I love reviewing cookbooks on the blog from time to time. There are so many wonderful cookbooks out there and I wish I could have them all. When I first saw the Jewish Baker's Pastry Secrets book, I knew immediately that I needed it.
At first glance. I was drawn in by the gorgeous pastries on the cover dripping with icing. You could almost smell the sticky sweet spices coming off the cover. I wanted to reach through and grab one. Opening the book, however, was an entirely different experience. There is not one single picture inside the book. That may sound childish, but for a cookbook, especially one that promises to share pastry secrets, it poses a real problem. How does one know what the final product looks like? What about difficult steps where describing the directions simply aren’t enough? There are times within the recipe that the directions are vague and aren’t made clear until much later on in the recipe (which is a problem if you are like me and only skim the whole recipe before starting)
I found this to be the case a couple of times within the cinnamon raisin Russian coffee cake. Fortunately, I was able to still produce a cake, although aesthetically, I suspect it looks nothing like it is supposed to.
There is also the matter of the ingredients in the book. The majority of the ingredients are easily enough found, but there are a few recipes that call for things like cake crumbs. A lot of crumbs. In the book the author talks about how and why they use cake crumbs. They normally have them leftover from baking cakes, but the average home cook doesn’t have cups of cake crumbs around so that means you need to make a cake and process down to crumbs. In some recipes, you can substitute with bread crumbs. I ended up using bread crumbs mixed with sugar and ground vanilla bean to make a faux-cake crumb. Beyond making cake crumbs, many of the recipes require you to make other ingredients as well such as processed almond paste (which first requires you to first make almond paste). This is not a terrible process by any means, but it does take time and therefore, requires some planning on your part.
What I do love about the book are the variety of recipes and the stories that are paired with them. Even if you spend an entire weekend slaving in the kitchen, you know it was all worth it to become a part of those stories and to create your own.
Regardless of the book's flaws, the final product is beyond amazing. All of my frustrations of putting together this cinnamon raisin Russian coffee cake was well worth it in the end. It is sweet and so fragrant. The flavors are complex and meld together to create a cake like you've never had before. Because the base is babka dough, it is more like a cross between a cake and the best cinnamon roll you've ever had. It does take time to put together, so I recommend this as a nice weekend baking project. So if you don't mind a lack of photos and are skilled enough to work past the sometimes vague instructions, you will surely love this book.
- ½ cup water
- ¼ cup sugar
- 2 cups blanched almonds
- 2 cups powdered sugar
- In a small saucepan heat together the water and sugar to make a quick syrup. Remove from heat.
- In a food processor, process the almonds and powdered sugar together until it is a fine powdder. Slowly add the syrup in until a paste forms.
- Transfer to a small bowl and refrigerate until chilled, about an hour.
- ½ cup almond paste (recipe above)
- ½ cup sugar
- ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1 - 2 cups cake crumbs*
- ½ cup water
- Beat the almond paste and sugar together in a stand mixer with a paddle, or in a food processor.
- Mix in the butter and cake crumbs and mix until combined. Start with one cup of the crumbs and add more as needed to create a very thick paste. But also know the more you use, the more subdued the almond flavor will be in the final product.
- Slowly add water - just enough to make the paste spreadable. Use at room temperature
- 4 scant tablespoons active dy yeast
- ¼ cup warm water
- ¾ cup milk, room temperature
- 1 ½ cups flour (bread flour preferrable, but can use all-purpose)
- 4 large eggs & 2 large egg yolks
- ½ cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon nonfat powdered skim milk
- 3 ½ cups flour
- 2 ¼ teaspoons kosher salt
- zest of half an orange
- 2 tablespoons orange zest
- ¼ cup orange marmalade (I didn't have any so used orange flavored fig spread)
- 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
- ¼ teaspoons ground nutmeg
- ¼ cup sour cream or yogurt
- 1 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
- Place the yeast and water in a stand mixer and gently stir to combine. Add the milk and flour and mix until well combined, being careful to not let any of the flour escape when you first begin mixing. Beat for about 6 minutes, then switch to a dough hook. Beat for another 4 minutes.
- Cover the bowl and allow to rise for about 30 minutes.
- Gently beat down the sponge using the paddle attachment on low. Add the eggs and yolks in three additions, but do not mix well. Add in the remaining ingredients except the butter and mix slowly until just combined, then switch to the dough hook and knead for about 10 minutes.
- Add the butter slowly in several addittions and beat again for another few minutes.
- Transfer the dough to a lightly greased bowl and cover for 30 minutes.
- Turn the dough onto a floured surface and divide the dough into 8 pieces. Roll out each piece into a rectangle, then roll up along the shorter side. Place on a floured baking sheet. Cover and freeze for about 30 minutes, then wrap each piece well and store in the back of the refrigerator for at least 4 hours, preferrably overnight.
