Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Cranberry Cream Cheese Coffeecake with Streusel Topping . . .

Well, the tree's finally up and twinkling away, as are the Christmas lights outside. I baked what felt like twelve thousand cookies last week, and still have tons of dough leftover in case more(!) are needed. So, yes, progress is evident around here. But I haven't yet wrapped a single gift, nor have I sent out a single card; they're on the agenda over the next couple of days. In the midst of all this bustle, I somehow decided to experiment on Saturday afternoon with a coffeecake recipe, and the results were pretty yummy (or, if you prefer, "scrummy"--sort of short for scrumptious--as my Ireland-based baking-friend, June, would say). I was particularly pleased at this cake's staying power; even this morning, it was still very moist and good.

When you're trying to figure out what to serve on Christmas morning for breakfast or brunch, a homemade coffeecake that can be produced ahead of time, and that can be counted on not to dry out before it's served, is like money in the bank. I tried a little slice this morning to see how it was holding up, and I actually think it's improved with age. Don't you love it when something you've made does that?

About this recipe . . .

My version of this recipe has three key parts: the cakey base, the cranberry filling, and a cheese-cake-like creamy filling that you drizzle beneath and atop the cranberry layer. I took many liberties in adapting it from this lovely raspberry ripple tea cake that I found in A Bloggable Life.

I offer one caveat with this recipe. Were I to make this cake again (and I definitely would) I'd absolutely use a 9" or  10" springform pan with 2" sides, versus a 10" tart pan with 1" sides. Despite the pretty scalloped edge, it wasn't big enough. I had to trim off the outer edge of my cake when it came out of the oven because it rose over the sides (I neglected to take pictures of that little episode).

Cranberry Cream Cheese Coffeecake with Streusel Topping
(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and lightly flour, or coat with baking spray, a 9" or 10" springform pan (not a 10" tart pan; see my note in the blog post above regarding the need for a springform pan of this size).

Ingredients for the cranberry filling:

2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
Scant 1/4 tsp. ground cloves

1 Tbsp. corn starch
1 and 1/2 Tbsp. orange juice

Ingredients for the cream cheese filling:

6 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup granulated sugar

Ingredients for the cake base and streusel:

2 and 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (I used unbleached.)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cold unsalted butter, cut into small chunks
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt (I used coarse kosher.)
1 large egg, lightly beaten
3/4 cup buttermilk, or 3/4 cup plain yogurt that's been thinned with a tablespoon or two of milk

To make the cranberry filling:

In a medium-size heavy saucepan, heat the cranberries, sugar, orange juice, and spices on medium heat, stirring frequently, until the mixture starts to bubble. Turn the heat down and let it simmer until it starts to thicken. In a very small bowl, mix the corn starch with the 1 and 1/2 Tbsp. of cold orange juice; stir until it looks completely smooth. Pour it slowly into the hot cranberries, stirring constantly. Raise the heat a little and keep stirring slowly until the mixture noticeably thickens up. Cook another minute or two. Take the pot off the heat and set it aside to cool.

To make the cream cheese filling:

Beat the softened cream cheese for a couple of minutes, on low speed, until smooth. Add in the lightly beaten egg. Gradually pour in the sugar, still on low speed; beat for a couple more minutes until completely smooth. Set aside.

To make the cake batter and streusel, and to assemble the cake:

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour and sugar. Using a hand held pastry blender, cut in the cold butter until the biggest lumps are no larger than peas. Scoop out 1/2 cup of this mixture and set aside; this will be used for your streusel topping.

Into the large bowl add the baking powder, baking soda, and salt, stirring to distribute evenly. Hollow out a well in the middle of the bowl. In another small bowl, whisk together lightly the egg, and the buttermilk or thinned yogurt, whichever you're using. Pour this into the dry ingredients, stirring only to moisten and combine. The batter will seem pretty thick.

Spread 2/3 of the batter into the prepared pan, nudging the batter up the sides just a bit to create a rimmed effect (easiest if you use a small offset spatula, or the back of a spoon). Drizzle half of the cream cheese filling over this.

