What I choose to bake on any given day usually depends on four things: how much time I have; which ingredients are already in my cupboard; what I'm in the mood to prepare; and, whether or not my family members are likely to show enthusiasm for the dish I'm contemplating. Even with those limiting factors in play, the inherent freedom of home baking and the creative liberties that it allows make up an enormous part of what I love about the whole process.
It's encouraging to know that just about anyone can combine a bunch of seemingly disparate ingredients and be rewarded with a tasty, and often impressive, result. Taking into account all of the customizing and occasionally fool-hardy recipe tweaking we chronic bakers tend to engage in, that's comforting knowledge, don't you think?
I suppose it's sort of like one's faithful acceptance that a car can be driven to its intended destination even if the windows have been tinted purple, the radio's been replaced by a waffle iron, and the interior's been reupholstered in pink crushed-velvet. Baking is similarly flexible, at least to a certain degree. Just remember, figuratively speaking, not to remove the car's engine and everything should be okay.
When the yen to bake strikes, I try to zero in on a recipe that satisfies that familiar quartet of requirements, yet still leaves room for interpretation. This coffee cake provides an uncomplicated case in point.
About this recipe . . .
Last weekend, with a grand total of about two hours available to me--start to finish--I assembled this yeasted coffee cake (or kuchen, for those of you who prefer to sprechen zie Deutsch!) without any stress or strain.
Adapted from The Grand Central Baking Book, by Piper Davis and Ellen Jackson (lots of good stuff in this beautiful book), the original formula called for three cups of red raspberries and cherries. I had neither of those in my fridge, but I did have a few handfuls of blackberries and blueberries that were almost overripe, so I subbed in a scant two cups of those. The recipe called for turbinado sugar; I didn't have that so I used coarse, moist Demarara sugar instead. (If neither of those happen to inhabit your pantry, just use our old stand-by, brown sugar). The instructions also called for active dry yeast, as most home-baking cookbooks tend to do, but I opted for instant yeast; though harder to find in stores, it's easier to use than active dry (no proofing needed) and, in my experience, more reliable overall.
This baby was thrown together without the aid of a mixer, all in about 20 minutes--no kidding. The dough rose in its baking pan for almost an hour, then it was topped with the berries, sparkly golden sugar, and finally it was drizzled with melted butter. When it emerged from the oven about 40 minutes later, looking like a dream, I knew the planets had aligned perfectly once again. I love it when the world works like that.
Blackberry and Blueberry Kuchen
(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)
Lightly grease and flour a 9" x 13" baking pan, or use baking spray.
For the batter:
1 and 1/2 cups whole milk (I didn't have whole milk on hand, so I used 1 and 1/4 cups of 2% milk mixed with 1/4 cup of half-and-half)
1/2 cup of light brown sugar, packed
5 oz. unsalted butter (That's 1 stick plus 2 Tbsp.)
2 tsp. instant yeast (Or, 1 Tbsp. active dry yeast.)
3 large eggs, room temperature
3 and 1/2 cups All Purpose flour (Sifting not required, but I always fluff it with a whisk before measuring.)
1 and 1/2 tsp. salt (I used kosher salt.)
For the topping:
1 cup clean, ripe blackberries
1 cup clean, ripe blueberries
1/4 cup Demarara or Turbinado sugar (Regular light brown sugar, loosely packed, can be substituted.)
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
1 cups confectioners' sugar (Helpful if it's sifted, but not critical. Good idea to have more than 1 cup on hand in case you want a thicker glaze.)
Heavy cream or half-and-half, at least 2 Tbsp. (Have more on hand so you can adjust the thickness of your glaze.)
1/2 to 1 tsp. vanilla extract (The more you add, the more beige your glaze will be.)
In a medium saucepan over a low flame, stir together the milk, brown sugar, and butter until just warm. (If you're using active dry yeast instead of instant yeast, proof it now by adding it into this mixture--once the pan is off the heat--and let it stand for about 10 minutes until it begins to look bubbly. If this mixture is above about 115 degrees when you add in active dry yeast, you might murder it, so be careful. Shoot for about 110 degrees.)
In a small bowl, whisk the eggs just to break them up.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and instant yeast. Pour the eggs and the milk mixture into this, stirring gently, just until combined.
Spread the batter into the prepared pan and cover it with plastic wrap.
Place the pan in a warm spot and let it rise for about 1 hour, until it's doubled. (Don't expect drama; the batter will be pretty flat to start with so even when doubled it won't look that much higher in the pan.)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Once the batter has risen, scatter the berries over the top evenly.
Sprinkle the Demarara/Turbinado sugar all over the top and drizzle the melted butter over that.
Bake uncovered on the middle rack for 25 to 30 minutes at 350 degrees; then decrease the oven temperature to 325 degrees and bake for another 10 to 15 minutes. The cake is done when it's lightly golden on top and darker golden near the sides.
While the coffee cake is baking, mix together all of the glaze ingredients in a small bowl, stirring until completely smooth.
Let the kuchen cool in its pan, on a rack, for five to ten minutes.
Then, invert it onto another rack or onto a sheet pan, then invert it again so it's right side up on the cooling rack.
Place the cake, on the rack, onto a sheet pan with sides, and drizzle the glaze all over the top with a spoon or whisk.
Really good when served warm, and definitely best when it's extremely fresh.