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
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