Tuesday, June 24, 2008

A Bit of Tuscany at My House

Late June in Connecticut reminds me quite a bit of Tuscany in June. The temperatures are in the middle 80's during the day and drop to the upper 50's during the night and the skies are blue and breezes soft. The flowers are blooming in the window boxes

June 08 Flowers

and the tomatoes, basil, green beans and peppers are starting to thrive

Tomatoes, Peppers, Basil and Green Beans June 08

and take over the containers.

Tomatoes and Cukes June 08

The rosemary is bright green and growing like a tree

Rosemary June 08

and the lavender is about to bloom.

Lavender June 08

This past weekend, while baking something I'm blogging about tomorrow, I decided to sort through my latest stash of King Arthur Flour that arrived while I was on my recent trip. Good thing I did too, because the box had apparently been set someplace during the delivery process where it was exposed to the monsoons we had while I was gone and all the packages of flour were wet! So, while I chatted with Lisa on Skype, I sorted through the bags of flour to make sure none of it was too wet. At the very bottom of the box was a package of flour I had forgotten I really wanted to try, the King Arthur European Style Artisan Flour.

Unfortunately, this was the bag of flour that bore the brunt of the wet box. Even though the inside of the KA Flour bags are lined with waxed plastic, I didn't want to take the chance since this bag was entirely wet and opened the bag, sifted it and placed it in a container with a sticky label. As I was getting ready to throw out the bag, I noticed the recipe on the back of the bag for Tuscan Style Coffee Cake. Reading through the ingredients, I realized I could make this very easily and I would get to use some of the Eurpean Style Artisan Flour right away! After all who doesn't like to play with new toys?

The dough is a pretty straight forward sweet bread dough; soft and silky. It rose quickly and had a nice vanilla aroma. After gently deflating the dough and before shaping the loaf, you knead in a combination of chopped nuts and dried fruit. The recipe calls for dates and golden raisins but I wanted to add some other types of dried fruits along with the dates and golden raisins, so I added dried cranberries, apricots, and cherries along with some figs to the dates and raisins.

Dried Fruit and Chopped Walnuts for Tuscan Coffee Cake
It made for a lovely combination of colors and textures.

The recipe also calls for the bread to be shaped in a ball and left to rise in a 9" round pan. I decided to shape it like a horse shoe because I was feeling lazy and didn't want to pull out my round pans from the bottom shelf of my pantry.

Tuscan Coffee Cake Shaped

Once again, the dough rose fantastically. The loaf rose so much, it took over most of the sheet pan I was using!

Tuscan Coffee Cake Risen

Before the coffee cake is baked, the recipe calls for it to be drizzled with a sugar topping. I didn't see the sentence "before baking" and skipped this part.

You know what? The bread doesn't need a sugar topping at all! After letting it cool, I divided it up to share with my neighbors here in the house and my Indian neighbors next door (it was that huge!). I was going to drizzle some glaze on top before giving the portions away but it was so good without it, I decided it didn't need the extra sweetness. The fruit and nuts were nicely scattered in the bread complimenting the nice crumb and soft crust perfectly.

Tuscan Coffee Cake

It was delightful all by itself and the perfect accompaniment to a tall glass of cold iced tea while I sat in the sun in the backyard reading a book and enjoying the summer breezes.

Tuscan Coffeecake Bread
Adapted from the recipe on the back of the King Arthur European Style Artisan Flour bag

For the Dough:
1 cup + 3 Tbsp of water, room temperature
3 3/4 cups of KA European Style Artisan Flour (or any flour with about 11% gluten)
1/4 cup of butter, melted
1 large egg, room temperature
2 Tbsp sugar
2 tsp instant or bread-machine yeast
1 1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla (recipe calls for 1/4 but I am of the school of more vanilla is better!)

Whisk all the dry ingredients together and add water, butter, and vanilla. In a stand mixer with the dough hook, knead until a smooth and springy dough ball is formed (about 5 - 7 minutes). If making by hand, knead until dough is smooth and springy. The dough will be slightly tacky to touch but won't cling to your hand. If the dough clings, sprinkle some more flour on top of the dough ball and knead until the dough is just tacky, adding additional flour as necessary.

Place in slightly greased bowl and let rise until almost double, about 1 - 1 1/2 hours.

For the Filling:
1 cup walnuts, chopped
1/4 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup dates, chopped
1/4 cup dried figs, chopped
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup dried cherries
1/4 cup dried apricots, chopped

Gently deflate dough and either by hand or using the dough hook on the stand mixer, knead in nuts and fruit on low until fruit and nuts are distributed through the dough. Turn dough onto slightly floured counter and give a few quick hand kneads. Let dough rest for 5 minutes.

Forming the loaf:

Push dough into long rectangle and roll into rough log, shape like horse-shoe and place on a large lightly greased parchment line paper jelly roll or cookie sheet with edges. With cooking spray, lightly dust top of dough and cover loosely with plastic wrap, let rise until double in a warm draft free place.

Baking the loaf:

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Gently brush top of loaf with egg wash (1 egg and 1 Tbsp water, beaten until combined) and bake for 35 minutes or until internal temperature of bread is 190 degrees. Remove from pan and let cool completely before cutting. Top with glaze if desired.