Spread all of the cranberry filling carefully over that, being careful to keep it away from the sides of the pan. Drizzle the remaining cream cheese filling over the cranberries, again avoiding the sides of the pan.

Now, gently spread the remaining batter over the top, all the way to the sides, then sprinkle on all of the streusel.

With the pan placed on a cookie sheet, bake the cake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes or more, until the top looks lightly golden.

Let the cake cool on a rack for at least 15 minutes before attempting to remove the sides of the pan. Let it finish cooling while still on the springform pan's base, placed on a rack.

Stays nice and moist for two days or more if well-covered.

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Friday, December 9, 2011

Relax. Don't Worry. Have a Christmas Cookie.

The Christmas-cookie baking marathon that so many of us home bakers annually embark upon has its charms but, for me at least, those charms always seem to be counterbalanced by the problem of narrowing down all the potential cookie choices. How do we please everyone when each family member has his or her own list of favorites? How do we incorporate a few new recipes year after year without retiring our cherished regulars? And, how do we prioritize our time in the kitchen as the big day approaches and the tinsel starts to fly?

In a poignant/pathetic attempt to gain clarity, I have to sit myself down each December and ask vital questions like the following:
  • Will you consider yourself a yuletide failure if you don't, yet again, make your mom's ancient but enduring thumbprint recipe? 
  • Which kind of cookie production gives you the most bang for your physical and emotional buck anyway? Fast and furious (think drop cookies, bar cookies, cookies with few ingredients, etc.)? Or slow and meticulous (think rolled, cut, and decorated sugar cookies)?
  • Will your kids pout and whine if you neglect to make tons of chocolate crinkles? 
  • Will your spouse's co-workers gaze at him despondently if you fail to produce a hefty platter of rugelach, etc., for his office party? 
  • Will you end up paralyzed with fatigue if you battle through and manage to make a dozen (or fifteen, or twenty--what's the difference?) unique cookie varieties all by yourself in one day?
We're going to have fun if it kills us . . . 

Bottom line? Don't sacrifice your sanity on an altar of old cookie tins. Sacrifice anything else, but not that. Just do what brings you some joy. But don't go off the rails. Five or six cookie varieties? Let that be fine with you. One favorite cookie choice per immediate family member? Perfect. Years ago, my husband became interested in home brewing and home brewers had a mantra, which he would occasionally spout. They'd say, "Relax. Don't worry. Have a home brew." I suggest we edit that to read, "Relax. Don't worry. Have a Christmas cookie."

Here's a little round up of some favorite cookies from past posts. I want to try a few new recipes this season, but I'm going to keep it all under control. If it kills me.

Merry Mocha Streusel Bars
Hard to resist. Not too sweet, and just a little cheese-cakey. Maybe the best bar cookie around.

Chocolate Walnut Rugelach and Raspberry Rugelach
What's not to like about cream cheese pastry filled with yummy stuff like chocolate, cinnamon, nuts, and/or raspberry jam? Nothing!

Cranberry Snowdrift Bars
These babies are just darn incredible. I love them. A cookie-like base, sweet and tart cranberry filling, topped with a tender/crisp baked meringue. Pretty to look at, and really good.

Cinnamon Cranberry Shortbread
The variations you can eek out of a simple shortbread recipe are endless. Here's a great example!

Scotch Oat Sandwich Crunchies with Raspberry-Key Lime Filling
So good. And crunchy. Really, really crunchy.

Kahlua and Cream Shortbread Sandwich Cookies
If you love Kahlua and you love cookies, hop on board this train. You won't regret it.

Chocolate-Filled Coconut Macaroon Sandwich Cookies
Oh man, were these good. American-style macaroons at their very best. Tender, chewy. Yum's the word.

Orange Almond Butter Buttons
The kind of cookie that longs to accompany a nice, hot cup of tea. Crispy and delicately flavored.

Robust Molasses Cookies
A classic molasses cookie that will not disappoint purists. Chewy and nice. Every cookie platter needs these!

