Poppy seed coffee cake

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This past week at work, I had a brown-bag lunch presentation where I spent basically 0 hours preparing, in spite of having about two months to do so. I kept telling myself, ah, I’ll focus on it right beforehand so I have the presentation all fresh in my mind and I don’t stumble. That said, I also realized the weekend before that I was in no way going to be actually prepared. So, I decided the best remedy was to bring some food to share. Everyone likes free food. It wasn’t going to do a lot for those calling in from Fairbanks and Juneau (sorry guys), but I thought it might help a bit on the Anchorage side. I pulled out my go-to sharing dish – poppy seed coffee cakes. It’s a family favorite that comes down from my moms side and it’s possibly my favorite comfort food. If it didn’t take two days to prepare, I’d make it every month until I was 375 pounds and required someone to physically roll me around. As it is, the size of the recipe is such that I only make it about once a year or so. Plus, I’ve been wanting to try it with some adjustments to be allergy friendly.

Needless to say, after blowing my weekend getting it together, I forgot the pies and home on the day. I had to run around the corner and buy some bread. The bread was good, and it turns out I’ve been doing this job long enough (last year not withstanding) that I can literally talk about it for hours off the top of my head, which is what I did for an hour. I think the presentation went okay, though I think I bit off too much to chew.

I did manage to remember the coffee cakes on Friday and they received positive reviews, which is good, because, as I said, I’d have eaten both pies I brought by myself. You can’t really find anything like this in the wild, short of an eastern European bakery, and even then it’s not nearly so good as this one. My favorite way to eat it is just this side of frozen. I did make some adjustments for allergies, which involved using Full-fat coconut milk cut with cashew milk, and goose eggs instead of chicken eggs. The use of the coconut milk made a tasty dough, but the consistency and rise was not what I am accustomed to. If you can, I’d recommend sticking to the ingredients listed below.

A couple warnings: This makes 6 pies and takes 2 days, so be prepared for a weekend effort & plenty left over to share.

Dough:

  • 3 Eggs (1 goose egg or 2 duck eggs)
  • ½ C. sugar
  • 1 C. cream
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • ¾ C. Shortening (Lard works too, I do not recommend butter, it will make it too rich)
  • 4 C. all-purpose flower
  • 1 Cake of active dry yeast

Mix the dry ingredients & yeast, and cut in the shortening, like a pie dough except with yeast. Mix up the dough ingredients until you’ve got a nice soft ball of dough. Wrap this in cling-wrap and put it into the fridge overnight.

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THE NEXT DAY!

Preheat the oven to 350. Take the ball of dough out of the fridge and split into 6 pieces (or 5 if you want a slightly thicker crust). Roll them out to fit 8” pie-pans. It’s easiest if you do this while it’s still cold, much like a pie-dough. Let these rise in the pans for about 30 minutes after you’ve rolled them out. Make up the filling and topping while you wait:

Filling

  • 1 12oz can poppy seed filling
  • 1 C. applesauce
  • 1 C. raisins (I use golden)
  • 2 eggs (2 small duck eggs)
  • 2 Tbsp. Sugar
  • 2 Tbsp. Flour

Beat the eggs, add in the rest of the wet ingredients including the poppyseed filling. Whisk in the flour and sugar. When the pies are done rising, pour a thin layer of filling into each.

Topping:

  • 1 C. Flour
  • 1 C. Sugar
  • ¼ lb. Butter (If you must, butter flavor Crisco works okay too)
  • A sprinkling of cinnamon or nutmeg

Mix the dry ingredients, then cut in the butter. This is a crumble topping and so should be a bit lumpy. Sprinkle evenly over the top of the filling in the pies.

Bake these at 350 for about 20 minutes. The crust should be just golden brown. Let cool and enjoy.

Homemade Vanilla

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** This article first appeared in the October 5th Edition of the Seward Journal Newspaper **

There isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t see a post on Facebook with the face of Will Farrell as Elf with a subtitle reading something like ‘Just 322,584 minutes until Christmas.’ I usually roll my eyes. I like taking my holidays one at a time. If I started worrying about what to get my wife for Christmas one minute before Christmas Eve, I might very well have a nervous breakdown. With Halloween about a month away, even I have to concede there are a few really solid reasons to start talking about Christmas. First off, I get as excited about peppermint-flavored everything as your typical 20-something does about pumpkin spice. Not only that, if you were to walk into a Fred Meyer or Target right now and go to the Halloween displays, you only need to let your eye wander just a bit further down the aisle to find the Christmas lights. Let me tell you, I do have an opinion about that and I will talk about it. To be fair, though, this is a better time of year to hang Christmas lights than, say, November, because it’s still reasonably warm outside and there’s no ice to worry about.  

Among other things, Christmastime is a busy time filled with cooking and gift giving. When it comes to Christmas baking, it’s usually the old favorites or family traditions over and over again, and, while I’m always game to try something new, I’m a big fan of traditional. It’s comforting in the dead of winter. Unfortunately, you can’t say the same for gifts. Every year, I’m stretching for something to give to friends. I want make sure I’m unique and thoughtful, and that I give something that’s worth receiving. Unless it’s a knobby and ill-fitting pair of badly knitted wool socks. Homemade gifts are the best, provided you’ve got time to do it. Which brings me to why I’m talking about Christmas well in advance of Halloween. It’s because making your own vanilla extract takes time, about eight weeks. 

 

Ingredients 

– Good quality vodka OR good white rum (not spiced) OR bourbon. Vodka makes for a neutral vanilla extract, anything else will add other flavors, which could be fun. 

– 7 whole vanilla beans – you can get bundles of 25 Madagascar vanilla beans online for around $40 

– 1 8-oz. bottle with a cork for aging 

– Decorative bottle with a cork or stopper for presentation. 

 

Cut 7 vanilla beans lengthwise to expose the inside, scrape out the seeds with a sharp knife, slice in half or smaller to fit in the bottle if necessary. Place the beans in the bottle. Add 7 oz. alcohol of your choice and about 1 oz. of water (preferably distilled or spring water) to the bottle. Make sure the beans are fully submerged. Provided you use standard 80proof alcohol, the alcohol content should be about 35 percent. Seal the bottle and shake. Place in a cool, dark area and shake about once a week. Keep it there for eight weeks. Transfer the liquid to a decorative bottle with a stopper and you have vanilla that is totally giftable or can be used in your favorite Christmas recipes.