Yeast #10: Gooey Butter Cake

116When I started this yeast resolution almost a year ago, I have to admit I had a lot of trepidation.  I knew I could try it — fear of cooking is not my issue.  I just didn’t expect things to go so well.  There have been some mishaps along the way — all caused by me — but when they happened, I knew enough either about yeast by then or cooking in general to keep moving.  When the worst test came up and everything went wrong and it still turned out ok, I knew I was going to be fine.  At that point, I should have decided “I win” and just stopped.  That was July.

I didn’t stop.  I kept going and things have still been turning out well.  I have learned enough to know when to push things and when to hold back.  And I have to say I feel really no fear when it comes to working with yeast.  So in that respect, it’s been an unmitigated success.

Now, though, in the final stretch for the year, it’s feeling a bit like a burden.  I still like doing the projects, but sometimes trying to hit the task before the month ends can be a bit tricky.  I’ve been trying for a couple of weekends to do the yeast project for October but it kept getting shifted.  Finally this weekend it was do it or miss the goal, so I got into the kitchen.  I won’t miss the influence of the calendar once the year ends.  I look forward to doing these projects when I want to and not feeling like I have to do them.  Of course I know the only rule maker is me so I could stop, but I’m so close now.  Why stop now?

One of my friends and I were talking and she assumed I had mapped out the full year.  I hadn’t and still haven’t.  I knew that at least one month would be the cinnamon rolls I tried to make years ago that failed horribly, but I had no idea what month they would appear.  I had decided to make them this month until something else caught my eye.  For every month, I gathered some of the recipes I had saved from over the years and looked to see what might be good.  Initially I was looking for no-fail recipes to give myself a boost.  Then I was looking for things where yeast — and not killing it — would be a bit more challenging.  Once I could make bread, I wanted to try making things with ingredients I like like olives, buttermilk, corn meal and cheese.  All along I’ve been following whims or taking suggestions from friends.  I only repeated a recipe once so far, but that was mostly so my parents to could taste a loaf I thought was especially good.

This month I was looking at the cinnamon roll recipe I thought I’d be making — the one with which I had previously failed.  I was also watching an episode of Martha Bakes at the same time and she made a recipe for a St. Louise butter cake.  I was intrigued by the look of it.  On the bottom was a slightly sweet yeast dough and it was covered on top by some butter-filled concoction.  As the two layers baked together, some kind of alchemy occurred to create the final product.


My mom’s kuga based off of the kuga her mom used to make. This is what I thought this cake might be similar to, but I was wrong…

I was intrigued.  I was thinking it might be similar to the kuga (coffee cake) my grandmother made and my mom now makes.  I was not exactly correct in that assumption.

It looked to be a much easier recipe than the cinnamon rolls since no rolling or slicing was involved and the rise time was just one hour and the back time was 20 minutes.  Since I wanted to make it on a Sunday I also hoped to make lasagna, it had the ‘quick’ finish time I was looking for so I set out to make it.

This recipe calls for 3 sticks of room temperature butter.  I always have butter in my house, but usually it’s in the freezer.  By the time I knew this was my recipe, it was still in the freezer, so it was just easier to run out and buy a new pound of butter so at least it would be refrigerator temperature.

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For the dough, I pushed it by warming the first stick of butter slightly in the microwave.   I probably took it a little too far because I wanted soft but what I had was partially melted.  I then overheated my milk by a smidge as well.  I put the milk in the freezer to cool it down and mixed into my melty/soft butter most of the other ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour – recipe calls for 2, but this is where I started

Because the butter was really soft, it was a breeze to mix in the sugar, salt, eggs, and 1 cup of flour.  Because Martha had made a point of mixing the yeast/milk mixture in with the flour, I didn’t want to completely move away from her instructions in case they might be meaningful.

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Once my milk had cooled to about 100 degrees, I mixed in the one packet of yeast.

  • 1/4 cup warm whole milk
  • 1 envelope active dry yeast

After letting is sit for a few minutes to begin to develop, I mixed it in with the last of the flour.

  • 1 cups all-purpose flour

100It came together as a very soft dough ball that was very easy to spread into a greased 9×11 inch pan.  All that was left at that point was to cover it with wrap and put it in a warm location for an hour.  I had briefly (minutes!) heated my oven to make it a bit warm.  I put the pan of dough and a bowl with my other two sticks of butter into the oven to rise and to bring the butter to room temperature.

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When the dough had been rising for nearly an hour — it gets very yeasty smelling and a nice lumpy top appears — I got to making the topping.  The topping is like a combination of buttercream frosting and sugar cookie dough.  It didn’t exactly turn out the way I expected.  I thought it would be more liquid and similar to what tops my grandmother’s kuga.  Instead, it’s a butter/sugar bonanza that you “frost” on to the yeast dough base.

Using my hand mixture (easier than digging out my stand mixer), I blended the topping ingredients:

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1 large egg, plus 1 large yolk
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup light corn syrup

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I started with the sugar and butter and salt and creamed like making cookies.  I then added in the egg and extra yolk, the vanilla extract, and the corn syrup.  Finally I mixed in the flour.  It was very much like frosting/cookie dough at this stage.

