I’m sure we all have that one beloved food item; the one that makes us swoon or feeble in the knees just thinking about it. I was pretty sure mine was going to involve dark chocolate, and yet I have proven my self-control in the presence of it again and again. And although dark chocolate is definitely one of the things I find hard to resist, I can’t say it is my kryptonite. The more I baked, the more recipes I completed, and the more food I photographed, the more I began to realize what was.
I have a weakness for almost everything lemon-flavoured.
I noticed the way that I cannot step away from a glass pastry case that has lemon bars or things with a glaring lemon layer in it, until I buy some for myself. I am conscious of how happy it makes me feel even when I have just a small bite. I noticed how anytime a recipe has “lemon” in its title, my attention is immediately snatched away from everything else. And then when I do end up making the recipe, I am always so critical when the lemon flavour falls short.
I may adore anything with the tart lemon flavour, but it doesn’t mean I throw my standards for a perfect lemon treat out the window. The best kind for me is when the lemon taste is distinct and so tangy it makes you pucker up. But there are times when a certain pastry gives a different kind of experience with how it projects the lemon flavor, and this bread is one of them.
As you take a bite of the bread, the lemon scent spreads and rises up to your nose, as though you are eating and breathing lemon air. But then the lemon-cream cheese glaze bursts into your taste buds, and that is when the tanginess kicks in. It’s sheer perfection! I can’t think of any better word to describe the feeling of eating this bread. Plus, crunchy exterior notwithstanding, this is one of the softest breads I’ve ever made. When you peel each layer off, the crumb would literally unravel like silk. I promise you will watch layer after layer disappear from the whole loaf, and then you will realize how convenient it is that this was made into a pull-apart bread. You don’t have to wait to cut it with a knife- just pinch with your fingers and get it into your mouth as soon as possible!
The bread itself is absolutely easy to make as well. A little bit of kneading and cutting is required, but nothing that requires much heavy lifting. Just do your best in rolling your dough into a rectangular shape. This will help in making a more evenly sized bread. Also be careful not to stretch the dough too much when you stack them on top of one another. Use a gentle but quick hand when you get to this stage. If your squares look uneven, it’s okay. If you ask me, the charm of a pull-apart bread is how perfect it looks even in what we would normally call imperfections.
Lemon-Scented Pull-Apart Coffee Cake
from Flo Braker’s Baking For All Occasions, pages 163 to 164 | Makes one 9×5-inch coffee cake
For the Sweet Yeast Dough:
350 grams (about 2 3/4 cups) all-purpose flour
50 grams (1/4 cup) granulated sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
1/2 teaspoon salt
75 milliliters (1/3 cup) whole milk
55 grams (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
60 milliliters (1/4 cup) water
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, at room temperature
For the Lemon Paste Filling:
100 grams (1/2 cup) granulated sugar
3 Tablespoons finely grated lemon zest (from about 3 lemons)
1 Tablespoon finely grated orange zest
55 grams (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
For the Tangy Cream Cheese Icing:
85 grams cream cheese, softened
35 grams (1/3 cup) powdered sugar
1 Tablespoon whole milk
1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1. To make the dough: Stir together 2 cups (or 225 grams) of the flour, the sugar, the yeast and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer. Set aside.
2. In a small saucepan, heat the milk and butter over low heat just until the butter is melted. Remove from the heat, add the water, and set aside until warm (120° to 130°F), about 1 minute. Add the vanilla extract.
3. Pour the milk mixture over the flour-yeast mixture. Using a rubber spatula, mix until the dry ingredients are evenly moistened.
4. Attach the bowl and fit the mixer with the paddle attachment. On low speed, add the eggs, one at a time, mixing after each addition just until incorporated. Stop the mixer and add 1/2 cup (or 65 grams) of the remaining flour, then resume mixing on low speed until the dough is smooth, 30 to 45 seconds.
5. Add 2 more tablespoons flour and mix on medium speed until he dough is smooth, soft, and slightly sticky, about 45 seconds.
6. Sprinkle a work surface with 1 tablespoon flour and centre the dough on the flour. Knead gently until smooth and no longer sticky, about 1 minute, adding an additional 1 to 2 tablespoons flour only if necessary to lessen the stickiness.
7. Place the dough in a large bowl and cover securely with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 45 to 60 minutes. To check if the dough is ready, press the dough gently with a fingertip. If the indentation remains, the dough is ready for the next step. If not, let it rise for some minutes more.
8. While the dough is rising, make the filling: In a small bowl, mix together the sugar and the zests. Set aside to allow the sugar to draw out moisture from the zests, until the mixture begins to look sandy and wet.
9. To prepare for baking: About 20 minutes before the end of the rising time, centre a rack in the oven and preheat to 350°F (180°C). Lightly butter or coat with nonstick spray a 9x5x3-inch loaf pan.
10. To shape the coffee cake: Gently deflate the dough. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough into a 20×12-inch rectangle. Using a pastry brush, spread the melted butter generously over the dough. Using a pizza cutter, cut the dough crosswise into 5 strips, each about 12 x 4 inches.
11. Sprinkle 1-1/2 tablespoons of the zest-sugar mixture over one of the buttered rectangles. Top with a second rectangle and sprinkle with another 1-1/2 tablespoon of the zest-sugar mixture. Repeat with the remaining dough rectangles and zest-sugar mixture, ending with a stack of 5 rectangles. Work carefully when adding the crumbly zest filling, or it will fall off when you lift the stacked pastry later.
12. Slice the stack crosswise through the 5 layers to create 6 equal strips, each about 4×2 inches. Fit these layered strips into the prepared loaf pan. You can hold the pan diagonally to make it easier to press down on the stack to fit all the layers. It will be tight. Don’t worry about the strips not filling the pan widthwise at this point. They will once they bake.
13. Loosely cover the pan with plastic wrap and let the dough rise in a warm place until puffy and almost double in size, 30 to 50 minutes. Press the dough gently with a fingertip, if the indentation remains, the dough is ready for baking.
14. Bake the coffee cake until the top is golden brown, 30 to 35 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool in the pan for 10 to 15 minutes.
15. While the coffee cake cools, make the icing: In a medium bowl, using a rubber spatula, vigorously mix the cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Beat in the milk and lemon juice until the mixture is creamy and smooth.
16. Once cooled, remove the coffee cake from the pan, tilting and rotating the pan while gently tapping on a counter to release the sides. Invert a wire rack on the cake, and carefully life off the pan. Invert another rack on top and then invert the cake so it is right side up on the rack.
17. Slip a sheet of waxed paper under the rack to catch any drips from the icing. Using a pastry brush, coat the top of the warm cake with icing to glaze it.* Serve the coffee cake warm or at room temperature.**
* You might not use all of the icing. It can be kept for another use for up to 2 days.
** You can either pull the cake layers apart to serve; or cut the cake into 1-inch thick slightly diagonal slices using a serrated knife. If planning to cut the cake, wait until the cake is almost completely cool before doing so.
Needless to say, this is going into my regular bread rotation.
I’m very sorry for the photos, by the way, and the rushed way that they look. I just couldn’t think of a good photo composition. The lemon scent was so overpowering that I literally couldn’t think straight. I just wanted to dig in!
And I caved because I am human after all.