Chocolate Alligator Coffee Cake

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My mom used to get a pastry from Katella Jewish Deli and Bakery. I think it may have been a bread, technically, and not a pastry. It was like a twisted and braided loaf; maybe the dough was brioche or challah, and it had more chocolate than dough. I don’t know why, but the bakery called it an “alligator.” It didn’t really look like a reptile! It was dense, chewy, and very rich, and it begged a glass of cold milk or a cup of hot coffee. I would love to try and recreate it, but googling “alligator coffee cake” or similar searches yields nothing. The bakery has since gone out of business, so I don’t even have a picture to go off of.

If this confection sounds familiar to any of you, please let me know!
 
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Sounds like babka. It’s recently moved out of the Jewish bakeries to become a baking fad of late. There’s a ton of recipes. NY Times Melissa Clark has a recipe and video.

https://www.nytimes.com/video/dining/100000004303331/chocolate-babka.html
Thank you. It does indeed sound like a babka, and I’ve tried making one. It was a qualified success, but nothing like the “alligator” coffee cake. Babka is usually presented as a loaf; it looks like bread. The alligator was flatter and denser. I think it had some kind of sugar glaze drizzled all over it, too. I very much appreciate your response!

Babka’s a fad? My mom would be so happy! I wish I’d learned to bake them while she was still with us...
 
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Thank you. It does indeed sound like a babka, and I’ve tried making one. It was a qualified success, but nothing like the “alligator” coffee cake. Babka is usually presented as a loaf; it looks like bread. The alligator was flatter and denser. I think it had some kind of sugar glaze drizzled all over it, too. I very much appreciate your response!

Babka’s a fad? My mom would be so happy! I wish I’d learned to bake them while she was still with us...

Oh yes, babka has risen up in the ranks thanks to Seinfeld and his babka episode. :D


 
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Most private bakeries will take a standard item and put their "twist" on it (no pun intended, but it does work, LOL).

I would guess that this bakery took a Babka recipe and put their own branding on it by twisting it as they did, and creating "Alligator Bread". Something of which only they made and were known for.

A lot of things in the bakery world don't look like what they are named after. They could have named this "alligator" because the twisting reminded them of alligator scales.

A lot of private bakeries do this so they can "stand out" from the other bakeries and have something that nobody else makes. And unfortunately for their patrons, they don't pass on the recipe or method to anyone else after they close down.
 
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@Becky, after I posted this I thought I really need to make a babka for my niece. Her breakfast every morning is fresh fruit and a slice of home-baked bread with a spread of Nutella. I’ve baked her raisin bread, but never a babka. She would love the babka.

If you decide to make one. I highly recommend Melissa Clark’s recipe. It’s not a traditional babka, but babka was one of those thing that needed to evolve. The folks at Bon Appétit magazine once wrote about babka:

”...most babka out there tastes like a loaf of bread that fell behind your counter onto a pile of years-old chocolate chips and then stayed there for another few years.”

I’m Jewish on my dad’s side. But the only Jewish dessert I ate growing up was rugelach. Given my grandmother was a southerner, I thought rugelach was as southern as rum balls. She made both at Christmas:oops:. obviously, there’s more to being Jewish than genetics.
 
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My mom used to get a pastry from Katella Jewish Deli and Bakery. I think it may have been a bread, technically, and not a pastry. It was like a twisted and braided loaf; maybe the dough was brioche or challah, and it had more chocolate than dough. I don’t know why, but the bakery called it an “alligator.” It didn’t really look like a reptile! It was dense, chewy, and very rich, and it begged a glass of cold milk or a cup of hot coffee. I would love to try and recreate it, but googling “alligator coffee cake” or similar searches yields nothing. The bakery has since gone out of business, so I don’t even have a picture to go off of.

If this confection sounds familiar to any of you, please let me know!


I am interested in cultural foods and food history, so this alligator cake captured my interest.
Since there’s not a lot of Jewish desserts, I figured it had to be something adapted from another cultural food tradition.