Cinnamon Raisin Russian Coffee Cake
- 2 lbs Babka dough
- 1 ½ cup processed almond paste
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 ½ cups raisins
- 2 cups walnuts roasted and chopped
- 4 cups cake crumbs see note in processed almond paste
- 1 ¾ cups cinnamon sugar*
- ¼ cup ½ stick unsalted butter, melted
- egg wash 1 egg + 1 tablespoon water
- Icing optonal
- Line a 9 x 9 inch baking pan with parchment paper.
- Take 8 ounces of the babka dough and place on a well floured surface and roll out into a large square, about an inch around bigger than the baking pan. Transfer the dough into the pan and stretch out as needed to meet the edges of the pan. I find it's easiest to fold the dough into quarters to transfer into the pan. Freeze the pan with the dough until needed.
- Flour your surface again and roll out the remaining dough so that it measures 12 x 14. Lay the dough so that the shorter side faces you. Spread one cup of the processed almond paste on two thirds of the dough leaving the smallest border around the edges. top woth the ground cinnamon. Evenly cover with 1 ¼ cups of the raisins, then 1 ½ cups of the walnuts. Cover then with 2 cups of the cake crumbs. It will seem like a lot of stuff on just ⅔ of dough, but go with me here. Pat everything down lightly and sprinkle one cup of the cinnamon sugar mixture. Drizzle half the butter over the sugar.
- Take the egg wash and spread on the uncovered ⅓ of the dough. Fold the uncovered dough over the covered portion. You should still have ⅓ of the dough that is covered with the filling still exposed. Spread egg wash over the bare exposed dough that you just folded down with the egg wash and fold again to cover the last bit of the dough with the filling. This process is simiarl to folding a business letter. Press the dough to seal and seal the edges with your hands. Lightly dust the dough with flour and gently roll out so the folded dough is 12 x 10. You may need to allow the dough to rest a bit in order to roll to this size. I had to chill my dough for a few minutes.
- Take a pizza sutter and cut 1-inch strips lengthwise from the dough. Twist each rope of dough. It's okay if filling comes out, you can stuff it back in later. Set aside the dough and take out your 9 x 9 baking pan.
- Top the dough in the pan with the remaining processed almond paste, then with the raisins, walnuts, and cake crumbs. Top with half the remaining cinnamon sugar, then top with the remaining butter.
- Place the twisted ropes of dough and place side by side into the baking pan, keeping everything close together. You can gently stretch out the dough as needed to reach each edge. It should be a snug fit. Now is also the time to stuff in any filling that fell out. Brush the top with egg wash and top with the remaining cinnamon sugar. Lightly cover and allow to rest for 20 minutes. As it is resting, preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
- Bake for 60 - 80 minutes, or until evenly brown and the top springs back when gently touched.
- Allow to cool completely in the baking pan before removing. Can be left at room temperuate for about a week.
My loaf didn't rise once I had it in the loaf pan. It doubled overnight in the fridge though the night before. Any ideas?
That is odd. It should have risen, at least a bit. Sometimes my dough won't double in size after it is in the pan, but it does rise a bit. Did you put it in the oven anyway? I find that even with minimal rising in the pan, it does rise very well during baking. If it didn't rise after baking in the oven, it is possible that something happened to the yeast prior to the overnight rise to make it overproduce and die off during that overnight rise in the refrigerator. That's extremely rare, but not unheard of.
Joanne Bruno says
The lack of pictures and abundance of "cake crumbs" would definitely drive me crazy. But good for you for sticking with it because this cake - WORTH IT.
Beeta @ Mon Petit Four says
Your cake looks amazing, Amanda! Maybe they should hire you to make all the recipes and photograph them. 😉 I think the only cookbook that I forgive for not having photos is Julia Child's book because a) those were old times and b) she is so thorough in her descriptions that you can manage. Or else, I think photographs are absolutely necessary in cookbooks. Visual storytelling is everything with food. Also, the fact that the book calls for things like cake crumbs is also a negative for me too. I can't stand when recipes call for multiple recipes within one, especially when those recipes are super elaborate. It's actually why I avoid the Momofuku recipes a lot of times, because as delicious as they seem, I do not want to make 5 recipes within 1 dessert lol. I would have just done the same thing as you with the bread crumbs and vanilla. You've made this cake so beautifully, and it looks so incredibly mouthwatering, that I'd never know you struggled with creating it. This probably looks better than what the recipe creators could have even done! <3
Culina Sophia says
That is a shame that the cookbook doesn't have more photos - i always love to flick through and drool over them! Your photos are gorgeous though! it's strange that the recipes call for cake crumbs - who on earth has cake crumbs readily available?! if there'a cake in my house it gets eaten, ever last crumb! Thanks for this - very helpful review + the cake looks sublime.
That is exactly what I am thinking! Cake does not ever go to waste at my house and making a cake just to turn it into crumbs seems a bit excessive, right? At least my faux cake worked well enough!
Lynn | The Road to Honey says
I'm with you. I prefer a cookbook that is loaded with photos that tantalize me so much that I can't resist making them. It's a shame this cookbook doesn't have more photos because this coffee cake looks completely irresistible.