Triple Chocolate Chip Cookies
This is chocolate taken to the nth degree. It's where chocolate ends because it can't get any more chocolatey than this.

Monday, December 5, 2011

United Layers of Carrot Cake . . .

I don't know about you, but carrot cake sure seems like a distinctly American dessert to me. Despite the fact that carrots have for centuries been used in just about every conceivable culinary form, I want to believe that the modern carrot layer cake, blanketed in cream cheese frosting, stands tall as an American invention. Having moved beyond trendiness decades ago, the lofty treat has become a classic fixture on menus from coast to coast. A really good carrot cake is not something to be disregarded. A really good carrot cake is, on the contrary, something to be revered.

Famed Cake Love bakery owner Warren Brown, in his fun (and whimsically designed) cookbook, United Cakes of America, offers up a carrot cake recipe that I found pretty intriguing. One of its unique aspects involves mixing the shredded carrots with sugar and then letting them sit for a while to drain. I don't recall ever before seeing a carrot cake recipe that suggested doing that, but I don't think I'll ever make a carrot cake again that doesn't require this step.

It allows some of the excess juice to drain off while the carrots take on the sugar's sweetness. On top of that, the recipe calls for a relatively small amount of carrots--only 3/4 of a cup, which I also liked. Often, it seems to me, cakes featuring one particular ingredient (carrots, beets, bananas, etc.) tend to go overboard in its use. Not so in this case.

Though I made several small adjustments to Brown's recipe, rewriting it in the process, I tried to keep with the spirit of his formula. One ingredient that undoubtedly makes his cake special, and that I unfortunately did not have on hand, was dried, chopped pineapple; I decided to substitute moist raisins instead, knowing that my husband likes them. Also, Brown calls for 1/4 cup of whole wheat flour; instead of regular whole wheat I opted to use white whole wheat flour, which is somewhat lighter and fluffier. Brown's version calls for the use of no spices at all. Though I found that omission interesting, I decided to add in a modicum of cinnamon, a dab of ground ginger, and a scant pinch of allspice. I also reduced the amount of chopped nuts in the batter from 1 cup to 3/4 cup.

This cake also differs from the norm in that it's not as super-moist and heavy as most typical carrot cakes seem to be. It's not oil-saturated, if you know what I mean. It uses a combo of melted butter along with a little oil, and it produces a carrot cake that, texturally, won't necessarily weigh you down the way some of them are bound to do. It has nice chewy bits of carrot and coconut. It's just really good. 

I also think it's a cake that tastes best after being frosted and spending at least a day in the fridge. Gives the flavors a nice chance to mingle before serving. (Oh, and before I forget . . . you won't need your mixer to make the cake batter, but you will need it for the frosting.)

Carrot Layer Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

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

Wet ingredients:
3/4 cup shredded carrots (I grated mine small, using a hand grater, and used well cleaned but unpeeled organic carrots.)
3/4 cup granulated sugar (Brown recommends superfine sugar, so use that if you want to.)
1 and 1/2 sticks (6 oz.) unsalted butter, melted
3 Tbsp. vegetable oil (I used canola oil.)
5 large eggs, lightly beaten

Dry ingredients:
1 cup granulated sugar (Again, Brown suggests superfine sugar; use that if you like.)
1/2 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
2 cups all-purpose flour (I used unbleached.)
1/4 white whole wheat flour (Brown suggests regular whole wheat flour, but white whole wheat is lighter and has the same nutritional value.)
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt (I used 1 generous tsp. of kosher salt.)
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1 scant pinch allspice
1 cup coconut, dried, unsweetened, and finely shredded (This "dessicated" coconut can be found in health food stores; look there if you can't find it in the grocery store. If you can't find this, you can still use sweetened coconut, but chop it finely before adding it to the batter.)

3/4 cup walnuts or pecans, chopped small
1 cup raisins (Use moist raisins to start with, or soak your raisins in warm water for about 15 minutes then drain them thoroughly before adding to the batter.)

