In case of a brunch

We are not quite out of the woods. You may be tiring of sweets, I know, but the season has in it yet a few more days. There's still New Year's Eve and the next day, and though you might be hunkered down at home, then again, you may have a feast to plan.

And just in case it's a brunch, I'm going to offer you a recipe my mother first tried in 1992. I have no idea how she picked it up, or why, for it's pages and pages long, and involved and complicated at that.

But thankfully she did, and she makes it every year now, just once, to be eaten Christmas morning. The recipe makes a triple batch—three pans—and still, we jostle that whole week to get our share. It is dense and chewy and sweet, with just the slightest hint of lemon and a crisp covering of puffy dough. It contains more butter and sugar than is proper to discuss, and it is deliciously, sinfully good.

The cake has a few far flung ingredients—dates, and pecans, that sort of thing—as so many holiday treats do. But it's the season of excess, after all, and if you can find the basics nearby—eggs and butter and flour and milk—I see no reason to resist.

from the Silver Palate Cookbook, by Julee Rosso, Sheila Lukins, and Michael McLaughlin, with a few annotations

Makes three 9- by 13-inch coffee cakes

1 package yeast (2 and 1/4 teaspoons)
1 cup warm milk (105 to 115 degrees F)
3 tablespoons sugar
4 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 and 1/4 cup vegetable shortening (my mother uses butter)
2 whole eggs
1 egg, separated
1 pound butter, softened to room temperature
2 cups brown sugar
2 cups shelled pecans, coarsely chopped
3 cups dates, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon cinnamon
2 and 1/4 cups confectioner's sugar
2 tablespoons warm honey
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (2 to 3 pieces of fruit)

Dissolve yeast in milk in a small bowl. Stir in granulated sugar and let stand for 10 minutes.

Sift flour and salt together in a large bowl. Cut in vegetable shortening (or butter) until mixture looks like rolled oats. Stir in milk mixture. Beat the whole eggs and egg yolk together, setting aside the white, and stir gently but thoroughly into the dough. Cover with a towel and set aside to rise until tripled, about three hours.

(At this step, every year, my mother decides something has gone terribly wrong. She calls us over to confer; the dough looks like a huge lumpy mass, very wet and heavy and not at all like dough. We worry and worry and worry. It doesn't ever triple, but in the end it always comes out right. We think this may be because we substitute butter for lard, but either way we adore the end result.)

Grease three jelly-roll pans, 9- by 13-inches each. Divide risen dough into thirds, and roll out one piece thinly into a rectangle about three times the size of one of the pans. (At this point, my mother says, you will probably need to use a bit of extra flour in rolling out the dough, as it is so wet.) Slide a pan under the center third of the dough.

Set aside a third of the butter. Divide remaining butter into thirds and spread half of one portion over the center portion of the dough on the pan. Sprinkle 1/3 cup of the brown sugar, 1/3 cup pecans, and 1/2 cup of the chopped dates evenly over the buttered section of the dough. Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon. Fold one side of the dough over the center section. Repeat addition of butter, pecans, dates, sugar, and cinnamon, and fold other side over center section. Repeat with remaining dough and ingredients, and set all three pans aside for 2 and 1/2 to 3 hours.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Mix together reserved butter, 1 cup confectioners' sugar, reserved egg white, and warmed honey. Cut three deep decorative slits in the risen coffee cakes, being careful not to cut through the bottom layer. Spread honey mixture evenly over the tops of the cakes with a pastry brush.

Set the pans on the middle rack of the oven and bake 25 to 30 minutes, or until puffed. Cool slightly. Mix together remaining confectioners' sugar and lemon juice and drizzle over the warm cakes. Enjoy at room temperature. These also freeze well, though I doubt they'll make it that far.


Anonymous said...

Elspeth, I love this recipe. It is one of my favorites from the Silver Palate. Yes, it is indeed a lot of work, but as you say, the result is oh, so amazing!

If you want to try another sinfully yummy recipe, try the Ukranian Poppyseed Cake in the first Moosewood cookbook. I haven't made it in years, but it too is amazingly good -- and unlike your coffeecake, it is quick and easy to make.

Best wishes to you and the fishmonger on your engagement, and Happy New Year as well! ~A Maine Reader

Elspeth said...

Glad to know there is another fan! I will have to look up the Ukranian Poppyseed Cake...it sounds like a good one to investigate.

Happy New Year to you and yours as well.


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