Tuesday, June 16, 2009



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.

I had darn well better look cute for all that I do around here!

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.

The food of my youth, but not my photo...

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.

I baked something for you, darling!

And I am sending this along to Susan of Wild Yeast blog, Queen of All Things Yeast, for her weekly Yeastspotting event.


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.

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.


The Cooking Photographer said...

Hi Jamie!

I knew you were moving, but where are you going? Are you staying in France? Coming home?

How will I ever visit an American friend in France if you leave lol??!

I'm saving this yeast dough! I've never made anything like this. It's gorgeous.


Chef E said...

I am not sure what to say...the post moved me, and that apple cake does...lets site down and share some tea and a few bites of life :)

Jamie said...

@Laura! We are just moving up the street, a nicer appartment in a quieter area with more guest bedrooms! We will be here for another 2 years, so come and visit by all means!

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

(groan ... so unfair Jamie) delicate and just barely sweet dough the texture of a brioche with the flavor of a butter croissant ... I really need lunch ... a slice of your coffee cake ... oh my poor empty tummy!

Love your back and forth on moving and immigrant and culture. Done right is so enriches us all. Sounds like you're doing it right and it was done right for you.

Mary said...

This was a wonderfully moving post. I love your breakfast cake. Buttery and delicious. That sweet dough in now included in my recipe file. I hope the move will go smoothly.

The Cooking Ninja said...

Ooh yummy. I grew up in a multicultural environment so I'm pretty Chinese but not so Chinese at the same time. I hope to pass down all I know about my culture and cuisine to little V.

Heavenly Housewife said...

What a georgous cake! Its stunning! I am going to have to come to France for a slice (actually I am going to Paris at the end of August and am super excited!).
Good luck with your move, even if it is just down the street, I know it can still be stressful. Hubbys may be nice to look at, but they are rarely helpful with packing ;)
Moving to England was very hard for me in many different ways, but even though I love to complain about the harsh weather, I am now comfortable calling England my home. I do get very nostalgic for certain foods, but hey, I am a foodie after all!

Chow and Chatter said...

great post thought provoking and love the cake, I detect some home sickness ! I am a Brit living in the States I understand my folks are coming from Scotland today with goodies!!

shellyfish said...

Looks beautiful! I know what you mean about the cranberries - I snap them up as soon as they arrive at the green grocer's in November...but mine are all gone...boo hoo.

asiangrrl said...

Oh, Jamie. I come for the pictures of the luscious food that you make, but I stay for the warm-hearted and moving stories of your life. You have an incredibly light touch with both the pastries (which looks super yummy, by the way) and the words. Salut, mon amie. Bon nuite.

Susan/Wild Yeast said...

This is my kind of coffee cake -- fruit on fruit. I can't get cranberries in California either, except in November and December, and I didn't think to stock up, so I'll a) save this one for Thanksgiving breakfast and b) grab a few bags for the freezer when they show up again.

I don't know how you find time for all this cooking and baking and writing in the midst of move preparations, but I'm glad you do!

girlichef said...

It's just gorgeous! And your words have made me reminisce and ponder as always...

scraps said...

loved this post. I do family history and each time I find a new ancestor, I wonder how they lived, what clothes, what foods they have cooked and how they prepared them for their time period and place. I feel for me it brings many countries together. Sometimes I get in a mood and have to cook recipes from different countries and time periods, the kiddos sometimes appreciate it, but it's a great adventure for me! Hope you move brings much happiness, what a great traveler you are! Also thanks for your comments on my blog.

scraps said...

Forgot to say the coffeecake looks delicious!!!

gastroanthropologist said...

I was wondering where you might be moving too, but then saw your response to another comment. I loved reading this post. It's so weird for me to be living abroad. So many things are similar but so many things are different.

How long was it till France felt like home?

Good luck with the move and apples and cranberry - one of my favorite combos and quite American!

doggybloggy said...

take me with you - where are we going?

Linda said...

What a beautiful post. It makes me think back to my own grandparents who sailed here with their parents blessings to make a better life. Unbelievable.....

Dragon said...

Good luck with your move. I know it can be stressful. I love your cake!

Jamie said...

Thanks for all the comments and reflections! They make my day!

