Apricot Coffeecake Ring #TwelveLoaves

Food blog July 2014-0388Things get a little lax in the summer. Example: you’re not getting a sauce this month. What can I say? I’ve been on vacation! I’ll make it up to you in August, though, along with a slew of other delectable options I’ve got pending. I was determined, however, not to fall behind in my Twelve Loaves baking. In my haste to stay on schedule, I merely glanced at the beautiful apricots gleaming up from Lora’s bread this month, and assumed these gorgeous fleshly globes were the theme of July’s assignment.

Food blog July 2014-0362Food blog July 2014-0364Food blog July 2014-0365Turns out the theme was “summer fun.” Well. I think I’m still glad I went with apricots. Their beautiful swelling cheeks and slight fuzzy skins remind me of a healthy summery glow. After a week of beaches and bronzed bodies, the peachy simplicity of apricots seemed like the right move.

Food blog July 2014-0366I’ve been auditioning yeasted coffeecake recipes for a while now, sometimes ending up with a stunner, sometimes with something that merits a revisit, and sometimes with something that wasn’t a yeasted coffeecake at all. But for this, I turned to the place I should have looked from the very beginning: Baking Illustrated. This hefty volume from the brains and kitchens of the Cook’s Illustrated crew does all the heavy lifting for me, and if I’m ambitious enough to read the whole story, tells me why and how each item came to be, from a food science, aesthetics, and taste-bud angle.

Food blog July 2014-0356Food blog July 2014-0358Food blog July 2014-0367Food blog July 2014-0369This loaf is slightly adapted from their yeasted coffeecake recipe with an orange-apricot filling. I omitted the orange, used fresh rather than dried apricots, and opted to forgo the heavy streusel and icing in favor of a light sprinkle of almonds and a bit of coarse sugar for an appealing crunch. I took their suggested horseshoe shape and swung it all the way into a circle for a pretty golden ring oozing jammy splotches.

Food blog July 2014-0371Food blog July 2014-0373When this came out of the oven, I – forgive me the overshare – just about drooled right on it. The apricot filling escapes in spots, bubbling and thickening like the filling at the edges of a pie. The dough itself, crusty on top with its sugared almond adornments, is burnished and soft and puffy and gorgeous. Describing the creation to his parents the evening we sampled it, N. called it a giant bearclaw, and though the loaf is a bit denser than a doughnut, the effect of the snipped dough with caramelized filling oozing through is similar.

Food blog July 2014-0374Are you sold? Let me tell you one more thing. This cake is essentially a two-day project. I’m serious. But don’t run off just yet! This is actually an advantage for a summer loaf. Because it has so much butter in it, and a pair of eggs to boot, it takes this dough a long time to rise. For the same reasons, it has to be chilled after its initial rise before you can really work with it at all. It’s quite similar to brioche in that way. But this is an advantage because it means you are not switching on the oven in the middle of the day, when your hair is already plastered to your forehead and you cannot bear to be in the kitchen another instant. It’s a mix in the morning, a long rise in a preheated house, and then you can shove it in the fridge and ignore it until early the following morning, when you finally bake. It means a little planning ahead, but I think it works out better in the long run.

Food blog July 2014-0378Besides, when you taste this, with its sugared crunch and soft elastic chew and golden sunshine-y tart-sweet apricot, I think you’ll decide it was worth it.

Happy midsummer. I wish you heaps of fun.

