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Archive for March, 2011

The girls were coming home for the weekend so what better time to do the baker’s challenge than when I’d have some help eating up the sweet experiments. The March 2011 Daring Baker’s Challenge was hosted by Ria of Ria’s Collection and Jamie of Life’s a Feast. Ria and Jamie challenged The Daring Bakers to bake a yeasted Meringue Coffee Cake. It was important to have help with the consuming, particularly since the recipe for this month made enough dough for not one, but two cakes! Of course I could have cut the recipe in half but what fun would that be when we were given free reign to experiment with fillings?

From the moment I read what the challenge was, I began to fantasize about the various flavor combinations I might try. I toyed with the idea of apples and cinnamon, dark chocolate chunks with toasted pecans, candied lemon peel and coconut. Oh yum, the possibilities were endless. I found myself awake at night trying to decide what I wanted to use for the two cakes. I must have changed my mind a zillion times it was so hard to land on just what I was in the mood for!

Last year's poppy hamentashen

The fact that the kids were coming home on Purim weekend helped me to decide the flavor for one of the cakes. In place of hamantashen, the usual Purim cookie, I’d stuff one of the coffeecakes with the traditional poppy seed filling that usually fills the hamentashen. For the second cake, I settled on white chocolate, toasted macadamia nuts, and dried cranberries.

Fortunately, I have plenty of experience with yeasted dough so I wasn’t at all intimidated by the recipe although having a layer of sweetened meringue inside was new to me. It made for a bit of a sticky mess when rolling and shaping the cakes, but added a delicious sweetness and moisture when it was absorbed into the dough as it baked. I had some ideas about flavoring the meringue as well (coffee flavored meringue with a chocolate and toasted almond filling crossed my mind) so if you decide to challenge yourself to make this recipe, remember that you can go wild with experimenting and adding layers of flavor! I could have easily baked (and eaten!) 8 or 9 different versions of this cake and I’m quite certain I’ll be returning to the basic recipe again because it made such a silky, sexy, easy to work with dough that produced a tender and versatile bread that would make fabulous sticky or cinnamon buns as well as savory filled loaves or pockets.

Both cakes turned out fabulously and we happily scarfed them down over the course of weekend making for another remorse filled Monday of deprivation but it was worth every bite! Here are the photos and the basic recipe:

I do hope you’ll try to make one of these cakes!

The dough after its first rising

  

The white chocolate, macadamia nut, cranberry ring before rising and baking
The baked white chocolate cranberry coffeecake dusted with powered sugar. Yum!
A slice of the white chocolate, macadamia nut, cranberry coffecake. So moist and delicious!
The baked poppyseed coffecake ring with lemon glaze. Sooo delicious
A lot of air in the poppyseed coffeecake but still yummy!

Makes 2 round coffee cakes, each approximately 10 inches in diameter
The recipe can easily be halved to make one round coffee cake

FILLED MERINGUE COFFEE CAKE

Ingredients
For the yeast coffee cake dough:

4 cups flour
¼ cup sugar
¾ teaspoon salt
1 package (2 ¼ teaspoons) active dried yeast
¾ cup whole milk
¼ cup water (doesn’t matter what temperature)
½ cup unsalted butter at room temperature
2 large eggs at room temperature

For the meringue:

3 large egg whites at room temperature
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon vanilla
½ cup (110 g / 4 oz.) sugar

For the filling: Your choice! Be creative! I used:

1C white chocolate chips

¾ C toasted macadamia nuts

¾ C chopped dried sweetened cranberries

Directions:

Prepare the dough:  In a large mixing bowl, combine 1 ½ cups (230 g) of the flour, the sugar, salt and yeast. In a saucepan, combine the milk, water and butter and heat over medium heat until warm and the butter is just melted.

With an electric mixer on low speed, gradually add the warm liquid to the flour/yeast mixture, beating until well blended. Increase mixer speed to medium and beat 2 minutes. Add the eggs and 1 cup (150 g) flour and beat for 2 more minutes.

Using a wooden spoon, stir in enough of the remaining flour to make a dough that holds together. Turn out onto a floured surface (use any of the 1 ½ cups of flour remaining) and knead the dough for 8 to 10 minutes until the dough is soft, smooth, sexy and elastic, keeping the work surface floured and adding extra flour as needed.

Place the dough in a lightly greased (I use vegetable oil) bowl, turning to coat all sides. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel and let rise until double in bulk, 45 – 60 minutes. The rising time will depend on the type of yeast you use.

