AMERICAN GIRL ABROAD
As I pack my bags once more, as I sit among the cartons, lovingly filling each with books, as I … okay, not so lovingly two weeks down the road, I must admit. Books packed up, the floors strewn with odds and ends, things to throw, things to save, old newspapers and piles of laundry to do, Marty glaring at me each time I drag the tape dispenser across another box or stand another row of cartons too close to his crate, the sons complaining each time I ask for help, JP telling me that I should slow down, relax on the weekend and complaining that my flurry of activity is making him dizzy, and my thoughts go back to my great-great grandparents.
Like most Americans, I am a mere two generations from the Old Country. My great-great-grandparents, great-grandparents and my grandparents were all immigrants, desiring to leave war-wrought lands and persecution, sadly leaving loved ones behind, traveling the seas towards a new life. With hope in their hearts, they turned towards the light of a Promised Land, a fresh start in a land of freedom. As I sit among my cartons and suitcases, as I call the electric and gas companies, the phone and insurance companies, fill out change-of-address cards and transfer our parking garage subscription, as I organize this move, I wonder how they did it and I envy the simplicity.
I guess that you could call me a reverse immigrant. Leaving the States and heading to what I thought would be greener pastures, my self-imposed political exile heating my blood and fueling my energy, I never thought that there could possibly be any parallels with the family who made that first bold move West. Maybe it is in my blood, that restlessness or a desire for something better. Moving may be tiring but it certainly doesn’t scare me. We may be laden down with furniture, books and a dog, but move we must.
And what in the world does this simple move remind me of? I can just picture my great-greats and those first couple of generations of new Americans toiling in the factories of New York City, stitching shirtwaists or rolling cigars or peddling their wares on the streets or door-to-door, struggling to learn a new language and struggling to raise a family. I can imagine them watching their children grow up in a new and sometimes strange world, happy in the thought that they could find their place and assimilate in the new culture. Yet as parents they must have desired to preserve a taste of their own culture, instill their own values, customs and traditions. And where better than on the kitchen table?
Culture and cuisine; this is what I know. I grew up straddling two cultures, two culinary worlds, sandwiched somewhere between the Steak and Potatoes and the Cabbage Soup and Pastrami, the Apple Pie and the Apple Kugel, the Hot Dogs and Cole Slaw and the Chicken Soup and honey drizzled over warm, fresh Challah. . I always took these things for granted, never questioning why we ate what we ate. Yet raising my own kids in a new place, I realize the enormity of the balancing act that it is, trying to keep them at home culturally while letting them discover new worlds. My kids have grown up with several cultures, sometimes in harmonious joy, sometimes clashing like warring factions. I have tried to bring something of each culture to the table, explaining origins, history, family lore as I set each dish before them. There is also something so comforting in re-creating and eating what is so familiar. Through all of this, I hope something has been brought home to them, I hope that they feel their roots just a little bit with each mouthful.
And this, in the end, is how it all started, this pondering over eras past. As I am preparing this move, as close as it is, a mere 5 minutes walk away from where we live now, I have had to clean out my freezer and I pulled out all of the remaining packages of cranberries that I have left. Cranberries, especially those perfect Oceanspray cranberries that come imported from American bogs, are a rare thing indeed in France. Oh, they have something similar, tiny, pearl-sized berries labeled airelles, cranberries, so they claim, sold in supermarkets all over the country, miniscule things sold in juice. A poor substitute indeed for the bright, ruby-red, tart American berries from home. So each year, I fork over the outrageous sum of 6€ for each bag of these beauties, jealously snatching up several packages during the mere month or two when they show up at my Primeur (fruit seller) and hoarding them lovingly, protectively like a mother bear and her cubs, in my freezer, meting them out over the rest of the year like a miser handing out coins.
You see, each time I open an American cookbook and choose a recipe, each time I grab my shopping basket and head out hoping to find molasses or corn syrup or cranberries, I think of my ancestors newly arrived on American shores trying to figure out how to cook; unusual ingredients, new-fangled cooking methods, trying to adapt Old World habits to New World offerings. Things formerly taken for granted have become rare jewels, family favorites metamorphosing into something foreign. Like those immigrants of old, I do what I can with what I have and hope that something survives.
All of this simply because of my cartons and a freezer full of cranberries that must be used up in the next 2 weeks (and knowing, alas, that there will be no more cranberry muffins until next Christmas season). I decided to combine my love of cranberries, JP’s love of apple desserts and my passion for yeast dough and recreate Carole Walter’s Apple and Dried Cranberry Coffee Cake from her wonderful book Great Coffee Cakes, Sticky Buns, Muffins & More (which itself has made the trip across the ocean in my baggage). I have replaced the dried cranberries with fresh and decided against brushing it with apricot glaze, as she suggests, for fear of making it too sweet.
And I am sending this along to Susan of Wild Yeast blog, Queen of All Things Yeast, for her weekly Yeastspotting event.
