Things 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.
Turns 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.
I’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.
This 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.
When 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.
Are 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.
Happy midsummer. I wish you heaps of fun.
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.
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
1½ cups peeled, chopped apricots (for me, this was 5 apricots)
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon rum, optional
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.