ONE DAY, ONE CAKE AT A TIME: INVITED TO BRUNCH
One thing I truly miss living where I live is getting together with friends for cake and coffee on a lazy afternoon, or picnics out in green fields under sunny skies, dog racing happily around us in circles, or a Sunday brunch, table groaning under plates of muffins, cinnamon-scented coffee cakes, fresh-from-the-bakery croissants and pains aux chocolat. The French are always so busy on Saturdays and Sundays, joining family for lunch or dashing off to the beach, le weekend, never time for a casual, impromptu get-together with friends, always organized weeks in advance. Pencil us in for 3 weeks from now and hope nothing else comes up.
I love weekends, lazy, slow weekends. What shall we do this weekend to improve our Modern Lifestyle, JP asks à la Wallace of Wallace & Gromit? A little marketing and a great meal? Home improvements like buying lightbulbs (finally), sewing on missing buttons or repotting the plants? A trip to the hardware store after the market then off to buy books, maybe a wine-buying trip out at the vignobles or grab Marty, jump in the car and off for a forest adventure? We never plan anything in advance, preferring to wait to see what the weather and the mood will be like, yet we would never consider a quick phone call to friends. No one would be free. Picnics and hikes and brunches or lunches are scheduled ahead of time, squeezed in between those family visits or trips to the country house. We are truly the Odd Couple (le couple bizarre?): no family, no plans, no skiing holidays or trips to the beach, no golfing afternoon with the buddies, weekends at La Baule or boating with the brother-in-law. Just us two, alone together, waking up on weekend mornings with no plans, free as the wind, pottering around the garage (his Lambretta) or the kitchen (cookies today or a cake?), a rugby match on tv, strolling through town hand-in-hand, planting basil and thyme and mint on the balcony outside the kitchen, pizza and a movie. Not so very French after all.
Weekends of my childhood left us completely free. No plans, nothing organized, no family outings or picnics, no jumping in the car to lunch at Grandma’s (too far). Tv, kickball in the street or biking around the block with the other kids or pile in the car to head up to the high school swimming pool, all very last minute. Barbies and Matchbox cars, throwing hoops in the driveway or board games inside, we were left to our own devices, our time was our own. And our weekends, except for the occasional Lox and Bagel Sunday, were grab-what-you-want breakfasts, Pop Tarts or sweet cereal, glasses of chocolate milk, waffles popped into the toaster. Maybe Andrew and I would duck out of the house and clothespin an old sheet to the hedges edging the yard and eat sandwiches huddled in our makeshift tent. Or switch on the tv and watch cartoons or Mr. Ed or The 3 Stooges…
Brunch only existed in my childhood at family celebrations and events: After the Bar or Bat Mitzvah service at the synagogue we would find ourselves confronted by a long, seemingly endless table of cold salads, tuna and whitefish and egg, platters of lox, trays piled high with bagels of every flavor, rye bread and bialys. And the ever-present dessert buffet where we would pile our plates high with each and every sinfully rich, creamy, fattening treat even before we started on the savories for fear of missing out on something good. Wedding weekends would end with a family brunch at the hotel where everyone was staying, all of us straggling downstairs wiping sleep from our eyes, blue-jeaned and sneakered, our bags packed and ready to be rolled downstairs to check out. Morty and Howard the clowns of the family, one’s jokes punctuated by chuckles, the other’s stories ending in loud gaffaws, bringing everyone down with them. The bagels and lox served up with laughter and memories, coffee poured (weak hotel coffee, alas!) but quickly getting cold as we wandered from table to table, grabbing bites of this or that in between the catching up, the wonderment of watching new generations arriving and taking our place at “the kids’ table”.
These days, no fancy brunch for us Sunday mornings. Just coffee and cake, whatever I’ve baked the day before. If we are lucky, we sleep like logs, a heavenly sleep, and wake up late, well rested, and stretch and yawn our way into the kitchen, letting Marty out of his cage to join us. Often we pop awake much too early, 5:30, 6:30, 7:30 and the routine is the same, only the satisfied stretching replaced by slouching and grumbling our way into the kitchen. But once fortified with coffee and sweets, we return to bed for “la grasse matinée”, slow, long, lazy morning in bed, reading, snuggling, chatting, Marty scurrying in and out, doing his morning dance around our bed, inviting us, urging us to get up and come and play with him.
This month, though, I’m invited to Brunch. Everyone is invited and asked to bring something along to share. Meeta of What’s For Lunch Honey? is hosting Brunch, this month’s theme for her Monthly Mingle. Count on Meeta to surprise us with an invitation to Brunch! What’s not to love about that? I want to bring something wonderful, something sweet, something special. I have been spending an inordinate amount of time lately thumbing through my folders of recipes that I’ve been clipping from magazines for the last 30 years; I guess my trip home brought about its usual bout of nostalgia when I pull out all of mom’s old cookbooks and those promotional pamphlets that were pumped out in the 60s and 70s filled with recipes, Favorite Florida Seafood Recipes or Famous Florida Chef’s Favorite Citrus Recipes or Crisco’s Best Recipes, or mom’s collection of old Church, Synagogue or Women’s Club self-published cookbooks filled to brimming with the family tried-and-true. And all of those clippings of recipes from Family Circle, Redbook and Women’s Home Journal, all snipped out during my high school and college days and carefully tucked away for a rainy day.
