Sunday, December 28, 2014

Christmas Breakfast: Holiday Wreath Coffeecake with Cardamom, Orange, Pistachios & Dried Cranberries

Christmas breakfast at my house has always been just coffeecake.  No eggs or meat…or cereal…just coffeecake, coffee and juice.  It has only been in recent years that I have added fruit and yogurt to the spread.  Up until my teen years, my mother experimented with different coffeecakes each year.  Around the time I turned 12 or 13 she discovered a cherry filled coffeecake that eventually became “the” Christmas coffeecake in our house.  And for many years into my adulthood, it was the coffeecake I was asked to make whenever preparing the family Christmas breakfast fell to me.  I posted my eventual adapted version of this cake a few years ago.  It is a delicious cake, but several years ago I began longing for a change.  The Christmas bread I am posting today is the recipe that has displaced our family’s traditional cake…at least as far as my house is concerned. 

The dough for my coffeecake is nothing more than a basic white sweet roll dough…the kind you would use to make soft dinner rolls, cinnamon rolls, sticky buns, or a braided coffeecake.  My recipe came from my grandmother…but if you have a favorite recipe, you should of course use that one instead.  I have enhanced the dough with some of my favorite holiday flavors—cardamom and orange—and have filled it with pistachios and dried cranberries to complete the holiday theme. 

The shape of the cake is traditional.  Marion Cunningham (in the Fannie Farmer Baking Book) calls it a Blooming Coffeecake Ring.  My friend Bonnie—a Scandinavian baker extraordinaire—calls it a Swedish Tea Ring.  One of the reasons I like serving it for my Christmas breakfast is that the finished cake resembles a wreath. 

One of the best things about this coffeecake is that it is actually better if you make the dough the day before you want to serve it.  It is possible to make the dough, let it rise, and then immediately form, proof and bake the finished loaf…but the flavor isn’t as good, and the soft room temperature dough is more difficult to roll, fill and form into a wreath than dough that is firm from an overnight chill in the refrigerator.  So if you can squeeze in a few moments to make the dough during the afternoon or evening on Christmas Eve, on Christmas morning you will only have to form the loaf, let it rise and then bake while you do other things.

As far as forming the wreath goes, the instructions in the recipe itself are detailed and complete, so I will only emphasize a couple of things here.  First, roll the dough out thinly.  It will seem like a 10- by 20-inch rectangle is too big, 

but this will give you a large surface area on which to spread the filling.  This will in turn give a thinner layer of filling that will have less of a tendency to fall out of the coiled dough.  To further help the filling adhere, run the rolling pin over the filling once, using very light pressure (you don’t want to press so hard that the larger bits of pistachio and cranberry pierce through the dough).  When you roll up the coiled log of dough, the roll should be snug…but not so tight that the dough stretches as you roll it up.

When you are making the cuts into the ring of dough, make the cuts deeper than you think is a good idea.  Obviously you don’t want to cut through the log of dough, but you want to be able to twist the individual slices without deforming them.  As you turn the slices to expose the cut surfaces, you will need to pull out and away from the center of the ring at the same time.  This will allow you to expose as much of the cut surfaces as possible with only a small amount of overlap.  If you look carefully at the pictures of the process, you will notice that the diameter of the hole in the center of the ring expands substantially during the forming process. 

As you form the wreath, you will probably have to make more than one pass around the ring…nudging, tucking, turning, pulling…gently manipulating the coils of dough to make them do what you want them to do.  If it looks a bit messy the first time you try, don’t worry…it will look better after proofing and baking.  And every time you make it, it will look even better.      

I have been so pleased with my wreath coffeecake.  I look forward to it every year.  It has been my intention to post the recipe each Christmas since I began keeping my blog.  But the holiday always seems to fly past before I can squeeze it in.  So this year, I have just decided to go ahead and share it even though the day itself has passed.  We are still in the midst of the holiday season…and there are still hungry guests to be fed.  And even if you aren’t in the mood for just one more holiday baked good this year…there will always be next year.