@Susan: all the cooking and baking, thogh often frenzied, keep me sane!

@Heavenly Housewife : Paris? August? Really? Details! Would you have time to meet?

@Chow and Chatter : *sigh*

@Shellyfish : boo hoo is right! I don't kno what I am going to do!

@asiangrrl : gros bisous!Toujours!

@gastroanth : home? I still feel like a foreigner, but I feel that way in the US, too. But I can live anywhere. Home is where the family and friends are.

@doggybloggy : Anywhere you want.

Thanks for the moving best wishes gang! At least all of you make me smile!

Junglefrog said...

What a wonderful story Jamie and that first cartoon or old ad with the lady and her vitamins just cracked me up. Imagine posting an add like that these days... People would go screaming.. :) Good luck with the move. Even if it is only two blocks away I know it's just as hard as moving further away... (Except that at least all the familiar things will still be there...)

foolishpoolishbakes said...

Growing up in an asian family in the UK, 'coffee cake' in my family meant a coffee-flavoured sponge cake that my mum used to make.
I had no idea! Your apple and cranberry coffee cake looks deeeelicious.
Wishing you a stress-free move.

Sophie said...

What a lovely story, Jamie,...

How amazing looks this yummie fruit filled cake! I love cranberries & to add apples, it is such a treat!

Debbie said...

Oh Jamie,
I can so relate...when we lived in Israel for 6 years, we'd have such cravings for all those foods from "back home" and I remember once my mother sending a carton of Mac and Cheese! Once a year, close to Thanksgiving, one of the grocery stores, SuperSol would have Shavua America/ America Week and we would run to the store to hoard all the American import items..cranberries, minimarshmellows and yams, maple syrup, stuffing for turkey...this made all those memories of cravings for all that was familiar come rushing back :) I remember the Israeli kids coming over to eat mac and cheese at our house...and of course as we recreated Thanksgiving in a country that does not celebrate it, we'd be so happy to have all those "back home" items on our table. In Australia, we had other American friends and every year we counted down to Thankgiving, looking up recipes to recreate the magic...though often we had to "move" the date of the holiday since none of us had the day of preparation time like we would have had if we were in the US but it was magical just the same :)
Thanks for sharing.

Jamie said...

@Debbie - Ah, mini-marshmallows, only in my dreams. I do have a wonderful friend (Sabine) who mails me chocolate covered marshmallow treats at Xmas and Valentine's Day and marshmallow Peeps at Easter. Maple syrup is now sold everywhere in France but, like cranberries, very expensive.

Deeba @Passionate About Baking said...

You're a greal gal & I loved reading your post. With my Dad in the Air Force, we were virtually moving every few years, so packing was very second nature. He would suddenly announce that we were posted out, & we would matter-of-factly hit the deck! Great great post. What can I say about the cake. IT'S FAB!!So this is what you've been twittering about, while nibbling away! It's yum, & never heard of anything like it before.No cranberries here, but will find a way around one day! Thank you Jamie...all the best!

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

A fantastic cake! So delicious looking and sounding!

A great post! I'd love to know more about my family's origins as we can't trace them well as some of my ancestors died (surely deported) during the WWII... Are you moving?



Jamie said...

@Rosa - yes, moving basically down the street.

I spent 5 years doing my geneology and unearthed so much history and so much family and so many cousins!

Culinary Wannabe said...

OH delicious! Look at that crust! And your posts are always so inspired. And I have no idea how you manage to do it all with the move (moving for me requires an all day cocktail hour policy)! Cheers to you for being so talented!

Natashya said...

That looks wonderful! I have that book to, her stuff is always so good.

buffalodick said...

Thought I'd stop by and repay your visit! Nice! Well written post too...

foodcreate said...

I hope you have smooth moving :)

Life is about moving forward:)

I love your sweet dough thanks for sharing your recipe.

Welcome ~~~

Muneeba said...

would u look at that tender dough?! gently cradling the fruit ... nice n fluffy .. so cute!

Elra said...

Absolutely delicious looking coffee cake. YUM!

Barbara Bakes said...

I love how much fruit this cake has and that you can make it the night before is a great bonus getting it finished for breakfast! Good luck with the move!


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