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.

(If you'd like to comment on this post, or to read any existing comments, click on the purple COMMENTS below!)


Allison said...

Happy early birthday Jane! You do bring up a very important question. As the resident baker at work, I take requests for each person's birthday. But when it came around to my birthday last year, none of my co-workers wanted to attempt to bake so they went out and got cupcakes! Which was ok by me...I'm always game to try a cupcake shop.

Your break looks so professional. I would have never thought of such a combination in a yeasted treat.

Julia @Mélanger said...

I must say, I typically bake my own birthday cake. Last year was the last time I didn't for ages - I asked my mum if she would do it. But I do love baking so it's usually fine with me.

This braid is sensational. I just want to sit down with a big wedge now. Delicious!

Marysol said...

Best Wishes for a Deliciously-Happy Birthday Jane!

I would've loved your stellar coffee bread for my birthday, or any time of the year, for that matter.

You know, I can't recall the last time I baked my own birthday cake. I typically end up ordering dessert at some restaurant and call it a day. Don't tell anyone.

In any case, spend your birthday doing whatever makes you smile!

~~louise~~ said...

As soon as I saw those options, I thought to myself, Jane is going to choose Option #1. If I wasn't so baking challenged, that's what I would do. You see, not only can I not bake, my daughter who bakes bread and cakes and all kinds of goodies lives all the way in Idaho. (that's far to me:)

My cake of choice would be a Lane Cake. Steeped in history and distilled by glamour, I've always wanted to know more about the historic lineage of Lane Cake.

As for that Cherry Cream Cheese Coffee Bread of yours, I think you did a fabulous job. I've been on a teeny tiny baking kick of my own the last week or so and I not only messed up on the Bear Claws but also on the Carrot Cake I tried to bake on Carrot Cake Day (Feb. 3) Brave soul that I am NOT, I even posted about it.

A very Cherry Birthday to you, Jane. (Michigan cherries are the BEST and February is National Cherry Month!!!)

jenniew3478 said...

how come everything you make is so tempting and simple ? may the upcoming birthday be better than all the rest!

Jane said...

Hi Allison, Thanks so much for the birthday wishes. Cupcakes are always fine with me too!
:) Jane

Thank you, Julia! I had to restrain myself from eating too much of this coffeebread. I was glad my kids loved it so it wouldn't be around to tempt me too long!

Hello Marysol, I like your practice of going to a restaurant. That sounds like a good plan to me! I have made my own cake the last couple years, but I kind of don't want to have a huge layer cake sitting around right now. :) Many thanks, Jane

Dear Louise,
I've read about Lane Cake, but have never made one. I love that you know when Carrot Cake Day was! You're a treasure trove of info. (You must have tons of good books in your house, and not just cookbooks!)
Thanks for your kind words. You are always very sweet!
:) Jane

Hi Jennie-- So nice of you! Many thanks for your birthday message. Warmly, Jane

Hanaâ said...

Happy early birthday, Jane! For the last few years, I've picked option #1 because I just don't want to risk buying a cake and being disappointed (which happens most often). But I can also understand you standpoint that every once in a while, you'd like to have someone else do the work when you just relax & ENJOY! If you lived closer, I'd totally make you a birthday cake!!!
The heavenly cake bakers will be embarking on a True Orange Genoise this week. I can't wait to try that.
As for your cherry bread, it looks delicious. I think the braid was pretty. It might not have been perfect in your eyes, but it was still recognizable as a braid, so kudos to you! The Clearjel can be found at the store next to the canning supplies (next to the pectin). Another good alternative that's better than corn starch (which makes the filling "cloudy") is arrow root. I buy mine at Penzeys. You can use it to thicken sauces too. Great stuff!
Have a great birthday weekend!!

Jane said...

Dear Hanaa,
Based on your offer I can honestly say I wish you lived closer!!
:) The Heavenly Cake bakers have got it goin' on, as they say! Orange genoise sounds fascinating. I would like to try making that someday.

Hanaa, you are such a peach to say nice things about my sloppy bread braid! Always so encouraging.

I thought I'd seen ClearJel near stuff like pectin in the store, so thanks for confirming that. I have never tried arrowroot, but I do buy ingredients at Penzey's. (Have you ever tried their Dutch process cocoa?? It's to die for! And their cinnamon? Get out!). Next time I go there I'm going to pick some arrowroot up. I'd like to get a good handle on all of typical thickeners that bakers use.

Thanks again for the birthday wishes, Hanaa! It's been a good year!

:) Jane

ButterYum said...

Absolutely lovely, and fantastic photos!


zurin said...

OOHHHH that bread looks absolutley Glorious JAne!!! and happy birthday to u!! yes perhaps u shd pick out a cake urself...ur family is just like mine...they get flustered n confused in teh bakery!! poor thigns indeed.. hope u have a great party!:)))

Anonymous said...

SureGel, which is pectin, is the stuff in the canning section. Clear jel is the modified starch and is available from or

Memória said...

Thank for the great process photos. This coffee bread looks fantastic. I hope to make it soon.

Memória said...

Oh, and I forgot to mention that today is my bday too!! Happy birthday!

Hanaâ said...

I hope you had a nice birthday, Jane. What kind of birthday cake did you end up having?

I buy my Dutch cocoa (where else) in Holland :o) When I visit there, I always bring back a dozen boxes or so which usually last me a year or two, until my next visit. Good to know that Penzeys carries some good stuff, just in case I run out.

dining room table said...

Belated Happy Birthday Jane! The bread looks perfect and nice looking. I like the way you did it.

Katie said...

Ohhh that looks wonderful. I love cherry jam and pairing it in the coffee bread looks so good.
Hope you had a great birthday

oneordinaryday said...

Gorgeous! And I think if I got to choose, I'd like to bake my own bday cake. : )

oneordinaryday said...

On second thought...
I kinda miss my mom baking it for me! I'm telling her so too!

Stella said...

This sounds wonderful, Jane. I might have to try it.

Cathleen said...

It looks too good. It's like art. Beats a birthday cake any day!