Holiday Wreath Coffeecake

2 1/4 t. active dry yeast (1 envelope)
2 T. warm water
1/2 c. milk
3 T. unsalted butter
1/4 c. sugar
3/4 t. salt
zest of one large orange
1 egg
1/2 t. decorticated cardamom, finely ground in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder (if you don’t have decorticated, substitute ground cardamom)
2 1/2 to 3 c. all-purpose flour (10 to 12 oz.)

1/4 c. sugar
1/2 c. pistachios (2 1/4 oz.), lightly toasted
1/2 c. dried cranberries
3 T. melted butter

Soften the yeast in the warm water.  While the yeast is proofing, scald the milk.  Remove the milk from the heat and add the butter.  When the butter is melted, add the sugar and salt.  At this point, the mixture should have cooled sufficiently, but if you are unsure, simply check it with an instant read thermometer to make sure the mixture is under 115°F.  Add this warm milk/sugar mixture to the softened yeast and whisk to combine.  Whisk in the egg, zest and cardamom.  Add 1 c. of the flour and whisk until smooth.  

Gradually stir in enough of the remaining flour (about 1 1/2 cups) to form a soft dough. 

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface

and knead until smooth and elastic (5 to 10 minutes), using only enough of the remaining half cup of flour to keep the dough from sticking.  

Place the dough in a buttered bowl.  Turn the dough to coat with butter and cover the bowl with plastic wrap.  Let the dough rise until doubled in bulk (about 1 1/2 hours). 

While the dough rises, prepare the filling: Place the sugar and pistachios in the food processor.  Process until the nuts are finely ground.  Add the cranberries and pulse until chopped medium fine.  Set aside (cover with plastic if storing overnight or for several hours).

When the dough is fully risen, gently deflate, cover and place in the refrigerator overnight.  (Alternatively, you may proceed with rolling, forming, proofing and baking the dough immediately, but the bread tastes better...and the dough is easier to manipulate...after a long, cool, second rise in the refrigerator).  In the morning, deflate the dough again.  Form the dough into a flat rectangle.  Dust your work surface lightly with flour.  

Roll the dough out to a large thin rectangle (about 10- by 20-inches), making sure that the long side runs parallel to the edge of the work surface in front of you.  Brush the dough with 3 T. of melted butter, leaving a 1/2-inch strip across the top bare.  

Scatter the filling evenly over the buttered dough, leaving the aforementioned 1/2-inch strip bare.  I like to take my rolling pin and run it—with very light pressure—over the filling to help it adhere.

Starting with the edge nearest you, roll the dough up snugly, jellyroll-style (as for cinnamon rolls).  Pinch the long seam to seal. 

Turn the roll so that the seam is on the bottom.  Form the roll into a ring by bringing the ends together and pinching to seal.  Place the ring on a parchment lined baking sheet.  With a large sharp knife or a bench scraper, make sixteen to twenty very deep cuts all around the outside of the ring.  Turn each slice a quarter turn to expose the cross-section of the ring, pulling out and away from the center slightly as you do and thus expanding the diameter of the ring.  The cross-sections should overlap one another just slightly.  Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk (about 45 minutes to an hour).

The proofed wreath will look puffy and slightly swollen and when gently pressed with a floured fingertip, the indentation will remain.  

Bake the wreath at 375° until puffed and golden brown—about 18 to 20 minutes (the internal temperature will be somewhere between 180° and 190°).  Remove from the oven and slide onto a wire rack (you may need to gently slide a thin spatula underneath the wreath to help release it from the parchment).

Let cool for a few minutes.  Drizzle with the powdered sugar icing—using a spoon or a parchment paper piping bag.  

Serves 8 to 16 (depending on appetites and other things being served).

Powdered Sugar Icing:  Mix 2/3 c. powdered sugar with 1 T. milk.  Adjust the consistency as necessary with more powdered sugar or milk to form a thick glaze that drizzles slowly from a spoon. 

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Waiting for the light… and a recipe for a Winter Squash, Mushroom & Apple Calzone

For many days now I have been waiting for the light. I want to take pictures of the things I am cooking and baking during this holiday season so I can share them here.  Unfortunately, the Midwest has been under a dense blanket of clouds for a long time…with only an intermittent peek or two, at odd hours, of the sun.  I am always sensitive to the diminished light as we approach the Winter Solstice, but even more so since I began keeping a food blog.  Without the aid of bright light out of doors….or harsh indoor lighting (inappropriate for pictures)….my kitchen is a fairly dark place.  The unrelenting cloud cover has only made it worse.  Unfortunately the forecasters are predicting more of the same. 

