Monday, August 17, 2020

Lemon Pull-Apart Cake

When I came across this recipe recently, I decided that I had put it off long enough and I just had to make it. It’s a great weekend breakfast (either make it the night before, or put in the fridge for the second rise and let it come to room temperature before baking it in the morning). This was a hit with my family.

I found the assembly complicated. This reviewer put it best when she said that “the directions were specific to the point of confusion”. When I realized I had made a mistake, I actually had to take my layers of dough out of the pan, cut them again and then cram them back in, which is why they are going in all directions and make the loaf look more like a challah than a neat series of slices. Oh well… It tasted just as good! Just try to remember that we’re supposed to cut the dough into 5 strips, stack them, then cut again into 6 strips and stack again, for a total of 30 layers.

Note that I didn’t have quite enough lemons to make it as written, so I used more orange zest to compensate (I had about 2 tablespoons of each). Also, it may be hard to gauge whether the loaf is done baking – I’d recommend tenting it with foil maybe halfway through, to prevent it from browning too much, and checking that’s it done by using a thermometer to make sure it has reached an internal temperature of 200 °F or so.

For the pull-apart sweet dough
about 2 ¾ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading
¼ cup granulated sugar
2 ¼ tsp. instant yeast (1 envelope)
½ tsp. salt
1/3 cup lactose-free whole milk
4 Tbsp. lactose-free butter
¼ cup water
1 ½ tsp. vanilla extract
2 large eggs, at room temperature

For the lemon filling
½ cup granulated sugar
3 Tbsp. finely grate lemon zest (from 4 to 6 lemons)
1 Tbsp. finely grated orange zest
4 Tbsp. lactose-free butter, melted

For the cream cheese icing
3 oz. lactose-free cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1 Tbsp. lactose-free whole milk
1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice

To make the pull-apart sweet dough
Stir together 2 cups (9 ounces) of the flour, sugar, yeast, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer.

In a small saucepan, heat the milk and butter over low heat just until the butter is melted. Remove from the heat, add the water, and set aside until warm (120 to 130°F), about 1 minute. Add the vanilla extract.

Pour the milk mixture over the flour-yeast mixture and, using a rubber spatula, mix until the dry ingredients are evenly moistened. Attach the bowl to the mixer and fit the mixer with the paddle attachment. With the mixer on low speed, add the eggs, 1 at a time, mixing just until incorporated after each addition. Stop the mixer, add ½ cup (2 ¼ ounces) flour, and resume mixing on low speed until the dough is smooth, 30 to 45 seconds. Add 2 more tablespoons flour and mix on medium speed until the dough is smooth, soft, and slightly sticky, about 45 seconds.

Sprinkle a work surface with 1 tablespoon flour and turn the dough onto the flour. Knead gently until the dough is smooth and no longer sticky, about 1 minute, adding an additional 1 to 2 tablespoons flour only if the dough is unworkably sticky. Place the dough in a large greased bowl, cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap, and let the dough rise in a warm place (about 70°F; I do this in my microwave with the door ajar, though I haven’t taken its temperature) until doubled in size, 45 to 60 minutes. Press the dough gently with a fingertip. If the indentation remains, the dough is ready for the next step.

To make the lemon filling
While the dough is rising, in a small bowl, mix together the sugar, lemon zest, and orange zest. Set aside. (The sugar draws out moisture from the zests to create a sandy-wet consistency, so don’t be alarmed when you see this.)

To assemble the cake
Lightly butter a 9-by-5-by-3-inch loaf pan.

Gently deflate the dough. On a lightly floured work surface, roll the dough into a 20-by-12-inch rectangle with a short edge facing you. Using a pastry brush, spread the melted butter generously over the dough. Cut the dough crosswise into 5 strips, each about 12 by 4 inches. (A pizza cutter is helpful here.) Sprinkle 1 ½ tablespoons of the zest-sugar mixture over 1 of these buttered strips. Top with a second strip and sprinkle it with 1 ½ tablespoons of the zest-sugar mixture. Repeat with the remaining strips and zest-sugar mixture, ending with a stack of 5 rectangles. Work carefully when adding the crumbly zest filling, or it will fall off when you have to lift the stacked pastry later.

Slice the stack crosswise through the 5 layers to create 6 equal strips, each about 4 by 2 inches. Fit these layered strips into the prepared loaf pan, cut edges up and side by side. (While there is plenty of space on either side of the 6 strips widthwise in the pan, fitting the strips lengthwise is tight. But that’s fine because the spaces between the dough and the sides of the pan fill in during baking.) Loosely cover the pan with plastic wrap and let the dough rise in a warm place (70 °F) until puffy and almost doubled in size, 30 to 50 minutes. Press the dough gently with a fingertip. If the indentation remains, the dough is ready for baking.

When the second rise is almost finished, adjust the oven rack to the center position and preheat the oven to 350 °F.

Bake the coffee cake until the top is golden brown, 30 to 35 minutes.(As per my note above, I recommend tenting the top with foil halfway through and using a thermometer to make sure the loaf has reached an internal temperature of 200 °F. Mine ended up a bit too dark for my liking.) Transfer to a wire rack and let cool in the pan for 10 to 15 minutes.

To make the cream cheese icing
In a medium bowl, with a rubber spatula, vigorously mix the cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Beat in the milk and lemon juice until the mixture is creamy and smooth.

Using a knife, loosen the loaf from the pan. Place a plate over the pan and invert the two, gently unmolding the loaf onto the plate. Place second plate on the loaf and invert again, leaving the lemon loaf right side up on the second plate.

Slip a sheet of waxed paper under the rack to catch any drips from the icing. Using a pastry brush, coat the top of the warm cake with the icing to glaze it. 

To serve, you can pull apart the layers, or you can cut the cake into 1-inch-thick slices on a slight diagonal with a long, serrated knife. If you decide to cut the cake, don’t attempt to cut it until it is almost completely cool.

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