For the cream cheese frosting:

16 oz. of cream cheese at room temperature (Definitely use a thick, rich brand like Philadelphia.)
3/4 of a stick (3 oz.) of unsalted butter, softened
2 tsp. vanilla extract
4 cups (about 16 oz.) confectioners' sugar
1 very scant pinch of fine-grain salt (Add this if you like. I think it helps cut the sweetness.)


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease two 9" round baking pans. Line them with circles of parchment paper, and then lightly grease the parchment.

Mix the carrots and 3/4 cup of sugar in a medium size bowl and dump them into a sieve or colander. Set it over the bowl and let this drain while you prepare the rest of the batter. You'll end up discarding the drained juice.

In a medium size bowl, whisk together the melted butter, oil, and lightly beaten eggs.

In a large bowl, stir together the granulated sugar, light brown sugar, all purpose flour, white whole wheat flour, baking powder, salt, spices, coconut, and chopped nuts.

In a small bowl, stir together the raisins and carrots.

Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the wet ingredients (butter, oil, eggs). Stir well to combine. Toss in the raisin and carrot mixture, stirring just to blend evenly.

Divide the batter between the two prepared pans and smooth it out with an offset spatula or the back of a large spoon.

Bake for about 30 to 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the top comes out mostly clean. Don't overbake; the sides of the cake should just be starting to pull away from the sides of the pan. Cool the cakes in their pans, on a rack, to room almost temperature. Invert them onto racks and peel off the parchment paper. Let them finish cooling completely before assembling with frosting.

To make the frosting:

In the large bowl of your mixer, on medium speed, beat the cream cheese until smooth. Add in the butter and vanilla until well combined. Gradually add in the confectioners' sugar on low speed, stopping to scrape as needed. If the frosting is extremely soft, chill it a bit before frosting the cake. Frost the layers when they're cool and, if you like, pat more chopped nuts onto the sides of the cake all around (you'll need about another cup of chopped nuts for this). Keep the finished cake in the fridge until shortly before serving.

*(And if you'd like to see another carrot layer-cake recipe that I posted previously, for a very moist cake made with crushed pineapple in the batter, check out this link).

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

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Triple Chocolate Espresso Cheesecake . . . (What You Really Want for Christmas)

I have, for weeks now, been in the throes of cleaning out my late parents' house in preparation for putting it on the market. I'm finally very close to being done, and I look forward to having more free time for holiday baking before Christmas is upon us. When you're sorting through the household miscellany, memorabilia, and detritus of a household that was occupied for 56 years by the same folks, you tend to encounter a few surprises--some extraordinarily wonderful, and others of the sort that will just have you scratching your head.

On the delightful side, I found a shoe-box sized container, tucked away in a seldom-visited closet, that was chock full of love notes from my father to my mother, most of them written in the months preceding their wedding day. Penned or typewritten on yellowed sheets of office scrap paper (they'd worked for the same company), the notes are without exception idealistic, funny, tender, and adoring. I can see why my mom saved every single one.

Toward the odder end of the spectrum, I found more springform pans than any one woman could use or destroy in a lifetime. I knew there were several stashed here and there in that house, having already adopted a couple of them when my mom first passed away, but I don't think I ever realized the true profusion that she'd accumulated over the years. She'd clearly been on a decades-long hunt for the perfect springform pan, relegating her cast-offs to the basement as she procured new and improved versions.

Some women of her era collected figurines and knick-knacks. She collected baking paraphernalia. And she did have a solid reputation for making truly fine cheesecakes--no doubt about that--so I guess she invested wisely.

About this recipe . . .

In celebration of that multitude of springform pans, I offer up this dark, dense, chocolate espresso cheesecake recipe. Where is it from? Well, you may laugh when I tell you that I adapted it from a recipe printed on a promotional wall calendar that came from an old-fashioned Italian bakery, in this neck of the woods, called Julian Bros. It turned out exceptionally well and I served it as one of the dessert options on Thanksgiving. If you love dark chocolate and coffee, you'll undoubtedly enjoy this cheesecake. If you prefer sweeter chocolate and don't care for coffee, make it exclusively with semi-sweet chocolate and omit the espresso powder altogether.

