Saturday, January 31, 2009
Our last Saturday coffee-and-doughnut hour for the year, and the last Saturday I have to rouse myself in the middle of the night to bake a not-doughnut something. (Sometime I will try doughnuts, I think). I asked for suggestions, and I got some good ones. Melinda thought I should make some "easy-peasy" homemade Danish. I asked her what planet she lived on. Oriana sent me a good-sounding recipe for bran muffins, which actually did look easy, and I could have made them ahead of time, but I feared two hours of jokes about bowel movements if I made something with bran (or prunes for that matter). Maura sent me some fabulous recipes, one for sunny-side-up apricot pastries made with homemade puff pastry, which she also described as easy. This makes me realize that many people have a different definition of "easy" than I do. Maura also sent me directions for baking dozens upon dozens of kolache, which she herself has done--with multiple fillings. I wish that Maura would become my personal baker. Finally, she suggested sour cream coffee cake, which seemed perfect. Besides, I love it. Now Maura said she'd had good luck with the recipe from The Silver Palate, and I should have just used that recipe, no questions asked, but I started thumbing through cookbooks and decided to try the recipe from The New Best Recipe, which had four eggs, a cup and a half of sour cream, and nearly two sticks of butter, plus pecans, brown sugar, and cinnamon. How could I go wrong?
I didn't exactly go wrong, but I didn't exactly go right either. The Best Recipe coffee cake is mammoth, and I took it out of the oven after an hour because I feared burning. It might have been perfect if I had kept it in for just five minutes more, but it was ever so slightly underdone. That is, it was not perfect. If I'm going to get up at 6:30 on a Saturday, I want perfection!
The batter was lovely, rich, and silky, and it gave me high hopes. It was easy to layer the batter and the streusel, but it ended up nearly filling the bundt pan. (The directions said to use a tube pan, but not one that came apart, like an angel food cake pan, so the bundt pan seemed the only option).
In making the streusel, I came scarily close to using curry powder instead of cinnamon, probably because I was operating on only one cup of coffee, so I spent quite a bit of time trying to imagine what a curry powder streusel might taste like and wondering if I could possibly convince people that I'd done it on purpose, and it was all the rage in New York. I decided no.
One reason I like baking bread better than anything else is that it's not so fussy about the precise moment it's done. Five minutes either way, and no one's the wiser. But pastry and cakes--they're spoiled children. Take them out one minute too soon and they're squishy and spongy. Leave them in one minute two long and they burn or dry out.
The directions for this coffee cake are to bake for 50 to 60 minutes. Usually my convection oven, even set 25 degrees lower than recommended, gets things done early. I checked the cake after 50 minutes, and a lot of batter clung to the knife. Eight minutes later, it seemed to be good.
After it cooled a bit and I up-ended it on a plate, I had my doubts. It just didn't look quite solid enough. But I'd passed the point of no return, and I figured that everyone else was on their first cup of coffee so they wouldn't be that observant. Just don't mention that it might not be quite done, I instructed myself. Apparently I routinely ignore my instructions because I announced that it wasn't done to anyone who would listen. They didn't seem to care.
It was our neighbor Doug Logeland's birthday on Saturday, so he got a candle on his slightly underdone coffee cake.
Cook's Illustrated Sour Cream Coffeecake
3 3/4 ounces unbleached all-purpose flour
5 1/4 ounces sugar
3 1/2 ounces dark brown sugar
2 T. cinnamon
2 T. cold unsalted butter
1 c. pecans, chopped
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups sour cream
1 T. vanilla
11 1/4 ounces unbleached A-P flour
8 3/4 ounces sugar
1 T. baking powder
3/4 t. baking soda
3/4 t. salt
12 T. unsalted butter, softened, cut into 1-inch cubes.
1. Streusel: Place flour, sugar, 1/4 cup of brown sugar, and cinnamon in a food processor and combine. Transfer 1 1/4 cups of this mixture to a small bowl, stir in the remaining 1/4 cup brown sugar, and set aside (streusel for inside cake). Add butter and pecans to remaining dry ingredients in food processor. Process for about 10 pulses. Set aside (streusel for top of cake).
2. Cake. Put oven rack to lowest position and preheat to 350. Grease 10-cup capacity tube or bundt pan. Combine eggs, 1 cup sour cream, and vanilla in medium bowl.
3. Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in mixer for about 30 seconds at low speed. Add butter, 1/2 cup sour cream and mix until moistened. Increase speed to medium for 30 more seconds. Decrease speed and incorporate egg mixture in three additions. Increase speed and beat for one minute and mixture becomes aerated and pale in color.
4. Add 1/3 of batter too pan, and smooth evenly. Sprinkle with half of streusel filling. Repeat with batter and streusel. Top with remaining batter, spread evenly, and top with the streusel topping with the nuts.
5. Bake until cake feels firm to the touch and toothpick comes out clean of batter (sugar may cling to tester), 50 or 60 minutes. Cool cake in pan for 30 minutes, then invert on plate. (You can also re-invert so streusel will be on top).