There’s a Katella Bakery in Los Alamitos CA. They list “alligators” in chocolate, pecan, or raisin and fruit. It’s under “Muffins and Loaves”. But there’s no description or photograph so I have no idea what it is. You can certainly contact them and ask them for description.

http://katellabakery.com/katella bakery price list.pdf

I discovered an “alligator cake” at the Viktor Benês bakery in Los Angeles as well. But unlike Katella, Viktor Benês is not a Jewish Bakery.

Their alligator coffee cake is not a cake, but a pecan Danish pastry. So I kept poking around and I came across an advertisement for a small chain of grocery stores in Southern California called Gelson’s. Gelson’s is a high end market with their own in-house bakery. Gelson’s also produces an alligator coffee cake.

I found Gelson’s alligator cake recipe in Los Angeles Times archives. But Gelson’s alligator cake is also a pecan Danish pastry. Not surprising since they credit Viktor Benês bakery for it.

While reading the different sources, I noted a little tag at the bottom of one of the pages which indicated “Jewish” as the type of regional food. I figured if it was tagged as “Jewish”, then somewhere, someplace in the Los Angeles area there had to be another Jewish bakery producing this alligator cake.

Sure enough, Schwartz Bakery offers both a chocolate alligator and a cinnamon alligator. Don’t know if it’s the same alligator cake you ate as a kid. As I mentioned earlier this is not a cake, or bread even. It is a Danish yeast dough. But apparently a lot of people in Los Angeles are eating this alligator cake.

The link below is to Schwartz Bakery. They list their products in alphabetical order. If you scroll down you’ll see “chocolate alligator”right above “chocolate babka.”

If you click on the photograph labeled “coffee cake” a slideshow presentation shows there chocolate alligator. Screenshot pic below.

http://schwartzbakeryla.com/bakery.html


The two recipes links below are the same recipe for Gelson’s pecan alligator cake. The blogger just reformatted it for easy of use.

http://articles.latimes.com/1991-09-12/food/fo-2792_1_baked-beans


http://www.cookfoodgood.com/?p=522http


The Danish dough method (lamination) indicates it’s origins trace back to Austria.

370058BA-4D3B-4939-B32E-57C027820FF8.png
 
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obviously, there’s more to being Jewish than genetics.

I quite agree - my grandma's father was Jewish, but his favourite meat was pork :confused: needless to say he didn't raise my grandma in a traditional Jewish household!

I will definitely have a go at making babka. Let us know how you get on if you decide to make it for your niece :)

Edit: Just printed off the recipe! Shame it's all in cups, I much prefer weighing ingredients when baking bread. Still, a bit of maths will get the old grey matter working...
 
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I quite agree - my grandma's father was Jewish, but his favourite meat was pork :confused: needless to say he didn't raise my grandma in a traditional Jewish household!

I will definitely have a go at making babka. Let us know how you get on if you decide to make it for your niece :)

Edit: Just printed off the recipe! Shame it's all in cups, I much prefer weighing ingredients when baking bread. Still, a bit of maths will get the old grey matter working...


I have Melissa Clark’s Babka recipe in my notes. It’s in metric weight and volume measurements. I edited/organized the instructions and made some minor changes to the way I prefer to do things. There’s a lot of directions, but it’s really just a straightforward enriched dough.

The dough is time consuming as it ferments overnight after a bench bulk. But I ferment most of my doughs overnight anyway.

My SIL asked me to bake her biscotti to send my cousin in Japan. So I’ll bake this babka as well to take it all over together. I’ll post when I do.


Babka

Melissa Clark - NYTimes

NOTE: sugar syrup is not necessary. This babka is very rich as is.

