Perhaps it is the wealth of bread baking that has taken place in our kitchen over the course of the last three months, but I have developed this sudden interest in flour. This curiosity is not with your every-day, run-of-the-mill (no pun intended) white flour, but with all types of flour, spanning the spectrum from speckled ryes, to coarsely milled wheat flour, to hearty bran, savory teff, yellow hued corn, and silky rice. I have realized that there is a whole cornucopia of flours waiting to meet their culinary match in my kitchen and, after buying almost every type of flour I could find at Whole Foods, I have spent the last few weeks searching for the best ways to highlight the amazing and rich flavors in each of these ground grains.
And it would appear, as I have found while spending much of my “research” time perusing the blog-o-sphere for funky flour based concoctions, that I am not alone in my new obsession. Perhaps this interest, like many others these days, has been ushered in by our national recession. It would not surprise me that, that “pinch,” we are all feeling is driving folks to scour their local grain bins for inspiration. And it could very well be, that the sudden rise in gluten allergies, has prompted a nation-wide interest in alternative baking. But whatever the cause, this year may well be “the year” for previously esoteric flours.
The success of baking with Whole Grain flours truly relies on the freshness of the flour involved. Be sure to purchase flour from an store that has the demand to turn over its volume of flours on a regular basis. While whole grain flours such as teff may be tucked into the small dark back corner of your local grocery store’s health foods isle, it is unlikely that it turns over its stock with the same regularity as your local whole foods or health foods market. Grain bins can be an excellent source for fresh flour at a good price, but be sure to ask when the bin was last replenished. Make sure that the store stores it grains at a cool temperature so that it does not go bad, and that it cleans bins on a regular basis to prevent contamination with older stock. Once opened, keep unused flours stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator to preserve their freshness. Carefully smell flours before using as they do have a tendency to go rancid if not well kept. If stored in the refrigerator, place the amount of flour called for in a bowl on the counter and allow to come to room temperature before incorporating into a recipe.
This recipe for Carrot Coffee Cake uses two “unusual” fours. The first is Graham Flour, which is utilized in the crumb. Graham flour, which was named after Reverend Sylvester Graham, is a type of whole wheat flour. Graham advocated the use of this flour as a dietary aid. It is made by finely grinding the endosperm of wheat to create white flour, the bran and germ are ground separately and then reincorporated into the ground endosperm to form a textured whole wheat flour. It is the texture of this flour that truly sets it apart from ordinary whole wheat flour, if you cannot find it, you can substitute regular whole wheat flour with close to the same results. Spelt four, which is used to form the base of the cake mixture, is an ancient grassy grain. While Spelt is similar, in many ways, to wheat, it has some notable differences. From a flavor perspective, spelt has a slightly sweet and nutty flavor (akin to the flavor of millet.) It has a slightly lower caloric count per ounce than whole wheat flour and is slightly higher in protein. It does contain gluten, but at different ratios than wheat and can make a good substitute for whole wheat flour in recipes made for someone with a wheat sensitivity.
Whole Grain Flour Carrot Coffee Cake from Turntable Kitchen
For the Graham Flour Streusel Topping
2 TBSP Brown Sugar
1 TBSP Sugar
1 Pinch Kosher Salt
3 TBSP Butter, Chilled and Diced
1/4 C. + 2 TBSP Graham Flour (If Available, I Substituted Whole Wheat Flour as I Could Not Find the Graham in Any Store Nearby)
For the Cake:
1 C Spelt Flour
3/4 C White Flour
1/3 C Brown Sugar
1/4 C Sugar (Use Cane Sugar if Available)
1 TSP Cinnamon
1 Pinch of Ground Cloves
1/4 TSP Freshly Grated Nutmeg
1/2 TSP Ground Cardamom
1 TSP Kosher Salt
1 TSP Baking Powder
1/2 TSP Baking Soda
1 1/2 Cups Coarsely Grated Carrots
1/2 Stick of Butter, Melted
1 Cup Buttermilk
1 Lg. Egg at Room Temp
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9 inch round pan and set aside.
Make the streusel topping by combining the streusel ingredients in the bowl of a mini prep or food processor and pulse until the miture resembles coarse crumbs (a mixture of fine and slightly larger pieces is alright).
Sift the flours, baking powder, baking soda, spices, sugars and salt over a large bowl. Add the grated carrots and stir to coat them. Make sure all of the carrots are well coated with flour and that there are no large carrot-y clumps.
Melt the butter and let it cool slightly. Combine the buttermilk, and cooled melted butter and mix. If the butter clumps in the buttermilk, place in a microwave safe container and heat in the microwave for 5-10 seconds, this will very slightly warm the butter and buttermilk so that the butter will incorporate. Mix in the egg and whisk lightly. Stir the buttermilk mixture into the bowl with the dried ingredients and use a spatula to gently mix the batter until it just comes together.
