coffee cake

Sourdough Lithuanian Coffee Cake


Do you ever stand in your kitchen, a fingerfull of raw batter in your mouth, and just smile because you already know that you've hit the mark?  Food police everywhere warn against the consumption of raw and undercooked things, especially eggs, but I am a full-fledged batter tester and nothing anyone says to me will ever change it.

That moment of shear delight, when raw cake stands perched and ready to go into the oven, that is when I take early pleasure in knowing if my baked good has succeeded.  This morning when I waited impatiently for the minutes of baking time to tick by, and comforted myself with those early raw tastes, I already knew this cake was going to be a favorite.

Last Sunday, I finally made the Lithuanian Coffee Cake taken from the book Welcome to Claire's.  I had wanted to make the cake for months, a true testament to my ability to refrain from too much sugar this year.  However rigorous I think I have become in the sugar-free department, I am fairly certain that from birth I was raised to enjoy a little sweet nibble with the morning coffee, whether it be named cake or otherwise.  There is something about the way a bit of sugar complements the bitterness of coffee that makes the day complete.  If I'm going to bake, let me always be able to bake something to be enjoyed in the morning.

lithuanian coffee cake.

My son reminds me, "Coffee cake is a cake that you eat when you are drinking coffee, not a cake that has coffee in it."  While that is true, I didn't want to confuse him by telling him that there is sometimes coffee in coffee cake.  In fact, I add coffee to nearly everything chocolate that ever comes from my kitchen.  I feel sneaky and underhanded, upping the flavor of the chocolate by included heavy pinches of espresso powder when no one is the wiser.  But some cakes, like this Lithuanian Coffee Cake, actually do have coffee in them.  Not enough to replace your caffeine consumption for the day, but enough to enhance your coffee drinking experience.

Claire's version was a butter cake made in the standard way and baked in a bundt pan.  I liked it a lot, but it seemed a bit dry after it aged a few days, and the filling ingredients included raisins which when baked on top (the bottom when inverted) were a bit burnt tasting to me.  That is just nit-picking, however, since I really loved the flavor of the cake, and made my half of the bundt (I gave half to a friend) last until yesterday.  

sourdough cake, overnighted batter
This is after the sourdough, flour, and milk fermented overnight.

I've been increasing my amount of well fed, "discard"starter lately, and out of curiosity (and lack of cake) I decided before bedtime last night to mix up a true sourdough cake: one that ferments overnight to reduce all of the indigestible parts of the wheat flour.

After all, if I'm going to go on a cake-making and cake-eating binge, I may as well make it the healthiest possible way, right?

sourdough coffee cake

Sourdough Lithuanian Coffee Cake (inspired by Claire Criscuolo)

For the filling:
  • 1/4 c. dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 c. chopped walnuts
  • 1/4 c. raisins
  • 1 T. finely ground coffee
  • 1 t. cinnamon
  • 1 T. cacao nibs
  • merest pinch of salt 
For the cake:
  • 1 c. well-fed sourdough starter (100% hydration)
  • 1 c. AP flour
  • 1 c. whole milk
  • 3/4 c. raw sugar
  • 1/3 c. olive oil
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 t. salt
  • 1 t. instant espresso powder
  • 1 t. vanilla extract
  • 1 t. baking soda
The night before (or at least 7 hours before you want to bake), combine the starter, flour, and milk and mix well.  Let stand at room temperature well covered.

When ready to continue, preheat oven to 350, and butter an 8x8 glass baking dish very well.

Mix all of the filling ingredients together in a small bowl, and set aside.

To your fermented sourdough base, add the sugar and stir until well combined.  In a 1-cup liquid measure, measure out olive oil.  Add to it the egg, salt, espresso powder, and vanilla, and whisk well to combine.  Just before ready to pour the cake into the pan, add the baking soda to the rest of the ingredients in the measuring cup and whisk well.  Immediately pour into the sourdough base, and stir well to combine.

Pour about half of the batter into the prepared pan.  Sprinkle about 2/3rds of the filling over the top, making sure to include most if not all of the raisins.  Top with the remaining batter.  Sprinkle the last of the filling over the top.  Using a long spatula, knife, or chopstick, swirl (as if to marble) through the cake.  The intent isn't to create a true marbled effect, but rather to gently incorporate the filling through the dough, since the sourdough batter is a bit foamy after adding the baking soda.

