I am born again.
My friend Donna Natale Mason is a proud Texas woman living in the cold North. She sent me a recipe for coffee cake about 6 months ago and told me two things. One, she told me that she could make a grown man cry for joy and worship at her feet with the recipe. And, two, she told me that it was top secret and that I could make it and share in the warm glow of her family secret, but I couldn’t share it. Oh sweet Mary. Dilemma, stress, angst, worry…what to do? It has been saved on my computer for all these months and I haven’t even read it start to finish because like the town gossip who knows about, and feels bad about, her weakness, I’m worried sick that if I actually read about and bake Donna’s cake, I won’t be able to keep it to myself and would share it with my (thankfully) ever growing circle of PIE people. The result of this is that I have been obsessed with the idea of making a coffee cake since she sent the recipe to me. Finally, I found the perfect substitute recipe.
I don’t think for a moment that my rendition could make a man weep. I know this, because I’ve watched 3 or 4 men take bites of this, and while I’ve put them into silent, smiling, plate-licking mode…a tear has not been shed on my cake’s behalf. Lily, my painfully honest daughter, did declare, however, that she wants this cake for her birthday cake. Since her last birthday caused a triple decker multi-colored fondant affair, I take this as high praise.
And, it is great. It is humble and simple. It is also rather large. It is impregnated with thick stripes of cinnamon and brown sugar and has an irresistible pecan studded topping. I am smitten. I think the secret to its success is likely the sour cream. It is a natural for being cooked in a tube pan because it gives a nice stable top for holding onto the maximum amount of topping. I borrowed the bulk of the recipe from Cooks Illustrated’s American Classics Cookbook. Then I took their advice on streusel and I upped the volume a bit. I really like brown sugar and cinnamon, a lot. Also, to get the cake out of its pan, one has to flip the cake on its head, and then put it back the right way on its cake plate so the streusel remains on top for serving. You lose some good topping that way and I wanted to make sure there was plenty left…there is. By the way, you will want to do your cake flipping over the sink for this very reason.
You will need a 10 cup capacity tube pan for this cake.
Streusel: (you will divide this between 2 bowls)
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar (I used light)
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold
1 cup pecans, chopped
Combine the flour, the granulated sugar, the brown sugar, and the cinnamon in a bowl. Transfer 1½ cups of this mixture to another small bowl. This second bowl will be for the inside of the cake and I will call it LAYERING streusel. In this second small bowl of layering streusel, add an additional ¼ cup of brown sugar and mix it in. Set aside. Note: the first two photos below are of the LAYERING streusel, and the second two photos are of the TOP streusel.
In the original bowl, add the butter and pecans. This will be the TOP streusel. Using a food processor (pulse 10-ish times) or by squishing it with your hands or a pastry cutter, work the butter into the TOP streusel mixture until all of the topping is moistened. Set aside.
12 Tablespoons unsalted butter (1½ sticks)
4 large eggs
1½ cups sour cream (divided use)
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
2¼ cups all purpose flour
1¼ cup sugar
1 Tablespoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon salt
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 10 cup capacity tube pan with 2 tablespoons softened butter. In a small bowl combine the eggs, 1 cup of the sour cream and the vanilla.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Mix it for about 30 seconds to ensure that it is well combined. Add the butter and 1/2 cup remaining sour cream and mix on a low setting until all the ingredients are combined. Increase the speed to medium and mix for an additional 30 seconds. Slow down the mixer and slowly add the egg and sour cream mixture, in 3 additions, beating for 30 seconds and scraping the bowl after each addition. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat for an additional minute.
Add 2 generous cups of batter to the bottom of the prepared tube pan and spread it around evenly with a rubber spatula. Sprinkle with about half of the LAYERING (no nuts) streusel. If you need to move it around a fork works nicely. Add one and a half cups more of the batter and, likewise, spread it around evenly with the spatula. Sprinkle on the rest of the LAYERING (no nuts) streusel. Top with the remaining batter and sprinkle on the TOP (with nuts) streusel.
Bake for 50 to 60 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Some streusel may stick to the toothpick but there should not be any batter stuck to the pick. Mine took the full 60. Remove the pan to a rack and allow the cake to cool in the pan for 30 minutes.
When you remove the cake from the pan you will invert it to get it to come out, and then re-invert it so that the streusel side is up.
NOTE: To do the inversion trick, you can use a wire rack, but I use a clever little invention that my mom made for me. If you are using a tube pan you will notice that the tube in the middle sticks up about 2 inches taller than the rest of the pan. Thus, your cake has to drop and thud onto the rack when you invert it. So we use a cardboard circle with a hole just the size of the tube cut out of the middle. It ends up looking like a fat lifesaver. If you cover it carefully with foil you can use it over and over again. My mom has actually been using the same one for decades. So you put the “O” down over the tube and invert the pan. No thud. Then you can put your cake plate or rack on top and re-invert it. This works great for all cakes made in a tube pan. In fact, she made her first foil “O” to deal with her pound cake (coming soon). But it works especially nicely here because it captures streusel that would otherwise go all over the floor or down the drain. You will drop some streusel with this trick so do it over the sink, but between the “O” and the extra streusel, everything works out just great.
I hope you like this cake as much as we did. My execution was not perfect. Most notably I didn’t have time to let the cake cool for the entire 30 minutes, but the nature of the cake is a bit bumpy. I left the pecans chunky as I did not use a food processor to make the streusel and the result was decidedly rustic, but I thought it was gorgeous and it tasted great. Problematically great. Try it.
One upside of always taking photos of all of your food creations is that everyone hovers around waiting for a taste…giving you an opportunity to snap photos of them, too. They lose patience with this trick quickly, though. Isn’t that a great looking lizard? And, that’s Bob. You know Lily and Ford, by now. My mom was running around getting all the matching napkins…which I never have. So when I bake at the lake, so to speak, we get to play with dishes and napkins that actually go together on purpose instead of the stuff I pick up at garage sales to feed my, otherwise cost prohibitive, food styling habit. And by the way, that beat up tube pan that I got to use in this recipe, belonged to my Grandpa Virgil. I can’t begin to tell you how wonderful it is to cook with one of his pans.
And finally, I promise…
This is yet another example of how when I start on a topic about which I know little I always turn to Cooks Illustrated first, be it the magazine, the Best Recipe book or this one, American Classics. I shed cookbooks here and there, and I chronically rip out pages from magazines, but I never ditch a Cooks Illustrated book, and I never rip up their magazines. And if you are fed up with paper, they have an excellent subscription based website that is wonderful. I wish they offered summer camps. I’d go work in their test kitchen for a month (or a lifetime).