Let me start by saying how much I love the Daring Kitchen. I have enjoyed every challenge in which I have participated, and many more that I saw (either through foodgawker, or just random food-blog hopping...) before I joined the kitchen myself. The challenges are well thought out, well planned and well executed. The hosts and hostesses put a lot of thought into their challenge recipes and always offer awesome ideas, tips and encouragement on the forums. It is always fun to see the inspiration for each host's challenge, too. This month, though, might just have the most fun story behind it.
The March 2011 Daring Baker’s Challenge was hosted by Ria of Ria’s Collection and Jamie of Life’s a Feast. Ria and Jamie challenged The Daring Bakers to bake a yeasted Meringue Coffee Cake.
And do you want to know the source of the recipe that they provided us? One of our hostesses, Jamie, found it on a piece of yellowed paper in her dad’s collection of clipped out and hand-written recipes from the 1970’s, no source, no date - nothing. But she tried it and loved it, and then she shared it with all of us! How cool is that??
From the moment I read the recipe and saw the pictures, I was very excited to try it. It looked good, it sounded good, and those eager bakers who started right away were giving it glowing reviews.
The dough recipe was very straightforward and easy to follow. There are many bakers out there who are afraid of yeast, and I can understand that - it can be temperamental, and there are definitely rules that should be followed when using it. Add to that the different varieties available (fresh, instant, active dry...) and things can get very confusing. I have been very lucky with my yeasted recipes, so had no fears entering into this challenge. The yeast was whisked together with the dry ingredients while butter, milk and water were set in a saucepan over low heat, just long enough to melt the butter.
The dough was actually worked somewhat like batter at first, with the ingredients being beaten together in stages, before the final amount of flour was kneaded in to create a beautiful, soft, smooth, silky dough. And trust me - the dough is absolutely, amazingly soft, smooth and silky.
Once the dough was set aside to rise, it was time to prepare my fillings. The recipe makes enough dough for two coffee cakes, so I considered making two different fillings, but one of the recommended fillings sounded so good that I didn't want to stray too far from it. Hostess Jamie recommended using a cinnamon sugar/nut/chocolate chip combination to fill the coffee cake and, well, how can you go wrong with that? Where I decided to change things up, though, was to make two different shapes for my two coffee cakes. And to fill them only slightly differently. So I chopped enough pecans to use on one coffee cake, and made two variations of cinnamon sugar - one using white sugar and one using brown sugar. And, of course, enough chocolate chips to use on both versions.
And there was one more aspect to the filling of this coffee cake, as indicated by the title - meringue. I have never used meringue in any kind of bread or cake recipe, but this one called for a layer of it to be spread over the rolled out dough, then covered with the above-mentioned fillings (or, really, any filling the bakers chose). Sounded very interesting to me, so I beat my egg whites nice and stiff and was ready to give it a shot!
Little miss helped a lot with the preparation of the coffee cakes. Of course she handled the punching down of the dough:
And did a not-insignificant amount of the dough-rolling:
She spread on the meringue:
And helped me sprinkle on the toppings, too:
I then handled the shaping portion of the process. Just like the stollen from December's challenge, the dough, once covered with its filling, was rolled up jelly roll style and shaped into a ring, which was then cut around the edges to give the final ring the look of a wreath.
I knew the wreath would be pretty, just from my experience with the stollen. Even so, I was amazed by what it looked like coming out of the oven. I did forget to coat it with egg wash before putting it into the oven, which would have given it a nice shine, but I really didn't miss it. It looked beautiful and smelled delicious.
As for the second half of the dough, rather than making two of these giant wreaths, I chose to follow the the inspiration of the filling and rolling of the dough, and I cut the rolled-up loaf into cinnamon rolls.
I have to say - both were absolutely delicious. The wreath was filled with the white sugar based cinnamon sugar, chocolate chips and included the chopped pecans. The cinnamon roll style version used the brown sugar based cinnamon sugar and chocolate chips. The meringue melted into the wreath style version, making the bread moist and delicious. Because more of the meringue oozed out (in a good way...) of the cinnamon roll style version due to the extra cutting and handling, it actually created a crispy, somewhat nougat-y flavor and texture to the filling. Both were amazingly delicious, especially when heated, and made for fantastic desserts, breakfasts and snacks for the short time they were around.
But that was not the end of the story. After this first attempt, I knew I wanted to try it again. The dough was just so wonderful - easy to make, easy to work with and so delicious, that the possibilities were endless. I had so many ideas, both sweet and savory, for variations of this challenge. But there was one variation that would not leave my head, and so I knew I had to try it before the end of the challenge month.
One breakfast treat that I have never attempted to make, yet that daddy and I always love from a bakery, is a cheese danish. And I just knew that this dough would make an absolutely delicious cheese danish style breakfast treat.
For my second batch, I halved the dough recipe, wanting only to make one cheese danish loaf. I also decided to give the dough one extra rise, as many of the bakers had indicated that this made the dough even better (which, thinking about the science of yeast and gluten and all that goes into bread baking, makes perfect sense). Once my dough was ready, I decided to try a new shape, too - just for the fun of it! I had seen before (and even attempted, with very poor results) braided filled breads, and they always look so beautiful. I thought that this dough, with this filling, was worth giving that another shot. So once the dough was rolled out, I lightly scored it to give myself guidelines, creating three sections. The middle section was for the filling - a layer of meringue, a layer of sweet cheese filling (a combination of cream cheese, sugar, vanilla and one egg yolk - convenient, leaving me the one egg white for that meringue layer!), and a topping of seedless raspberry preserves. The two outer sections were then cut at approximately one inch intervals, surrounding the filling with strips of dough. These strips were then folded over the middle, on a diagonal, alternating from left to right and slightly overlapping in the middle to create the braid pattern. And let me tell you - that extra punch down and rise time for this dough absolutely made it a dream to work with. Not only did the dough roll out beautifully, but it behaved wonderfully during all of this scoring, filling, cutting and folding. I completely credit this dough for the results of this braid, because as I said - I have tried it before and had very different results.
Oh, so you want to see how it turned out?? Check this out:
It was beautiful. Seriously - nothing like the last time I tried to braid a bread. That one turned out far from beautiful. But this one I was really proud of.
And it was HUGE - it filled my 17 inch long baking sheet. And it smelled fantastic.
So for dessert that night, we tried it. And had seconds. And had it for breakfast the next morning. And I am trying like heck to control myself not to go grab another slice right now...
This recipe is definitely a keeper. And a make-often keeper. I can't wait to try different fillings, but I also can't wait to make them exactly these ways again - it is just that good.
Jamie and Ria, thank you so much for this challenge. Jamie, thanks for unearthing this wonderful family recipe and thanks to both of you for sharing it with us and for being such great, supportive hostesses!!
To check out the delicious, beautiful and creative coffee cakes cooked up by the other Daring Bakers, check them out here.
And to try the recipe for yourself, which I highly recommend, check it out here.
6 hours ago