Sunday, December 9, 2012

Apple and Nut Coffee Cake

What do you like to eat for breakfast? I have so many answers to that simple question, many of which begin with "That depends..."  On any given day breakfast choices depend on the time available, who else is dining, what's in the refrigerator or on a restaurant menu, how healthy or happy I felt when I woke up... and on and on. Breakfast just might be my favorite meal of the day, especially when there is time to enjoy it. 

The Breakfast Book by Marion Cunningham is a treasure chest of 288 recipes, some familiar classics from childhood and more than a few totally new temptations. I bought it on a whim last year, based on Orangette's enthusiasm for Cunningham's waffles and fresh ginger muffins. If Molly raved about the book, I'd give it a try, risking an online purchase without first checking out a library copy. The book became nighttime reading, and I covered chapter after chapter, marking countless recipes to try "sometime soon". Then life got busy, the neglected book sat hidden on a shelf and I forgot all about it... until last week.

Following a stroll through the Volunteer Park Conservatory, Mom and I stopped for coffee and a treat at the nearby Volunteer Park Cafe. We shared a large wedge of coffee cake that was scrumptious, so good that we ate every last little bit.

Its coarse yet airy crumb, the thick ribbon of sweet berries and a generous streusel topping all served to rekindle my interest in finding new breakfast treats, coffee cake recipes in particular. 

Heading back to The Breakfast Book for inspiration I found Cunningham's basic recipe for Great Coffee Cake. Using her Apple and Walnut variation as a guide, I strayed a bit from the recommended ingredients and added some Apple Pie spice to brighten the tart appleness

substituted thick Greek kefir cheese for ordinary sour cream, 

swapped almonds for walnuts 

and baked in small pans instead of a 10-inch tube pan. 

It didn't matter, the flavor was deeeee-licious. Though I did reduce the cooking time by 5 minutes, for the next batch I'll check for doneness a few minutes earlier; my mini Bundt pan cakes were a touch overdone. Not that it slowed us down a bit; when sliced in half on the horizontal, toasted under the broiler, then slathered with butter and served warm, the cakes still rated two thumbs up. Cunningham herself noted:
"The breakfast cakes in this chapter are meant to be sliced, toasted, and buttered, not frosted. With good cake the wholesomeness will shine through without the added frill of frosting. Breakfast cakes are wonderful, particularly if you are a sweet and not a savory breakfast person."
Ignoring the printed caution, RL, who is a sweet breakfast person, experimented with accompaniments. He first tried a dollop of Greek honey yogurt on the side, then a generous tablespoon of dark cherry preserves on top of the Greek yogurt. Positive response with both. The next morning he warmed a sauce of 3 tablespoons honey and 1 tablespoon lime juice to drizzle over the top of a warmed mini cake. Oh joy! most of the thin sauce soaked into the cake, a little pooled on the plate as a dipping sauce, and RL's contented sighs filled the kitchen as he ate every morsel. This sauced version has now become the standard for our new recipe.   

Apple and Nut Coffee Cake
Based on a variation of Great Coffee Cake from Marion Cunningham’s The Breakfast Book

One 10-inch tube cake or 8 mini Bundt cakes or ramekins

½ pound (2 sticks) butter, room temperature, cut in chunks
1 cup granulated sugar
3 eggs
2 ½ cups AP flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon table salt
1 teaspoon Penzey’s Apple Pie Spice (or cinnamon)
1 cup sour cream (I used Greek kefir)
1 ½ cups coarsely chopped tart apple (unpeeled Granny Smith)
1 ½ coarsely chopped walnuts (I used almonds) 

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Grease and flour a 10-inch tube pan or Bundt pan (or spray with cooking spray).
  2. Put the butter in a large mixing bowl; beat for several seconds. Add the sugar; beat until smooth. Add the eggs and beat until light and creamy, 2 to 3 minutes. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a bowl. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture; beat until smooth. Add the sour cream and mix well. Add the apple bits and chopped nuts; stir to distribute them well throughout the thick batter.
  3. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan(s). Bake for about 50 minutes (40-45 if using smaller pans), or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. You really don’t want to overcook this cake or it will be dry and heavy instead of moist and rich. Remove from the oven and cool for 5 minutes in the pan. Invert onto a rack and cool a bit before slicing. Serve warm. 

    *My favorite tastetester RL recommends serving with a drizzle of a 3-to-1 honey/lime sauce, or a dollop of Greek honey yogurt and cherry preserves.
    *Cover tightly to store: individually-wrapped cakes in plastic wrap works well for storage and microwave reheating.

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