As this Thanksgiving weekend draws to a close, I am so grateful for the chance to slow down and enjoy being with family and friends. Don’t give me wrong; I absolutely love hosting Thanksgiving dinner, even if I do go planning overboard and make a spreadsheet of the day’s schedule. But the days after Thanksgiving were also a real joy, with no schedule and time unfolding on its own. We ate, we played, we put up holiday decorations, we saw friends, we ate some more. As the weeks tick down to Christmas, it’s going to be easy to get overwhelmed with things on the to-do list. Let’s fight that by slowing down and baking something. Might I suggest this yeasted almond coffee cake? It’s perfect for slicing up for whoever happens to be over and sitting down with a cup of coffee or tea. It’s just sweet enough, and the crunchy almonds on top make it special without being fussy. Mixing the dough is easy, and as long as you have some time to let the dough rise, you’ll be rewarded with a rich and yeasty loaf that has the heartiness of bread and the sweet satisfaction of coffee cake.
This recipe is adapted from my grandmother’s copy of The Anniversary Slovak-American Cookbook. I make a recipe from this book every Sunday, and you can see the full series here. The original recipe called for the dough to be split into three strands and braided. While I attempted this on the first try, I found that the dough was just too sticky to braid effectively. Rather than mess with the recipe proportions and lose the original flavor, I decided to cook it as a simple loaf rather than a braid. The flavor is still amazing, and the almond topping still makes it look fancier than a typical loaf of bread. The addition of lemon zest really brings a brightness, and the crunchy almonds are perfect on top of this rich, sweet, soft bread. I keep calling it a bread, because it is shaped like bread, but the taste is really more like a yeasted cake. Whatever you want to call it, I think it’s the ideal morning or afternoon snack.
To make the dough, combine the yeast, water, and warm milk in a large bowl. Add the melted butter, sugar, lemon rind and almond extract and stir everything together with a wooden spoon. Add in the eggs and flour and stir to combine. Generously flour your countertop, then turn the dough out and knead it with floured hands until it’s smooth. I found the dough to be very sticky, so I sprinkled enough extra flour on top as I was working with it to make it work. I also used a bench scraper at first for any stubborn portions of dough that stuck to my counter. Once the dough is smooth, place it in an oiled bowl, cover it, and let it rise until doubled in size, about two hours.
The recipe then calls for a second kneading. I punched down the dough and turned it out on to the counter (with more flour down to make sure it didn’t stick). I kneaded it a few times, then shaped it into an oval to fit into my loaf pan. Place the dough in the pan, cover it again, and let it double a second time. This should take between an hour and ninety minutes. Once you’re about twenty minutes away from the end of the rise, preheat the oven to 350°F.
Brush the loaf with a beaten egg yolk, then sprinkle it with slivered almonds. Press the almonds down gently into the dough with your fingertips so that they stick when the dough is done baking. Bak for 30 to 40 minutes, until the loaf is golden brown and the internal temperature reaches 200°F. Let it cool in the pan for a few minutes, then turn it out onto a cooling rack. Serve warm or at room temperature, preferably with a giant mug of coffee.
- 2¼ teaspoons active dry yeast
- 2 tablespoons warm water
- 1 cup warm milk
- ¼ cup melted butter (4 tablespoons)
- ½ cup sugar
- 1½ teaspoons grated lemon rind (from 1 lemon)
- ⅛ teaspoon almond extract
- 2 eggs, well beaten, plus 1 egg yolk
- 3 cups sifted flour
- 3 tablespoons slivered almonds
- Dissolve the yeast in the warm water, then add this and the warm milk to a large bowl. Add the melted butter, sugar, lemon rind, and almond extract and mix well with a wooden spoon.
- Stir in the beaten eggs and flour with the wooden spoon. Turn the dough out onto a well floured countertop and knead until smooth, adding a little extra flour if the dough is too sticky.
- Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel and let rise at room temperature until doubled in size, about 2 hours.
- Punch down the dough then turn it out onto a floured counter and knead until smooth again. Shape the dough into an oval and place it in a buttered loaf pan. Allow the dough to rise until it has doubled in bulk again, between 1 hour and 90 minutes. Twenty minutes before the end of the rise, preheat the oven to 350°F.
- Brush the dough with the beaten egg yolk, then sprinkle it with the slivered almonds. Press the almonds into the dough gently with your fingertips so they stay on when you eventually remove the loaf from the pan.
- Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the loaf is golden brown and the internal temperature reaches 200°F. Allow the loaf to cool in the pan for a few minutes before carefully turning it out and letting it cool completely on a cooling rack.