Food blog July 2014-0400

Apricot Coffeecake Ring
Adapted from Baking Illustrated
Makes one 8-10 inch ring
Note: this is, unless you are willing to get up very early in the morning, a two day baking process. I think it’s totally worth it, but be sure to give yourself sufficient time to execute it.
Note: because this is a very rich dough, it is also very soft and sticky. It will be difficult to work with by hand, so I’m only including directions for a stand mixer.
Dough:
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
3 tablespoons warm milk
¼ cup sugar
2 large eggs
½ teaspoon vanilla
2 – 2½ cups bread flour (you may not need the entire amount)
1 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick, or 4 ounces) unsalted butter, softened but not melted, cut into small chunks
Apricot filling:
1½ cups peeled, chopped apricots (for me, this was 5 apricots)
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon rum, optional
Topping:
1 egg white
1 teaspoon milk or cream
2-3 tablespoons raw sliced almonds
1-2 tablespoons coarse sugar (I used turbinado)
  • Sprinkle the yeast and a pinch of the sugar over the warm milk in the bowl of your stand mixer, stir to dissolve a bit, and let sit for 5-10 minutes until the yeast is bubbly.
  • Add the remaining sugar, the eggs, and the vanilla, and mix on low speed with the paddle attachment until combined.
  • Now, add the salt and 1 ¼ cups of the flour, and again mix on low speed until the flour is incorporated.
  • Increase the speed by one notch so you are at medium-low, and begin adding the butter one chunk at a time, beating until each chunk is incorporated before adding the next. This will take a few minutes, but it allows them to disperse evenly into the dough. When all the butter is incorporated, the mixture will look like thick cake batter.
  • With all the butter incorporated, replace the paddle attachment with the dough hook and add 1 cup of flour. Run the mixer at medium-low for about 5 minutes, kneading until the dough is soft and fairly smooth. If it looks disastrously sticky or does not seem to be coming together, you can add the remaining flour a tablespoon or two at a time, but be sure you knead thoroughly between each addition. This is supposed to be a soft dough.
  • After you’ve kneaded for 5 minutes on medium-low, increase the mixer speed to medium and knead an additional 2 minutes. According to Baking Illustrated, this tightens up the dough a bit.
  • Cover the dough tightly with plastic wrap and let it rise in a warm spot until it doubles in size. This should take 3-4 hours (it’s a rich, heavy dough; it will take the yeast a while to work through all that butter!).
  • When the dough has doubled, punch it down by depressing your fist gently into its center, replace the plastic wrap, and stow it in the fridge overnight (Baking Illustrated’s precise instructions are “at least 4 or up to 24 hours”).
  • When you are ready to make the filling, which also needs to chill thoroughly before being added to the dough, heat a medium pot of water to boiling. Score the bottoms (flower end, not stem end) of each apricot by cutting a shallow x through the skin and just barely into the flesh with a sharp knife. Plunge the scored apricots into the boiling water and leave them for about 60 seconds. Then, remove them, drain them, and set them aside until they are cool enough to handle.
  • Using a small knife, carefully peel back the skins of the apricots starting at the x you’ve scored into the bottom. The skins may already be peeling away, and should separate from the flesh easily. If they prove particularly stubborn, stick them back in the boiling water for another 30 seconds.
  • Remove the pits and chop the peeled apricots, then put them into a pot with the brown sugar and rum, and cook over medium heat for 5-7 minutes, until they collapse into a glorious pulpy mess. Remove from heat and pulse the mixture in a food processor until almost smooth. Or, if you are lazy like me, mash it up with a potato masher. Either way, once your apricots are almost smooth, stow them in the refrigerator until quite cold.
  • When you are ready to shape the coffeecake, remove the chilled dough from the refrigerator and gently dump and scrape it out onto a well floured board. Pat the dough out into a roughly 6×5 inch rectangle, lightly flour the top, then use a rolling pin and some elbow grease to flatten the dough into a smooth, 15×9 inch rectangle (it will be about ¼ inch thick).
  • Spread the cold apricot filling over this large rectangle of dough, leaving at least a ½ inch border on all edges.
  • Using both hands and starting with one of the longer edges, roll the dough up tightly into a long log. Seal the seam securely by pinching the dough, then coax the log into a circle and pinch the ends together to join them in a ring shape. During this process some of the filling will likely ooze out; don’t worry too much about it.
  • Transfer the ring of dough to a parchment paper lined baking sheet. With a pair of kitchen scissors, snip about halfway through the log at 2-inch intervals. Again, you will get some lovely orange ooze. No worries; this will get lovely and caramelized when it bakes. Just drape some plastic wrap or a clean kitchen towel over the whole thing and let it rise again until slightly puffed; about 90 minutes.
  • 30 minutes before you are ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350F with a rack in the middle.
  • When the loaf has risen again, beat the egg white and milk together and brush it over the exposed dough evenly. Sprinkle the sliced almonds and coarse sugar over the loaf, and then slide it into the oven and bake until deeply golden and registering around 190F on an instant-read thermometer. This should take 25-35 minutes.
  • Cool at least 20 minutes on a wire rack (just slide the parchment straight from sheet tray to cooling rack) before slicing and serving.
  • This cake is amazing warm or cold, and though I suspect it would last a week wrapped in foil and refrigerated, we scarfed it within 3 days.

Baked Tofu Spring Rolls and Peanut Sauce

As I noted last week, I’ve been out of town. In fact, I’ve been off the continent (though not out of the country). Now that we’re back on the mainland, I suppose I owe you a few reflections.

