Saturday, March 06, 2010

Sweet Sustenance

One of the marvelous things about having a baby is all the visitors who come by to see the little one. Our month-old wonder is used to being passed around from aunt to grandmother, coworker to friend, neighbor to cousin--which is so wonderful to see. But, you know, oohing and aahing over tiny fingernails and ears is hard work. I've got to offer all the well-wishers some sustenance. Granted, many of them come bearing edible gifts, but I've been stepping up my efforts, too. The latest baby-holding fuel I've made? Braided Coffee Cake with Cardamom.

Unlike some coffee cakes, this one isn't chock full of butter, sugar, chocolate or sour cream (though I have nothing against those decadent delights). Nope--it has just one stick of butter and a half-cup of sugar, as well as three egg yolks and a half-cup or so of milk (I used 1%). What gives this cake--it's actually more like a bread--its character is the warm and toasty taste of cardamom. I always thought of cardamom as an Indian spice (Tamarind's basmati rice, loaded with whole cardamom pods, is divine), but apparently, it's common in Scandinavian baking, too. It lends an almost floral aroma to this otherwise simple bread.

The other lovely thing about this bread? It's braided--which not only looks pretty, but isn't even hard to do. Topped with a smattering of chopped pecans and cinnamon, this is one sweet-smelling, and sweet to look at--baked treat. Almost as sweet as holding a certain tiny little someone.--S

Braided Coffee Cake with Cardamom

Makes 8 or more servings

3 c flour, plus more for rolling the dough
1 1/2 t instant active dry yeast
Pinch of salt
1/2 c sugar
1 t ground cardamom
8 T butter, plus more as needed
3 egg yolks
1/2 to 1 c milk, as needed
1/2 c walnuts, pecans or almonds
1 t ground cinnamon

1. Combine the flour, yeast, salt, 1/ c sugar, and the cardamom in a food processor and pulse to combine. Add 6 T of the butter and the egg yolks and pulse again until well combined. With the machine running, drizzle about half the milk through the feed tube. Process just until a dough ball forms, adding a little more milk if necessary, then stop. Knead a little by hand, until the dough is smooth (add a little flour if necessary), then form the mixture into a ball and place it in a buttered bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until about doubled in bulk, 1 to hours.
2. When the dough is ready, cut it into 3 pieces. On a floured board, roll each piece into a long rope just over a foot long. Braided the pieces, pinching both ends to seal. Put on a buttered cookie sheet, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise again for about an hour.
3. Preheat the oven to 375F. Chop the nuts and combine with the remaining 2 T butter (you can do this in a small food processor, but be careful not to pulverize the nuts) and the cinnamon. Brush the dough with a little milk and sprinkle the nut mixture over it.
4. Bake for 25 to 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool, then slice and serve.

From The Best Recipes in the World

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