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A nice slice of joe

Coffee cakes can be plain and simple — or creative and elegant

Wednesday, November 28, 2012
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Coffee cake is a nice treat after dinner, as breakfast or for an afternoon break. Marion Cunngham’s recipe is easy to make and is delicious by itself but is even tastier with fruit and ice cream or whipped cream. (photo: images: Renee Brock/Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Coffee cake is a nice treat after dinner, as breakfast or for an afternoon break. Marion Cunngham’s recipe is easy to make and is delicious by itself but is even tastier with fruit and ice cream or whipped cream. (photo: images: Renee Brock/Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Nothing is more warming and comforting on a brisk autumn day than coffee cake. Not to mention that it’s the perfect excuse for indulging your sweet tooth first thing in the morning.

A form of quick bread, coffee cakes are easy to assemble, too. Put one in the oven. Make a pot of coffee. And your family and house guests will awake to a tantalizing aroma profile — caffeine wafting with cinnamon, toasted pecans, brown sugar and butter. Add sliced apples to the mix, and you have the perfect paean to fall.

Sour cream or vegetable oil ensure moistness. But coffee cakes needn’t be gussied up with toppings. A coffee cake can be pure and plain.

The late great food writer Marion Cunningham, who died in July, was a teetotaler who loved coffee and cake. Starting with a rich batter that tastes like vanilla ice cream, her coffee cake is simplicity itself. With its exceedingly soft texture, it hits all the pound-cake notes without the density.

In her new book, “Pecans” (UNC Press, $18), Kathleen Purvis tells us about a Charlotte restaurant that served a coffee cake so popular that the kitchen had to make two dozen pans a day. You’ll understand why when you fork into this nutty spiced cake slathered with strawberry-pecan butter.

Drizzled with icing and laden with pecans, cinnamon and raisins, our Apple-Pecan Coffee Cake has the flavor of cinnamon rolls and the structure of a coffee cake.

Just keep the cake beside the coffee pot and let your guests help themselves. It’s a magnet for nibblers. And when you want to take a homemade treat to a brunch — or even a wake — you really should consider the coffee cake.

MARION CUNNINGHAM’S COFFEE CAKE

Hands on: 15 minutes. Total time: 1 hour, 20 minutes (includes cooling time). Serves: 12. Easy to put together and good all year round.

1⁄2 pound (2 sticks) butter, room temperature

1 cup sugar

3 eggs

2 1⁄2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup sour cream

5 teaspoons vanilla extract

Confectioners sugar for dusting cake (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 10-inch tube pan or Bundt pan.

Put the butter in a large mixing bowl and beat for several seconds. Add the sugar and beat until smooth. Add the eggs and beat for 2 minutes, or until light and creamy. Put the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a bowl and stir with a fork to blend well. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and beat until smooth. Add the sour cream and vanilla and mix well.

Spoon the batter into the pan. Bake for about 50 minutes, or until a straw comes out clean when inserted into the center. Remove from the oven and let rest for 5 minutes in the pan. Invert onto a rack and cool a little bit before slicing. Dust with confectioners sugar if desired. Serve warm.

APPLE-PECAN COFFEE CAKE

Hands on: 25 minutes. Total time: 1 hour, 20 minutes. Serves: 12.

Apples add a layer of elegance. Pecan halves give crunch. And a drizzle of sweet sugary icing makes this cinnamon-scented fall coffee cake truly transcendent.

For the coffee cake:

1 cup granulated sugar

1⁄2 cup unsalted butter, softened

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups self-rising flour

1 cup sour cream

1 large apple

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

1⁄4 cup brown sugar

1⁄2 teaspoon cinnamon

For the topping:

2 tablespoons flour

1⁄2 cup dark brown sugar, packed

1⁄4 cup unsalted butter

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 1⁄2 cups pecan halves

1⁄2 cup raisins

For the icing:

1⁄2 cup confectioners’ sugar

4 teaspoons milk

1⁄4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9- or 10-inch spring-form cake pan with butter. (You may also use a 9-inch square or 13-by-9-inch pan.) To make the cake: Cream sugar and butter in a large mixing bowl until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs and vanilla. Add the 2 cups of flour alternately with the sour cream, beginning and ending with the flour and mixing well after each addition. Spread batter in greased pan.

Core the apple (no need to peel) and slice into 1⁄4 inch slices. Place in medium bowl. Sprinkle with lemon juice, brown sugar and cinnamon. Toss well to coat, and place apple slices in a circle around the top of the batter.

To make the topping: Pulse flour, brown sugar, butter and cinnamon in a food-processor bowl until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Dump into a bowl, and stir in the pecan halves and raisins so that they are coated with the brown-sugar mixture. Sprinkle topping evenly on cake.

Bake for 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Allow the cake to cool in the pan on a wire rack for 30 minutes.

To make the icing: Mix confectioners’ sugar, milk and vanilla in a small bowl.

When cake is cool, remove the side of the spring-form pan, and place cake on a plate or stand. Drizzle with icing. Cut into wedges and serve warm.

CINNAMON-PECAN COFFEE CAKE WITH STRAWBERRY-PECAN BUTTER

Hands on: 15 minutes. Total time: 55 minutes. Serves: 12.

This cake is moist and spicy, and the Strawberry-Pecan Butter really sets it off. Eat any leftover butter on biscuits or crackers.

For the coffee cake:

Nonstick cooking spray

2 1⁄4 cups all-purpose flour

1⁄2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1⁄2 teaspoon ground ginger

1 cup light brown sugar, packed

3⁄4 cup granulated sugar

3⁄4 cup vegetable or canola oil

1 cup coarsely chopped pecans

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 large egg

1 cup buttermilk

For the butter:

2 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature

8 ounces strawberry preserves (not jam)

1⁄2 to 1 cup confectioners’ sugar

1⁄2 cup coarsely chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 13-by-9-inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray.

Combine the flour, salt, cinnamon, ginger, brown sugar and granulated sugar in a large mixing bowl. Add the oil and whisk until well mixed and a little crumbly. Place 3⁄4 cup of the mixture in a smaller bowl and add the pecans.

Add the baking powder, baking soda, egg and buttermilk to the remaining flour mixture in the large bowl. Stir together quickly, but don’t over mix. (You may have a few lumps, which are fine.) Spread the batter evenly in the prepared baking pan. Sprinkle the reserved pecan mixture evenly over the batter. Bake for about 40 minutes, until brown and the edges are coming away from the pan a little.

To make the Strawberry-Pecan Butter, beat the butter, strawberry preserves and confectioners’ sugar until the mixture looks like pink frosting. Stir in the chopped pecans. Keeps refrigerated for up to 1 week.

Serve warm or at room temperature with the butter.

 
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