July Food Blog 2014-4009Kauai is beautiful. But if you’ve ever seen Jurassic Park, or Raiders of the Lost Ark, or even the opening sequence of M*A*S*H, you already know that. It’s a tropical island dotted with beaches and rainforests. It couldn’t be anything but beautiful. But what struck me as we wandered, sandal-and-swimsuit-clad, through the little towns and massive resort complexes, was how friendly it was. I don’t just mean ordinary smiling helpful friendliness. That much is expected too, since so much of the island’s industry is built on tourism and the service jobs it requires. I mean food friendliness. Many, many businesses proudly assert themselves as GMO-free. The Kauai Coffee plantation, which we visited one afternoon (photos to follow, I’m sure), is basically off the grid. They are entirely water powered by rainfall and river flow from one of the island’s mountains, and create enough energy to power parts of nearby towns as well, sometimes. It is one of the most sustainable businesses I’ve come across, but they don’t shove it in your face, just pronounce it matter-of-factly and leave you feeling that yes, this is the right thing.

July Food Blog 2014-3993 July Food Blog 2014-3996 July Food Blog 2014-3997It’s not just that, though. It has become reasonably common practice in large restaurants or fine dining establishments, and even in some chains, for menus to include vegetarian, vegan, dairy-free, and gluten-free options. On Kauai, even many of the smallest, most local food stands are open and friendly to the idea. I guess maybe “food friendliness” translates to “willing accommodation.” There are menu codes indicating which foods are prepared without gluten, without dairy, and which can be quickly adjusted to include or remove allergens. And what was most friendly, to me, was that many of these adjustments did not involve an extra cost. Why should it, I thought, when sometimes this change is as simple as enshrouding perfectly grilled fish in a corn tortilla rather than flour?*

July Food Blog 2014-3998In that spirit, then (and because I promised my friend Ch I would post this recipe oh, a month ago…), today I want to bring you one of my favorite, most dependable and well-received party snacks that just happens to also be vegan and, if you make it with the right sort of soy sauce (even Kikkoman has a GF option now!), gluten-free as well. These pretty, tasty, surprisingly easy spring rolls involve shreds of bright carrot, bibb lettuce, fresh grassy mint, and rice noodles, a stick of tofu pressed, drizzled with soy sauce, and baked until meaty and firm, all lovingly wrapped in rice paper. Then, if you’re me, you whip up a quick batch of pantry-scavenged peanut sauce to dip them into, and you have something suitable for almost every meal. They aren’t totally allergen-free, because if you can’t have rice you can’t have the noodles or the wrappers these use, and if you have problems with peanuts, peanut sauce is of course out of the question. But they do manage to come close, accommodating the need to avoid animal products and that pesky gluten monster. Plus, they are fairly cheap to make, produce large quantities, and most importantly, are just plain delicious.

July Food Blog 2014-4000 July Food Blog 2014-4004July Food Blog 2014-4005July Food Blog 2014-4002July Food Blog 2014-4003Spring rolls are a good food to take to a party, but they are also a good food to produce party style, because they can easily incorporate an assembly-line style production method. Last month, I had a few friends from work over who wanted to learn to make them, and we sat around the little table in my little “dining room” and spent the afternoon rolling, and, as you might imagine, eating, spring rolls. They kindly acquiesced, probably thanks to the free snacks and wine I was plying them with, to let me snap a few photos of the process, so that’s what you’re seeing here. Thanks, ladies!

July Food Blog 2014-4006* This doesn’t, of course, guarantee 100% safe dining for people with celiac or other severe gluten intolerances, since kitchen cross-contamination is always a concern. But it is nice that for those avoiding gluten, even casually, there’s a cost-free option.

July Food Blog 2014-4013

Baked Tofu Spring Rolls
Makes 18-24, depending on the width of your tofu slices. Each one then gets halved, leaving you with 36-48 snackable pieces.
14 ounce block firm or extra firm tofu, sliced horizontally into three thin squares
¼ – ½ cup soy sauce or tamari (gluten-free soy sauce, but check labels carefully)
3-4 ounces dry rice noodles (sometimes called Maifun or Rice Sticks; I like Dynasty brand)
3 carrots, peeled and grated
1 head butter lettuce, leaves removed, halved, and crisp rib removed
30-40 leaves mint from one bunch
Round rice paper spring roll wrappers (I like the brand with the rose on the label)
Warm water

  • At least three hours before you want to serve your spring rolls, slice the tofu as described and press it by placing the thin squares between layers of paper towels and placing something heavy on top of them. I often use my cast iron pan for this. A baking dish weighted with cans or bottles works well too. Leave the tofu to press for at least 60 minutes to squeeze out some of the water.

  • During the last 15 minutes of pressing, preheat oven to 325F and line a baking tray with aluminum foil. Space out the tofu squares on the aluminum foil, being sure they don’t touch.

  • Dribble each square with soy sauce to coat and bake for 60 minutes. After the first 30 minutes, dribble the top of each square with more soy sauce, as the first application will have soaked in. When they are done, the edges of the squares are deep brown, solid, and feel a bit rubbery. Remove and let cool completely, then cut into ½ inch strips (roughly index-finger-width).