I came across this recipe, no date or magazine title left in the margin, and was intrigued to say the least: Chocolate Meringue Coffee Cake. Sounded scrumptious, but I truly had no idea what to expect and feared that it may turn out too sweet for my family, but what the heck, I say, coffee cake is our favorite and how can chocolate or meringue in the filling go wrong?
I will be bringing the Chocolate Meringue Coffee Cakes to Meeta’s Monthly Mingle brunch and sharing with our friends.
I also want to send this cake to Susan at Wild Yeast for her weekly Yeastspotting that I have so neglected since my trip to Florida!
And as this is truly the first recipe that I can remember making that comes straight from a magazine, one of my endless quantity of clippings, I have also decided to send it over to Ivonne’s Magazine Mondays on her lovely, scrumptious blog Cream Puffs in Venice.
I want to throw in a personal word here to all who wend their way over to my blog and are reading this: as a foodie and a food blogger, I want to thank all of those food bloggers like Meeta, Susan and Ivonne (and others) who think of, create and organize these food blogger events and challenges. Sometimes it is hard to organize them all into my calendar, but I love them all as they push me to cook and bake beyond my safety limits, learn and create wonderful new things and meet so many wonderful people in food blog-land.
CHOCOLATE MERINGUE COFFEE CAKE
Makes 2 round coffee cakes
For the dough:
4 cups (600 g) flour
¼ cup (50 g) sugar
¾ tsp salt
1 package ( 2 ¼ tsps, 7 g) active dried yeast
¾ cup (180 ml) milk
¼ cup (75 ml) water
½ cup (115 g) unsalted butter softened to room temperature
2 large eggs at room temperature
For the filling:
1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
2 Tbs sugar
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
1 cup (150 g) semisweet chocolate chips or coarsely chopped chocolate
For the meringue:
3 large egg whites at room temperature
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp vanilla
½ cup(100 g) sugar
Egg wash: 1 beaten egg, optional
Cocoa powder and confectioner’s sugar (powdered/icing sugar) for dusting cakes
Prepare the dough:
In a large bowl, combine 1 ½ cups (230 g) of the flour, the sugar, salt and yeast.
In a saucepan, combine the milk, water and butter and heat over medium heat until warm the butter is just melted.
With an electric mixer on low speed, gradually add the warm liquid to the flour/yeast mixture, beating until well blended. Increase mixer speed to medium and beat 2 minutes.
Add the eggs and 1 cup (150 g) flour and beat for 2 more minutes.
Using a wooden spoon, stir in enough of the remaining flour to make a stiff dough. Turn out onto a floured surface (use any of the 4 cups of flour remaining) and knead the dough for 8 to 10 minutes until the dough is soft, smooth, sexy and elastic, keeping the work surface floured.
Place the dough in a lightly greased (I use vegetable oil) bowl, turning to coat all sides. Cover (I cover the bowl with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel) and let rise until double in bulk, 30 – 60 minutes. The rising time will depend on the type of yeast you use.
In a small bowl, combine the cinnamon and sugar for the filling. You can add the chopped nuts to this if you like, but I find it easier to sprinkle on both the nuts and the chocolate separately.
Once the dough has doubled, make the meringue:
In a clean mixer bowl – I use a plastic bowl so the egg whites adhere to the side (they slip on glass) and you don’t end up with liquid remaining in the bottom – beat the eggs whites with the salt, first on low speed for 30 seconds, then increase to high and continue beating until foamy. Add the vanilla then start adding the ½ cup sugar, a tablespoon at a time as you beat, until very stiff, glossy peaks form.
Make the Coffee Cakes:
Line 2 cooking sheets with parchment paper.
Punch down the dough and divide in half. On a lightly floured surface, working one piece of the dough at a time, roll out the dough into a 20 x 10-inch (about 51 x 25 ½ cm) rectangle. Spread half of the meringue evenly over the rectangle up to about 1/2-inch (3/4 cm) from the edges. Sprinkle half of the cinnamon-sugar evenly over the meringue followed by half the chopped nuts and half of the chocolate chips/chopped chocolate.
Now, roll up the dough jelly-roll style, from the long side. Pinch the seam closed. Very carefully transfer the filled log to one of the lined cookie sheets, seam side down. Bring the ends of the log around and seal the ends together, forming a ring (I tucked one end into the other and pinched to seal).
Using kitchen scissors, make cuts along the outside edge at 1-inch (2 ½ cm) intervals. I made them rather shallow and realized that the next time I can make the cuts much deeper.
Repeat with the remaining dough, meringue and fillings.
Cover the 2 coffee cakes with plastic wrap and allow them to rise again for 30 to 60 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).
Brush the tops of the coffee cakes with the egg wash if desired. Bake in the preheated oven for 25 to 30 minutes until risen and golden brown.
Remove from the oven and slide the parchment paper off the cookie sheets onto the table. Very gently loosen the coffee cakes from the paper with a large spatula and slide the cakes off onto cooling racks. Allow to cool.
Just before serving, dust the tops of the coffee cakes with both cocoa powder and confectioner’s sugar. These are best eaten fresh, the same day or the next day.
Results: one of the best coffee cakes I have ever eaten! Beautiful to put together and gorgeous out of the oven, the cake was brioche-like without being sweet and the meringue miraculously melted into the dough leaving behind just a hint of sweetness. Don’t scrimp on either the chopped nuts or chocolate as the crunch and the flavors are the focal point of this tender, moist, outrageously delicious coffee cake.