Triple Chocolate Espresso Cheesecake

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

Have ready one 9" x 3" springform pan. Preheat your oven to 300 degrees if you're using a dark-surfaced pan, and to 325 if you're not.

2 and 1/2 cups finely crushed chocolate graham-cracker crumbs
1/2 tsp. almond extract
1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp. malted butter (I used unsalted.)
1 scant pinch of kosher salt
8 oz. of good quality dark chocolate (Avoid using chocolate chips.)
4 oz. of good quality semi-sweet baking chocolate (Again, avoid using chocolate chips.)

4 eight-oz. packages (2 lbs. total) of cream cheese, softened and no cooler than room temperature (Use a thick, reliable cream cheese like Philadelphia brand.)
3 large eggs, at room temperature (Important that they're not at all cold; you can warm them quickly from the fridge, in their shells, by placing them in a bowl of very warm water for a few minutes.)
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. fine espresso powder (Or more, but only if you're completely crazy about this stuff.)
3 Tbsp. heavy cream (at room temperature)
1 tsp. vanilla extract

One 2 to 3 oz. chunk of milk chocolate, if you'd like to decorate the top of the baked cake with curls.

In a medium size bowl, toss the chocolate graham cracker crumbs with the salt; add in the melted butter and the almond extract, mixing with a fork until the crumbs are all moistened. Dump the mixture into your springform pan and press it firmly and evenly onto the bottom of the pan and an inch or so up the sides (don't worry if the sides aren't of even height all around). Set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together the sugar and the espresso powder. Set aside.

Slowly melt the dark and semi-sweet chocolate together. This can be done in the microwave if you're very watchful and careful, heating for several seconds, then checking and stirring, repeatedly. Or, melt the chocolate in a double boiler on the stove top over low heat, being vigilant that not a single drop of water gets into the chocolate. Keep the melted chocolate slightly warm; it needs to be fluid but not hot when it's eventually added into the cheesecake batter.

In the large bowl of your mixer, on low speed, beat the cream cheese for a few minutes until smooth. If it still feels at all cold, keep slowly beating until it's truly room temperature. Into this, add the melted chocolate, still on low speed. Pour in the sugar mixture and the heavy cream, beating now on low-medium speed until well blended (you don't want to beat so quickly that you add air into the batter). One at a time, add in the eggs on low speed, beating until they're completely incorporated (perhaps a minute for each egg). Add in the vanilla extract.

Pour the batter into the springform pan over the crust. Bake in the middle of the oven, uncovered and without a water bath (believe it or not!), for approximately 40 to 50 minutes. Remove from the oven when the surface looks slightly dry and the cake still visibly jiggles in the center; don't overbake. Remove the cake from the oven carefully and let it first start to cool in a fairly warm spot, like atop the stove, on a rack. Leave it there to cool for at least an hour before moving it to a cooler spot to cool completely. Refrigerate the cake for at least several hours or overnight, still in its springform pan. Before removing the sides of the pan from the cake, run an extremely thin metal spatula around the upper half of the sides to help loosen it.

Decorate the cake top before serving with milk chocolate curls. Make the curls using a vegetable peeler and a chunk of chocolate that's room temperate or slightly warmer. The curls are very delicate, so don't touch them with your fingers if you can help it. Lift them onto the cake with a thin metal spatula, or something equally unlikely to break them.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Swedish Batter Bread with Cinnamon and Cranberries . . .

My husband walked into the kitchen, spotted this newly baked item on the kitchen counter, and asked the question I'd been anticipating.

Him: "What kind of bundt cake is that?"
Me: "Um, well, actually it's not a bundt cake. It's called Swedish batter bread, with cinnamon and dried cranberries. It's made with yeast."