CRANBERRY APPLE COFFEE CAKE
SIMPLE SWEET YEAST DOUGH
Makes 2 pounds (1 kg) of dough, enough for 1 large or 2 medium coffee cakes or 2 to 3 dozen individual coffee cakes
Plan ahead: must be refrigerated overnight
4 Tbs (about 60 g) sugar
¼ cup (63 ml) warm water (110° to 115°F)
1 package (7 g) active dry yeast
3 ¼ cups (about 400 g) all-purpose flour, spooned in and leveled
1 tsp salt
1 cup/2 sticks (227 g) unsalted butter cut into cubes and softened + 1 tsp soft butter for brushing dough
½ cup (125 ml) milk
3 large egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla
Rinse a small bowl in hot water to warm it. Put in 1 Tbs of the sugar with the warm water. Sprinkle the yeast over the water; do not stir. Cover the bowl with a saucer and let it stand for 5 minutes.
Stir it briefly with a fork, cover again, and let stand for 2 to 3 minutes more or until bubbly.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together 3 cups of the flour, the rest of the sugar and the salt. Add the softened cubed butter and rub into the flour until the mixture looks like sand or fine meal.
Make a well in the center. In a small bowl, mix the milk, egg yolks and vanilla with a fork. Pour the milk mixture into the well and add the dissolved yeast. With a wooden spoon, gradually work the liquid together with the crumbs until all the dry ingredients have been moistened and a rough dough is formed.
Sprinkle the work surface with 2 Tbs of the remaining flour, turn the dough out onto the floured surface and knead lightly, working in the remaining 2 Tbs flour as well. Knead until smooth. (Remember that this is a soft dough)
Lightly butter a medium bowl for storing the dough. Place the dough into the bowl, smooth the top of the dough with lightly floured hands then spread a thin layer of soft butter over the surface of the dough. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
THE COFFEE CAKE
Makes one 9-inch round coffee cake
½ recipe of the Simple Sweet Yeast Dough (don’t worry, we’ll be using the other half this week)
2 Tbs (30 g) unsalted butter
1 lb (500 g) Golden Delicious apples (2 large), peeled, cored, sliced into ¼-inch slices
1 cup fresh cranberries (thawed first, if frozen)
3 Tbs (40 g) sugar
½ tsp ground cinnamon
Pinch of ground allspice
2 tsps fresh lemon juice
Remove half the dough from the refrigerator 1 to 1 ½ hours before preparing the coffee cake.
In a heavy sauté pan, melt the butter over low heat then add the apples, sugar, cinnamon and allspice and stir to coat evenly. Sauté the mixture gently, stirring often, for 10 minutes.
Add the cranberries to the apples and continue cooking and stirring for an additional 10 to 15 minutes, until the apples are soft (but have retained their shape) and caramelized and the cranberries have popped and softened. Remove from the heat. Allow to cool completely to room temperature.
Butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch round springform cake pan and line the bottom with parchment paper. Set aside.
On a lightly-floured work surface, gently knead the dough 6 to 8 times then shape it into a disk. Either using your hands (lightly floured) or using a rolling pin, pressing and rolling very gently, press or roll out the dough to fit the springform pan, stretching to completely cover the bottom and come up the sides about ¾-inch high.
Using your thumbs dipped in a bit of flour, gently press the dough up the sides so it is uniformly about ¼-inch thick and ¾-inch high, making sure the press it well into the crease of the pan. Prick the surface of the dough a dozen times with a fork.
Cover the pan with a tea towel and let it rise in a warm place until puffy but not doubled, about 30 – 40 minutes (depending on how warm the room is).
About 15 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Redefine the lip of the dough with your thumb and gently depress the center with the flat of your hand.
Carefully spoon the fruit filling into the center of the dough, leaving a ¾-inch border all around the edge. Place the pan on a sheet of foil and wrap to catch any leakage (I had none!).
Cover the pan loosely with foil and bake for 10 minutes.
Remove the top piece of foil and lower the oven temperature to 350°F (180°C). Continue to bake for another 40 to 45 minutes until the crust is golden brown and the sides are just beginning to loosen.
Remove the cake from the oven, remove the bottom foil and allow to cool on a cooling rack for 20 minutes.
Release and remove the side of the pan and allow to cool for another 30 minutes. Gently remove the cake from the parchment paper by carefully sliding a metal spatula between the parchment and the bottom of the cake until loosened, then slide the cake off directly onto a platter.
Cut into this scrumptious coffee cake and serve while still warm.
Results : AMAZING! A beautiful, delicate and just barely sweet dough the texture of a brioche with the flavor of a butter croissant. The filling was tart and tangy and sweet which balanced perfectly with the cake. Third day along and we have one slice left and it is still delicious, the crust just barely starting to stale. Perfect for breakfast or snack or for dessert served with whipped cream or ice cream.