Monday, November 22, 2010

Coffee Cake: "I feel like a huge idiot! All these years I’ve never tried coffee cake because I don’t like coffee. I didn’t know it didn’t have coffee in it."

Coffee cake cupcakes having a moment in the sun before a taste test with friends.

Often, I read the reviews and comments of the recipes I intend on trying out myself. Usually this is informative, but sometimes it's a little amusing. I don't think it's an uncommon assumption that coffee cake has coffee in it. Let's go along with the idea that it is referred to as coffee cake because it's great with a nice, hot cuppa.

 Blending the brown sugar and cinnamon topping with my favorite tool, the pastry blender.

If this cake were to be named for something that's in it, I'd go with butter. Sure, there's a generous amount of sugar, both brown and white, but who is ever shocked at the amount of sugar in a dessert? Certainly not me. This cake (now is the time you might want to look away if you've already had a slice) contains three sticks of butter. That's around 350g, for the metric folk out there. Before you start crying, I reduced my version down to 250g, or a bit over two sticks of butter. Not really out of fear of cardiac arrest, but rather out of necessity; I only had one brick in the fridge.

The cake batter is thick; be sure to have a rubber scraper on hand because even hard whacking against the counter won't settle your batter evenly in the pan.

If you can get past the outrageous amount of butter, you can begin to appreciate this cake for being remarkably delicious and Ree Drummond at Pioneer Woman for wrangling this out of her mother's recipe binder.

Coffee Cake
 Adapted from Ree at Pioneer Woman
Yields one 9"x13" sheet cake and nine cupcakes

1 tsp  salt
3  egg whites
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 C or 172g)  unsalted butter, soft
2 scant C (345g)  sugar
1 T  Kahlua or vanilla, optional*
3 C (298g)  all-purpose flour
4 tsp  baking powder
1 C  milk*
1/4 C  plain yogurt*

5 T (75g)  unsalted butter, cold*
3/4 C (75g)  all-purpose flour
1 1/2 C (302g)  brown sugar (not packed down)
2 T  cinnamon
1 C (130g)  pecans

*These are deviations from the original recipe. These are the original ingredients and amounts: No Kahlua or vanilla, 1 1/4 C whole milk, no yogurt, 1 1/2 sticks (172g) softened butter for the topping.
  1. Preheat the oven to 350F (177C) and grease the cake pan and line the cupcake tins.
  2. Combine the egg whites and salt and beat until stiff; set aside.
  3. Sift together the flour and baking powder; set aside.
  4. Cream together the butter and sugar and then mix in the Kahlua and yogurt.
  5. Alternately mix in the flour-baking-powder and the milk; do not over mix.
  6. Fold in the whites.
  7. Combine all the topping ingredients and cut together with a pastry blender.
  8. Fill the cake pan and cupcake tins about 2/3 to 3/4 full and sprinkle topping on.
  9. Bake the cake 40-45 minutes and the cupcakes 20-25 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
  10. Cool to a temperature that won't burn your mouth (room temp is always a safe bet) and enjoy!
Coffee Cake Reflections

 The cake didn't bake up around the topping as much in the sheet pan compared with the cupcakes, but it was just as yummy.

I caught the cupcakes right at the point where the batter goes from goopy to solid, affording me the softest cake I've had in my life. The topping was crisp and a bit crunchy, a very nice contrast to the delicate sponge. This magic is a combination of the right recipe, not over mixing, and pulling the cupcakes from the oven at just the right moment.

The recipe made what I'd consider to be way too much topping for the portions I made. Perhaps if it was all done in a deeper pan or one with more surface area, the amount would have been just right. The topping recipe above is how I did it, so feel free to halve that (reduced butter) or the original recipe.

Something not so magical: My butter had been in the freezer up until I needed it. Sooo it wasn't exactly softened when I went to go cream it. I also, rather mysteriously, threw the sugar in with the other dry ingredients to be sifted. Awesome job, brain. Way to get those synapses firing at full speed at 10:30 in the morning. Despite my rough start, everything came together. The textures and flavors in this cake are pretty perfect. I think it has something to do with all that butter.

