Blueberry Crumb Cake {ModBak}

Like most of the rest of the country, we have had an unseasonably warm spring and early summer here. One of the consequences of this has been that many of the local fruits and vegetables are coming on much earlier than normal.

So I was only a little surprised to find fresh local blueberries at the farmer’s market a few weeks ago. Blueberries don’t usually hit until about mid-July in our area, but here is was the second week of June and they were at the market already.

I try to avoid buying trucked in fruit whenever possible, so I was holding out until I could get local blueberries to make this recipe from the Cakes section of the Modern Baker Challenge. I just never imagined it would happen this soon. This recipe is a combination of  a blueberry crumble and a cake. It has a thick cake layer on the bottom, topped with a mix of blueberries and crumb topping.

I began by making the crumb topping, which consisted of flour, baking powder, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and butter. Because the butter was melted, it had more of a doughy consistency than a crumb topping made with room temperature butter.

I crumbled the topping onto the blueberries in a baking dish and set them aside while I made the cake. I found this step kind of odd, as I expected the recipe to say to put the blueberries on the batter, then add the crumb topping. It turns out my instincts were right on in this case, as I got an e-mail from Nick Malgieri after I made this recipe noting that this instruction was an error in the book. Either way, it worked out fine.

The cake batter was made with flour, butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla, baking powder, and buttermilk. After mixing it up, I spread it in the pan.

I topped the batter with the blueberries and crumb mixture.

I baked the cake for about 40 minutes, until the batter was set and the crumb well-colored.

The blueberries melted into a jam-like consistency and were delicious with the crumb topping. I thought the cake layer was a bit too thick for the amount of topping. I think if you doubled the amount of blueberries, it would be perfect.

Abby liked this recipe a lot (she has a thing for blueberries), and she wrote the official post for the Challenge. You can check it out here.

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Sour Cream Coffee Cake {ModBak}

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The fifth recipe in the Cakes section of the Modern Baker Challenge is a delicious and simple sour cream coffee cake. What makes this cake unique is the addition of sour cream to what is essentially a pound cake batter. But what makes it amazing is the cinnamon-sugar-nut filling!

After mixing the batter, I spread half of it in a bundt pan.

I topped the batter with half of the cinnamon-sugar-nut mixture.

Then I spread the rest of the batter on top.

Finally, I added the rest of the topping.

I baked the cake at 325°F for about an hour, until it was golden brown and baked through. I read and reread the instructions for removing the cake from the pan and kept thinking they had to be wrong. If I followed the instructions — which said to invert the pan on a rack, lift off the pan, then put a rack on top of the cake and invert it again — the cake would wind up upside down.

But when I turned the cake out of the pan, I realized that “upside down” was right side up for this cake, since the cinnamon-sugar-nut mixture was on top of the cake in the pan.

You’d think I would know by now to trust Nick’s instructions.

This was a wonderful coffee cake. The cake itself wasn’t overly sweet. The sour cream added both richness and a bit of tang to the crumb. The nut mixture was, of course, quite sweet, but it was distributed throughout the cake in such a way that it blended perfectly with the cake.

This is definitely the recipe I will reach for the next time I want to make coffee cake. And it’s just another reason I’m glad to have my well-worn copy of The Modern Baker on my cookbook shelf.

Pecan Sticky Buns {TWD-BWJ}

Our second May recipe for Tuesdays with Dorie is one with which I am very familiar. Growing up in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, sticky buns were an almost ubiquitous morning treat. After leaving PA Dutch country, I tried so-called sticky buns literally from coast to coast. None of them could hold a candle to any that I had growing up. And of the sticky buns in Lancaster County, none could compare to the ones made by Melinda Fisher.

I was close friends with the Fisher boys growing up — John, Jake, and David — and was lucky enough to spend many nights at their house. Dan and Melinda grew up Amish, and although they no longer lived on a farm, they still breakfasted like farmers. So breakfast at their house was always a treat. But never more so than when Melinda made sticky buns.

I’m not sure what made her sticky buns so much better than all others. Dan raised bees, so she naturally used honey in her recipe. But it was more than that. And I wish I had her recipe. They were, as the Dutch would say, am beschde (the best).

So, when Dorie claims that Nancy Silverton’s recipe is the ne plus ultra of sticky buns, she has a high bar to clear in my book. This, then, is a battle of superlatives: the ne plus ultra versus am beschde. And as much as I love Melinda’s sticky buns, I was pulling for Nancy’s recipe to come out on top. After all, I have her recipe available to me in my copy of Baking with Julia.