DOUGH: requires overnight fermentation
  • ½ cup/118 milliliters whole milk
  • 1 package (1/4 ounce/7 grams) active dry yeast
  • ⅓ cup/67 grams granulated sugar, plus a pinch
  • 4 ¼ cups/531 grams all-purpose flour, more as needed
  • 1 ½ teaspoons fine sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest (optional)
  • ½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature, lightly beaten
  • 10 tablespoons/140 grams unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for greasing bowls and pans

FUDGE FILLING: make up to week in advance. Let come to room temperature before using.
  • ½ cup/100 grams granulated sugar
  • ¾ cup/177 milliliters heavy cream or half-and-half
  • Pinch kosher salt
  • 6 ounces/170 grams extra bittersweet chocolate, preferably between 66 and 74 percent cocoa, coarsely chopped
  • 8 tablespoons/112 grams/1 stick unsalted butter, diced, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons/10 milliliters vanilla extract

CHOCOLATE STREUSEL: make up to 3 days in advance,
  • ½ cup/60 grams all-purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons/45 grams granulated sugar
  • 1 ½ tablespoons/11 grams cocoa powder
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 4 ½ tablespoons/64 grams unsalted butter, melted
  • ⅓ cup/60 grams mini semisweet chocolate chips
SYRUP: NOTE THIS NOT NECESSARY
  • ⅔ cup/135 grams sugar
  • 2/3 cup/158 milliliters water.

DAY 1

DOUGH:
Equipment
  • Mixer w/ dough hook OR food processor
  • Buttered bowl
  • Clean tea towel
  • Spatula or bowl scraper
NOTE: to hand mix use a large bowl and a wooden spoon

Warm the milk to 110°F (43°C) . Stir a pinch of sugar into milk. Sprinkle yeast over milk let sit for 5 to 10 minutes, until slightly foamy.

Mix on low to combine flour, 67g (1/3c) sugar, salt, and nutmeg

Add yeast

Add eggs, vanilla, and zest

Mix until the dough comes together in a soft mass, about 2 minutes. If the dough sticks to the side of the bowl and doesn’t come together, add a tablespoon of flour at a time until it does, beating very well in between additions.

Add half the butter

Mix until the dough is smooth and elastic, 3 to 5 minutes, scrape sides and bottom of bowl as needed.

Add remaining butter mix until the dough is smooth and stretchy, 5 to 7 minutes. If dough sticks to the sides of the bowl, add additional flour, 1 tablespoon at a time.

Press test dough. Dough is kneaded enough when smooth and springs back when pressed with finger tip

Form dough into a ball and roll it around in the bowl so all sides are buttered.

BENCH RISE:
Heat oven 60 seconds, then turn OFF
Turn on oven light.
Cover dough with clean tea towel and place in OFF oven
Rise 1 1/2 - 2 hours
It may not double in bulk but it should rise.

Press the dough down with your hands, re-cover the bowl and refrigerate overnight (or, in a pinch, for at least 4 hours, but the flavor won't be as developed).

================================================

FILLING: In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine sugar, cream and salt. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until sugar completely dissolves, about 5 minutes. Scrape mixture into a bowl. Stir in chocolate, butter and vanilla until smooth. Let cool to room temperature. Cover and store in refrigerator up to a week if not using right away. Bring to room temperature before using.

STREUSEL: In a bowl, stir together flour, sugar, cocoa powder and salt. Stir in melted butter until it is evenly distributed and forms large, moist crumbs. Stir in the chocolate chips. Streusel can be prepared up to 3 days ahead and stored, covered, in the fridge.

SIMPLE SYRUP (optional): In a small saucepan, combine sugar and 2/3 cup/158 milliliters water. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, then simmer for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally until the sugar dissolves. Cool. Place in covered container in the refrigerator. A 1:1 simple can be refrigerated up to 1 month.

================================================

DAY 2

Bring filling to room temperature if refrigerated

Butter two 9-inch loaf pans, then line with parchment paper, leaving 2 inches of paper hanging over on the sides to use as handles later.

Remove dough from refrigerator and divide in half.

On a floured surface, roll one piece into a 9-by-17-inch rectangle. Spread with half the filling (there's no need to leave a border). Starting with a long side, roll into a tight coil. Transfer the coil onto a dish towel or piece of plastic wrap and stick it in the freezer for 10 minutes. Repeat with the other piece of dough.

