Monday, February 1, 2010

Norwegian Coffee Cake: A Yeast-Averse Story

If you've read some of my posts before, you've noticed that I don't make a lot of bread, and that on the rare occasions when I do, I mention my aversion to yeast. Well, maybe it's time I admitted that this aversion I have to yeast is mostly due to my often having a packet of yeast in the cupboard that, logically, hardly ever gets used resulting in the yeast becoming so old and ineffective that, when I finally get around to using it, a fair amount of cursing and imprecations is directed at said yeast when my dough still hasn't risen after 3 hours of pilot-lighting, oven-front sitting, steam bathing, etc...
Norwegian Coffee Cake
So imagine my utter delight when, having purchased a brand new shiny packet of yeast a couple of months ago, all my bread endeavors now promptly ferment, bubble and rise and I obtain the bread I was trying to make, my kneading inability notwithstanding.
Really, there are two culprits in this newfound desire I have to actually make bread and brave yeast: their names are Jamie and Deeba. I mentioned both of them in the last post.

What you may not know about them is that Jamie has this fabulous recipe for a chocolate meringue coffee cake on her blog which was the catalyst of my old yeast/new yeast debacle, and Deeba pulls baked goods out of her oven like Mary Poppins pulls whatever she might need out of her bag. So when Jamie declared that she was hosting this month's Bread Baking Day and that the theme of it would be her birthday which was the 28th of January, I felt I really should participate both because she is a dear friend and because she got me to start baking bread. Deeba's contribution was to insist on posting bread after bread after bread, some from the Ottolenghi book which I gave her when she was here for FBC, which heightened my desperation for bread-baking success. 
Norwegian Coffee Cake
So out came the Tassajara Bread Book which I purchased last summer with every intention of making a ton of bread, and which went unused until yesterday when I leafed through it looking purposely for a yeasted recipe (yes there is a whole un-yeasted bread section in there) and came upon this Norwegian coffee cake. Flavored with cardamom, which I love, at its simplest, it seemed just the thing to bake on a chilly Sunday.
I had a bar of Valrhona orange chocolate I needed to use and orange and chocolate being two flavors that marry well with cardamom, half of it went into the bread. I could choose any shape and having never baked challah or any other braided bread before, I decided to try a four-stranded braid. Though I knew I'd gone wrong about halfway through the loaf (past the point where the diagrams ended), it wasn't until after I'd put the bread in the oven that I suddenly understood how the weave worked.

It was (and still is because it's huge*) delicious, with an airy, challah-like consistency to the crumb. I haven't been able to stop eating it since I first tore into it, and what remains of it will go into some bread pudding tomorrow.
The most satisfying part of the whole experience was when I gave the tiniest piece of just cardamom-flavored crumb (no chocolate chunks) to Baby Saffron, who hadn't had anything cardamom-flavored yet, to taste and she made this little high-pitched mmmm sound she's just started making recently when she likes food. My heart grew three sizes at that moment.

* The quantities in this recipe make an enormous amount of bread; for human-sized portions you should probably halve it or make two loaves.
Norwegian Coffee Cake End

Norwegian Coffee Cake
adapted from the Tassajara Bread Book by Edward Espe Brown

Yeast Sponge:
1 1/2 Tbsp dry active yeast
1 1/4 cup (315ml) half-fat milk (or water) slightly warmed (not hot)
1 1/2 cup (190g) all purpose flour
2 Tbsp (26g) brown sugar

1/2 cup + 2 Tbsp (136g) brown sugar
1/2 cup (110g) butter
3 eggs
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
100g (3.5 oz) chocolate roughly chopped into chunks
3 to 3 1/2 cups all purpose flour + more for kneading
vegetable oil for the bowl in which it will rise

Egg Wash (optional):
1 egg
2 Tbsp water or milk

For the yeast sponge:
- Dissolve the yeast in the lukewarm milk. Add the flour and the 2 Tbsp of sugar and mix well. Cover with a damp towel and leave to rise. The book implies that you can do this while you are preparing the rest, but I actually left my sponge the whole night in my cold kitchen.

For the bread: 
- Preferably using a mixer of some sort for ease, cream the butter (in a stand mixer use the paddle attachment). Cream the sugar into the butter.
- Add the eggs one at a time, beating well before adding the next.
- Mix the salt and the cardamom.
- Fold the butter/sugar mixture and the salt/cardamom mixture into the yeast sponge.
- Fold any extras such as the chocolate chunks into the mixture (I actually forgot to do this and had to add the chocolate right before the bread went into the oven...oops).
- Fold the flour in until you form a soft dough. I needed all 3 1/2 cups but you might only need 3.
- Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and adding flour as needed, knead it into a smooth dough (it took me about 10mn).
- Using the vegetable oil, lightly grease a large bowl. Put your kneaded dough into it, making sure to coat it lightly with oil (I do this by rolling it around in the bowl a couple of times), then cover with a damp kitchen towel and leave to rise in a warm place for at least 30-40mn or until it has doubled in size.
- Shape your bread as desired. If you make the whole quantity, you might want to divide the dough in half and make two loaves.
- Preheat your oven to 350-375˚F (180-190˚C).
- Place the loaf on a sheet of baking paper or on a greased baking pan. Cover with the damp kitchen towel and leave to rise in a warm place for at least 20-30mn or until it has doubled in size again.
- For a golden crust, make an eggwash: beat the egg and milk together and using a pastry brush, brush onto your loaf right before it goes into the oven.
- Bake for 45-50mn or until the crust is golden brown.

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shayma said...

it's a wonderful combination- chocolate, orange and cardamom. i love how you write, 'i had a bar of Valrhona I needed to use', i would have eaten it whole! you say you dont make bread, but this is a beauty. wispy, pillowy and beautifully glazed.