So, instead of working on a new recipe….that I might or might not be able to capture with my camera….I am going to share a recipe we enjoyed last fall, when my kitchen was still full of light (during the middle of the day, at least).  The ingredients—winter squash, mushrooms and apples—are still in season now…and the flavors are warm and bright.  Perfect food for a chilly, gray day.

The posting of this recipe is in fact fairly timely:  Calzones are just the thing for this oh-so-busy time of year.  They can be made ahead and are a great thing to have on hand to reheat and serve a hungry guest…or yourself, at the end of a long day.  They are of course delicious when freshly made, but I find I actually prefer them when they are reheated.  Whereas the pizza dough shell is soft and chewy the first time around, it becomes crisp upon reheat.  I suppose your preference will closely mirror the way you feel about thick versus thin crust pizza.  To reheat, simply place the calzone directly on a preheated baking stone in a 350­­° to 400° oven.  It will be hot through in a few minutes…about the length of time it takes to set the table and dress some greens for a simple salad.  

Hopefully the forecasters will be proven wrong, and the sun will return soon.  But even if they are right, for now the grayness only serves to enhance the beauty of this holiday season of lights.   And I take comfort in this:  Today is the shortest day of the year.  Tomorrow we will begin the annual march toward the bright light of the longer days ahead. 

Winter Squash, Mushroom & Apple Calzones

150 g. (2/3 c.) warm water (100º-110º)
1 1/2 t. active dry yeast
215 g. (about 1 3/4 c.) unbleached all-purpose flour
Slightly rounded 1/2 t. salt
4 t. olive oil

3/4 lb. Winter Squash (Red Kuri, Butternut, etc) peeled, seeded and cut in a 1/2-inch dice (you’ll have about 2 cups)
1 sweet-tart apple (Braeburn is my favorite) peeled, cored and cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 1 cup)
1/2 medium red onion, cut into a 1/2-inch dice (about 1 cup)
Salt & pepper
2 1/2 to 3 T. olive oil, divided
8 oz. crimini mushrooms, sliced
1 oz. (2 thin slices) prosciutto, cut in 1/4-inch strips
4 oz. goat cheese, crumbled
2 oz.  provolone, coarsely shredded

Make the dough:  Place the water in a small bowl, sprinkle the yeast over and whisk in.  Let sit until the yeast has dissolved.  Place the flour and salt in the food processor fitted with the metal blade and pulse to blend.  Add the oil and yeast/water mixture and pulse until the dough is homogenous.  Begin to run the mixture in long pulses until the dough is smooth and elastic—about 15 to 30 seconds total processing time.  If the dough seems wet and sticky, sprinkle in a bit more flour, a tablespoon at a time, pulsing after each addition.  Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and give it a few kneads by hand. Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl and cover the bowl with plastic wrap.  Let the dough rise until it has doubled in size—about 1 hour.  Punch down the dough and turn it onto a lightly floured surface.  Divide the dough into two to four pieces and roll into balls.  Cover with a towel and let rest for 15 to 20 minutes.  The dough is now ready to be formed into calzones.

While the dough is rising, prepare the filling.  Toss the squash, onion & apples with 1 1/2 tablespoons of the olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper and spread on a small baking sheet—the vegetables should fit the pan in a snug single layer.  Place in a 400° oven and roast until tender and nicely caramelized—about 40 to 50 minutes.  When the vegetables begin to brown, start turning them occasionally.  Watch very carefully during the last 5 to 10 minutes of roasting to make sure they don’t burn.  Set aside to cool.

Heat a non-stick sauté pan over medium-high to high heat.  Add oil to coat the pan—about a tablespoon, then add the mushrooms. Cook, shaking the pan occasionally, until the mushrooms are browned, tender and any liquid that they have given off has evaporated.  Remove the pan from the heat and add the prosciutto, tossing to combine.  Scrape the contents of the pan into a large bowl.

