before filling your pie shell. Presto! No more soggy bottom crust either this way.

Um, yeah, that’s a bread dough.

I was under the impression I was going to be using mini muffin tins for these to make them bite size, but the photos seemed to show regular size, and that would allow more filling in relation to the dough, so I went with that.

This recipe is yet another that committed the sin of imprecision: I didn’t know how much dough was supposed to go in each muffin well. The yield was somewhere between 24 and 36, so I weighed the dough and divided it by 24 to get about 1.6 oz per ball, and then used my bench scraper to divide and weigh each ball. They were each about the size of a golf ball.

I sprayed the cups but probably didn’t need to: the dough was buttery enough and, much like bread, didn’t really stick to the pan.
My pinch pot method comes in handy once again, though with the slippery cups it didn’t really want to go all the way up the sides.

Now it’s time to make the custard, or rather the pastry cream. Unlike my usual recipe, this uses flour as the thickener (I’m assuming more of the gluten-free mix, otherwise what was the point? This is also why you should “flour” your pans with cocoa powder when you make a “flourless” chocolate cake, people, otherwise your gluten-free friends aren’t really going to have a good time after all).

The procedure told me to add the egg gradually to the hot milk, but I did it the way I was trained and gradually tempered the hot milk into the egg before returning the whole mixture to the pan to whisk and thicken.

It should be about as thick as this, like vanilla pudding, since essentially it is.
I always strain my pastry cream through a fine-mesh sieve, since despite best practices and experience, almost no one can avoid the tiny scrambled-eggy bits, and this ensures a smooth pastry cream.
The aforementioned eggy bits, safely inside the sieve instead of the cream.
This looks like it’s going to be a mess…
They’re poofing… suddenly wishing I had put a sheet of parchment over my pizza stone, there.
I baked these for a total of 25 minutes before I was satisfied with the set of the custard, the golden brown of the dough and the bubbling apple filling.

They’re not the prettiest, but are they tasty? After all, it seems a little weird. Bread dough with fruit filling and custard on top, who even thought of this?

Overall impressions: These are really tasty! They’re total comfort dessert: soft and slightly sweet cakelike bread for the crust, sweet-tart apple filling with a nice juiciness and spice, and sweet, creamy, eggy custard on top. I know I compared them to mini pies before, but I really get the cake qualities when I eat them. I still don’t think they’re quite a “cookie” (my son said, “Mama, I thought these were going to be cookies,”) but I’m definitely a fan. I feel like they could count as a breakfast pastry, or something for your afternoon “coffee and kuchen” which is a practice I wish would catch on in the US.

Tips and suggestions: Next time, divide the dough into balls and roll out into circles with a rolling pin. They really should have been much thinner instead of dominating like it did.

Next time: Tennessee Moon Pies. I’ve never had a moon pie (I know, right?) but these look like just my thing. It looks like I make my own marshmallow for the filling too, which I’ve done before and I’m psyched about.

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