Friday, August 17, 2012

The Brazilianization of a German Cake - Kuchen into Cuca

The Portuguese word cuca (at least the culinary meaning of the word) is a direct derivation from the German word kuchen, meaning cake. The word is much used in the southern states of Brazil, where large numbers of German immigrants settled in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and where German culture flourishes to this day. Among the most transportable of cultural elements, food traditions and recipes from Germany can be easily found in Paraná, Santa Catarina and Rio Grande do Sul, the three states that constitute Brazil's southern region.

Cuca in Portuguese does not refer to all cakes - there's another word, bolo, to serve that purpose. A cuca is a specific kind of cake - the cake that North Americans call a coffee cake. Often containing fresh or preserved fruits, or alternatively, spices like cinnamon, ginger and cloves, cucas are not frosted. Instead they are topped by a crumbly mixture of flour, sugar and butter.

Cucas are most often flavored with apples and bananas, two fruits that grow particularly well in the climate of southern Brazil, though recipes for cuca exist that call for many other types of fruits - particularly fruits of the temperate zone, within which the south of Brazil lies.

Brazilians eat cuca as part of a breakfast buffet, or as a mid-morning or late-afternoon pick-me up with coffee. It's less likely to show up as a dessert, though that's not unheard of. For the millions of Brazilians who don't live in the south, a cuca is an entirely Brazilian conception and few of them would be able to spot its German origins. In areas where temperate zone fruits can't survive, apples or cherries are likely to be replaced by mangoes or cajus, making the treat more Brazilian and less German. But at heart, a cuca is still the same homey cake that is was in its European homeland, back it's still called a kuchen. In Germany a warm kuchen served with coffee at the kitchen table is a symbol of gemütlichkeit, in the USA or Canada a coffee cake served the same way symbolizes coziness, and in Brazil, a slice of cuca means aconchego. Whatever you call it, it still symbolizes the human warmth of the family kitchen and it still tastes just as great.


  1. Very interesting! Thanks for this explanation!
    I had no idea!

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  4. I remember this delicious cake- being from Porto Alegre- we had this often! Brings back memories!!