The cake made its official debut at a housewarming hosted by my friends at Ming and Milo. It became a part of the wine tasting later in the evening, which featured wines from my home state! If you happen to be in Singapore and are scouring the island nation for the best pairings, they are your guys.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Next Post: Thank Ree @ Pioneer Woman

 Crumble topping with cinnamon, brown sugar, and pecans.

I have found another blog to sing the praises of: The Pioneer Woman. Ree Drummond writes about food, photography, life on the ranch, and more. She has a wonderful writing voice and takes beautiful pictures. And she is not afraid of butter. Ree Drummond, I applaud you.

Stand-in taste testers, Sunday evening's dinner party guests, and you readers have her to thank for the next butter-sugar-dairy rich post.

I'll be off the grid over the next three days due to frantic packing, flying from Singapore to Seattle via Tokyo, and face planting into my childhood bed. Maybe add a few more days onto that for my oldest friend's sixth annual Rock Band party, another friend's studio opening, additional face planting, and the pursuit back home food favorites like Cave Man Kitchen. Until then, you can drool over the crumble topping above.

Keep Baking,

X Melissa

Saturday, November 13, 2010

French Apple Tart: Is It Still French If I Add Cinnamon?

The apple tart on the road to my friends at the dessert bar. Who better to share with and get feedback from?

This is going to sound incredibly cheesy, but bear with me. Do you ever wake up in the morning and just feel inspired? That instant I've-just-got-to-do feeling and you're not even quite sure what it is that you've got that feeling about yet, but you know something is coming?

 I had these apples in the kitchen to have with yogurt and granola for breakfast, but I think they were dedicated to a far greater cause.

That's how I felt Friday. I was itching to bake. It's not as if I was going through withdrawals; I'd made two different batches of cookies, a crepe cake, and a lemon cake the week before. Still, I itched. I knew I didn't want to make more cookies or cakes. Then I thought about fruit and what was in the kitchen. Grapes... Dried cherries... Grapefruit... Apples... Bright green apples... Granny Smith apples. DING DING DING! It was time to make a tart.

 One of my favorite tools in the kitchen: The humble pastry blender. It is used to cut solid fats into dry ingredients, which plays a major roll in achieving the lightest, flakiest pie and tart crusts you can imagine. I hope there are other people that wax poetic about you, pastry blender, because you deserve it.

Google, that brilliant, mildly creepy creature that knows way more than a magic eight ball, gifted Ina Garten's French apple tart recipe to me. Not one to be ignored, the search engine put the Barefoot Contessa's recipe at the top of the list.

Measuring out the flour, sugar, salt, and butter for the crust.

French Apple Tart
Adapted from Ina Garten at The Food Network
Halved from the original recipe, makes one 8" round tart

Left: The pastry blender at work. Top right: After using the pastry blender, the dough resembles coarse bread crumbs. Bottom right: The crust pressed into the pie pan and pricked with a fork.

1 C (100g)  all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp  salt
1/2 T  sugar
6 T (86g)  unsalted butter, cold and cubed
1/4 C  ice water

Quarter inch apple slices.

2  Granny Smith apples
1 T  sugar*
1 tsp  cinnamon (optional)*
2 T  unsalted butter, cold and diced (softened is fine)
2 T  peach jam*
1/2 T  water*

*All of these are deviations from the original recipe. These are the original ingredients and amounts: 1/4 C sugar, no cinnamon, 1/4 C apricot jelly or sieved jam, 1 T water, Calvados, or rum.

