Sunday, June 6, 2010

Not Just For Breakfast or Tea Parties Anymore

Normally when one hears the title "coffee cake", 2 different varieties seem to be implied: the first being that which actually relies on coffee in its flavor and the second being those cakes we see in the glass cases at Starbucks that are intended to be paired with coffee (early in the day, for the most part). Okay, so yes my recipe is of the latter category but I prefer to view a coffee cake in a different light. While it certainly can be enjoyed as a coffee accoutrement, I believe that their versatility and beautiful presentation allows them to stand quite well on their own. For this blog entry, I will discuss the recipe for a Sour Cream Coffee Cake with Walnut Streusel and a Maple Glaze.
When I was asked to co-host a dinner party for a friend's birthday party, I immediately made a game plan to take it over the top. We certainly did, with a menu that included steamed mussels, spicy avocado soup, scalloped potatoes, beef wellington, and more. The dessert, as usual, was placed in my trusting hands. And yet I went with cake that, based on our Starbucks precedents, might seem in no way comparable up against such an elegant repertoire of dishes. Nonetheless, this cake was the star of the show.
A good coffee cake is one that has a diversity of textures. This can easily be achieved by utilizing the methods of previous posts. We know that sour cream is a pro at adding moisture to any cake recipe, and it certainly proved to do so with this cake. This recipe is from my favorite Food Network guru the Barefoot Contessa, and as is her custom she uses a LOT of butter. Don't underestimate butter, though. Dessert is the one field where I refuse to cut back, because any good pastry chef will tell you butter is the holy grail of a good recipe.
Now we have the moist texture, but how to get the crunch. That's where our streusel comes in. Obviously if you omit the walnuts, as the recipe implies, you will lose that crunch, but of course if you are making this for a friend or family member who is allergic, it won't kill the cake to leave out the crunch. It will still have an unbelievable array of flavors that marry beautifully.
So a confession - this recipe calls for cake flour...I have never used and probably never will use cake flour. There are some recipes online that call for a mixture of flour and cornstarch, etc., but all-purpose works just as well. When measuring, just make sure to se a little less than called for, and NEVER pack the flour. This should be the case with any recipe, even those that call for all-purpose. Packed flour will only result in a dense cake that will sink under its own weight. Lighter, fluffier cakes result from loosely packed and measured flour, trust me :) One other variation on this recipe I made was rather than using a 10-inch tube pan, I used a regular bundt pan. As such, rather than place the streusel in last, I place it in first since that would be the top of the cake when inverted onto a plate.
Sour Cream Coffee Cake with Walnut Streusel and a Maple Glaze
adapted from the Barefoot Contessa
Serves 8 to 10


For Coffee Cake:
  • 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 3 extra-large eggs at room temperature (I used regular large eggs, little difference)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cups sour cream
  • 2 1/2 cups cake flour, not self-rising (I used all-purpose, loosely measured)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
For Walnut Streusel:
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed (dark could work too, but it might be a little denser)
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 3/4 cup chopped walnuts, optional (or any type of nut, pecans would be nice!)
For Maple Glaze:
  • 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
  • 2 tablespoons real maple syrup (no Aunt Jemima folks!)


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a 10-inch tube pan.

For Cake: Cream the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment for 4 to 5 minutes, until light. Add the eggs 1 at a time, then add the vanilla and sour cream. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. With the mixer on low, add the flour mixture to the batter until just combined. Finish stirring with a spatula to be sure the batter is completely mixed.

For Streusel: Place the brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, salt, and butter in a bowl and pinch together with your fingers until it forms a crumble. Mix in the walnuts, if desired.Spoon half the batter into the pan and spread it out with a knife. Sprinkle with 3/4 cup streusel. Spoon the rest of the batter in the pan, spread it out, and scatter the remaining streusel on top.

Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean.Let cool on a wire rack for at least 30 minutes. Carefully transfer the cake, streusel side up, onto a serving plate.

For Glaze: Whisk the confectioners' sugar and maple syrup together, adding a few drops of water if necessary, to make the glaze runny. Drizzle as much as you like over the cake with a fork or spoon.

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