Bake in preheated oven for about 50 minutes, until the tester comes out cleanly from the center.  Cool for as long as you can in the pan before cutting.  You may wish to top with an icing or a thinned buttercream frosting, but it is perfectly good as is.

sourdough lithuanian coffee cake

I actually liked the cake more than I suspected I would.  Even after tasting the batter - it surprised me.  It's incredibly moist, and seems sweeter on its own than the non-sourdough version (which really did need frosting to help it along I think... not that there is anything wrong with that).  The final sprinkle of sugar makes a crispy crust, perfect for alongside your first cup of coffee for the day.  Those few cacao nibs that I added on a whim were a good idea, when still a bit warm they were a true chocolate nuance without any of the sugar of chocolate chips or chunks.  Making sure the raisins were all tucked underneath the batter was a good idea too since they all plumped up adding sweetness without any burnt caramel undertones.

I was actually curious what makes this cake deserve the name "Lithuanian". When searching for Internet answers, all that came up was Clare's Corner Copia in New Haven, Connecticut and this insanely popular dessert that has been served there for the past 35 years.  I'm thinking that  the marriage of raisin and coffee is a decidedly Eastern European combination, and maybe one that resonates so well with me because of my ancestral roots in that part of the world.

In any case, making either the traditional version (from Claire's, read here), or this very worthy sourdough version will make the side of your coffee cup very happy.  

Daring Baker 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.

I am no stranger to coffee cake. In fact, I'm no stranger to poppy seed filled coffee cake since it probably ranks as my favorite dessert of all time. So, when I saw the challenge this month, I knew immediately I would make a version of poppy seed coffee cake - only I would challenge myself to make poppy seed filling from scratch as well.

The recipe that this month's challenge was based on was found by Jamie in her Dad's recipe collection. It is fairly similar to the yeasted dough that my family uses to make coffee cakes, just slight variations in quantities of milk and eggs, and the use of butter instead of oil. I was a tad overzealous in my filling - and my result was maybe not quite as photogenic as it could have been, but it sure tasted great. It's possible that I will never buy a can of poppy seed filling ever again.

In my small amount of research on poppy seed fillings, I found that most eastern European countries have their own version of bread or rolls (or cookies) made with a filling of these ancient seeds, as do far east countries like India and Iran. It's comforting to know that I am not alone in my passion for the poppy seed. My Croatian friend, Sasa, tried the finished bread and said that her Grandmother made something similar just without the almond. That is something that I just can't help adding; I prefer heavy doses of almond extract with my poppy seeds.

I visited the Spice House twice for poppy seeds this month, once earlier when I got some fresh seeds to try sprouting, and again when I discovered I needed a full half pound to make paste. Poppy seeds can be hard to grind, and the Spice House actually has an antique mill they use to grind your poppy seed to order if you desire. (Only the downtown location has the mill, and they recommend calling ahead since it is a slow process. The ground seeds are also available online.) I decided to get the whole seeds, and in a no-guts-no-glory fashion dumped them straight into my Vita-Mix to see if I could do it myself. I could, and in about 30 seconds, I had pure poppy seed paste.

homemade poppy seed filling.

I promise you that if you can't get enough poppy seed, this is the filling for you. It's pure poppy: slightly bitter, slightly nutty, and with the addition of almond extract, dare I say perfect.

Poppy Seed Filling (adapted slightly from Hepzibah)

(my yield was 1 pint plus a generous cup)
  • 8 oz. poppy seeds
  • 1 c. milk
  • 1/4 c. butter
  • 3/4 c. white sugar (I used sucanat)
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 t. almond extract
First, grind the poppy seeds (processing them in the Vita-Mix for under a minute on variable speed 5 did the trick) in a mill or coffee grinder.

Combine the milk, butter, and sugar in a small saucepan. Cook on low heat, stirring often, until the sugar dissolves. Gradually pour a little hot milk into the beaten eggs, whisking constantly. Return the egg and milk mixture to the saucepan.

Continue to cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture begins to thicken and coats the back of a metal spoon. (Custard should coat a spoon, and a should not run into a line drawn by your finger.) Add the poppy seeds and stir well to blend.

Remove from heat and add almond extract. Cool to room temperature before using or storing in the refrigerator for up to five days. I assume that it would freeze well, which I will try after I make some into Hammentashen.

