Actually, this seems to be the basic need of the human heart in nearly every great crisis – a good hot cup of coffee.
- Alexander King
And it begins again. The rain, incessant rain, the pitter patter of heavy drops on the windowpanes, the whistling of the wind through the cracks in the glass, the chill dampness that seems to invade every corner of our home, slipping under blankets and crawling up sweaters. We bundle up just a little bit more, scrunch down into our respective corners of the sofa and watch the rain fall. And fall. And fall.
Day how many now that we’ve been listening to the demonstrators as they march and sing down the main thoroughfare a mere stone’s throw from our window? How many news programs have we watched the disgruntled shake their proverbial fist at the government, vowing a never-ending stand down? How many days have we been without gasoline, the car sitting woefully alone in the parking garage as husband and son trudge to work and school on foot? How many days do I lean out of the window and watch the police, decked out in riot gear from head to foot, assemble, line up in human blockades to protect the police prefecture amid the piles of uncollected trash? And the sun comes, and the sun goes and the rains begin again and it is just another autumn in France.
And so we regale ourselves, soothe our dour moods with comfort food, warm our home with baking as the oven heats up and we slip out one more tray of cookies redolent of cinnamon and chocolate, the rich, homey scents of pumpkin and roasting sweet potatoes calm our nerves as we flip off another tv news program showing the mobs who’ve taken to the streets yet again. And each morning we peep out through the curtains and check the weather wondering what the day will bring. Nothing seems to go as expected, they promise us a crisp, golden autumn and we step out into rain, dreary pewter skies and steely moods as the rain seeps inside our collars and down the back of our necks, as we see them gathering once again on the street corner, huddling together under their signs. I rush to the market, take refuge under the eaves, choose my apples carefully, toss in a basketful of vegetables to add to a comforting chicken soup and dash back home. I am in the mood for warm apples and cinnamon, something yeasty good and sweet warming my afternoon and welcoming a naughty, unpredictable autumn like a capricious child.
As I write this post the skies have cleared once again (although I hold no hope for it lasting) and the streets are momentarily silent, the trash has been swept up and the gas tank has been filled. I brace for another call to arms and another rainy day, both sure to make their weekly appearance. I sit in the warm house, heat cranked up, fighting a seasonal cold while being pampered as I deserve to be (husband making all the meals, son actually walking the dog, both going grocery shopping), counting the days until baby boy arrives home bringing our foursome together again, and enjoying just a little down time. We watch the temperamental skies from our comfortable spots on the livingroom sofa knowing that the gray is lurking just out of sight. I flip through a pile of cookbooks looking for inspiration, for just the right recipe to pop off of the page and shout autumn to me. I dream of the comfort of warm apples and cinnamon as the world outside loses its mind, I yearn for the consolation of dense, soft brioche as images of the discontent and angry float across my tv screen from both sides of the Atlantic. I pour myself a hot cup of coffee with that second slice and ponder, alone in my kitchen, the utter craziness of the world.
Ah, lovely talented Deeba of Passionate About Baking is hosting this month’s Monthly Mingle for the lovely talented Meeta of What’s For Lunch, Honey? (Am I biased? Me? Naw! I love these two girls!) and her theme for the month is Baking With Fruit! I am sending this wonderful, luscious, flavorful, comforting Apple Coffee Cake her way for Monthly Mingle. I am also sending this to Susan of Wild Yeast for Yeastspotting.
Autumn in Italy always meant Pan dei Morti for me – Bread of the Dead, a rich, dense, chewy cookie, layers of cocoa, cinnamon and fig with an intriguing hint of wine, a toothsome textural game of crispy cookies and figs, the crunch of pine nuts reminding us of… bones. Pan dei Morti is a wonderful treat that appears in Milan all too briefly around All Souls’ Day and I’ve offered you a traditional recipe for this seasonal sweet treat on Huffington Post Food. You will find it here. Please know that I appreciate every comment left after my Huff Post pieces and do feel free to share the link on Facebook and Twitter.
And as you know, my recipes for Vanilla Sponge Cake and Chocolate Mocha Pudding are in the Foodista Best of Food Blogs Cookbook. I am proud to be a part of this project, to have been included alongside 99 fantastic bloggers. To celebrate the release, Foodista is featuring a prize giveaway for those who purchase the book on November 3, 2010 from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. P.D.T. For details CLICK HERE.