Nancy Silverton’s sticky buns recipe begins with a batch of her brioche dough. I made the dough the day before baking the sticky buns, and because it is a completely separate recipe, I gave it its own blog post.

The first step in making the sticky buns (once you’ve made your brioche dough) is laminating the dough. No, this doesn’t mean putting through a machine to encase it in plastic. In this context, laminating refers to folding (or turning) layers of butter into the dough. To do this, I divided the dough in half, and rolled one piece out to a large rectangle. Then I spread softened butter over the dough.

When I made the brioche dough, I found it much easier to work with the butter if I spread it with an offset spatula. So even though the sticky buns recipe said to dot the dough with butter, I used my spatula to spread it evenly over the entire surface of the dough. I folded the dough in thirds. letter-style, then rolled it out to roughly the same size it had been before. I folded the dough again, then wrapped it and put it in the fridge while I worked with the other half.

When the dough was chilled, I rolled one piece out again, then brushed it with an egg wash and sprinkled it with cinnamon-sugar and chopped pecans. The recipe said to roll the pecans and sugar mixture into the dough with a rolling pin, which just sounded like a mess waiting to happen. So I covered the dough with wax paper before rolling it. That kept my rolling pin clean and ready for the other half of the dough.

I rolled the dough into a tight log, which I then wrapped in plastic wrap and put in the refrigerator for about an hour.

This recipe makes 14 sticky buns, but as there are only four of us, I decided I didn’t want to make all the buns at once. After the initial chill, I double-wrapped one log and put it in the freezer for another day.

One of the unique things about sticky buns is that they are baked upside down and inverted onto a plate as soon as they come out of the oven. The “sticky” is a caramel sauce in the bottom of the pan that, when inverted, covers the tops of the buns and oozes down the sides, covering the entire sticky bun with ooey-gooey goodness.

Most recipes for sticky buns that I’ve seen use a caramel sauce that is cooked and then poured into the bottom of the pan. This recipe, however, makes the caramel sauce directly in the pan while the buns are baking. To do this, you use your fingers to smear a stick of butter on the bottom of the pan (at the risk of sounding like a broken record, I found this much easier to do with an offset spatula).

Then you top the butter with brown sugar.

In my final major departure from the recipe, I arranged pecans on top of the brown sugar. The recipe says to press the pecans into the top of the buns, then try to hold them in place while you invert the buns into the pan. Why not just put the pecans in the pan to begin with?

To form the buns, I cut the dough into even-sized pieces (yes, I measured them).

I flattened each roll slightly, then arranged them in the pan.

Looking at the formed rolls, I saw the results of laminating the dough.

I set the rolls aside to rise, which I knew would take a few hours, as the dough was still quite cold. After about two hours, the rolls had risen and were touching, so it was time to bake them.

I baked the sticky buns at 350°F for about 40 minutes, until they were well-risen and golden brown.

As soon as they came out of the oven, I inverted the sticky buns onto a plate.

They were beautifully layered, and the caramel flowed over and around them as if on cue. I waited for the buns to cool a bit (no sense scorching myself with hot caramel after all that work), then dug into them.

The sticky buns were rich, buttery, and pull-apart flaky. The caramel was sweet and creamy, and the pecans gave the buns a nice crunch. As far as the flavor goes, both the buns and caramel were a bit flat and tasted like they needed some salt. And the buns overall were just so-so. Better than many I have eaten around the country. But not as good as the ones I used to get in PA. And nothing like Melinda Fisher’s.

I had such high hopes for these sticky buns, especially since they used an insane amount of butter and were two days in the making. Unfortunately, they didn’t live up to the hype. And while I will continue to search for a sticky buns recipe that can live up to the ones made by Melinda Fisher, I definitely won’t be making this recipe again.

Spicy Hazelnut Biscotti {ModBak}

Today I present to you the first biscotti recipe in the Cookies, Bars, & Biscotti section of the Modern Baker Challenge. Unlike the biscotti regina I made back in January, which was actually a cookie (biscotti is, after all, “cookie” in Italian), this is what I would consider a classic biscotti recipe. It’s twice-baked, very crunchy, and made for dunking in coffee or tea.

What makes these biscotti unique is the addition of lots of spices, including some that might surprise you — ginger, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, and black pepper. The dough also contains lots of hazelnuts, some of which are ground with the sugar, while the rest are chopped up and stirred into the dough. A bit of honey and orange zest round out the flavorings.