When it came time to fill the coffee cake, I decided that the filling wasn't as much like the Solo Poppy Seed Filling that I was accustomed to. It tasted great, but lacked the whole poppy seeds. (I have to say, I was shocked that the Vita-Mix ground those minute things up so well!) I decided to add another 1/2 t. of almond extract and a heaping 2 tablespoons of whole seeds to the paste along with another little pinch of salt. Then, I was satisfied with it's toothsomeness. Next time, I may choose to grind only half of the poppy seeds for the filling.

My family's coffee cake does not have a layer of meringue in the filling, and I liked this addition a lot. If I can ever break away from poppy seed filling, I would like to try this method again using some of the suggested fillings from our Daring Baker hosts: Ria's was an Indian version with cashews, chocolate and garam masala and Jamie's was chocolate with cinnamon sugar and walnuts or pecans.

I used a fork to spread the filling on top of the meringue, but it ended up mixing together.

I made a half recipe of the coffee cake dough (enough for one large coffee cake), and used 2 egg whites for the filling. I also cut the other meringue ingredients in half, and everything turned out fine. The only problem I ran into was using too much filling.

Meringue Filling for Coffee Cake (Daring Baker Hosts)
  • 3 large egg whites at room temperature
  • 1/4 t. salt
  • 1/2 t. vanilla
  • 1/2 c. (110 g / 4 oz.) sugar (I used sucanat)
In a medium mixing bowl, 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, and then start adding the sugar, a little at a time as you beat, until very stiff, glossy peaks form.

The finished cake bakes at 350 for about a half hour, until it is golden brown. You can, of course, shape it any way you like. Had I not filled it so full, I would have liked to twist the edges over like this. It makes a pretty pinwheel design. I think part of the reason I loved this cake was that it wasn't so sweet. When the cake was completely cooled, I drizzled it with simple icing made with confectioner's sugar, a bit more almond extract - since I can't help myself - and a touch of milk.

It really is a bread-like cake that pairs well with coffee: so mission accomplished! It also bears noting that most fortified doughs lose a lot of their charm by the second day. This cake stayed a bit "fresher" I felt, and was still soft when covered overnight with aluminum foil. It was also on the less-sweet side of dessertdom, I think in part since I used sucanat for the first time. Sucanat is an unrefined evaporated sugar cane juice that is granulated like sugar. It tastes less sweet than sugar to me, and I liked the way it worked with this recipe. Who knows, maybe I'll try this recipe again using some sourdough starter for the leavener, transforming it completely into a whole food.

You can find the dough recipe along with all of the variations for yeasted meringue coffee cake at the Daring Kitchen website. Also, be sure to take a look at Ria's and Jamie's sites - they are both beautiful and filled with inspiration. Thanks to them both for a great challenge!

The little bites don't count, right?

Elevenses: A Challenge I Didn't Even Have to Think About.

Last week, I read about the history in England of 'elevenses' thanks to Buttermilk Party Cake. I feel I'd fit right in over the pond, since eating 5 times a day - two of them containing a baked good of some sort - sounds pretty enticing to me. Personally, I love the Hobbit-ish ideal of "Second Breakfast", and if I have a sweet around, usually have it in the morning between breakfast and lunch.

Frequently when I visit my Parent's home, there are all sorts of wonderful things, indeed an array, of desserts to be sampled and enjoyed. Since my Mom knows I love any and all sweet notions, she bakes up a storm in anticipation of my arrival. Of course I would think it's all for me, but the truth is, I get my sweet tooth from both my Mom and Dad. They often have desserts (plural) around, even if they would be frozen when you happen to drop in.

Last week was no exception, and on the train ride over, I half expected this Poppy Seed Coffeecake to be on the counter when I got in. I wasn't disappointed. There it sat, in all it's fresh-baked glory, fat with a poppy seed middle and spiked on top with almond extract glaze. When I say that this could be my most favorite thing to eat in the baked category, I would not be far off. I almost could hate seeing it there, since I know full well on first glimpse that almost the whole pastry will end up in my belly. Here is the beautiful specimen she created:

My Dad, strangely, doesn't care for poppy seeds, so to my fortune, half the cake was all mine (well, and my Mom's). The other half was filled with apricot for him, and I carefully left it all for his enjoyment. This dessert is really best the day it is made, but I will still happily gobble it up with coffee as it "stales gracefully", to borrow a quote from Jim Lahey. It can please a number of people, since you can fill it with any kind of filling. My favorite is Solo Poppy Seed filling, but any homemade preserve or filling would also work.

