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Brunsviger: Danish Coffee Cake

Brunsviger is a yeasted coffee cake covered in a brown sugar topping. The cake is rich, but fluffy, almost like brioche and the topping is like crunchy-gooey caramel. This as a great alternative to cinnamon rolls on cold Sunday mornings.

The History of Brunsviger

Brunsviger originates from the Danish island of Funen, the birthplace of Hans Christian Andersen. While you can now find the cake almost anywhere in Denmark, you’ll find it in almost every bakery in Funen. The cake is often served for Sunday breakfast with coffee. It is also sometimes used for Kagemand or Kagekone, a cake in the shape of a boy or girl eaten for birthdays and anniversaries. It is usually decorated with candy and Danish flags. Birthday parties traditionally start with the Kagemand being decapitated while all the children scream. Now that sounds like a classic fairy tale.

Tips for Baking Brunsviger

The base for this cake is an enriched yeast dough. Enriched doughs include sugar and fat, usually milk, butter or eggs. Fat shortens gluten strands and increases its elasticity. This results in a cake with a more tender crumb and a soft crust. Adding sugar to yeast doughs gives more food to the yeast and speeds up fermentation. Residual sugar promotes browning of the crust during baking and a sweeter dough.

I’ve kept the recipe for the topping pretty simple: equal parts dark brown sugar and butter. But I have seen versions which include various flavorings as well. You could add cinnamon, cream, honey, marzipan or even a packet of Danish Kagecreme, if you can find it.

The recipe here is for a small baking dish, but it can easily be doubled if you have a large enough pan. If you decide to double it, bake for 25 minutes, checking after 20 minutes.

freshly baked brunsviger coffee cake
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Yields one 11 x 7 inch (28 x 18 cm) pan.

For the Dough:

120ml whole milk, warmed to 40°C
7g dry active yeast (1 packet)

40g granulated sugar
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon salt

300g plain flour

50g unsalted butter
1/2 cup whole milk, warmed to 105°F
2 1/4 teaspoons dry active yeast

3 Tablespoons granulated sugar
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon salt

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 cup unsalted butter


150g dark brown sugar
150g butter
2/3 cup dark brown sugar
2/3 cup unsalted butter
ingredients for brunsviger dough
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Bloom the yeast:

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, mix the yeast and warm milk together and set aside while weighing the other ingredients. The yeast should start to foam after a few minutes, otherwise the yeast might be dead.

Mix the wet ingredients:

Add the sugar, egg and salt to the milk and yeast. Set the mixer on medium for a few seconds to combine.

Add in the flour:

Pour in the flour, and slowly work the mixer up to medium speed. Knead until everything combines, forming a dough.

Slowly add the butter:

With the mixer still running at medium speed, slowly add the butter, one bit at a time.

Knead the dough:

Knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic, approximately 6 minutes.

Let the dough rest:

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a damp tea towel and set in a warm place for 30 minutes to give the dough a rest.

Transfer to the baking pan:

Grease a 11 x 7 inch, or similar sized, pan and line with parchment paper. Transfer the dough to the pan, gently stretching it to the edges of the pan.

Leave the dough to rise:

Set the pan in a warm place and leave the dough to rise until puffy and roughly doubled in size, about 1 hour.

finished dough for brunsviger
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Prepare the topping:

Meanwhile, melt the butter with the brown sugar in a small saucepan over low heat. Stir frequently to ensure the sugar is fully incorporated into the butter. Set aside to cool slightly.

Preheat the oven:

When the dough is almost risen, preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F).

Prepare the dough for baking:

Press your fingers into the dough to form deep dimples. Pour the topping over the dough, being sure to fill the dimples and avoiding the sides of the pan.

make dimples in the brunsviger dough
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cover the dough with the brown sugar topping
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Bake the cake:

Bake the cake for 20 minutes. The dough will be puffed and the topping will be bubbling and gooey.

Let the cake cool and serve warm or at room temperature. Brunsviger is best the day it is made.

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