March DB Challenge: Yeasted Meringue Coffee Cake

I’m a baker.

I’m daring.

I’m a Daring Baker!  This month is my first month participating in the Daring Bakers’ Challenge, and boy was it a yummy challenge.  The March 2011 Daring Baker’s Challenge was hosted by Ria of Ria’s Collection and Jamie of Life’s a Feast. Ria and Jamie challenged The Daring Bakers to bake a yeasted Meringue Coffee Cake.  And bake them we did!

Let me just say, I love brown food.  This coffee cake (at least my version) is all about various shades of brown food.  Bittersweet chocolate…sparkly cinnamon sugar…rich dried dates…glossy, golden brown buttery dough.  Brown food = love.


This recipe makes for some delightful coffee cake that is truly not too sweet.  The dough is a dream to work with – it rolls out easily, doesn’t stick to the rolling pin, and has a fantastic velvety texture.  Plus it can all (easily) be made by hand, which is always a plus in my book.  The meringue filling is a fun way to change up your everyday coffee cake.  When made with a chocolate filling, it’s similar to some babka recipes, but not quite as rich or sweet (although it made me want to get up close and personal with some homemade babka, stat).  Since the meringue is rolled up inside the cake, it doesn’t bake up crunchy like meringue cookies do.  Instead, it sort of melts into the surrounding dough, giving the texture a certain je ne sais quoi.  (Funny thing, I’ve never actually used that phrase when speaking French…)

The filling is where you can get really creative.  My only complain about this recipe is that it didn’t call for enough filling!  The amount of meringue was perfect…any more and it would have all squished out of the roll.  I think the dough and the filling should shine equally in this cake since they both have a chance to be equally fantastic.  In my versions however, the filling was a little overwhelmed by the surrounding cake.  Next time (and there will be a next time) I’ll up the filling quantities fo sho.  For my first (this recipe makes 2 wreaths) cake, I chose a bittersweet chocolate and cinnamon-sugar filling.  I upped the sugar a little bit to counter the bitterness of the chocolate, and I really liked how the cinnamon and chocolate worked together.  For the other cake, I used brown sugar, cinnamon, chopped dates (the moistest? most moist? you can find!), and toasted walnuts.  Uhhh.  YUM.  I preferred the date version, perhaps because I have a secret love affair with dates.  The Weatherman also preferred the date version…although he pretends to be a date hater…just like he pretends to be a coconut hater…

(This boy is clearly confused about his tropical and Middle Eastern dried fruits.)

Anyway.  I brushed both cakes with an egg wash, then sprinkled more cinnamon sugar over the date version.  I loved seeing how different the two looked when I pulled them out of the oven.  Just one more way to personalize these coffee cakes!

Egg glaze on the left, cinnamon sugar + egg glaze on the right

Even if you’re not daring, or not a baker, I think you should try making this.  Perfect for a weekend breakfast treat…or with that afternoon cup of coffee – or by itself if you’re one of those cheerful people who can make it through the day without afternoon caffeine.  This cake it also surprisingly light (both physically and as in the opposite of rich)…so consider yourself warned about your desire to eat multiple slices.

Yeasted Meringue Coffee Cake

Makes 2 coffee cake rounds, each serving about 10

Ingredients:
For dough
4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 tsp salt
1 package (= about 2 1/4 tsp) active dried yeast (no need for Rapid Rise)
3/4 cup whole milk (Yes, whole.  You need the fat content in the dough.)
1/4 cup water, any temperature
1/2 cup (= 1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 large egg plus 2 large egg yolks, room temperature (I know it sounds weird, but we’re doing this to conserve eggs.  Whites will go in the meringue.)

For meringue
3 large egg whites, room temperature (save that last yolk for the egg wash)
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup granulated sugar

For fillings (posted as I made them…might want to increase quantities though!)
1/2 cup toasted and chopped walnuts or pecans
1/2 cup dried dates, pitted and chopped
2 TBS light brown sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon

1/2 cup chocolate chips or chopped bittersweet chocolate (would also work with semisweet, although I would reduce the sugar to 2 TBS)
3 TBS granulated sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon

