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Coffee Cakes and Quick Breads

by Flo Braker

Vegetables such as carrots, zucchini, squash, pumpkin, and potatoes all have great potential as an important ingredient in everything from cakes to breads to cookies.

There are three basic categories of vegetables that can be incorporated into baked goods. The first includes carrots and summer squash, such as green and yellow zucchini, crookneck, and the scalloped patty pan. Summer squash are soft-skinned, watery vegetables that are best added raw and grated to a baking recipe. Along with the carrot, they are wet enough to cook through during the baking process, and, as in the Carrot Quick Bread recipe below, the result is deliciously moist, with a subtle hint of the vegetable's flavor.

In the second category are winter squash, the varieties include acorn, buttercup, banana, Hubbard and pumpkin. These vegetables are hard-skinned and dense-fleshed, so they don't have enough moisture to cook through if added raw to a batter or dough. They must first be cooked, then pureed before adding them. Vegetables prepared in this way serve as part of the liquid in the recipe's formula, and add their unique flavor (even color) to a bread, cookie, or cake.

Potatoes are in a third category of their own. Like the winter squash, they also must be cooked and mashed before baking. What sets them apart is their purpose in baking. While the potato contributes a bit to the moistness and flavor, it's really its floury, high starch characteristics that shine through to make a light-textured, wholesome-flavored bread, cake, or coffeecake.

Potato Coffee Cake sounds unusual, but bake it once and you will be hooked on the moist, subtle flavor and the wonderful aroma the baking imparts on your kitchen. Filled with a mixture of sugar and nuts, this large, tall coffee cake is ideal for brunch. Make the dough the night before, let it rise overnight in the refrigerator, then roll it out, fill, bake and serve warm the next morning. Any leftovers make a great sendoff before work or school.

Scrub the potato but don't peel it before boiling. You'll be using some of the cooking water in the coffeecake, so you want the skin to add its flavor. Carrots are usually uniformly moist, but not always equal in sweetness. Taste a sample of each carrot before grating them for the Carrot Quick Bread. Large carrots tend to be sweeter than small ones. Conversely, zucchini are better when they are small and firm. Large ones are less flavorful and too watery.

Potato Coffee Cake
serves 14

1 medium (7 to 8 ounces) Idaho russet baking potato to yield 1 cup mashed
3 tablespoons each unsalted butter and sugar
3/4 cup milk
1 package active dry yeast
5 1/4 to 5 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
6 tablespoons brown sugar
1 cup chopped walnuts, toasted

In a saucepan, cover the potato with water. Bring to a boil and cook, covered, until fork tender. Reserve 1 cup of the potato water, and set aside to cool to 110-115 degrees. Peel the potato. In a large mixing bowl, mash the potato with a ricer or potato masher. Add the butter and sugar. With an electric mixer, preferably with a paddle attachment, slowly add the milk and beat until mixture is smooth.

Sprinkle the yeast over the 110-115 degree potato water, and set aside for about 5 minutes to proof and soften. Add the yeast mixture to the potato mixture; mix on low speed to blend. Add 2 cups of the flour and the salt. Beat on medium-low speed for 2 minutes, scraping the bowl. Add 2 cups more flour and beat for 3 minutes. Add an additional 1/2 cup flour and continue to beat until the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl, about 2 minutes.

On work surface, knead in additional flour, about 3/4 to 1 cup, until dough is smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes. Add only enough flour to keep dough from sticking. Place in a bowl, cover securely with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight.

Grease a 10 x 4-inch angel food tube pan, preferably with a removable bottom. Place dough on lightly floured work surface and roll out to a 11 x 20-inch rectangle, about 1/2 inch thick. Brush with butter, sprinkle brown sugar, then walnuts over dough. Roll up, jelly-roll style, starting with one of the long sides. Press edges to seal. Place in the prepared tube pan and join the ends. Cover pan with a cloth towel and let rise in a warm place until double in volume, 60 to 90 minutes.

At least 20 minutes before baking, adjust rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat it to 375 degrees. Bake, uncovered, for 40 minutes, or until top is brown and ring sounds hollow when tapped with fingers. Remove from pan and cool, right side up, on a wire rack. Serve when completely cool. Slice with a serrated knife.

Carrot Quick Bread
serves 12
In order to lower the fat content in this quick bread I replaced some of fat in the recipe with applesauce.

1 1/2 cups flour
3/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon each baking soda, salt and cinnamon
1 egg
1/4 cup applesauce
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups finely shredded carrots, lightly packed, (about 1 1/2 large)
1/4 cup chopped pecans
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest

Adjust rack in lower third of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Grease and flour an 8 x 4 x 3-inch loaf pan.
In a large bowl, sift or whisk briefly the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Make a well in the center.

In a medium bowl, whisk the egg, applesauce, and oil, then stir in the carrots, pecans and lemon zest. Pour the carrot mixture over the dry ingredients. Stir until all ingredients are combined. Batter will be quite stiff. Spoon into prepared pan. Bake for about 45 to 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Remove from pan and cool completely on wire rack. Wrap in plastic and store at room temperature overnight. Slice with a serrated knife.

Variation: Zucchini Quick Bread (substitute 1 1/2 cups grated, unpeeled zucchini for the grated carrot)

Flo Braker has been teaching baking techniques and her sweet miniatures across the country for twenty years and is the author of several cookbooks.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the businesses in question before making your plans.

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