Asha @ FSK said...

awww!!! so cute that baby Saffron approved :))

love the braiding on the bread!

kristina said...

papoose hand

Kerrin @ MyKugelhopf said...

i was waiting to see that huge mama bread you were tweeting about - and here it is! just as tempting (and huge) - and if you can believe this, i'm *still* trying to beam myself over to your place to tear off my very own piece. and perhaps help you with the bread pudding. but i'm sticking to the pain perdu idea. isn't that one of the hubby's specialties?? mmm, just imagine...

loved reading this post, as always. and i had to giggle, because i too have always been quite daunted by... yeast! but i think you found the key here - not only do i adore challah, but helloooo Valrhona! :)

Jamie said...

Ha ha ha! I am thrilled that I could be the catalyst (along with my twin sistah Deeba!) in this yeast-baking adventure, this new-found passion for yeast (yes, that will come in time). This is really one stunningly perfect bread no matter which way you look at it: the flavors, the gorgeous braid and the fact that Baby Saffron loved it! Thank you so much for baking this for my BBD Birthday Party! What a wonderful addition to the buffet table! ((hugs))

sunita said...

Hilda,what a GORGEOUS bread, and you said you don't like making bread? Don't deprive us of such exquisite creations !

Sarah, Maison Cupcake said...

Looks great, I sit on my yeast for god knows how long too. I always end up buying new yeast whenever I bake stuff that needs it as I don't want to risk it not working. Then it's ages til I use it again and the rest gets thrown away. This year will be difference I am promising myself! Have not managed to do the bread baking day in time but will be doing the Bread and Chocolate mingle also hosted by Jamie.

Deeba PAB said...

Always happy to take the blame for good things in life! GORGEOUS Hilda... if we were the devilish catalysts for this yummy goodness, Jamie & moi, then you will be pushed into more adventures in future. How sweet that papoose enjoyed to my ears!! I love the flavours. *sigh* another book on my WANT list!!

Rambling Tart said...

I am so impressed. :-) Beautiful breads make my heart happy and cardamom is a flavor favorite. Wonderful job! I can almost smell it from here.

Mowie @ Mowielicious said...

Hilda my love, that bread looks and sounds divine. And what more could you want other than darling papoose going mmmm to everything you make. B could learn a thing or two from her =)

my spatula said...

so GORGEOUS!! love the cardamom. and of course, the chocolate.

Caleb said...

I found your food blog going through a few links. Glad I ran into it. Didn’t know that the food blog/recipe community was so big online. I love your posts!

I was wondering if you would like to exchange links. I’ll drop yours on my site and you drop mine on yours. Email at or stop by my site and drop a comment. Let me know if you would like to do a link exchange.


Nina said...

Wow looks fantastic...n u dont like baking bread??? This is great stuff.Looking forward to more of these:)

Sari said...

Oh, what a huge and delicious looking bread! :) And the fact that Baby Saffron liked it makes it even more special! I don't like the yeasty flavour in bread either. I've only ever made two breads and there was always the yeasty flavour! :( You did a wonderful job.

Bria @ West of Persia said...

Cardamom and Valrhona chocolate? I'm IN. It looks gorgeous and delicious. Nice work. I totally get your hesitation to bake bread. I hesitate for some of the same reasons you did. Oh, and the fact that it's all too easy to eat is all in one night ;-)

Jane said...

What a fabulous loaf of YEAST bread you produced! It looks utterly delicious. I know just what you mean about being yeast averse. I am working to overcome my aversion this year, and your story inspires!

ap260 said...

The picture of the bread book looked so intriguing that I absolutely had to buy this book!

Hilda said...

Thank you everyone for your very kind comments!
Honestly, cross my heart I really was not a big fan of making bread until Jamie's chocolate and meringue coffee cake started the ball rolling, but I think with this one I may get totally into it. We shall see.

Sarah (Maison Cupcake): I'm told you can freeze your yeast to keep it good longer, so I have to see if that may help me get through a whole pack.

Mowie: Really? Do we need to get B to be more appreciative? He does comment on your posts. A. doesn't comment on mine, but then again he's just happy to eat the food so maybe that's sufficient yes? ;)

Bria: In spite of its unreasonable size, we did eat almost all of it in one day. Maybe I shouldn't have admitted that.

ap260: Are you saying I need to ask the Tassajara Bread Book people for a commission? ;)

Kasey said...

This sounds heavenly. I've spotted the Tassajara Bread Book on a number of occasions at my independent bookstore. I might have to try this first and then invest :) Glad to have discovered your blog!

Colloquial Cook said...

Not only you make bread but you make bread with a *sponge*?! For a yeast hater I think you should receive a medal.
And way to go, little miss I've-got-stars-on-my-cuff :)

Jeanne @ Cooksister! said...

Hmmm, bread is a bit like the Final Frontier for me. It's a combination of being vaguely nervous of yeast and not being huge consumers of bread in our house, so I imagine my efforts languishing and going stale. Well done yo uon conquering your aversion - and yes, Deeba and Jamie's baking is inspirational, if slightly intimidating ;-)

MeetaK said...

norwegian - and i am late for this? oh no. i am enjoying venturing into the world of bread baking too. this looks pretty good to me but I guess anything norwegian would lol!

Kitchen Butterfly said...

That looks a stunning loaf of bread. Again, I'll repeat - I ♥ the flavours. Warm, spicy and comforting...perfect for any snowy day!

georgie said...

Grandma used to bake this but used dried fruit (citron)not chocolate at Christmas. It is called Julebra. We'd always have any leftover Julebra toasted with melted Gjetoast for Christmas morning breakfast. Ahhh, I can smell the fresh coffee, the cardamom and the yeasty bread smell now via your photos.

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