Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Daring Baker's Challenge March 2011 - Yeasted Meringue Coffee Cake

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.

This month The Daring Baker's had fun with yeast and a very unusual recipe. Jamie found this recipe 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, and she tried the recipe and it was brilliant! After a bit of googling I seemed to get the idea that this is a typical coffee cake of Eastern Europe which is filled with a whipped meringue and usually nuts, chocolate and spice. The meringue melts into the yeasted, brioche-like dough and cannot be detected after baking apart from a little around the cut edges.

The dough has an absolutely, wonderful silky texture which is a dream to work with and I know I will use it again and again for many sweet breads. For our family we found the result was bit on the dry side not unlike panettone (not necessarily a bad thing - we love panettone). Maybe I beat the meringue until it was too dry. I tried the recipe again leaving out the meringue and we all thought it was much more moist. Also in the second meringue-less version I increased the filling to 1 cup chocolate, 1 cup nuts and 1 teaspoon cinnamon for each cake. All in all this is a wonderful recipe and many Daring Bakers found it very moist - I'm not sure what I did wrong. Regardless this dough recipe is one to be treasured and shared.

Thank you Jamie for giving us this wonderful gift.


Makes 2 round coffee cakes, each approximately 10 inches in diameter

The recipe can easily be halved to make one round coffee cake

For the yeast coffee cake dough:

4 cups (600 g / 1.5 lbs.) flour
¼ cup (55 g / 2 oz.) sugar
¾ teaspoon (5 g / ¼ oz.) salt
1 package (2 ¼ teaspoons / 7 g / less than an ounce) active dried yeast
¾ cup (180 ml / 6 fl. oz.) whole milk
¼ cup (60 ml / 2 fl. oz. water (doesn’t matter what temperature)
½ cup (135 g / 4.75 oz.) unsalted butter at room temperature
2 large eggs at room temperature

For the meringue:
3 large egg whites at room temperature
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon vanilla
½ cup (110 g / 4 oz.) sugar

For the filling:
1 cup (110 g / 4 oz.) chopped pecans or walnuts
2 Tablespoons (30 g / 1 oz.) granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup (170 g / 6 oz.) semisweet chocolate chips or coarsely chopped chocolate

Egg wash:
1 beaten egg

Cocoa powder (optional) and confectioner’s sugar (powdered/icing sugar) for dusting cakes


Prepare the dough:
In a large mixing bowl, combine 1 ½ cups (230 g) of the flour, the sugar, salt and yeast.

In a saucepan, combine the milk, water and butter and heat over medium heat until warm and the butter is just melted.

With an electric mixer on low speed, gradually add the warm liquid to the flour/yeast mixture, beating until well blended. Increase mixer speed to medium and beat 2 minutes. Add the eggs and 1 cup (150 g) flour and beat for 2 more minutes.
Using a wooden spoon, stir in enough of the remaining flour to make a dough that holds together. Turn out onto a floured surface (use any of the 1 ½ cups of flour remaining) and knead the dough for 8 to 10 minutes until the dough is soft, smooth, sexy and elastic, keeping the work surface floured and adding extra flour as needed
Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, turning to coat all sides. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel and let rise until double in bulk, 45 – 60 minutes.

Prepare your filling:

In a small bowl, combine the cinnamon and sugar for the filling if using. You can add the chopped nuts to this if you like, but I find it easier to sprinkle on both the nuts and the chocolate separately.

Once the dough has doubled, make the meringue:

In a clean mixing bowl – ideally a plastic or metal bowl so the egg whites adhere to the side (they slip on glass) and you don’t end up with liquid remaining in the bottom – beat the egg whites with the salt, first on low speed for 30 seconds, then increase to high and continue beating until foamy and opaque. Add the vanilla then start adding the ½ cup sugar, a tablespoon at a time as you beat, until very stiff, glossy peaks form.

