It’s Not So Much What it Looks Like, it’s How it Tastes

DSCN3809Tis the season for al fresco brunches, or even indoor brunches! The weather is gorgeous, so it’s nice to laze around on a Sunday, take a long walk, and eat a delicious springtime meal mid-day. And a special coffee cake is perfect to round out the dishes and is relatively easy to make.

As you may have figured out by now, I don’t bake that much, too much precision, with measuring cups and spoons. But I found this coffee cake recipe in my copy of The Essential New York Times Cook Book, and being relatively easy, I decided to make this for brunch one weekend. (As an aside, if you ever want to get a comprehensive cook book for someone, this is it. Time-tested recipes and menus for every meal imaginable, I have yet to make something that isn’t five stars, and each recipe is easily and clearly written for even a novice cook.)

This is a case of “do as I guide, not as I do.” The recipe calls for a 9-inch square pan. After measuring my own square pan and realizing it was too small, I went with a 9-inch pie plate. Which I thought would have worked, but space-wise it didn’t. It spilled up the sides and wasn’t the neat and tidy cake it looked like as it went into the oven.

Also, when you are baking anything, don’t decide to cut corners like I did and bake other things at the same time. Since the oven was on, I decided to poach some chicken and roast some sweet potatoes, leading to a longer cooking time for all.

But in the end, the coffee cake really was delicious; moist with a perfect hint of cinnamon, albeit a bit on the homely side. And regardless, it’s spring, the sun has been out for days, and as Lady Bird Johnson said, “Where flowers bloom, so does hope.” Even in the kitchen.

IMG_0271Dorothy Jewiss’s Coffee Cake

From The Essential New York Times Cook Book, by Amanda Hesser. Originally published November 24, 1968: “To Grandmother’s House,” by Jean Hewitt, recipe adapted from Dorothy Jewiss, a home cook in Winchester Center, Connecticut.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 ½ cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup sour cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
⅓ chopped pecans
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1. Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Great a 9-inch square baking pan. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

2. Using a mixer or beating by hand, beat the butter and 1 cup sugar together in a large bowl until fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Stir in the sour cream and vanilla. Stir the flour mixture into the batter until it is smooth.

3. Spoon half the batter into the pan. Combine the remaining ½ cup sugar, the pecans,  and cinnamon and sprinkle two-thirds of it over the batter. Top with the remaining batter and sprinkle with the remaining pecan mixture.

4. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out almost clean, 40-50 minutes. Serve warm.

Hesser’s Cooking Note:
In Step 3, use a spoon dipped in water to spread the top layer of batter, or it will be impossible to nudge the batter to the edges of the pan.

Chris’s Cooking Note:
I concur! I used a frosting spatula, dipped in water, worked like a charm!

Fresh Blueberry Coffee Cake

I’m not one for muffins or cakes in the morning (although I am a sucker for doughnuts on those rare occasions), but when the calendar turns to August, I really get a hankering for my Aunt Freda’s blueberry coffee cake made with fresh local berries. I’ll get up on a lazy Sunday morning, when the morning temperature is a little bit cooler than it’s been, and pull out this recipe to warm the kitchen. All told it takes about an hour, and who doesn’t have that on a Sunday morning?

I’ve made this with frozen berries in the winter, but it’s just not the same. I’ve included my “lighter” version for the topping, but who wants that? I’ll just take an extra long walk in the afternoon, but only after I’ve finished my cake and coffee.

Fresh Blueberry Coffee Cake
Preheat oven to 350 degrees

1 3/4 cup flour
2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 well-beaten egg
1/2 cup milk
1/3 cup oil (canola or another light colored and flavored)
1 cup fresh blueberries,mixed with 1-2 TBS sugar (I only use two tablespoons if the berries are sour.)

4 TBS. butter (I use 3 TBS.)
1/2 cup flour (I use 1/4 cup)
1/2 cup sugar (I use 1/4 cup)

Sift dry ingredients into a deep, medium bowl and make a well in the center. Mix egg, milk, and oil together in separate bowl, and pour into well. Carefully stir in blueberries and sugar. Mix until combined. Add topping and pour into a 9” greased pie pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes or until done.

*Chris’s addition: When the cake is almost done, I put a tiny dash of cinnamon and nutmeg on top.