The dough came together very quickly, although it was a bit powdery after I initially mixed it up. I worked it on a floured board until it held together, then I formed it into a log, put it on a cookie sheet, and flattened the top. I baked the log at 350°F for 40 minutes, until it was firm and nicely browned.

I cooled the log on a rack for half an hour or so, then cut it into 1/2-inch slices. I put the biscotti back on the cookie sheet and returned them to the oven, this time at 325°F for about 20 minutes, until they were dry and firm.

The aroma of the spices filled the house like Christmas at grandma’s. They smelled so good, I couldn’t wait for them to cool before trying them. I brewed a cup of French roast coffee, grabbed two biscotti, and headed for the living room.

How do I describe these biscotti? Crunchy, sweet, spicy — all those things, but so much more. The combination of flavors is absolutely genius, perhaps Nick Malgieri’s finest work.

These would be a perfect for the holidays, when spicy treats are on everyone’s minds. But don’t wait until then to make them. They’re too good not to enjoy year-round.

Cappuccino Thumbprint Cookies {ModBak}

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I’m not a fan of fussy cookies. My idea of making cookies is mixing the dough, dropping the cookies onto a pan, and baking. Bar cookies are even better, as you get to skip the individual cookie dropping step. So I tend to pass over recipes with a lot of shaping, dipping, rolling, and filling. Like this one.

These cookies had it all, and then some. First, you make the dough, shape it into a square (I put it in an 8×8 pan), and chill it.

After the dough chills, you unwrap it (as you can see, I had a bit of trouble getting mine out of the pan), then cut it into squares.

The individual pieces of dough (all 40 of them) are then rounded, dipped in an egg wash, rolled in ground almonds, and placed on the pan.

Next, you make a cavity in each cookie and then bake them.

While the cookies are baking, you make a white chocolate and espresso filling. I’m not a huge fan of white chocolate, so I made two fillings, one with white and the other with bittersweet chocolate. After the cookies cooled, I piped the filling into the cookies, then sprinkled them with cinnamon.

These cookies were a lot of work, but they tasted really good. To my surprise, I even liked the white chocolate ones. I could see making these cookies again for a holiday cookie tray. Maybe by next Christmas I’ll have forgotten how much work they were.

This recipe is from The Modern Baker, by Nick Malgieri and is part of the Cookies, Bars, & Biscotti section of the Modern Baker Challenge.

Espresso Walnut Meringues & Cinnamon Meringues {ModBak}

Me: I don’t like meringues. It’s like eating air.
Nancy: It’s like eating sugared air. And what’s wrong with that?

OK, so maybe Nancy does have a point. But I’ve still never been a big fan of meringues. However, I knew if anyone could change my mind, it would be Nick Malgieri. Besides, these meringues were up next in the Modern Baker Challenge, so I was going to make them, like it or not.

Most meringues I’ve tried in the past seemed to be nothing more than egg whites and sugar, so I was intrigued by the addition of chocolate, espresso powder, and walnuts to this recipe. And the variation with walnuts and cinnamon sounded interesting, too. Given my overall skepticism, I decided to make a full batch of meringues, but divide the meringue in half so I could make a smaller batch of each kind to try.

I began by whipping egg whites and salt in the mixer.

I added half the sugar, a little at a time, while the egg whites were whipping. By the way, if you happen to have the hardback edition of The Modern Baker and are wondering what you’re supposed to do with the remaining sugar, the answer can be found in the paperback edition of the book. The rest of the sugar gets layered in with the remaining ingredients below.

Once the egg whites had reached meringue consistency, I removed the bowl from the mixer and divided the meringue between two bowls.

The bowl on the left contains walnuts, the rest of the sugar, espresso powder, bittersweet chocolate, and cornstarch. The bowl on the right has walnuts, sugar, cinnamon, and cornstarch. I folded the ingredients in gently, trying not the break the meringue.

I spooned the meringues in mounds on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. I forgot to take a picture before I put them in the oven, so I opened the oven door and took a quick snap.

The meringues baked at 300°F for about 30 minutes, until they were fairly dry. This surprised me, as most other recipes I’ve seen call for baking the meringues for 2-3 hours, and some instruct to leave the meringues in the oven overnight to finish drying.

The picture above is of the espresso meringues. The one below shows the cinnamon meringues.