When ready to make the filling, add the roasted vegetables to the bowl with the mushrooms and toss to distribute.  

Add the cheeses and toss again.  Taste and correct the seasoning. 

Build the calzones:  Working with one ball of dough at a time, roll the dough out into a round.  If making 2 calzones, roll the dough into 12-inch rounds, if making four, 8-inch.  Place half (or a quarter) of the filling on one side of the round, leaving a half to one inch border at the edge.

Moisten the bare edge with a bit of water, fold the other half of the dough over so that the edges meet.  Roll and pinch the seam to form sort of a running crimped edge that is well-sealed.  Slash the top with a sharp knife two or three times.  

Place the formed calzone onto a floured paddle and slide onto a preheated stone in a 500° oven.  Repeat with the remaining dough and filling, baking them as you fill them…or baking them all at once if your stone is large enough to handle them all at once.  Bake until well browned--about 12 to 15 minutes.  Transfer to a wire rack and brush the surface with olive oil. 

The calzone may be served immediately or cooled and reheated.  To reheat, heat the baking stone in a 350° to 400° oven and place the baked calzone directly on the stone until hot through—5 to 10 minutes. 

Recipe serves 4.  If you have formed two large calzones, cut in each in half with a serrated knife to make each into 2 portions. 

Notes & Variations:
  • Add a minced clove of garlic, a pinch of pepper flakes, and/or a half teaspoon of minced fresh rosemary with the prosciutto. 
  • Substitute Fontina or Low-moisture Mozzarella for the Provolone. 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Swedish Ribbon Cookies

It’s time for Christmas cookies.  Truly, this is one of my favorite cooking moments of the year.  Long before I went to cooking school….or began cooking professionally….I made Christmas cookies.  Not just any cookies, but small, labor-intensive, carefully molded and formed cookies.  My love for them has not diminished over the years.  No matter how busy I am cooking and baking professionally, I always try to carve out time for baking at least one or two old favorites.   I have shared many of these special cookies here on my blog…and will continue to do so every holiday season for as long as I continue to maintain a blog.  This year I want to share my recipe for Swedish Ribbon Cookies.

Swedish Ribbon Cookies were not something I grew up making.  I had never even heard of them until well past my college years.  They were in fact the result of a search for a bar cookie that occasionally showed up on the dessert table in the dining hall of my Minnesota college.  The bars had the rather odd name of “scar bars”.  They were hefty, almond-scented slabs—somewhat like a cross between a sugar cookie and shortbread—topped with streaks (“scars”) of raspberry jam and drizzled with a powdered sugar glaze.  Their flavor was addictive and I always wanted the recipe.  It never occurred to me to ask. 

When I moved out on my own and began to cook and bake in earnest, I ran across a recipe for Swedish Jelly Slices in Maida Heatter’s  Book of Great Desserts.  As I looked at the recipe I realized I was looking at a variation of my beloved dining hall cookie.  It made sense to me that the cookies I had loved in college would have Swedish roots (many of the traditional baked goods in Minnesota are of Scandinavian origin).  Furthermore, everything about the recipethe simplicity of the ingredients…the almond-scented dough… the jam-filled grooves on the surface of the cookies….and the powdered sugar glazetold me that even though these weren’t “the” cookies…they were probably the “original” from which the food service-appropriate pan cookies had been derived. 

Once I had a better working title for my cookies (I’ve never located a recipe for something called “scar bars”) I began searching for other recipes.  I found that the cookies go by many—similar—names:  the aforementioned Swedish Jelly Slices, Swedish/Scandinavian Ribbon Cookies, Scandinavian Raspberry Ribbons….etc.  Recently, I ran across a recipe in Fine Cooking for this cookie going by the name “Raspberry Diamonds”.  No matter the name, the cookies are all pretty much the same: Butter, sugar, egg yolk, almond extract, flour and salt are made into a malleable dough that is formed into ropes or flat bars that are filled with a bit of jam before being baked and then sliced at an angle to form petite little diamond-shaped cookies.  Occasionally you will find a recipe that includes some lemon zest…and sometimes the dough is flavored with vanilla instead of almond…but the recipes really are all quite similar.  I believe that my recipe is a combination of several that I found.  It has been so long, I am unable to cite the exact source…I only know that I have multiple printouts of very similar recipes, all stashed in among the pages of Maida Heatter’s book.

