Can you come down with a case of the comparisons?
As sniffles and sneezes are to the common cold, the comparisons flare up with equally telling warning signs- frowning while scrolling through social media, looking at a particular photo with a self-deprecating sense of awe, searching Amazon for better lenses, hovering motionless over the keyboard without a single word to type. The triggers of this nasty ailment are sneaky. They can even be ever so sweetly rolled in a coffee cake ring like this one.
After flipping through my new favorite magazine, I sourced the featured ingredient list, kneaded with care, rolled gently, patiently waited and then looked with disgust at the denser rings and apricot oozes that emerged from the oven. I knew I had made some ingredient changes that would explain such a density, but still, all I could think was, “whhhhhhhhhy?” As a commercial food stylist, one might expect me to have a certain immunity from the real-life-vs.-magazine discrepancies. Yet there I was, coffee cake in one hand, magazine in the other, lamenting dough imperfections like some sort of voluntary martyr.
I almost hid these imperfections. I almost refrained from picking up the camera. Then I sat down to breakfast with my friend, who is attempting to say “thank you” instead of “I’m sorry” and not sound like a snarky bitch in the process. “Thank you for bearing with my baking experiments,” I said, taking the theory for a test spin. (It’s not as easy of an adjustment as you’d think!) Then, my wonderfully creative, animated friend took her first bite.
Her face continued to react like a grand finale of fireworks- one enthusiastic expression right after the next, praising the glaze, then the filling, then ceasing to speak so as to savor the bite. My variations, for all their visual imperfections, tasted really good. They deserved to be relished, dense crumbs and all.
I do not dredge up these muddy waters of perfectionist tantrums as a way to fish for compliments, merely to remind myself of their pitfalls. These crumbs litter the trails to my kitchen, and collectively, each morsel accounts for the life I am living. Am I taking risks? Am I growing? Am I sharing, exchanging, conversing and savoring life? Or am I stressing and sweating the small stuff?
2015, with all its wild twists, turns and internal tantrums, is coming to a close. The year may have been dense. The filling may have oozed. Yet, it was a sweet year, filled with many a firework! It’s time to savor and reflect, plan and progress. Here’s to a sweet start to 2016!
p.s: What are your tips and strategies for keeping the evil perfectionisms at bay? If you too suffer from “the comparisons,” you might find this video inspiring. I like to watch it every now and then as a reminder to chill.
Whole Wheat Apricot-Almond Coffee Cake Ring
Adapted from King Arthur Flour/Sift Magazine
Yield: 2 coffee cakes, 32 servings
About This Recipe: Somewhere between a coffee cake and a pastry, this whole wheat version is a little denser than the original recipe but worth the added grainy goodness. Be sure to read the dried fruit labels and choose an organic, unsweetened, unsulphured apricot option. There are often unnecessary, unhealthy ingredients lurking in store-bought dried fruit.
2 cups boiling water
2 boxes (8 ounces each) organic, dried, unsulphured apricots, quartered
2/3 cup local honey
2 teaspoons organic almond extract
1/2 cup apricot liquid reserve (from making the filling)
1 Tablespoon instant or active dry yeast
2-2 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
2-2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup warm organic whole milk
2 large eggs, beaten (cage-free/organic)
1/4 cup organic raw cane sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon orange oil or 1 Tablespoon orange zest (grated orange rind)
6 Tablespoons organic, unsalted, softened butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups organic confectioners’ sugar, sifted
2 to 3 Tablespoons organic heavy cream
2 teaspoons orange zest (grated orange rind)
toasted sliced almonds, for garnish
For the Filling:
Pour the boiling water over the apricots and cover with plastic wrap; let them soften for 15 minutes.
Drain and reserve the liquid (you’ll use the liquid to make the dough).
Then put the apricots, honey, and almond extract in a food processor, and pulse until you have a thick purée.
For the Dough:
In a large bowl, combine the reserved liquid from the apricots, yeast, and 1/2 cup of the flour. Let sit for 10 minutes to give the yeast some time to get going.
Add the milk, eggs, sugar, vanilla, orange oil or rind, butter, and salt. Stir to mix well.
Add the remaining flour 1 cup at a time, stirring until the dough forms a shaggy mass. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead it to form a smooth and satiny ball. Flour your hands and the counter as necessary to keep the dough from sticking, but try not to add more flour to the dough. When the dough springs back when you give it a poke, it’s ready for its first rise.
Place the dough in an oiled bowl, covered with a damp towel or greased plastic wrap, and let it rise in a warm spot until doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours.
Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. After the dough has doubled, deflate it and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide it in half, and knead each half briefly.
Roll each piece of dough into a rectangle 6″ wide and 15″ long. Spread each rectangle with half the filling, leaving a 1″ border on one long edge uncovered.
Roll each rectangle up, starting with the filling-covered long edge. Place each log on one of the prepared baking sheets, and join the ends of the log together to form a circle, pinching to seal.
Let the coffee cakes rise for 15 minutes. Make several parallel slashes 1″ deep in each coffeecake. Let rise again, this time for 20 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Bake the coffee cakes for 25 minutes, until golden brown. Remove them from the oven and cool before glazing or cutting.
For the Glaze:
Whisk the ingredients together until smooth; drizzle over the coffee cakes and sprinkle with toasted almonds, if desired, before serving