Slice one of the dough coils in half lengthwise to expose the filling. Twist the halves together as if you were braiding them, then fold the braid in half so it’s about 9 inches long. Place into a prepared pan, letting it curl around itself if it’s a little too long for the pan.

Repeat with other piece of dough

Cover loosely with a clean kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, until puffy (it won’t quite double). Alternatively, you can cover the pans with plastic wrap and let them rise in the refrigerator overnight; bring them back to room temperature for an hour before baking.

Preheat oven to 350°f (180°C). Use your fingers to clump streusel together and scatter all over the tops of the cakes. Transfer to oven and bake until a tester goes into the cakes without any rubbery resistance and comes out clean, 40 to 50 minutes. The cakes will also sound hollow if you unmold them and tap on the bottom. An instant-read thermometer will read between 185°F (85°C) — 206°F (96°C).

Simple Syrup if using: As soon as the cakes come out of the oven, use a skewer or paring knife to pierce them all over going all the way to the bottom of the cakes, and then pour the syrup on top of the cakes, making sure to use half the syrup for each cake.

Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before serving.
 
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Mmmmm.........chocolate and nuts..............thats all I need to know!!!!!

homer_drooling_wallpaper_-_800x600.jpg
OMG!!! Thank you SO MUCH! For both links to the delis and the link to the recipes! Mom told me that Katella Bakery had closed. It doesn’t look like they ship, but it’s nice to know that they’re still there, and that chocolate alligators weren’t the product of a dream! I’m gonna try the recipe out, too (with chocolate instead of nuts). I’ll let you know how it turns out. Again, much obliged!
 
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I have Melissa Clark’s Babka recipe in my notes. It’s in metric weight and volume measurements. I edited/organized the instructions and made some minor changes to the way I prefer to do things. There’s a lot of directions, but it’s really just a straightforward enriched dough.

The dough is time consuming as it ferments overnight after a bench bulk. But I ferment most of my doughs overnight anyway.

My SIL asked me to bake her biscotti to send my cousin in Japan. So I’ll bake this babka as well to take it all over together. I’ll post when I do.


Babka

Melissa Clark - NYTimes

NOTE: sugar syrup is not necessary. This babka is very rich as is.

DOUGH: requires overnight fermentation
  • ½ cup/118 milliliters whole milk
  • 1 package (1/4 ounce/7 grams) active dry yeast
  • ⅓ cup/67 grams granulated sugar, plus a pinch
  • 4 ¼ cups/531 grams all-purpose flour, more as needed
  • 1 ½ teaspoons fine sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest (optional)
  • ½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature, lightly beaten
  • 10 tablespoons/140 grams unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for greasing bowls and pans

FUDGE FILLING: make up to week in advance. Let come to room temperature before using.
  • ½ cup/100 grams granulated sugar
  • ¾ cup/177 milliliters heavy cream or half-and-half
  • Pinch kosher salt
  • 6 ounces/170 grams extra bittersweet chocolate, preferably between 66 and 74 percent cocoa, coarsely chopped
  • 8 tablespoons/112 grams/1 stick unsalted butter, diced, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons/10 milliliters vanilla extract

CHOCOLATE STREUSEL: make up to 3 days in advance,
  • ½ cup/60 grams all-purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons/45 grams granulated sugar
  • 1 ½ tablespoons/11 grams cocoa powder
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 4 ½ tablespoons/64 grams unsalted butter, melted
  • ⅓ cup/60 grams mini semisweet chocolate chips
SYRUP: NOTE THIS NOT NECESSARY
  • ⅔ cup/135 grams sugar
  • 2/3 cup/158 milliliters water.

DAY 1

DOUGH:
Equipment
  • Mixer w/ dough hook OR food processor
  • Buttered bowl
  • Clean tea towel
  • Spatula or bowl scraper
NOTE: to hand mix use a large bowl and a wooden spoon

Warm the milk to 110°F (43°C) . Stir a pinch of sugar into milk. Sprinkle yeast over milk let sit for 5 to 10 minutes, until slightly foamy.

