I would make a terrible, terrible spy. And no, it's not because of the stealth issues involved, because I actually think I'd be good at it (hence, my enjoyment of the game Tenchu Z, despite what all the reviews say). But in real life when I think I have to do something that requires stealth, I get jittery and weird. Such as reading books in a bookstore. You see, for some books in some stores here, the staff wraps them in plastic. WHAAAT? Yeah, they do. The thing is, it is actually a pretty good deterrent against careless browsers. And you are free to rip them apart if you really want to know if a book is worth buying. But I don't, usually. I don't know why: maybe I feel like I'm making trash, or making the staff's efforts futile especially with books I know I can't afford.
So, to paint a picture:
Me: (eyeing Tessa Kiros's Venezia, drooling at the cover and promise of beautiful pics of a fantastic city inside)
Staff: (walks to cashier for a little chat)
Me: (rips plastic apart, heart about to explode) Aaaah.
Staff: ... whatevs.
Me: Huh, George Kamper's pictures are much prettier.
But knowing what's inside a book is really important. I recall one other time when a mother and daughter from the country/provinces were browsing local cookbooks, which for some reason were wrapped (though they aren't usually).
Mom: Gosh, why is this wrapped? I wonder if it's good.
Me (butting in when he wasn't asked): It's okay. Open it. Open it. Open it. Open it. Open it. Open it. Open it.
... Just kidding. I only said it once (Dwight Schrute says to say it seven times to hypnotize them into actually doing it). But I couldn't bear the thought of the two not finding the book they want, or worse, buying a book that turns out to be a dud because they bought the one with the best cover. Maybe I need someone like me (one of you guys?) to tell me to cut out the imagined moral dilemma and just open it, open it, open it.
I knew already from previous experience that Flo Braker's new book Baking for All Occasions would be good, but till I opened it I had no idea it would be incredible. The book is quite heavy, but barely has any photographs-- it's jam-packed with all-American recipes ready for any occasion, even if you have to make one up yourself. The recipes are detailed and imaginative, yet accessible to any home baker. And because it's from Flo Braker, you just know they will be delicious and work every single time. Pick it up. Pick it up. Pick it up. Pick it up. Pick it up. Pick it up. Pick it up.
By the way, I didn't rip a plastic wrapper apart to peek at the book-- I eventually lucked upon a bookstore that had an unwrapped copy. Pathetic, I know.
I'm also using this post to respond to Deeba's tagging me for the Worldwide Blogger Bake-Off Campaign, which I first learned of from Jeanne. I can't share this particular recipe because it's Braker's and not mine, but if you do bake some bread (or even if you don't), please do consider participating. Admittedly donations have been slow due in no small part to the global financial crisis, but I hope it will turn around soon.
Pull-Apart Lemon-Scented Coffee Cake from Baking for All Occasions
This recipe is simple enough, even for someone who constantly flops at bread like me. And it is also very addictive-- have friends over for tea so you can finish it in one go and don't have to keep picking at it by yourself till you've eaten the whole thing. After you've baked it, the butter may seep out of the dough and appear to flood it-- don't be alarmed and let it be as it cools. The dough will reabsorb the butter and be that much deadlier.
Sweet Yeast Dough
In the large bowl of a stand mixer (though you can also do this by hand as I did), stir together 255g (2 cups) of the flour, the sugar, and the yeast. In a small saucepan or microwaveable container, heat the milk with the butter on low heat/power until the butter is just melted. Set aside until warm (about 130°F/55°C or 1 minute), then add the vanilla. Pour this over the flour mixture and using a strong spatula or wooden spoon, stir together until the flour is evenly moistened. Attach the bowl to the mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (or continue to use the spatula), and mix on low speed while adding the eggs one at a time, just until each is incorporated. Add 65g (1/2 cup) of the remaining flour and mix on low speed until smooth (about 45 seconds). Add 2 more tablespoons flour and mix at medium speed until smooth and slightly sticky, about another 45 seconds. If doing this by hand, you might prefer to knead it gently and squeeze the dough till it comes together.
Sprinkle a work surface with 1 tablespoon flour and place the dough on top. 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. Place the dough in a large bowl, cover with cling film, and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, 45-60 minutes. The indentation of a fingertip on the dough should remain.
Lemon Paste Filling
In a small bowl, mix the sugar and the citrus zests together, rubbing them between your fingers until it resembles wet sand. Preheat the oven to 175°C (350°F) and spray a 9x5" loaf pan with baking spray.
Gently deflate the dough. Referring to the nifty step-by-step I drew:
1. Happy dough on a lightly floured surface.
2. Roll out to a 20x12" rectangle.
3. Brush the surface with the melted butter.
4. Using a pizza cutter or sharp knife, cut the dough crosswise into 5 strips (each about 12x4").
5. Sprinkle one of the rectangles with 1-1/2 tablespoon of the zest-sugar filling.
6. Place a second rectangle of dough on top and sprinkle with 1-1/2 tablespoons of the filling. Repeat using the rest of the dough rectangles, ending with a sprinkling of the filling.
7. Stack of 5 dough rectangles.
8. Cut the stack crosswise into 6 smaller stacks, each about 4x2".
9. Fit the layered strips into the loaf pan, cut edges (the 4" side) up. You'll end up with something like the photo above. Loosely cover with cling film and let it rise in a warm place until puffy and almost doubled in size, 30-50 minutes-- the indentation of a fingertip should remain. Bake until the top is golden brown, about 30-35 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool in the pan for 10-15 minutes.
Tangy Cream Cheese Icing
In a medium bowl, beat the cream cheese and sugar together until smooth. Beat in the milk and lemon juice until the well-combined.
Unmold the coffee cake (all the butter will allow it to release quite easily) and place on a wire rack or serving platter. Using a pastry brush, coat the top with icing. Serve the coffee cake warm or at room temperature.