APPLE COFFEE CAKE
Adapted from Carole Walter’s excellent Great Coffee Cakes, Sticky Buns, Muffins & More
Prepare the Simple Sweet Dough the day before as it must be refrigerated overnight:
Simple Sweet Dough
4 Tbs (60 g) sugar
¼ cup (62 ml) warm water
2 ¼ tsp (7 g) active dry yeast
3 cups (375 g) flour + more for kneading
1 tsp salt
1 cup (225 g) unsalted butter, cubed + 1 tsp soft butter for brushing top of dough
½ cup (125 ml) milk
3 large egg yolks (save the whites for macarons!)
1 tsp vanilla
Rinse a small bowl with hot water to warm it, then place 1 tablespoon of the sugar and the ¼ cup warm water to the empty bowl. Sprinkle the active dry yeast over the water and, without stirring it, allow it to stand for 5 minutes. At the end of the 5 minutes, stir it briefly with a fork, cover the bowl with a saucer and allow to stand for about 10 more minutes until foamy.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together 3 cups of flour, remaining 3 tablespoons sugar and the salt. Add the cubes of butter and, using the tips of your fingers, work in the butter until the mixture resembles fine meal and there are no chunks of butter visible.
Make a well in the center. Warm the milk slightly then whisk it together with the egg yolks and the vanilla. Pour it into the well made in the dry ingredients and then add the dissolved yeast. Using a wooden spoon, stir until all of the dry ingredients have been moistened and it all holds together in a rough ball. Scrape the dough out onto a floured work surface and knead lightly, adding flour a little at a time as needed, just until you have a smooth, soft dough.
Lightly butter a clean medium or large bowl and place the dough in the bowl. Spread a thin layer of the softened butter over the top all the way to the edges. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and then a clean kitchen towel and refrigerate overnight.
APPLE COFFEE CAKE
½ recipe Simple Sweet Dough
2 Tbs (30 g) unsalted butter
3 baking apples (Golden are fine, I used Reines des Reinettes)
3 Tbs sugar
½ tsp ground ginger
¼ tsp ground allspice
2 tsps lemon juice
Slivered almonds or streusel topping, optional
Remove the dough from the refrigerator 1 ½ hours before using. After the waiting time, slice the dough in two equal pieces and prepare one piece for freezing: wrap tightly in plastic wrap, slip in a plastic freezer bag, remove all the air from the bag and seal. Freeze for up to 3 months.
Peel and core the apples. Cut each apple in half and then each half into 8 slices each.
In a heavy skillet, melt the butter over low heat. Add the apples, sugar, cinnamon and allspice and, stirring, sauté the mixture until the apples are soft, translucent and caramelized. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon juice and vanilla. Allow to cool to room temperature.
Butter a 9-inch springform pan. Set the pan on a large square piece of heavy aluminum foil and wrap the bottom of the pan in case of leakage.
On a lightly floured work surface, gently knead the dough 6 or 8 times and then shape it into a disc slightly larger than the pan. With floured hands, gently lift the dough disc and press it into the prepared pan, stretching it to cover the bottom and up the sides about ¾-inch high (the sides should be about ¼-inch thick). Be sure to press it well into the crease of the pan. Prick the surface of the dough ten to twelve times with a fork, cover with a kitchen towel and set it in a warm place to rise until puffy (it won’t be doubled), about 30 minutes.
15 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C) and position the rack in the lower third of the oven. Redefine the edge (lip) of the dough with your thumb and gently depress the center with your hand. Carefully spoon the cooled filling over the dough, smoothing and evening it out over the dough up to the lip. If you like, sprinkle the top with a few tablespoons of streusel topping and/or slivered almonds (I had some leftover from my Nectarine Crisp).
Cover the pan loosely with foil and place it (remember that the bottom has been wrapped in foil as well) in the preheated oven and bake for 10 minutes. Remove the top piece of foil and reduce the oven temperature to 350°F (180°C). Bake for an additional 45 minutes or so, until the edges of the dough are a golden brown and the sides just begin to release.
Remove the coffee cake from the oven and set on a cooling rack. Allow to cool for 20 minutes. Release and remove the side of the springform pan and cool for another 30 minutes. Carefully slide the coffee cake off of the springform base onto a serving platter.
As with all brioche-type cakes and breads, this Apple Coffee Cake is best served fresh and warm. We found that wrapped in aluminum foil, it stayed wonderful and moist for several days, even up to a week. Perfect for both the beautiful and the rainy autumn days.