Mix on low to combine flour, 67g (1/3c) sugar, salt, and nutmeg

Add yeast

Add eggs, vanilla, and zest

Mix until the dough comes together in a soft mass, about 2 minutes. If the dough sticks to the side of the bowl and doesn’t come together, add a tablespoon of flour at a time until it does, beating very well in between additions.

Add half the butter

Mix until the dough is smooth and elastic, 3 to 5 minutes, scrape sides and bottom of bowl as needed.

Add remaining butter mix until the dough is smooth and stretchy, 5 to 7 minutes. If dough sticks to the sides of the bowl, add additional flour, 1 tablespoon at a time.

Press test dough. Dough is kneaded enough when smooth and springs back when pressed with finger tip

Form dough into a ball and roll it around in the bowl so all sides are buttered.

BENCH RISE:
Heat oven 60 seconds, then turn OFF
Turn on oven light.
Cover dough with clean tea towel and place in OFF oven
Rise 1 1/2 - 2 hours
It may not double in bulk but it should rise.

Press the dough down with your hands, re-cover the bowl and refrigerate overnight (or, in a pinch, for at least 4 hours, but the flavor won't be as developed).

================================================

FILLING: In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine sugar, cream and salt. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until sugar completely dissolves, about 5 minutes. Scrape mixture into a bowl. Stir in chocolate, butter and vanilla until smooth. Let cool to room temperature. Cover and store in refrigerator up to a week if not using right away. Bring to room temperature before using.

STREUSEL: In a bowl, stir together flour, sugar, cocoa powder and salt. Stir in melted butter until it is evenly distributed and forms large, moist crumbs. Stir in the chocolate chips. Streusel can be prepared up to 3 days ahead and stored, covered, in the fridge.

SIMPLE SYRUP (optional): In a small saucepan, combine sugar and 2/3 cup/158 milliliters water. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, then simmer for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally until the sugar dissolves. Cool. Place in covered container in the refrigerator. A 1:1 simple can be refrigerated up to 1 month.

================================================

DAY 2

Bring filling to room temperature if refrigerated

Butter two 9-inch loaf pans, then line with parchment paper, leaving 2 inches of paper hanging over on the sides to use as handles later.

Remove dough from refrigerator and divide in half.

On a floured surface, roll one piece into a 9-by-17-inch rectangle. Spread with half the filling (there's no need to leave a border). Starting with a long side, roll into a tight coil. Transfer the coil onto a dish towel or piece of plastic wrap and stick it in the freezer for 10 minutes. Repeat with the other piece of dough.

Slice one of the dough coils in half lengthwise to expose the filling. Twist the halves together as if you were braiding them, then fold the braid in half so it’s about 9 inches long. Place into a prepared pan, letting it curl around itself if it’s a little too long for the pan.

Repeat with other piece of dough

Cover loosely with a clean kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, until puffy (it won’t quite double). Alternatively, you can cover the pans with plastic wrap and let them rise in the refrigerator overnight; bring them back to room temperature for an hour before baking.

Preheat oven to 350°f (180°C). Use your fingers to clump streusel together and scatter all over the tops of the cakes. Transfer to oven and bake until a tester goes into the cakes without any rubbery resistance and comes out clean, 40 to 50 minutes. The cakes will also sound hollow if you unmold them and tap on the bottom. An instant-read thermometer will read between 185°F (85°C) — 206°F (96°C).

Simple Syrup if using: As soon as the cakes come out of the oven, use a skewer or paring knife to pierce them all over going all the way to the bottom of the cakes, and then pour the syrup on top of the cakes, making sure to use half the syrup for each cake.

Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before serving.

This looks divine. It also looks like a huge time investment, but I’m up for that (can you give my husband a call on the day I make it, and keep him on the phone all day? Please?). Thank you very much!
 
