Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Review Week: The Welcome Return of the Coffee Cake

If there is one baked good that has gotten a bad rap the past decade or so it would be the coffee cake. Too often, when we think of coffee cakes, we think of those dull tasting cakes with the overly sweet topping that look so good in the pastry case at our local bakeries but then disappoint when we get them home. Or those gooey residue on our tongue leaving ones that come out of the ubiquitous blue and white boxes found near the dairy or frozen food section in every super market from coast to coast.

Come on...

You know that is what you think about coffee cakes.

I know because that is what I thought about coffee cakes...until a few weeks ago that is.

A few weeks ago, Carole Walter's latest cookbook, Great Coffee Cakes, Sticky Buns, Muffins & More: 200 Anytime Treats and Special Sweets for Morning to Midnight, was dropped on my door mat by my nice, good looking UPS guy for me to review.

About 30 minutes after the book arrived, I sat down with a cup of tea and a hot from the oven Country Cherry Honey Scone (pg 152) and started reading the recipes found in this wonderful ode to baked love. As I flipped through the pages and read the recipes for the coffee cakes, I was pretty sure I would never find a recipe for a coffee cake like my grandmother used to make.

But, before I tell you about the coffee cakes let me tell you about the Chocolate Glazed Cream Buns (pg 280). I want you to close your eyes and imagine the lightest, fluffiest, cream filled yeast raised donut you have ever had. I want to imagine yourself biting into that soft spongy dough and having an explosion of smooth, vanilla tasting pastry cream and chocolate to go along with the donut. Are you drooling? Are you opening up Amazon right now to order Great Coffee Cakes, Sticky Buns, Muffins & More: 200 Anytime Treats and Special Sweets for Morning to Midnight? No??!! You need more reasons to give Carole's book a try?

OK...you asked for it...

Let's turn to Page 292 shall we and explore the recipe for the divine Pear and Dried Cranberry Strudel. First, who doesn't love strudel? This is strudel is a surprising flavor combination. The tart cranberries play off the sweet pears and then, just when you don't think this recipe can get any better, you get to add 1/3 cup of Kirsch or rum. Hey, any coffee break that includes alcohol is a good coffee break, especially when it comes packaged in something as flaky and tasty as this strudel.

Just when you don't think Ms. Walter can top herself she gives you this ode to maximum chocolate in a muffin with Jeff's Chocolate Glazed Midnight Muffins. These chocoholic gems are a creation for her grandson, Jeffrey. They are moist. They are chocolatey. They are chock full of nuts and the glaze you put on top will send you to the moon! I have dreams about these muffins. They are that good.

I made over fifteen recipes from this cookbook. There hasn't been a week that has gone by since I got "Great Coffee Cakes, Sticky Buns, Muffins & More" that I haven't made at least two things to bring into either the office or the gym. I have read this cookbook from cover to cover like a romance novel and each recipe I read makes me fall more in love with it. The recipes are well thought out and easy to follow, even the yeast bread section is a dream to work from. Each recipe has an "At a Glance" section that outlines the pan, prep, baking temperature and time and the difficulty of the recipe. At the end of the recipe, Ms. Walter offers storage and serving tips. Sprinkled like cinnamony, crunchy nuggets on top of a muffin are gems of wisdom from well know authors and other famous people. For example, at the end of the scrumptious Crumb Buns, where Carole Walter confesses her addiction for streusel toppings, we find John Gunther's most appropriate quote, "All happiness depends upon a leisurely breakfast". The final chapter of the book is dedicated to frostings, toppings, and of course crumb toppings. I like that even though there is a recommended topping suggested in the main recipe, you can come back here and pick and choose how you want to top the baked goods.

And it is here that you will find what I will declare for all to read to be the end all to be all of all crumb streusel toppings, "Carole's Favorite Streusel". This topping is paired with the coffee cake that sent me straight back to my grandmother's kitchen, the Butter Crumb Coffee Cake. This coffee cake is one of the moisted, most tender coffee cakes I have ever had. I've made this coffee cake four times, twice following the recipe to the letter, and the other two times, putting fruit (blueberries and raspberries) between the top of the coffee cake and the streusel topping. When I die, I want Carole Walter's Butter Crumb Coffee Cake topped with her Favorite Streusel coffee cake served at my wake.

Better yet, someone better put this coffee cake in the box with me because I want to munch on it all the way to the afterlife...

Butter Crumb Coffee Cake
from Carole Walter's "Great Coffee Cakes, Sticky Buns, Muffins, and More"

Coffe Cake Ingredients:
1 large recipe Carole's Favorite Streusel
2 cups sifted AP flour, spooned and leveled
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes at room temp
1 large egg
2/3 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla
powdered sugar for dusting

Generously butter, line with parchment paper, and butter the parchment paper a 10" springform pan and set aside.
Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees with the rack in the lower third of the oven.
Prepare Streusel and set aside. In a large bowl, thoroughly whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add the butter and work with your fingertips until fine crumbs are formed (I used my mixer on "Stir")
In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg, milk, and vanilla. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and add the liquid. Stir gradually pushing the crumbs into the liquid, beginning with the crumbs in the center of the bowl and working toward the edge of the bowl (dough hook worked really well for this!!). Beat for one minute or until batter is smooth. Batter will be thick.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with the back of a large soup spoon or offset spatula. (If you are going to use some fruit or nuts, sprinkle them on top after you smooth the batter). Take a handful of the streusel crumbs and squeeze gently forming a large clump. Then break the clump apart, and sprinkly the crumbs onto the batter. Repeat until all the streusel mixture has been used. Lightly press the streusel into the batter.
Set the pan on a 12 inch strip of and bake the cake for 40 - 45 minutes until the top is golden brown and firm to the touch and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Remove the cake from the oven and let stand on a cooling rack for 20 - 25 minutes, then remove the outer ring. Place a 12" piece of aluminum foil directly on top of the cake and carefully lift off the bottom of the pan and peel off the parchment paper. cover with another rack, invert again and remove the foil, and cool right side up. Just before serving dust with powdered sugar

Carole's Favorite Streusel (Large Recipe)

2/3 cup unsalted butter
1 1/2 cup AP flour, spooned and leveled
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp baking powder
scant 1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup finely chopped walnuts (optional)

Place butter in a 3 Qt heavy bottom sauce pan and heat until almost melted, remove from heat and cool to tepid. Whisk together remaining ingredients. Add to butter and stir with a fork until blended and mixture begins to form crumbs. Gently squeeze the mixture with your hand to form larger lumps, then break apart with your fingertips. Before using, let stand for 10 to 15 minutes.