  • While tofu bakes and cools, prep the other ingredients – grating carrots, stemming mint leaves, separating lettuce leaves, etc. Submerge the rice noodles in hot water and let them steep for 8-10 minutes, until they feel flexible and are tender when bitten. Drain well and set aside to cool.

  • To roll, set up an assembly line – mint, then lettuce, then carrots, then tofu, then noodles. Be sure to have a plate or other vessel on which to place your finished rolls at the end of the line-up. Add warm water to a wide, shallow dish or bowl that the rice paper will fit into. You will address this step first.

  • Here we go: submerge one rice paper wrapper in the warm water and let it sit until it becomes completely pliable. I find this tends to take somewhere between 30 and 45 seconds.

  • When the rice paper is ready, remove and place on a flat surface. If you wish, you can briefly spread it on a paper towel to soak up some of the drips, but this isn’t strictly necessary.

  • Place 1-3 mint leaves around the rice paper wrapper, bottom surface facing up. This ensures the top, more attractive side of the leaf will be visible through the wrapper on the finished roll.

  • Next, place a piece of lettuce in the center of the wrapper so the longer edge of the lettuce (if there is one) faces you. Sprinkle this with grated carrots (a few teaspoons, though I always eyeball it).

  • Lay a piece of tofu in the cradle of lettuce and carrots you’ve created, positioning it with the long edge facing you (so, horizontally – see photos above for reference). Top the tofu with a small pile of noodles – no more than a few tablespoons, were we picky enough to measure them out – arranging them across the tofu.

  • Now we roll! As the wrapper faces you, fold in the left and right “edges” over the short sides of the tofu, so what you have looks like a long oval with two squared-off sides. Next, take the side of the wrapper closest to you and fold it completely over your fillings, then pull tight toward you. Roll up the wrapper, tucking each revolution tightly so the fillings are well contained. The tighter rolled, the better they will stay together.

  • Repeat until you run out of tofu slices! You will get a nice rhythm established. I find I can complete a roll in the time it takes a new rice paper wrapper to soften. Then you are all set to start the next.

  • Just before serving, halve each roll on the bias (with a diagonal cut) for attractive presentation.

  • These will keep, packaged in an air-tight container in the refrigerator, for 1-3 days. Let them come to room temperature before serving, as the rice paper is a little tough when cold.

Peanut Sauce
Makes a generous 1 cup
½ cup peanut butter
½ cup water
2-3 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari
1 tablespoon sriracha or other hot sauce
1 tablespoon grated ginger (if the fresh ginger is frozen, it grates really easily)
1 tablespoon rice vinegar or lime juice

  • In a small saucepan, combine all ingredients over medium low heat. Stir gently with a small spatula or a spoon.

  • As the ingredients melt together, at first the mixture will look watery and very grainy. Keep stirring gently, and it will smooth and thicken to an almost-pourable texture.

  • Taste for seasoning. If it is too salty, add an additional tablespoon each of peanut butter and water. If it is not spicy or salty enough, add more sriracha, soy, or ginger as needed.

  • Serve warm.

  • As it cools, the peanut sauce will separate slightly. Stir vigorously to re-combine.

Photo Friday

Vacation might stop me from posting new recipes, but it doesn’t stop me from cooking. One night, in our condo on Kauai (can you hear the tiniest violin playing?!), we decided salad was the right thing to do. And with all the exquisite fresh fish available, what else could it be but seared ahi over a bed of spinach, mango, and avocado, dressed in a tart, acidic balsamic vinagrette?

Vacation is tough work, folks.

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Far Afield

DSC_0368As you read this (though not, by the powers of blog scheduling, as I type it), I am time zones away from my usual haunts. This year, as a kind of fiscally irresponsible reward for obtaining and then completing my first year of a full-time, tenure track position as a college professor, N. and I decided to give ourselves a real vacation. We’ve spent the last week or so tooling around the Pacific Northwest, visiting graduate school cronies and spending a tear-worthy 4th of July weekend on the northern Oregon coast (9 people, 4 dogs, board games, infinite cheese platters). Our faces hurt from smiling.

But now we’re traveling with just the two of us, doing the fiscally irresponsible portion across part of an ocean, in Kauai. And I thought, I really did, about getting a post all ready for you, with a recipe and all. But then I thought, well, it IS vacation…

So rest assured, I have a dish planned for us. The photos are all edited. The recipe needs only be proofread. But I’m saving the writing of the post itself for once I return, next week. I’ll need the time for salt and sand and green and waves to instill me with fresh prose. Consider this an inspiration-gathering raincheck.