Pour the batter into your prepared pan, spreading it with a spatula. With a spatula, slightly angle the batter towards the middle to create a top that is a bit lower at the center than it is at the edges. This will create a nice home for the streussel and prevent it from falling off the edge of the completed cake. Distribute the streusel over the cake such that there is slightly more in the center than on the edges, the top of the cake should not appear even. Be careful not to push the topping down into the cake. Place in the preheated oven and bake for approximately 35-45 minutes (until the cake is golden and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean).
As I have mentioned countless times before, I am not much of a baker. But as birthdays demand cake, and cake necessitates baking, the advent of Dustin’s birthday this past weekend meant that I would have to face my fears and measure, weigh, level and blend my way to (hopefully) cake-y success. I asked my man what type of cake he wanted for his birthday and true to form he shrugged and said, “whatever.” At this point we were already several hours into the actual Birth-day, sitting in the car, on the way to partake in Dustin’s chosen activity for this “big day” – climbing. D was about half way into a lemon poppy seed muffin that we had bought at a local coffee shop before heading out. I posed to him the idea of a simple lemon poppy quick bread with powdered sugar sprinkled on top and got an enthusiastic response.
As I had never made a lemon poppy seed cake before, I went to my go to source to see if I could find a recipe. Deb, of Smitten Kitchen, has long been an inspiration to me, her world famous blog, and the writing therein were a major driving force behind my decision to start a blog of my own. As many Smitten Kitchen readers know, Deb has something of a soft spot for cakes. In fact, the recipe section of her blog categorizes cakes into two separate types – Celebration Cakes, and Everyday Cakes. To some this lemon poppy quick bread, which was part of her simpler cake collection, may seem like a bit of a cop out for a birthday cake for the main man in my life. But as I read Deb’s description of this cake, a cake that she had tasted once, in a NY cafe, and then spent years reminiscing and gushing over, I was sold on making it.
And let me tell you, ladies and gentlemen, that this cake lives up to Deb’s glowing remarks. In fact it is quite certainly the best lemon-scented, poppy-seeded baked good I have ever had. The level of poppy seed goodness contained in this cake goes far beyond what is normally included in a lemon poppy confection; and the actual lemon flavor comes, not from sour lemon juice, but from the strong smell, and slight taste of lemon zest. The eight – yep count them – eight, yolks and one egg do NOT make this cake taste egg-y in any way, rather they make it so brilliantly rich and complement the cakes buttery notes beautifully. And if you are worried about letting the whites go unused I can assure you that there are countless ways to make those reserved whites shine. From meringues to omelets, egg whites are used on their own in a variety of recipe. One of the best things about this cake is that it is great the next day and travels well, meaning that you can take leftovers to work, or share your baking success with friends on a fall a picnic. No matter how you choose to enjoy it, this cake is definitely well worth the effort and is a great recipe to add to your repertoire.
Poppy Seed Lemon Cake
Originally from a Food and Wine recipe by Kurt Gutenbrunner, but found online courtesy of Smitten Kitchen
2/3 Cup Sugar
8 Egg Yolks
1 Lg. Egg
1 1/2 TBSP Lemon Zest
1/2 C. Flour
1/2 C. Cornstarch
Pinch of Salt
2 Sticks Unsalted Butter, Melted and Cooled to Room Temp
1/3 C. Poppy Seeds
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
Butter a bunt pan liberally. Also spray the underside (the duller side) of a piece of aluminum foil with cooking spray (I like the organic canola spray from Trader Joes) and set aside.
Sift flour, cornstarch, and salt into a medium bowl and set aside.
Beat the sugar and eggs (yolks and whole egg) in the bowl of an electric mixer over med-high speed for about 8 mins. The mixture should be fluffy at the point and a bit lighter in color. Beat in the zest. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the flour mixture to the yolks.
Add butter and poppy seeds and continue to mix on low until just combined.
Pour the batter into the pan and cover tightly with the foil. Bake in the oven for 35-45 mins or until the cake starts to pull away from the sides of the bunt pan, and a tester comes out clean. Discard the foil and allow the cake to cool in the pan on a wire rack for 15 mins before turning it out of the pan onto the rack to finish cooling.
If your cake sticks a bit, like mine did, put the entire pan in the freezer for 4 or 5 mins and then try inverting it again gently. The freezing will cause the cake to contract in the pan and hopefully loosen it from the sides enough for it to come out in one clean piece.
Dust with powdered sugar and enjoy!