The meringues smelled really good baking, and I was anxious to try them to see if they would change my mind. And they almost did. They were both quite flavorful. The cinnamon meringues had a wonderful, spicy aroma. And the chocolate in the espresso meringues made them quite tasty.

The only thing I didn’t really care for was the mouth feel after eating a few of them. I didn’t notice it at first, but after a while, my mouth felt really dry, and the meringues left a powdery aftertaste. I think it was from the cornstarch. Eating them with a cup of tea or coffee remedied this for the most part, but I just don’t care for that taste and feeling in my mouth. I have since looked at several other meringue recipes, and none of them seem to call for cornstarch.

If I make these again, I’ll try leaving the cornstarch out, as I really did like the flavor of both of them. I think they might need to bake longer without the cornstarch, as I suspect that is what shortens the baking time in this recipe compared to others.

It might be worth trying. They were mighty tasty.

OK, Nancy, maybe I see the point of sugared air after all.

Indiana Persimmon Pudding

A few months ago, I was shopping the Borders going out of business sale, and I came across a book of regional American Thanksgiving recipes. It was in the remainder section, and with the additional mark-downs, it was practically free. I picked up a copy for myself and a few extra copies for some of my online baking friends. Once everyone had their books, we all set out to find the recipes we wanted to try.

My friend Kayte was the first to point out this recipe, and I knew as soon as I saw it that I wanted to try it. Although I’m a Hoosier born and bred, I never had persimmon pudding growing up. If fact, even though I lived in Indiana until I was 10 years old, the first time I tasted a persimmon was in high school in Lancaster County, PA.

The most challenging part of this recipe was finding the persimmons. They are in season from October through February, but it was mid-November before they appeared in the produce section of my local grocery store. And the ones that I bought were quite underripe. If you know anything about persimmons, you know that you can’t eat them until they are dead ripe or your mouth will completely dry up and leave you puckered like a toothless old codger. So I put my persimmons in a paper bag and waited. And waited. And waited.

It was several weeks (yes, weeks) before they were ripe. And they actually could have benefitted from another week or so. But my patience was at an end, so I peeled and mashed them and pressed on with the pudding.

Besides the persimmons, the recipe called for butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla, flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, buttermilk, and heavy cream. After mixing the ingredients, I baked the pudding at 350°F for about 45 minutes, until the pudding was set and nicely browned.

This bakes up more like a cake or custard than what I usually think of as pudding. It smelled really good coming out of the oven, and I was glad the recipe said to eat it warm. I didn’t taste a strong “persimmony” flavor, but the pudding was really delicious. We ate it with a dollop of whipped cream for dessert the evening I baked it, and continued to enjoy it over the next few days.

Kayte claims to be able to buy persimmon pulp in the frozen section of her local groceries. If I am ever able to find that around here, I will probably try this recipe again. But as much as I enjoyed it, I don’t think I have the patience the wait for persimmons to ripen to make it very often.

Sicilian Fig Bars {ModBak} — Move Over, Newtons!

When I saw this recipe in the Cookies, Bars, & Biscotti section of The Modern Baker, I knew I wanted to make them. I love figs, and I’m especially crazy about Fig Newtons. So I signed up for the official Modern Baker Challenge post and added figs to the grocery list. I have been trying to bake the recipes in this section in order, but once I had figs in the cupboard, I couldn’t wait to make these.

The ingredients list is short: figs, water, apricot preserves, dark rum, cinnamon, and cloves. And other than the figs, I had everything else on hand. After snipping the figs into a saucepan, I added the remaining ingredients, brought it to a boil, and simmered everything for 10 minutes or so, until the figs were soft.  I puréed the fig mixture in the food processor, then set it aside while I prepared the dough.

 

The dough for the fig bars is the same dough used to make biscotti regina. I made a double batch of the biscotti dough, half of which I used for the regina, and the other half to make these fig bars.

Beginning with 1/3 of the dough, I rolled it into a 12-inch rope.

I flattened the rope into a rectangle about 4 inches wide.

Then I spread 1/3 of the fig mixture on the dough,…

… folded the top half over the center,…

… and folded up the bottom half. I pressed the dough to seal it, then flipped it seam side down and put it on a cookie sheet.

I made three dough cylinders, which I put on an unrimmed cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.

I baked the bars at 350°F for about 20 minutes, until the dough was firm and golden. As I removed the pan from the oven, I inadvertently tipped it ever so slightly. Unfortunately, given the flat, rimless cookie sheet and the slickness of the parchment paper, that was enough to send 2 of the 3 cookie bars sliding off the tray and onto the bottom of the oven. Note to self: next time, use a jellyroll pan.