Prepare your filling (roast and chop nuts, measure chocolate, etc)

My prepped white chocolate, toasted macadamia nuts, and dried cranberries

Once the dough has doubled, make the meringue:
In a clean mixing bowl – ideally a plastic or metal bowl so the egg whites adhere to the side (they slip on glass) and you don’t end up with liquid remaining in the bottom – beat the egg whites with the salt, first on low speed for 30 seconds, then increase to high and continue beating until foamy and opaque. Add the vanilla then start adding the ½ cup sugar, a tablespoon at a time as you beat, until very stiff, glossy peaks form.

Assemble the Coffee Cakes:

Line 2 baking/cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Punch down the dough and divide in half. On a lightly floured surface, working one piece of the dough at a time (keep the other half of the dough wrapped in plastic), roll out the dough into a 20 x 10-inch (about 51 x 25 ½ cm) rectangle. Spread half of the meringue evenly over the rectangle up to about 1/2-inch (3/4 cm) from the edges. Sprinkle half of your filling of choice evenly over the meringue (ex: half of the cinnamon-sugar followed by half the chopped nuts and half of the chocolate chips/chopped chocolate).

Now, roll up the dough jellyroll style, from the long side. Pinch the seam closed to seal. Very carefully transfer the filled log to one of the lined cookie sheets, seam side down. Bring the ends of the log around and seal the ends together, forming a ring, tucking one end into the other and pinching to seal.

Using kitchen scissors or a sharp knife (although scissors are easier), make cuts along the outside edge at 1-inch (2 ½ cm) intervals. Make them as shallow or as deep as desired but don’t be afraid to cut deep into the ring.

Repeat with the remaining dough, meringue and fillings.

Cover the 2 coffee cakes with plastic wrap and allow them to rise again for 45 to 60 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).

Brush the tops of the coffee cakes with the egg wash. Bake in the preheated oven for 25 to 30 minutes until risen and golden brown. The dough should sound hollow when tapped.

Remove from the oven and slide the parchment paper off the cookie sheets onto the table. Very gently loosen the coffee cakes from the paper with a large spatula and carefully slide the cakes off onto cooling racks. Allow to cool.

Just before serving, dust the tops of the coffee cakes with confectioner’s sugar as well as cocoa powder if using chocolate in the filling. Or glaze with a complimentary flavored icing. These are best eaten fresh, the same day or the next day.

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Last Sunday was my honey’s birthday and yes, there were cards and gifts. Yes there were expressions of love and well wishes from family and friends. But more importantly, there was fabulous food! Nothing says celebration like indulging in ridiculously delicious fat and sugar laden treats and we definitely did that with a hit parade of many of his favorites spread out over the weekend.

Pastry from Le Petite France

After a home cooked meal on Friday of simple pan fried chicken thighs, a potato gratin, rich with cream and aged asiago cheese and Caesar salad we were off to a great start for the culinary celebration of the completion of another cycle around the sun for my sweetheart. Saturday morning, we headed to Le Petite France (http://www.lpfbakery.com/), for a pastry pig-out that would tide us over until our reservation that evening at our favorite restaurant: Max Dowmtown.

Max’s is the place to go for consistently fine, top quality and beautifully presented food, particularly meat. We started with their famous chopped salad, a delicious mélange of fresh chopped veggies with excellent gorgonzola cheese in a sweet and tangy sherry vinaigrette. Feeling virtuous for choosing a salad over the lobster raviolis for our first course, we didn’t hesitate to dig into the enormous portions of sizzling animal protein we ordered for our mains. Mine was a double thick cut, bone in pork chop, the crusty, peppery sear encasing moist and amazingly tender pale pink porkiness. The chop was served with haricot vert and a brioche, cheddar, and cranberry stuffing. Sautéed tart apples and a pork jus reduction rounded out the plate and the flavors all combined perfectly to make this a fantastic choice.

Max’s double thick pork chop (remember you can click on the pics to enlarge!)

The birthday boy ordered the Brandt rib eye (http://www.brandtbeef.com/); an incredible treat that we’ll order any time it’s available. Brandt beef is truly something special, especially flame charred on the outside and bloody rare all the way through. Topped with pan wilted watercress it was served with a sampler of house made sauces including classic béarnaise, thyme jus, blue cheese, cognac peppercorn, and house made A-1. We also ordered a heaping pile of crisp and flavorful sweet potato fries, just to gild the lily.

