One time when I was six or seven, I found a big box full of strange-looking plastic disks in our basement. When I showed my parents and asked what they were, they started laughing — apparently they were old 8-track tapes, and I think it made them feel pretty old to realize that I would grow up never knowing how to use them.
Sometimes my husband and I wonder about the things our (future!) kids won’t be able to identify.Think how funny they’ll find payphones, or floppy disks, or the idea that you used to be able to go to a store, browse through shelves of videotapes, and check one out for three days (making sure to rewind it first). Even the idea of “getting lost” will be nonsense to them, now that we all have maps and GPS on our smartphones.
I’m sure they’ll also be completely baffled by the idea that you couldn’t always find exactly what you wanted on Amazon.com, order it from the comfort of your living room, and have it arrive the very next day. To be honest, I can’t believe we ever lived like that, either. I’m a big fan of the Amazon wish list — I keep a long list of cookbooks on mine, so that I can grab one whenever I need an extra $5 or $10 to qualify on free shipping.
The last cookbook I nabbed off Amazon was The America’s Test Kitchen Family Baking Book. It’s a great beginner’s guide to baking — it has a big variety of recipes ranging in difficulty, and lots of helpful explanations about ingredients/equipment/cooktime/etc. This coffee cake was my first experiment from the book, and it was an A+!
ALMOND RING COFFEE CAKE (recipe from The America’s Test Kitchen Family Baking Book)
Note: these quantities make two coffee cakes — see below on instructions on freezing one for later
For the filling:
1 can or tube almond paste (7 or 8 oz)
4 oz cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup powdered sugar
For the dough:
1 1/3 cups whole milk, warmed (about 110 degrees)
1 stick (8 tbsp) unsalted butter, melted and allowed to cool (about 85 degrees)
1/3 cup honey
3 large egg yolks (keep the whites; you’ll use them for the topping)
2 tsp vanilla extract
5 cups all-purpose flour
1 envelope instant or rapid-rise yeast (2 1/4 tsp)
2 tsp salt
For the topping:
3 large egg whites, lightly beaten
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
2 oz cream cheese, softened
2 tbsp milk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1. To prepare filling, beat almond paste, softened cream cheese, and sugar together with electric mixer on medium speed until smooth. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until needed.
2. To prepare dough, whisk milk, melted butter, honey, egg yolks, and vanilla together in medium bowl or large liquid measuring cup. Combine 4 and 3/4 cups of the flour with the yeast and salt in a standing mixer fitted with the dough hook (or, for the mixer-less, in a large bowl). With mixer on low speed, add milk mixture and mix until dough comes together (about 2 minutes).
3. Increase mixer speed to medium and knead until dough is smooth and shiny, 5-7 minutes (I kneaded by hand for about 10 minutes). If after that time more flour is needed, add remaining 1/4 cup, 1 tbsp at a time, until dough clears side of bowl but sticks to bottom.
4. Turn dough out onto lightly floured counter and knead by hand to form smooth, round ball. Place dough in lightly-oiled bowl and wrap tightly with plastic wrap. Let rise in warm place until doubled in size, about 1 to 1 and 1/2 hours.
5. If baking both coffee cakes, line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper (otherwise only line one). On a lightly floured counter, divide dough into 2 equal pieces. Working with one piece of dough at a time, roll dough into 18×9-inch rectangle (see photo above). Spread half of the almond-cream cheese filling in a one-inch wide strip just above bottom edge of dough.
6. Loosen dough from counter and roll into a tight log, pinching seam closed. Transfer log, seam side down, to one of the baking sheets. Repeat with remaining dough and filling (even if planning to freeze second cake).
7. Shape each cylinder of dough into a ring. Using clean kitchen scissors, make 10-11 cuts in the dough, cutting almost all the way through (see photo above). Twist each piece so it lays flat on the cut side.
8(a). IF YOU WANT TO BAKE THE CAKES NOW: Mist cakes with cooking spray, wrap loosely in plastic wrap, and let rise in warm place until they have nearly doubled in size and spring back slowly when touched, about 1 to 1 and a half hours. Proceed to step 9.
8(b). IF YOU WANT TO BAKE ONE OR BOTH OF THE CAKES A LITTLE LATER: After you’ve shaped the cake(s) (but without letting them rise), refrigerate shaped cake(s) for up to 12 hours. Return to room temperature for about 1 hour and proceed to step 9.
8(c). IF YOU WANT TO BAKE ONE OR BOTH OF THE CAKES A LOT LATER: After you have shaped the cake(s) as directed in step 7, wrap cake(s) tightly with plastic wrap that has been coated in olive oil or olive oil spray. Wrap with aluminum foil (on top of plastic wrap) and freeze for up to one month. When ready to bake, allow cake(s) to thaw in refrigerator for 12 hours, then return to room temperature for about 1 hour and proceed to step 9.
9. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Brush cake(s) with egg whites and sprinkle with almonds. Bake cake(s) until deep brown, 20-25 minutes, switching and rotating pans halfway through baking.
10. While cakes cool, whisk together sugar, softened cream cheese, milk, and vanilla until smooth. Drizzle over cooked cakes before serving.
Obviously yeasted bread takes some time, but I think it’s worth it — such a yummy and special treat. I’m pretty psyched I still have the extra cake in the freezer!