Assemble the Coffee Cakes:

Line 2 baking/cookie sheets with parchment paper
Punch down the dough and divide in half. On a lightly floured surface, working one piece of the dough at a time (keep the other half of the dough wrapped in plastic), roll out the dough into a 20 x 10-inch (about 51 x 25 ½ cm) rectangle. Spread half of the meringue evenly over the rectangle up to about 1/2-inch (3/4 cm) from the edges. Sprinkle half of your filling of choice evenly over the meringue (ex: half of the cinnamon-sugar followed by half the chopped nuts and half of the chocolate chips/chopped chocolate).

Now, roll up the dough jellyroll style, from the long side. Pinch the seam closed to seal. Very carefully transfer the filled log to one of the lined cookie sheets, seam side down. Bring the ends of the log around and seal the ends together, forming a ring, tucking one end into the other and pinching to seal.

Using kitchen scissors or a sharp knife (although scissors are easier), make cuts along the outside edge at 1-inch (2 ½ cm) intervals. Make them as shallow or as deep as desired but don’t be afraid to cut deep into the ring.
Repeat with the remaining dough, meringue and fillings.

Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).

Cover the 2 coffee cakes with plastic wrap and allow them to rise again for 45 to 60 minutes.

Brush the tops of the coffee cakes with the egg wash. Bake in the preheated oven for 25 to 30 minutes until risen and golden brown. The dough should sound hollow when tapped
Remove from the oven and slide the parchment paper off the cookie sheets onto the table. Very gently loosen the coffee cakes from the paper with a large spatula and carefully slide the cakes off onto cooling racks. Allow to cool.

Just before serving, dust the tops of the coffee cakes with confectioner’s sugar as well as cocoa powder. These are best eaten fresh, the same day or the next day.


Again thank you to Jamie and Ria for hosting this months Daring Baker's Challenge. Many Daring Bakers were very creative in their choices of fillings even daring to try savoury fillings. Ria's Indian-inspired version can be found here along with the original recipe and more hints and tips.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Homemade Ricotta Cheese

This post has been a long time in the making. Eighteen months ago the Daring Baker's Challenge for November 2009 was Cannoli. At the same time I had a telephone call from my sister inviting me along to a ricotta making lesson. Well, the two went hand in hand, didn't they? The cannoli with the ricotta filling were a winner and I have made them on  many occasions since. But what about the ricotta making lesson?

My sister took me along to the home of  a lovely Italian lady who has been making ricotta at least once a week since she arrive from Italy over half a century ago using the same recipe and techniques. This is the recipe I give to you today exactly as Mrs G proudly showed us. I'm sure there is a scientific reason as to what is going on in this recipe but that was of no interest to our instructor.

Ricotta means "recooked". True ricotta is made from the whey leftover from cheese making which is then allowed to acidify for 12-24 hours at room temperature. This acidified whey is reheated and the proteins in the whey form a fine curd.

This ricotta is made from whole milk and cream to which an acidulant is added in the form of calcium lactate to form the curds. I have seen other recipes using vinegar or lemon juice. Unlike true ricotta, this version is not low in fat but creamy and luscious. The calcium lactate was easily obtained from my local pharmacist, just ask! 

Mrs G's Homemade Ricotta

2 teaspoons calcium lactate
2 litre whole milk
300ml pure cream 
1 tablespoon salt, or to taste

Mix 1/2 cup of lukewarm water with the calcium lactate and stir to dissolve.
In a non reactive pan mix the milk, cream and salt. Stir in the water/calcium lactate mixture and place over medium heat. Do not stir. Have ready a bowl of water and a ladle this will be used to control the temperature of the milk. I assume this was used before there ever was thermometers to measure that the temperature was correct. It just goes to show we don't need fancy equipment to make good food.


As you see a bubble rise to surface pour a little ladleful of water to cool it. You will see the curds forming. It will not take long. Do not allow it to boil or heat for too long or your ricotta will be tough.  

When all the ricotta has come to the surface turn off the heat and ladle out the curds into a fine strainer. You can line it with cheese cloth but Mrs G never bothers.

Allow it to drain well - over night if you are using it for cannoli or as a filling for ravioli.

This ricotta is delicious served with crusty bread, salty crackers or mixed through hot pasta with a little Parmesan and herbs.