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updated: 12/21/2010 12:07 PM

Coffee cake rises to festive occasion

On Baking

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Few aromas entice our taste buds like fresh baked bread.

Quick breads fill a niche for those bakers looking to invest less time in the kitchen, but let's be truthful: quick breads just don't compare to yeast-raised doughs, especially during this festive season.

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The holidays give us bakers a prime opportunity to showcase our culinary talent and put in a little bit more effort into entertaining. Sure, time may be tight, but don't pick up packaged Danishes for your holiday brunch just yet. I have just the recipe for homemade coffee cake that easily pleases any crowd.

Today's Signature Coffeecake offers an opportunity for bakers to create a unique recipe that will become part of Christmas morning or New Year's Day traditions for years to come. It starts with a yeast batter that needs no kneading, and it can be customized with stir-ins and toppings to match your individual tastes.

Even if you have little experience with yeast or fear a repeat of past disastrous encounters don't turn away. The wonderful secret about this recipe is that it has an option to rise overnight in the refrigerator. What a great way to save kitchen time!

There are two important rules to follow when working with yeast doughs. First, always check the expiration date on the yeast package. Purchase fresh yeast if the use-by date is within 1 month or the package has been exposed to heat.

Second, and just as important, carefully monitor the temperature of any liquids added to yeast mixtures. If the liquid feels hot on your finger, it's too hot and will kill the yeast and any chance of your dough rising. You want the liquid to be warm, about 115--120 degrees.

For the overnight option, use standard active dry yeast packets. This allows for a slow and steady rise in the refrigerator. Choose rapid rise highly active dry yeast for making coffee cake the same day. The rapid rise variety contains smaller yeast granules that activate very quickly in contact with warm liquids.

The little bit of extra time you spend will be an extra gift to friends and family. Happy Holidays.

• Annie Overboe, a Culinary Institute of America graduate, lives in Villa Park. Write her at food@dailyherald.com.

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