Buttermilk Party Cake is hosting an "Elevenses Roundup" with favorite reader recipes to be posted on June 11th. When I saw my favorite baked good sitting there on my Mom's counter, I knew right away what I was going to submit to Stephfret. Do you have a favorite to submit to her by the 10th? The link above will lead you to a charming English world, another of my new favorite food blogs, and also tell you how to enter your dessert for elevenses viewing.

My Mom uses an old-fashioned bread roll dough as the "cake", which you could also decide to form into rolls if you like. The other fun thing about this recipe is that you can use any number of coffee cake forming methods. We like to make a ring and carefully slice most of the way through. To make it look a bit fancier, you can give each cut portion a half twist so that the spiral filling faces upward. However you fix it, it's not going to last long.

This is an enriched yeast dough, but is fairly forgiving. You can also store it in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, though my Mom prefers to use it straight away. Feel free to experiment with all manner of fillings: cinnamon-raisin rolls, or orange rolls, strawberry or raspberry filling, the possibilities are endless! Also keep in mind you can form it into a ring as I do, or any other traditional coffeecake shape, taking into account the thickness to which you roll it.

Poppy Seed Coffeecake (from the kitchens of Dolores Mendez and June Orlikowski)

makes enough dough for two coffeecake "rings" or 24 rolls
  • 1 cup skim milk, scalded
  • 1/4 c. sugar
  • 1/4 c. oil
  • 1 t. salt
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 3 1/2 c. AP flour
  • 1 scant T. yeast (active dry, or instant)
  • 1/4 c. warm water
  • 1 can Solo Poppy Seed filling
In a small saucepan, scald milk. In the bowl of a stand mixer, add hot milk, oil, sugar, and salt and let the mixture cool until tepid, about 110 degrees f. Once mixture has cooled, add yeast and water mixture and beaten egg. Then, add 1 1/2 flour and beat well to incorporate ingredients using the mixer's paddle attachment. Then begin to add the rest of the flour. You may not need to add it all, you are just looking for a nice cohesive dough that is soft and not too sticky. Turn it out onto a floured surface, and knead by hand, added flour if necessary to create a nice soft dough that isn't sticky.

At this point, you can roll it out or store it in the refrigerator. If you are going to use it right away, place dough in a lightly oiled bowl, and let rise covered with a tea towel in a warm place until doubled, 1-2 hours. (If you are refrigerating the dough, let it come to room temperature and then proceed.) Cut the dough into two portions, and working one at a time, roll the dough into a large rectangle about 1/4 inch thick. Spread the filling evenly over the surface, leaving a 1/2 inch border all the way around. Roll up into a long log, and gently join the ends into a ring. Slice portions evenly around the ring starting at the outside edge, without cutting through the middle, at about 1 1/2 intervals.

Cover with a towel and let raise in a warm place until about doubled, about an hour depending on the room temperature.

Bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes until nicely browned. The time may vary based on your shape.

When it has cooled, you can glaze it with a simple powdered sugar glaze. My family doesn't use a recipe for this, so I will tell you our very uncomplicated method... The cornstarch in the powdered sugar acts as a thickener, requiring very little effort and a completely to taste recipe:

Coffeecake Glaze:
  • confectioner's sugar
  • milk
  • almond extract (or vanilla)
To an amount of confectioner's sugar, add as much almond extract as you like, I like a lot! - in fact I don't even measure, I just pour it in and keep tasting until the almond suits me. Then, while stirring with a spoon, add enough milk to make it glaze consistency. Drizzle it over your cooled coffeecake (or bundt cake, or any other cake needing a glaze... adding some cocoa powder to the powdered sugar if you'd like a chocolate glaze).

When storing any leftovers, just lay a sheet of waxed paper over the top - otherwise the glaze can become sticky.

You can garnish your coffeecake with nuts or seeds, whatever would complement your filling and look nice. And should you be a bit phobic about baking with a yeasted bread, don't be. This is a perfect dough for practicing, since it will no doubt be edible no matter your trepidation... If you have a favorite enriched dough, (or even a store-purchased one) I'm sure you will also have good results to enjoy with your tea or coffee for your next elevenses.