Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Daring Bakers Challenge - March 2011: Yeasted Meringue Coffee Cake

Blog-Checking Lines: 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.

Disclaimer: I was never very good at planning, nor food photography. Please excuse the crappy photos and obvious lack of "process" shots. I'm learning.

I can't tell you how relieved I am that this challenge turned out! This was my first challenge, and came directly on the heels of a long vacation.  Even though my last post saw me touting some DB Challenges as "doable", I have the tendency to get ahead of myself and not always think things through. Especially with baking. Especially with cakes. For supplementary material, friends can see my facebook statuses ca. my birthday (Feb 19) this year. In summary, quite a few attempted cakes resulted in failure, anger, and wasted ingredients.

Fresh out of the oven.
So I was very much relieved when this coffee cake came out of the oven, nut brown, circular, and somewhat bursting with meringue goodness. But the real surprise was the taste and texture. This coffee cake tasted very similar to a cake I used to eat as a kid! We called it "chocolate buffalo", for reasons unknown to me then and now. I'm pretty sure that "buffalo" was some obfuscation of "babka", but when I interrogated my mother about it further, she seemed pretty adament that it our beloved chocolate buffalo was something totally different. The mystery continues to this day.

Just look at that spiral! First piece, cross-section
checks out. Phew!
The texture of these cakes is amazing, especially warm from the oven. The cake itself is soft and chewy, and seems to get some moisture from the meringue layer, which appears to have melted into the dough. The filling, supported by a very stiff meringue, manages to stay put in the negative space of the cake rolls. Even after cutting, the spiral pattern formed by cake roll and filling remains clean and consistency. And I have to say, few things give me a better sense of accomplishment than a nice, clean spiral in cake cross-section.

The star of the show: Sweet yeasted dough, before first rise.
This cake is also very easy to bake. I'm glad this was posted as a challenge, because it forces bakers to step into the world of yeasted cakes. Most bakers (myself included) don't bake with yeast as much as we should. We tend to think of yeasted and non-yeasted baking as two totally separate worlds. Although the thought of yeast baking can be a little intimidating, it's really quite simple and very rewarding. Yes, you have to put your results in the hands of a living organism, but now those in the audience may begin to understand how biologists feel.

I only have two tips to point out in this recipe, and both regard the yeast component.

First, although the recipe says to combine flour, sugar, salt, and yeast before mixing your wet dough ingredients, I would slow down here. Salt inhibits yeast activity, so I added the salt at the last minute, which is common for many bread recipes. I made my liquid mixture first, and then mixed the dry the ingredients together before combining the two mixtures.

Second, optimal yeast activity occurs with lukewarm water - not too hot, and not too cold. Too hot, and the yeast will die, and too cold, they won't go to work. I have a feeling that my liquid mixture was too hot when I added it to the dry ingredients. Be careful to only heat the liquids until the butter is just melted, and if it is too hot (ie. not lukewarm/warm), let it cool down a bit. I'm fairly certain that this could account for the lack of doubling in my dough.

One of the difficulties of working with yeast, if you're someone with anxiety problems such as Yours Truly, is that it is very easy to drive yourself crazy during the rising of your dough. A good rule of thumb for most rises, and what many recipes will indicate, is to cover your dough ball, and let it rise until it's "roughly doubled in size". Well, you can imagine how many times in the 45-60 minute period I popped the tea towel to check on the little guy. My dough definitely did not rise properly - after about 1.25 hours it was maybe 1.5x the size. This could be either due to the fact that my liquid was too hot (see above), or that, because I halved the recipe, there may not have been enough yeast and food for a true doubling to occur. Similarly, the second rise was pretty much useless, as I didn't notice a change in size whatsoever.

The rise is something that I really love about yeast baking, and has kind of inspired me to pursue more of it (next project; babka!). There is something really gratifying about kneading dough, and being able to feel the changes in elasticity, suppleness, and tackiness as your gluten network develops and the dough comes to life. And then, as if that wasn't enough, checking your dough after the first rise to find that it has grown massively is one of life's great ego-boosters. I think everyone should try it at least once.

Thankfully, and surprisingly, the cake still turned out great despite the minimal rising. So great that I've pretty much polished it off all by myself in two days. Though, that really isn't surprising knowing my eating habits. On a lighter note, the cake is actually kind of low cal/low fat. A look at the ingredients shows that there is very little sugar, butter, and eggs compared to most cakes - at least 1/4 of the amount in your usual cake, and far, far less calories and fat than certain old-school coffee cakes have. Which is great, because I always though that those kuchen were a real waste of calories and ingredients. I actually halved the chocolate, and the cake was still fantastic.

Here's the recipe. Enjoy!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Ira is now a Daring Baker!

On a whim, I decided to sign up to be a Daring Baker. I've seen the work of various DB bloggers throughout the net, but I always thought that their challenges were really really difficult. However, tonight I came across the January challenge - a jaconde imprime, and my mind was suddenly changed. Yes, the jaconde looks difficult, but after reading about some of the steps involved, I realized that it wasn't really that hard. Just a lot of tedious steps. Or, if you will, it was totally French. The entremet, well, that may be a different story. We'll see.

I think this will be a good challenge, because it will force me to work on my baking chops on a monthly basis. The results will have to be posted for the entire internet to see, and therefore I'll have to stick with the program or face public shame. What's also kind of neat is that the Daring Baker challenges are very hush-hush. Who knew? The challenges are posted in a private forum once a month, and EVERYONE on the DH blogroll (and there are are probably dozens if not hundreds) has to post about it. You have to complete 8 out of 12 challenges per year, and if you miss two you're automatically booted -- without warning -- from the blogroll. Shame!

It sounds pretty hardcore, I know, but let's face it, I've slacked off on the blog, and I'm always down to waste time and ingredients on new baking challenges. Case and point: I'm never making baumkuchen again...

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