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Let us eat coffeecake

By Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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

A form of quick bread, coffeecakes are easy to assemble too. Put one in the oven. Make a pot of coffee. And your family and houseguests 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 ensures moistness. But coffeecakes needn't be gussied up with toppings. A coffeecake 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 coffeecake 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 about a Charlotte restaurant that served a coffeecake 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 coffeecake has the flavor of cinnamon rolls and the structure of a coffeecake.

Just keep the cake beside the coffeepot 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 coffeecake.

Marion Cunningham's Coffeecake

Easy to put together and good all year round. Serves 12. Prep time: 15 minutes. Total time: 1 hour 20 minutes.

     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)

HEAT oven to 350°. Grease and flour a 10-inch tube pan or Bundt pan.

BEAT the butter in a large mixing bowl 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.

Nutrition information: Per serving: 360 calories (52 percent from fat), 5 grams protein, 38 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 21 grams fat (12 grams saturated), 103 milligrams cholesterol, 548 milligrams sodium.

Cinnamon-Pecan Coffeecake with Strawberry-Pecan Butter

This cake is moist and spicy, and the Strawberry-Pecan Butter really sets it off. Eat any leftover butter on biscuits or crackers. Adapted from "Pecans" by Kathleen Purvis (UNC Press, $18). Serves 12. Prep time: 15 minutes. Total time: 55 minutes.

For the coffeecake:

     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

HEAT oven to 350°. 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 is 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.

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.

Nutrition information: Per serving (cake only): 382 calories (49 percent from fat), 4 grams protein, 45 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 21 grams fat (2 grams saturated), 18 milligrams cholesterol, 267 milligrams sodium.

Strawberry-Pecan Butter (per 1 tablespoon serving): 119 calories (percent of calories from fat, 69), trace protein, 9 grams carbohydrates, trace fiber, 9 grams fat (5 grams saturated), 21 milligrams cholesterol, 5 milligrams sodium.

Apple-Pecan Coffeecake

Apples add a layer of elegance. Pecan halves give crunch. And a drizzle of sweet sugary icing makes this cinnamon-scented fall coffeecake truly transcendent. Serves 12. Prep time: 25 minutes. Total time: 1 hour 20 minutes.

For the coffeecake:

     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

HEAT oven to 350°. 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.

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

Nutrition information: Per serving: 482 calories (47 percent from fat), 5 grams protein, 60 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams fiber, 26 grams fat (11 grams saturated), 75 milligrams cholesterol, 295 milligrams sodium.


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