I let the remaining bar cool, then cut it into cookies. They weren’t pretty, but they were delicious. Both the dough and filling reminded me of my beloved Fig Newtons, especially in texture. But the filling was much more flavorful. The apricot preserves added a little citrusy sweetness, while the rum, cinnamon, and cloves gave it a spicy depth.

My fig bars could never pass for Fig Newtons. But I would pass up Newtons for these fig bars any day.

Cinnamon-crunch Chicken {FFwD}

Chicken, speculoos, crème fraiche, butter, salt, and pepper. That’s the entire ingredients list for this week’s French Fridays with Dorie recipe. And it’s all you need to make a spectacular, creamy, spicy dish that’s sure to be a hit.

Speculoos are spicy, sweet, crispy cookies that are popular in France but available elsewhere. I found them in the international section of the grocery store. The ones I bought were LU Cinnamon Sugar Spice Biscuits. They are also easy to make if you can’t find them in the store, although Dorie notes that she prefers the store-bought ones for this recipe.

I began by stirring crushed speculoos into homemade crème fraiche and seasoning with salt and pepper. Although the cookies are sweet, you don’t use a lot, and the tanginess of the crème fraiche combined with the salt and pepper makes the mixture more savory than sweet.

Next, I sliced chicken breasts into strips and sautéed them in butter until well-colored and almost cooked through. I seasoned the chicken with salt and pepper, stirred in the crème fraiche mixture, and cooked everything for a minute or two until the crème fraiche was warmed and the chicken cooked through.

I served the chicken with homemade bread and a salad for a quick and easy weeknight supper. As I was putting the dish together, I remember how my dad used to tease my grandmother for putting a dash of paprika on everything before it went on the table. What Nanny Faye understood and Dad didn’t was that we eat with our eyes before we eat with our mouth. 

I must have inherited some of Nan’s genes, as I was worried that the dish would look to blah on the plate. In fact, I was originally going to serve it with creamy rice, but I realized it would be a  nearly monochromatic meal. So I dressed the dish up with a few speculoo crumbs and by serving it on a colorful plate.

If the color was less than impressive, the dish itself was delicious. The slightly sweet, spicy tang of the crème fraiche and speculoos paired so well with the chicken. The cinnamon in the speculoos wasn’t at all cloying or overpowering — it reminded me of savory Indian or Middle Eastern dishes that I’ve had with cinnamon.

Perhaps because of the association with Indian food, I reheated the leftovers and served them over couscous the next day. It was as good reheated as it had been the first day, and it married perfectly with the couscous.

This odd-sounding combination of ingredients made for one of my favorite dishes so far from Around My French Table. And it’s definitely one that I’ll make again.

Glazed Baked Cider Doughnuts {Recipe}

I’ve had my eye on a doughnut pan for a while, and the other day at the outlet mall one somehow jumped into my bag. So for Sunday morning breakfast, we had delicious cider doughnuts with a cider glaze.

This recipe is adapted from King Arthur Flour and uses their delicious boiled cider. It makes six doughnuts, just right for the pan, but could easily be doubled.

Cider Doughnuts

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 2 tablespoons boiled cider
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 cup milk

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Lightly grease a six-cavity doughnut pan.
  2. Combine butter, oil, sugar, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg in bowl of mixer. Beat until smooth, then add boiled cider and egg, beating well after each addition.
  3. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and baking soda in a small bowl.
  4. Alternate adding flour mixture and milk to mixing bowl, stirring well on low speed after each addition. Add flour in three additions and milk in two, beginning and ending with flour.
  5. The batter will have the consistency of quick bread batter. Spoon batter into the pan and smooth the tops.
  6. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until the doughnuts are baked through and a cake tester or toothpick inserted into the center of one comes out clean.
  7. Cool for 5 minutes in the pan, then turn out onto a rack to finish cooling.
  8. While the doughnuts are cooling, make the glaze. In a small, shallow bowl, mix 1/2 cup powdered sugar, 1 tablespoon boiled cider, and 2 teaspoons cream, milk, or water. Stir to mix and add additional cream or powdered sugar as needed so that the glaze has the consistency of molasses.
  9. Dip the tops of doughnuts in the glaze. If necessary, scrape away any excess glaze with a spatula. Place doughnuts on wire rack over waxed paper.

Makes 6 doughnuts. Try not to eat them all yourself.

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