The key is getting it spread on the dough without deflating the dough.  It helps to make some strategic “blobs” of the topping all over the surface of the dough.  Once mostly spread around, you then gently spread the topping evenly over the top.  If you have an offset spatula, I’m sure that works best.  I just used a kitchen knife and took my time not to push down too hard.  The one mistake I might have made was pushing the topping all the way to the edges.  If I made it again, I’d leave a small border around the edge to allow the bottom layer to puff up more on the edges.

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The amazing thing is that the recipe then just takes a quick 20 minutes or so in the oven at 350 degrees.  I cooked mine a few minutes more but I think that’s because I couldn’t gauge the browning since my edges were under the topping.  I probably could have stopped at 20 minutes.119

Here’s the key:  let it cool completely to room temperature.  I didn’t, and it was an oozing mess.  A couple of the pieces I couldn’t have served to anybody but myself from the looks of them and I scooped them into a bowl to try to help them from oozing any more than they already had.  Once cooled, the gooey stop still stays gooey but it doesn’t run off of the base.

128That mistake aside, it is delicious but it’s super, super, SUPER rich.  For me, one piece was about as much of it as I wanted to eat.  Best to make it when you have friends who can help you finish it.  I did give some away and I’ve made myself work through another piece of it, but it’s so sweet.  Even with a cup of dark, black coffee, it’s pretty intense.

If I were to make it again, I’d probably reduce the topping by half.  I really liked the flavors of the yeast dough base and the topping is good, but it’s just too much of a good thing for me.

Still, the yeast developed without a hitch, so that’s a win for me!  Yeast attempt #10 is a success.


Asian Pears-a-pa-looza

042One of the amazing gifts of being connected to farmers and having them become your friends is that unexpected bounties can come your way.  I am often the beneficiary of generous surpluses of things and I am always grateful.  This year I was the lucky receiver of beautiful pears that became vanilla pear butter, maple pear butter, and some delicious pear cider that I greedily drank all by myself.  Happily, some of the pears went back to my industrious friends as little jars of jam wonderfulness.

More recently, I was given many, many pounds of Asian pears.  The largest of them got eaten straight — peeled, cored like an apple, and eaten with delicious abandon.  Asian 068pears are crisp like an apple but have a watery pear-ness that is sweet but not too sweet.  I’ve never really done anything with them other than peel, core, and eat them raw.  It’s how I was introduced to them years ago and how I ate them in Japan.

I turned to the internet.  I did find recipes for canning them as jam, so I did make a couple of batches.  Unlike what I was seeing online, I did not peel them or grate them — too much work.  I figured that the skins would eventually get tender enough to puree into jam.  Because I wasn’t sure how it would go, I made the first batch as simply as possible:

  • 5 pounds washed, cored, and chopped pears
  • 4 c. sugar
  • juice of 2 lemons
  • 1/4 cup bottled lemon juice (just to be safe)

Yes, it’s a lot of sugar.  The sugar and the lemon is what keeps things safe.  It can sometimes be unpredictable to use fresh lemon so I used some of the bottled stuff for it’s reliable acidity.

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It takes a long time.  I was getting very impatient but the final fruit had to simmer on the stove for about 40 minutes.  Even then, it was hard to get the immersion blender to process things down.  I learned the hard way that you need to keep stirring the mixture.  My first few filled jars were a bit watery as the thicker jam was settling on the bottom of the pot.  Once I realized, I did a better job of stirring things up to normalize my jars.  The first thin ones will be syrup for pancakes and the like.

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The plain jam was good.  There was a bit of bitterness from the skin, but it didn’t bother me.  It did get me thinking about flavorings.  The main one found on the internet was ginger.  I’m sure that’s good.  I decided to go another direction and use whole cinnamon sticks and star anise.  I love the star anise flavor in fruit compotes I’ve made in the past and I thought it’s strong flavor along with a flavorful honey as part of my sweetener would be a dynamite combination.018

A few days later, I started with the same basic recipe but added 2 full cinnamon sticks, 3 star anise, and a couple big spoonfuls of olive honey that I have because it’s very strongly flavored.  I knew in advance it needed to cook a long time so I just started up front with the timer set for 45 020minutes.

The aroma was very beguiling.  I was getting hungry so I pulled out some cheese and crackers for a snack.  As I was getting my small feast ready, I thought “why not put some of the softened pears on top?  I bet that would be good.”  It was fantastic.041

I greedily ate the first three and then made myself three more!

I proceeded to make the rest into jam as planned — pulling out the spices and then using the immersion blender to puree it into jam.  I then canned it as usual.

I still had quite a few Asian pears left and the cheese snack helped me to decide that instead of making yet one more batch of jam, I’d just make canned Asian pears using the same flavor profile as my jam.  If I didn’t can them for a long shelf life, I could use less sugar and just plan to eat them sooner rather than later.

066A few more days later and I set to the kitchen to make my concoction.  I washed, cored, and chopped the pears into fourths.  In a pot, I added whole cinnamon sticks, star anise, more of the honey, and a bit of water to get things going.  Once the pears were tender, I put them and the accumulated liquid into two large jars and one small jar.  The little jar went to the farmers.  I ate the first big jar in just a few days — by themselves like fruit cocktail, mixed in with plain yogurt, and even a few on cheese and crackers.  The second jar got eaten more slowly.  These pears were made in late 067September but I’m still finishing up the jar in mid-October.  There’s enough sugar and lemon to make them stable for a bit longer even though they’re not canned and processed.

It was a lucky bounty and it sent me in some new and fun directions in the kitchen.  Thanks friends!!