Him: "Really? But didn't you bake it in one of those bundt pans?"
Me: "No. It was made in a kugelhopf pan."
Brief silence.
Him, with affectionate sarcasm: "Ohhhh, of course. A kugelhopf pan. I should have known."

He loves to tease me about the odd minutiae of baking. The wacky pans, the loonier methods/techniques, the sometimes off-beat ingredients. And that's okay with me. I figure it helps keep me from taking all of this too seriously. I assumed he'd have something funny to say about this particular recipe, because this is one of those baked goods that's not easily categorized.

It has the texture of a hearty cake or maybe even a muffin, which I found kind of surprising. I'd expected it to be at least a little more bready. The flavor, though, was as I expected--nicely mild, not very sweet, but still cinnamony. Luckily, Andy (the hubby), really loved this batter bread. He munched it with coffee in the morning for a few days, and I tucked a little piece of it into his lunchbox. Yesterday, when it was legitimately stale and he found out I'd thrown the small remainder away, he pretended to cry. That guy.

About this recipe . . . 

Adapted from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book by Beatrice Ojakangas (a wonderful book, by the way), this batter bread was originally intended to feature saffron and golden raisins. I toyed with the idea of using saffron with dried cranberries (I'm not crazy about golden raisins), but then realized I wasn't even in a saffron mood at all. I was in a cinnamon mood.

I also decided to refrain from sprinkling the finished bread with the recommended powdered sugar, and used cinnamon sugar instead. That was a good choice. I modified the method for putting this together slightly, used instant yeast instead of active dry, and added in a little nutmeg along with the cinnamon. I reworded the recipe to reflect all of my changes.

Swedish Batter Bread with Cinnamon and Cranberries
(For a printable version of this recipe,  click here!)

Yield: One 10" loaf made in a kugelhopf, tube, or bundt pan

1 and 1/2 tsp. instant yeast (or, 1 package active dry yeast, which you'll need to proof in the 1/4 cup of warm water below)
1/4 cup lukewarm water
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs, room temperature
1/4 tsp. salt (I used fine sea salt.)
1/2 cup milk, slightly warm (Ojakangas says to scald and cool the milk; whether this old-fashioned scalding step is still necessary these days with modern milk is up for debate. In any case, use milk that's warm. I did not scald it first.)
1 and 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg (Freshly ground is best; do it yourself when possible!)
3 cups all-purpose flour (I used unbleached.)
3/4 cup dried cranberries
3 Tbsp. granulated sugar mixed with 1 tsp. ground cinnamon (to sprinkle on finished bread)

In the large bowl of your mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add in the room-temperature eggs along with the salt, beating until smooth. On the lowest speed, add in the yeast, water, and milk.

In a separate bowl, whisk the cinnamon and nutmeg together with the flour, then add it gradually into the mixer bowl, still on the low speed. Raise the speed to medium, and beat for five minutes, stopping to scrape the bowl and beaters now and then.

Add in the cranberries on low speed, mixing until combined.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, place it in a warm spot, and let the batter rise until it's doubled in size; this will take about 1and 1/2 to 2 hours.

Prepare your pan by liberally brushing it with soft, unsalted butter and lightly flouring it, or use baking spray (if you use baking spray, be careful not to let it pool in the bottom of the pan. Before you transfer your batter from the bowl into the pan, use a pastry brush to even it out and make sure you've gotten all the nooks and crannies, especially if you're using a kugelhopf/bundt pan.)

When the batter has doubled, stir it down; it will deflate considerably. Pour all of the batter into the prepared pan. Cover the top of the pan with plastic wrap and place it in a warm spot until the batter approaches the top of the pan (I let my batter rise to about an inch from the top of the pan); this should take about 1 hour.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees while the batter's rising.

Bake the bread for about 40 to 45 minutes. It should be quite golden brown on the outside. I tested mine with a toothpick, too.

Cool the bread in its pan for 15 minutes then invert it onto a cooling rack.

While still warm but not hot, set the bread still on its rack over a baking sheet and liberally dust the top of it with the cinnamon sugar.

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