Sunday, February 25, 2007

Cinnamon Date Coffee Bread

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Pictured above is a little piece of a hopefully sweet weekend (now if I win my office Oscar pool jackpot…).

Like most people, I presume, weekends are the time for me when some good cooking/baking can get under the belt. I have the leisure to wander the fruit/ veggie stands, fight for a spot at the butcher and joke with the fish monger about freshness. If it’s really cold outside a soup will be made and stored away for the week to come. If it’s mild enough to take my time shopping (no car), I have the opportunity to really let my mind wander, without worrying about exposed fingers falling off from the cold.

It is some of the worst days though, when the last thing I desire is to step outside. Not even my thick flannel pants I wear camping in the fall or my warmest sweater and thick mittens can convince me into the icy voyage. It is these days where the cookbook is a dear friend and a minimalist “whatever’s in the cabinet” recipe comes to the rescue.

It was on one of these bitter days that I picked up one of my new cookbooks and gave it a go.

I recently received a copy of The Cook’s Book from the publisher for review. An initial flip through offers some amazing color photos, many step-by-step, of recipes. It’s a great overall technique book that is easy to follow for a more experienced chef (I would not recommend it to a beginner). Much of what is inside is basics, how to’s and general tips and tricks of the trade—like how many minutes is a medium rare steak again? How do you fillet that fish? Yet many of the recipes can get very challenging, be it time consuming, a difficult step here or there, or a hard-to-find ingredient. (A more involved review in the weeks to come.)

That being said, my initial plunge into this book’s recipes have been extremely rewarding with many more to come. The first challenge was honey-lime truffles. These truffles were an absolute surprise-- who knew I could make such delicious truffles? They were silken and luxurious, sweet and sour and a true Valentine treat.

The above pictured specimen was the next step with this book. I was looking more for a bread, but as I said, it was cold outside. I had to stick with what I had in the cabinets. The dates were a recent birthday gift, I was good to go.

D is a huge fan of cinnamon rolls. Mind you, not the ones that drip with a sugary white glaze, but straight up cinnamon rolls, raisins optional. They are the ones where the deep twisted chasms are filled with gooey spice and the bread is dense, yet sponge-like in a perfect marriage. In fact, D considers me quite the curmudgeon because I refuse to let him have one every day. If I delight him with a purchase there is usually a portion of a follow up conversation that goes something like: “you never let me have the things that I love,” while cinnamon-sugar oozes between his fingers and sticks to his beard he’ll claim “I’m just saving some for later,” instead of wiping himself clean. I am a cruel person.

When I saw this recipe for cinnamon date bread I knew it was the perfect merge of D’s love (cinnamon rolls), ingredients (all on hand in the cabinet) and my favorite (the use of liquor in cooking). The perfect breakfast. While my final version is not nearly as clean looking as the version pictured in The Cook’s Book, I can only assume that it is far better in sweet gooey purity. Below is the recipe as it appears in the book.

Serving Size= 1 bread; 4 people. Active time= about 30 minutes. Cook time= 30 minutes.
Makes 1 Bread
* 2-½ tablespoon unsalted butter, softened, plus extra for the mold
* 1-2/3 cups all purpose flour
* 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
* 2 teaspoons baking powder
* 1 extra large egg
* 5 tablespoons milk

For layering the dough
* 6 tablespoons brown sugar
* ½ heaped cup roughly chopped dates
* 3-½ tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
* 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
* 1-½ tablespoons dark rum [brandy works well too]

1) Preheat oven to 400F. Thickly butter an 8-½ in ring mold that is 2 in deep, or a cake pan of the same diameter. Line the bottom of the mold or pan with parchment paper.
2) Sift the flour, sugar, and baking powder into a bowl. Rub in the butter using your fingertips. Whisk the eggs with the milk in a cup until well combined, then stir this into the dry ingredients in the bowl. Work the mixture together well with your hands until you have an evenly mixed, soft dough. Scrape the dough out onto a floured work surface and lightly knead it for 10-15 seconds.
3) Mix together the brown sugar, dates butter and cinnamon and rum in a small bowl; keep to one side. Roll out the dough to a rectangle that is roughly ¼ in thick, 14 in long and 8 in wide.
4) Spread the date mixture evenly over the surface of the dough, then roll it up tightly like a jelly roll. With a sharp knife, cut the rolled dough in half lengthwise.
5) Twist the two pieces together, keeping the cut surfaces facing up, then curl into the mold. Bake in the middle of the oven for about 30 minutes. Let the coffee cake cool in the mold for 5 minutes, then unmold onto a wire rack. This is best served still warm.

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