You have probably noticed that my cookies are filled with apricot instead of raspberry jam.  I used to make them with raspberry, but I discovered years ago that while this gives a festive, Christmas-y color, the red color of the jam bleeds into the powdered sugar glaze when stored for longer than a day.  This is not the end of the world, but I don’t find it to be terribly attractive…and Christmas cookies should be beautiful, after all…  Since apricot jam doesn’t have this problem (at least, if it does, the color is so pale it isn’t discernible)…and since it is a sufficiently traditional option…I began making them with apricot jam several years ago.  You can of course make yours with raspberry jam…just be warned you will end up with a marbled pink and white glaze after a day or so. 

One of the things I love about these cookies is how easy it is to produce beautiful, uniform, neat and precise cookies.  I have given detailed instructions for how to get these results in the recipe, but I want to point out a couple of things here.  First, don’t make these cookies too big.  These aren’t the scar bars of my college dining hall days….these cookies should be dainty and petite.  If you make the logs too large (fat), you will be tempted to use too much jam and the cookies will tend to want to break in half.  Secondly, even if you are careful to make the logs nice and small, you might still be tempted to use too much jam.  Notice that the recipe only calls for a quarter cup….this is less than a tablespoon per log.  The cookies shouldn’t be gooey with jam….they should have just enough to give a tart, fruity accent to the tender, almond-y cookie.  If you remember that you are laying a ribbon—not a river—of jam, you should be fine. 

Hopefully I will have time to post more recipes for Christmas cookies or candies this year.  But if it happens that I don’t, I have posted many favorites—old and new—over the past few years.  I hope you will take a moment to have a look.  The variety is great, so there is probably something there to please almost every style of holiday sweet tooth.  Happy Baking.

Swedish Ribbon Cookies

1 c. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 t. almond extract
1 egg yolk
2 1/2 c. all-purpose flour (10 oz.)
1/4 t. salt
1/4 c. strained jam—Apricot, Raspberry, Lingonberry, etc.
1 c. powdered sugar
1 T. lemon juice
1 to 2 t. water

Beat the butter and sugar together until creamy—don’t over-cream or the cookies will spread too much.  Beat in the egg yolk and the almond extract.  Stir in the flour and salt and mix until blended. 

Divide the dough into 5 pieces.  Roll each piece into a log that is about 12 inches long and a scant 1-inch in diameter.  

Place the logs 2 inches apart on an ungreased or parchment-lined baking sheet (these cookies bake best on insulated cookie sheets).  

With the side of your little finger, make a narrow, shallow trench down the length of each log, leaving a little space at the ends so that the trench is closed at both ends.  Do not make the trench too deep or the cookies will not hold together after they are baked and sliced. 

Bake the logs in a 350° oven for 10 to 12 minutes—they should be just set and not have a wet/raw look to them.  

While the logs bake, place the jam in a small zip-lock bag and seal.  Remove the cookies from the oven.  Cut a corner off of the zip-lock bag and pipe a thin (about ¼ inch wide) strip of jam down the length of each trench.  

Return to the oven and bake until the logs are firm to the touch and golden brown at the edges and the jam is bubbly—another 7 to 10 minutes.  

Cool the cookies on the sheet for 5 minutes.  Using a long offset spatula, transfer the logs to a cutting board.  While the cookies are still warm, cut at a 45° angle into 1-inch lengths. 

Finish cooling on wire racks.  

Combine the powdered sugar and lemon juice.  Add enough water to obtain a drizzling consistency.  Drizzle or pipe the glaze over the cooled cookies.  After the glaze has set up, wrap the cookies air tight between layers of waxed or parchment paper.  Makes 5 dozen cookies.

  • A standard sized insulated baking sheet (14” by 16”) will hold all five logs at once. 
  • When you slice the cookies, use a thin, sharp knife and wipe the blade in between each cut with a damp paper towel.