 Butter makes the world go round.
  1. Combine the dry crust ingredients (flour, salt, and sugar) and cut the butter in until the mixture resembles coarse crumbles.
  2. Add the ice water tablespoon by tablespoon, tossing with a fork after each addition, until the dough just holds together (you don't want it too wet; I only used 2 T).
  3. Quickly knead the dough together (just a few turns), wrap, and refrigerate at least an hour or pat it down to about 1/2" thick and keep it in the freezer for 30 minutes.
  4. Preheat the oven to 204C (400F).
  5. If the dough is in the freezer, remove it and let it sit on the counter while working with the apples. If it's in the fridge, leave it there. Now peel, halve, core, and slice the apples into 1/4" slices. You can toss the finished slices in a little lemon juice if you work slowly and are worried about browning.
  6. Roll the dough out to fit your tart or pie tin and press it in. Prick the dough with a fork to prevent warping while baking. (Ina says to line the bottom of the pan with parchment, which I did, but I don't think it's necessary.)
  7. Overlap the apple slices in concentric circles on the crust or do whatever looks nice to you.
  8. Mix the cinnamon (optional) and sugar, sprinkle it over the apples, and dot with butter.
  9. Bake the tart 45-60 minutes, until the crust is brown and the apples have begun to brown.
  10. Warm (maybe 10-20 seconds in the microwave) the jam and water, mix, then brush it over the tart.
  11. Serve at room temperature or warm.
  12. Enjoy!
French Apple Tart Reflections
 It's funny that the light in the cab was better than the light in my apartment, though I'm not surprised.

  This tart is amazing. It's the kind of tart that makes my stand-in big brother at the dessert bar exclaim, "Oh my god. Spectacular." At first, I thought it was a little too tart, but as I ate my way towards the edge of the crust, I realized it was the triple layer of apples at the center that was a bit strong. I placed little slices of apple in the center to support the second ring of slices and then topped the center with a few more slices. Next time, I'll sprinkle a little cinnamon-sugar between the layers.

Also, I sort of cut the sugar topping down by 75% on accident. But what a happy accident that was! I knew sugar was going on top, but I read the crust sugar content again and sprinkled away. This is the way my not-professionally-diagnosed-mild-dyslexia manifests itself. Deliciously. I think the original amount would have cut the tart, Granny Smith flavor way too much. I mean, what's the point of using a sour apple if you smother the defining factor?

 This almost ended up on the cab windshield after some hard breaking. Luckily, I had it clutched in my hands because I didn't want my apple slices to slide around as it cooled. Pie-psychic. Uh, tart-psychic, technically, but pie-psychic sounds sooo much better.

Can I get an electronic hand clap for the cinnamon and jam please? The cinnamon is a throw-back to all my apple pie experiences in the States. I don't know how the French feel about cinnamon on apple tarts, but I think it's mighty fine. Also, I used my favorite peach jam from Organic Himalaya. I, um, didn't sieve it and sure, it was on the aesthetically lumpy side, but my taste buds could care less. I used about half of what the original recipe recommended, and I'd say this was the right choice, since more jam just would have distracted from those awesomely tart apples.

Finally, that crust. Man oh man, that crust! I think I got hung up on the pie crust recipe from my mom's late 1970's/early 1980's edition of The Good Housekeeping Cook Book and never bothered to try anything else, but it had slipped my mind this time and thank goodness for my brain's gentle reminders that I am no spring chicken. The crust is something that would make a person with the munchies' mind spin. Light, softly sweet, flaky beauty.

 Taking the first slice at the dessert bar.

I will definitely be making this again. This tart lands a pretty solid spot on my potential future bakery cafe list. Still, if that bakery cafe never happens, you can rest assured that the tart is easily made at home.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Pictures of Baked Goodies Past

Remember a long time ago when I just showed you slivers of what my friend Ari and I had made? Well, I never found the recipes that we actually used, so you'll just have to drool unfulfilled. We made apple pie with tart green apples and a crumbly cinnamon-sugar top, and yellow cake cupcakes with chocolate cream cheese frosting. We did play with sugar paste, trying out flowers and such, but only the snail survived. Have a looksie and don't forget to wipe your chin before you go anywhere.
 Oh, the yellow cake recipe is from Smitten Kitchen, which I've blogged before, just with chocolate chips thrown in. It really is a wonderful recipe. The photos are courtesy of my friend Ari and her lovely photographic skills.