From the beginning I enjoyed this Daring Bakers challenge due to the charming origin of the recipe (Jamie found it in her dad's collection of recipes, handwritten on a piece of yellowing paper with no source/date etc). I've got various similar recipes written by my granny and great-grandmother but none so far have turned out as well as this.
The March 2011 Daring Baker’s Challenge was hosted by Ria of Ria’s Collection and Jamie of Life’s a Feast. Ria and Jamie challenged The Daring Bakers to bake a yeasted Meringue Coffee Cake.
Jamie and Ria suggested that we look to national specialities for inspiration, as they had with their All-American and Indian versions. I spent ages trying to think of something delicious to fill this bread with. Eventually I hit upon a good idea.
In my town in Switzerland, Verbier, the boulangerie/patisseries all sell 'Tarte aux Noix' (photo below). I haven't seen them anywhere else and nothing similar pops up on google. Essentially they're little shortcrust cases filled with walnut halves drenched in soft creamy caramel. I've been meaning to recreate them in their original form for ages.
To try and recreate the tarts in bread form, I filled the bread with caramel, walnuts and the requisite meringue. For the caramel I decided to make a salted caramel sauce with about half the cream, so that it set softly. In the end it was like a just-too-soft batch of caramels that you cut up.
Then I tried to cut and transfer the caramel. It wasn't set enough to do so cleanly, but I managed to spread and tease it into shape.
I made about double the amount of caramel that I needed. What a shame. I've put a half recipe below but you can double to its former glory if you want extra for guzzling separately.
Then the caramel was topped with the meringue and then the toasted walnuts. When I make this again I think I'll either stir the walnuts into the caramel while still liquid or put the nuts on before the meringue as they didn't mingle as much as I would have liked.
I'd read on the forums that the dough is better if the first rise/punch down step is repeated, so my dough rose three times in total. It's a lovely dough to work with, I'll definitely use it again.
I decided to braid the bread rather than form it into a wreath as I wasn't sure how the caramel would behave if I tried to roll it up. I learnt to braid filled breads when I made this Braided Lemon Bread from Smitten Kitchen.
When I baked the braids, some of the caramel escaped and bubbled away on the pan. Next time I'm going to make sure I pull up the sides a little when braiding so it doesn't escape through the gaps. I did this without realising on one side of one of the braids and it didn't leak as much. There's still plenty in the middle of these, though, and the escaped caramel on the sides went delightfully crunchy.
I thought the meringue was going to disappear into the bread as mentioned but some of mine remained. I think it looks a bit like cobwebs (see the 2nd photo up top). I'd be interested to try this recipe without the meringue and see how it affects the result.
I'm really pleased with how this came out and the flavours I chose. Definitely a keeper and I'm glad I managed to fit in a version of the lovely Tarte aux Noix.
Salted Caramel, Walnut and Meringue Coffee Cake
(caramel adapted from David Lebovitz's The Sweet Life in Paris)
I made the dough as stipulated in the challenge pdf except I used 15g fresh yeast instead of dried (see here). I then filled it with 2/3 of the required meringue recipe (in pdf) and the caramel (below). I've put a little how-to on for the braiding/assembling below too.
For the caramel:
200g granulated sugar
100ml double cream
15g salted butter
1/8 tsp fleur de sel or good sea salt
Line a tray with greaseproof paper. Spread the sugar in an even layer in a big saucepan and set over medium - high heat. Wait until the edges start to liquify then start to move the sugar around onto the wet spots to try and get it to melt evenly. Don't worry if it starts to clump a little, it will melt down later. Keep everything moving until you have a liquid. Keep cooking until a deep bronze, the colour of a penny. Take off the heat and whisk in about 1/3 of the cream. Keep pouring and whisking until all the cream is incorporated. I wear a small oven glove while whisking as it can get pretty hot. Stir in the butter and salt. Pour into the tray and put in the fridge to set.
215g walnut halves
2/3 recipe of the meringue (from pdf)
1 egg, beaten
Toast the walnuts in the oven until golden. Reserve 15g and chop finely. Prepare the meringue. Punch down the dough and divide it into two equal pieces. Cover one piece with clingfilm. Start rolling the other piece out into a rectangle on a floured work surface. When it reaches 50cm x 30cm, transfer to a big sheet of parchment paper. Roll briefly again to make sure it's smooth. Have the rectangle with the long side facing you. Use a ruler and a knife to lightly score the dough into thirds lengthwise. Mark out the final 5cm on each end. Cut each corner out by pressing down with your knife (don't drag). Then mark the long side flap closest to you into 2cm strips and then cut them. Turn the bread around so the the other long flap is closest and repeat the marking/cutting.
Now cut a strip of the caramel and transfer to the central rectangle, spreading it into shape gently so you don't tear the dough. I topped it with the meringue and then walnuts, but I suggest you cover the caramel with 100g of the walnuts and then spread over half of the meringue. Fold the two small end flaps over onto the filling. Swivel the braid so the short side is closest to you. Take the top strip on the right and fold it over the flap, across the middle. Fold the left strip over the top of the right. Repeat all the way down the braid. When you get to the last few strips, it may be best to trim the final pair so that you don't have a big mound at one end. Fold any strips underneath. Transfer carefully to a baking tray and cover with lightly greased clingfilm. Repeat the whole process with the other piece of dough.
Put both trays in a warm place and leave to rise for the final time (about 45-60 minutes). When ready to go into the oven brush with the beaten egg and sprinkle the reserved walnuts over the top. Bake for about 25-30 minutes until golden brown. Cool then dust with icing sugar before serving.
(Makes 2 braids - each about 16 slices)