For egg wash
1 large egg yolk (leftover from meringue and dough)
1/2 TBS milk

1 TBS granulated sugar + 1/2 tsp cinnamon for cinnamon sugar topping, if desired

Directions:
1. For dough – In a large mixing bowl, whisk together 1 1/2 cups of flour, granulated sugar, salt, and yeast.  Set aside.
2. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the milk, water, and butter.  Stir until butter is melted and mixture reaches 110ºF to 120ºF (should feel like hot tapwater to your finger).  Gradually add the butter mixture to the dry ingredients, and beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until combined, about 2 minutes…or whisk by hand until thoroughly combined and smooth.  Add the eggs (1 whole + 2 yolks) and 1 cup of flour and beat/whisk until combined.
3. Using a wooden spoon, combine dough with enough of the remaining 1 1/2 cups of flour (4 cups total) to create a dough that holds together and begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl.  Turn dough out onto lightly floured surface and knead until it’s smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes.  This is a sweet dough, so it will still be slightly sticky!  Don’t be tempted to add too much flour!  I didn’t need to add any beyond the 4 cups that were called for and it turned out beautifully.

Post-kneading. Smooth, sticky, elastic. Perfection.

4. Shape dough into a ball and place in a lightly oiled bowl, turning the dough to coat.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and a clean kitchen towel, and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, 45 minutes to 1 hour (mine took about 45 minutes).  I preheat my oven to 400ºF for 1 minute, turn off the oven, and let my dough rise in there.  Works every time!
5. For fillings – For date filling, combine brown sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl.  For chocolate filling, combine granulated sugar and chocolate in a small bowl.
6. For meringue – Once the dough has doubled, remove it from the oven.

Doubled!

Punch down and let it rest while you make the meringue.  In a clean, dry metal or plastic bowl (meringue will just slip all over a glass bowl), beat the egg whites and the salt at low speed for 30 seconds.  Increase speed to high and beat until opaque and foamy, but not fluffy.  Add the vanilla, then add granulated sugar by tablespoonfuls as you beat the meringue on high speed.  Continue beating on high until the meringue forms stiff, glossy peaks, about 6 minutes.  Set aside.

Stiff peaks

7. Shape & fill cakes – Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.  Divide the dough in half, and leave one half covered with plastic wrap.  Place the other half on a lightly floured work surface, and roll out to a 10×20 inch rectangle, checking to make sure the dough isn’t sticking to the work surface.
8. Using an offset spatula, spread half of the meringue evenly over the rectangle, leaving about 1/2 inch border on all sides (like frosting a cake).  Sprinkle the brown-sugar cinnamon mixture evenly over the meringue, then top with the walnuts, then the dates.

This is the chocolate-filled one, but you get the idea.

9. Starting at a long edge, gently roll up the rectangle jelly roll style.  I found it was best to lift the dough as you roll it so you’re not just pushing the meringue out in front of the roll.  When you get almost to the end of the roll, lift the last flat bit of dough up to meet the rest of the roll and press the seam to seal.  (Lifting that flat part helps you avoid squishing the meringue out the end.)  With your baking sheet nearby, carefully transfer the roll to the baking sheet, seam side down.  Then bring the ends of the circle together to meet, tucking one end under the other and pressing the seam to seal.  Using a very sharp, thin knife or kitchen scissors (I liked the scissors), cut deep slits 1 to 2 inches apart around the dough ring (just dough cut through the bottom of the dough, duh).

Ready for rise numero deux!

Set aside.  Repeat steps 7 through 9 with the other half of the dough, using the rest of the meringue and your other filling.  Cover both rings with plastic wrap and a clean kitchen towel, then let them rise in a warm place until puffed, about 45-60 minutes.
10. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350ºF with racks in the upper-middle and lower-middle positions.  Beat together the egg yolk and milk in a small bowl to prepare the egg wash.  Brush the egg wash over both dough rings.  If using, sprinkle the cinnamon-sugar topping over the date-filled coffeecake.  Bake the cakes for about 22-27 minutes, switching pans top to bottom and rotating back to front halfway through.  The cakes should be golden brown and sound hollow when tapped when they’re done.  Slide the parchment paper off the baking sheets onto the counter.  Using a large offset spatula (or two regular spatulas), loosen the cakes from the parchment paper and slide them onto wire racks to cool.  The cakes are best the day you make them, although they’ll last, tightly wrapped at room temperature, for 1 day.   After that they would be good for bread pudding 🙂

Recipe provided by The Daring Bakers, found on an old newspaper clipping

Yay!  I can’t wait for my next DB challenge!  In the meantime though, be on the lookout for some crumb coffee cake…some ginger cookies…perhaps even some homemade challah, if you’re nice to me.  Thanks for reading, happy baking!

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