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The recipe that you so graciously posted for me (thanks again), has this direction for forming the dough:

“When the dough has rested, roll out on floured board into large rectangle. Spread top with 1/4 cup softened butter. Fold dough into thirds, letter style. Repeat 3 more times, making four “turns” in total, turning it 90* relative to the last turn before rolling it out. Then, as before, cover with 1/4 cup softened butter, and fold letter style each time. If the dough becomes too sticky to roll at any of these turns, allow it to rest, covered, for 30 minutes before rolling again.”

I have literally no experience with pastry, except for Sara Lee pies. Do I roll the dough out, spread it with butter, fold it, roll it out, then repeat three more times? The above directions are very confusing for a person who’s never made pastry before!
 
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The recipe that you so graciously posted for me (thanks again), has this direction for forming the dough:

“When the dough has rested, roll out on floured board into large rectangle. Spread top with 1/4 cup softened butter. Fold dough into thirds, letter style. Repeat 3 more times, making four “turns” in total, turning it 90* relative to the last turn before rolling it out. Then, as before, cover with 1/4 cup softened butter, and fold letter style each time. If the dough becomes too sticky to roll at any of these turns, allow it to rest, covered, for 30 minutes before rolling again.”

I have literally no experience with pastry, except for Sara Lee pies. Do I roll the dough out, spread it with butter, fold it, roll it out, then repeat three more times? The above directions are very confusing for a person who’s never made pastry before!

No worries I agree making a laminated dough the first time can be very intimidating and confusing. Instead of spreading butter on the dough, I think a better approach is the traditional lamination process using a butter block.


To make a butter block use chilled butter


Slice the butter


On plastic wrap arrange butter slices into a block 2/3 the length of the rectangle
036F1445-A4D1-4966-9A46-8DF491DE4693.jpeg


Cover the block with plastic wrap and with a rolling pin gently tap it down to create an even layer



As you tap the butter into a block it will spread out, so reshape into the correct dimensions

2292974A-2AF0-4097-B485-DA5CA7658999.jpeg


Make sure the finished butter block is pliable enough to bend. Too warm and it will melt as you roll the dough. Too cold and it won’t roll out evenly with the dough.


Place the butter block on the dough so 2/3 is covered in butter


Then fold it like the illustration below. This method will also save you from having to spread butter multiple times over the dough.

AA2CEC2C-928F-4BE5-A979-E5E92889F8BD.jpeg



After folding as in the illustration above,


Roll into a rectangle

Trifold as in the illustration above

Turn 90° (quarter turn)


This completes 1st turn


Roll into a rectangle

Trifold

Turn 90° (quarter turn)


This completes 2nd turn


Roll into a rectangle

Trifold

Turn 90° (quarter turn)


This complete 3rd turn

then proceed as the recipe indicates.


Three to four turns are the standard for laminated dough. More turns may ruin the dough as layers become too many and too thin to hold its structure. I personally make three turns. I don’t really see that much difference in four turns. I feel there’s more risk in overworking the dough with the additional turn.


Tips

Not all butter is created equally. I prefer to use Kerrygold Irish butter for laminating as is very piable even when cold. If you have a Trader Joe’s near you they have the best price on Kerrygold butter.


The idea behind lamination is to create separate layers of dough and butter. So it is important when rolling the dough you do not rip and fuse the layers of butter and dough as you roll. To guard against fusing the layers, make sure the dough and butter are close to the same temperature and similar in pliability.


Do not press down hard as you roll as hard pressure will fuse the butter and dough together.


After each pass of the rolling pin I check to make sure the dough is not stuck to the counter. Rolling over dough stuck to the counter will stretch, then tear the layers inside.


Watch your dough as you roll over it. If the dough springs back when you lift the rolling pin, too much gluten is being developed. Stop immediately. Rest the dough in the fridge for 10 - 15 minutes
 
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I came here because I am trying to find a recipe for the same cake my jewish grandmother served me many years ago! My Mom says they call it an alligator cake because the nuts on the top look like the back of an alligator. She thinks my grandmother got it at a bakery in LA.
 

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