Outrageous Brandt ribeye and swet potato fries

We tucked into this feast of meaty goodness, trading bites of the beasts and trying all the sauces. While we finished most of the sides, we realized that if we wanted to have any room for dessert, we’d have to quit while there was still meat left on the plates and ask for doggie bag. Woof-woof!

For dessert we went with something billed as Granny Twitchell’s Secret Chocolate Cupcake. Apparently, Granny’s recipe is no longer a secret but Max’s pastry chef has her own version where she cuts a hole in the top of the dense chocolate cupcake and fills it with heath bar toffee crunch, chocolate and caramel sauce and then frosts the whole thing with an insane amount of chocolate butter cream. Unable to believe this didn’t come with ice cream, we specially ordered a scoop to cut the intensity of all that chocolate.

Outrageous chocolate birthday cupcake

Let me take this opportunity to do a little rant on a pet peeve of mine. What’s up with those teeny-tiny scoops of ice cream that fine restaurants serve with dessert? They always seem to use a melon baller as opposed to an ice cream scoop! Am I the only one who doesn’t want to run out of ice cream long before the accompanying sweet is gone? I’m sorry but if it fits on the spoon and can be eaten in one bite, that’s not a scoop of ice cream.

Phew! I feel better. And I suppose it’s just as well that the ice cream was so scant since that prevented us from scarfing down the whole gooey, choclatey mess. We added the remains to our already hefty take away package and stuffed as I was, in my mind I was already creating the next day’s fabulous birthday dinner made mostly from leftovers!

Sunday started with my famous French toast and then I really went to work in the kitchen. Recycling is good for the environment! Maybe not so good for the waistline, especially in this case, but how marvelous to make a new and delicious dinner and dessert culled mostly from previous days goodies.

Birthday breakfast of my famous cinnamon French toast with crisp bacon

For an appetizer, we had fresh sea scallops in a citrus beurre blanc. Then I sliced the leftover pork into my homemade barbeque sauce, topped it with sautéed onions and served it on fresh baked sesame seed hard rolls. With Friday night’s scalloped potatoes and re-crisped sweet potato fries, it was a great Sunday supper. I felt a little guilty with no green on the plate but quickly forgave myself knowing that we’d be eating more than our fair share of veggies during the week to pay penance for a weekend of eating high off the hog (pun intended!)

Our first course of scallops in citrus beurre blanc

Barbecued pork on homemade roll w/ scalloped poatoes and sweet potato fries

To finish off the weekend and the birthday celebration, I invented a new dessert by baking a fresh vanilla cupcake, and stuffing it with Granny’s leftover chocolate mess, toasted chopped pecans, and serving with 2 big scoops of Ben and Jerry’s pistachio ice cream! Creative use of leftovers is one of my favorite pastimes and I outdid myself this time, making the dinner at Max’s a birthday gift that kept on giving!

Recycled birthday cupcake

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A Note of Protest

I had thought to write a pithy post about the weekend of fine food that celebrated my husband’s birthday, but all I can seem to focus on at the moment is how terrible I feel in the wake of all those calorie laden repasts. After giving free reign to my taste buds all weekend, I feel an enormous resistance to pulling myself back in. It’s Monday and I want nothing but to continue gorging on one gourmet treat after another, knowing that to do so would soon make real what at this point is only a crazy, imagined sense that I’m getting fat.

I know that I’m not alone in this struggle with food and fat. Learning to enjoy the bounty of all the fantastic food available, especially to those of us who love to cook and bake, while trying to avoid the physical ramifications of over indulging is an ongoing challenge for many of us. I haven’t yet landed on any easy answer but sometimes just sharing the journey can help.

There are answers, of course; just not easy ones. Exercise helps and balance is definitely the key. Everything in moderation, as they say. But moderation isn’t easy, at least not for me. If something is good, I want more of it. Preferably, right now. Like a good friend of mine says: I can get addicted to anything that makes me feel good now and bad later. So here I am admitting that the indulgences of this past weekend, while fabulous at the time, don’t feel so hot now but still, I want more!

Fortunately, all the leftovers were cleverly recycled and consumed yesterday (I will  post about this soon!) so the fridge is bare of anything truly tempting. I’m back on my weekday regimen of lean protein, veggies and whole grains but I just needed to register my feelings of protest. Thanks for reading and I’d love to know: how are you all doing with the war between food and fat?

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