Wednesday, February 3, 2010

It's My Party and I'll Bake if I Want to . . . but do I Want to? (Cherry Cream-Cheese Coffeebread)

That's right, you heard me. It is my party . . . sort of. Okay, not a party exactly, just an intimate gathering of immediate family. Come this weekend, on Super Bowl Sunday, I turn 49 years old. We will be celebrating on Saturday evening in order to avoid potential conflict with the annual football spectacle. (One has to keep one's priorities in order, doesn't one?)

So what's the problem? Well, birthdays can present a slight dilemma for a bake-a-holic as well as the bake-a-holic's family. The burning question: From whence cometh the birthday cake?

As I see it, there are three options--all of them intriguing, none of them bad.
  • Option no. 1: The bake-a-holic bakes her own cake because she wants to do it herself. (Remember, she's like a junkie that way.)
  • Option no. 2: The bake-a-holic goes to a fabulous bakery and picks out something unusual and gorgeous that she'd never typically buy any other day of the year, and that is far too complicated and time consuming to ever consider baking at home . . . something that will surely dazzle all concerned.
  • Option no. 3: The bake-a-holic's husband and children venture out into the big scary world to pick out a cake for her birthday, hoping against hope that they select something adequately impressive.
What would you do? At this juncture, I think I'm leaning toward option no. 2. I'm just not in a layer-cake makin' mood, and I don't want to thrust the cake selection task onto my family's shoulders (they get all flustered when forced to pick out baked goods, poor things). I'd kind of like to select an out of the ordinary cake that, besides being a part of our celebration, would make a good research subject. Yes, I like to dissect complicated bakery cakes. See what makes them tick. Sometimes I even draw little pencil diagrams of exactly what they look like and how they're composed, outside and in. (It's that junkie aspect again. Can't help myself.)

Let's get to the cherry cream-cheese coffee bread . . .

Anyway, at the moment I'm in more of a yeasty sweet-dough kind of a mood, which brings us to today's recipe. One of my baking goals this year is to branch out, fearlessly, with yeast dough, including sweet dough with which I've had almost no experience. I found this recipe for "Jam-Filled Sour Cream Coffee Bread" on the King Arthur Flour website. I'm calling mine Cherry Cream-Cheese Coffee Bread, reflecting--I think--more accurately what this is. Coffee bread or coffee cake, call it whatever you want. Either way this is a divine item, really delish. My teenage sons absolutely scarfed it down.

This coffee bread is supposed to look kind of like a lovely braid. Mine, though, ended up resembling a sloppy braid that's coming undone. Not a pretty product, but utterly palatable nonetheless. Because I had trouble with the braid aspect when putting together the first loaf, I decided to abandon that path when dealing with the second loaf and nix the braid altogether. Instead, I completely enclosed the second loaf's filling, and didn't even cut slits or anything in the top. Took my chances. Some of the filling did leak out a bit from that rather over-stuffed second loaf when baking, but no real damage was done.

Were I to make this recipe again--and I wouldn't hesitate to do so--I think I might divide the dough into three smaller loaves. It was difficult to keep them intact while trying to move them onto the baking sheet. I suspect that step would be more manageable if each loaf was shorter. I assume you could use just about any jam flavor you like. The basic Smucker's cherry jam I used provided a fine balance of sweet and tart, but I'd also consider using raspberry or apricot preserves. I'm sure the braid design looks lovely when done well and I'd like to give that another go.

Caveat: If you plan to make this, do it on a day when you have plenty of time to devote to the process. It's not hard but it takes a while, and what with the long risings it requires some babysitting.

What did I change?

I altered the recipe by leaving out a couple of optional ingredients. One of them was "buttery sweet dough flavoring." That's an artificial flavoring that I've only ever seen for sale in cake decorating stores and which, of course, King Arthur also wants you to buy from them. Also, I left out Instant Clearjel, which they suggest adding to the jam, and which is made from waxy maize. (Waxy maize, as used by bakers, is sort of like cornstarch but more stable; they use it at school in my retail baking class for things like fruit pie fillings. I've never seen this stuff for sale in stores. It does have certain advantages over corn starch, and it's worth looking into, in case you're curious.) I've never purchased Clearjel, but I'm going to be on the lookout for it at the grocery store as I'd like to give it a whirl. I reworded the King Arthur directions here and there, as usual, adding in my two cents when needed.

Font sizeCherry Cream-Cheese Coffee Bread

(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)

Dough ingredients:
3 cups unbleached All-Purpose flour or pastry flour (I used pastry flour)
3 Tbsp. granulated sugar
1 and 1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup sour cream
4 Tbsp. butter
1 large egg yolk, white reserved
1/3 cup lukewarm water
1 Tbsp. instant yeast (not active dry)

Filling ingredients:
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/8 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 large egg white, reserved from dough (above), mixed with 1 Tbsp. cold water
*1 cup jam (flavor of your choice) mixed with 3 Tbsp. Instant Clearjel or flour (I didn't include either of these and all was fine)

1/4 cup coarse/sanding sugar (for sparkle!)

Combine all of the dough ingredients in a mixer bowl and, on low speed, mix and knead until a soft, smooth dough forms. (I used a dough hook from the start for this, on the lowest speed, and it took about 5 minutes or so for the dough to get nice and smooth.) The dough will seem dry. Resist the urge to add any additional flour.

Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover it with a dish towel or plastic wrap and set it somewhere kind of warm to rise. Leave it alone for 90 minutes. It will barely look like it's risen at all and that's okay.

(The top photo of the dough is how the dough looked before rising; the next photo is how it looked after the rising time was over. See? Almost no difference is evident.)

Divide the dough, on a slightly floured surface, into two pieces. Working with one piece at a time, roll it or pat it into a 10" x 15" rectangle. Let it rest while you make the filling.

For the filling, gently beat together until smooth the cream cheese, butter, sugar, salt, and the flour or Instant Clearjel if you're using one of those. Add in the 1 whole egg and continue to beat gently until only a few lumps are visible.

Return to the dough rectangle and spread half of the jam in a 2 and 1/2" swath down the middle of it, lengthwise. Leave 1" of dough bare at each short end.

Spread half of the cream cheese mixture on top of the jam. Fold the bare 1" of dough over the filling at each end. If you want to make it look like a braid, use a pastry wheel or sharp knife to cut little flaps, each about 3/4" wide, along both sides in the bare dough. Stop each cut before you get too close to the jam and cream. Then, starting at one end and alternating sides, gently pull the strips up and over, criss-crossing to give the appearance of a braid. (To see exactly how this is supposed to be done, go to this link at King Arthur; the photos are very helpful!)

As carefully as you can, transfer the loaf to your baking sheet. It will be very floppy and soft.

Repeat the whole process with your other chunk of dough.

Cover both loaves and let both them rise again for 90 minutes. As before, they may look as if they haven't risen at all and that's okay. Towards the end of the rising time (allow at least 20 minutes, I'd say), preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Combine the egg white and water, and brush all over the tops of the loaves. Sprinkle the coarse sugar liberally over the loaves.

Bake the loaves until they're golden brown, perhaps 20 to 30 minutes. (Mine only took 22 minutes to bake. King Arthur suggests "32 to 36 minutes" but mine would have been completely burned if I'd left them in that long. I say check on them at 20 minutes and follow your instincts from there!)

Let the finished loaves cool on a rack. Slices of this bread are good served warm or cold. Best the first day.

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