One thing that Jewish women do especially well is gossip (there is a dominant gene for this running in my family), and nothing goes better with gossip than coffee, well, except for cake. It turns out this tradition of getting together for coffee, baked goods and conversation has a long history, that began somewhere in Central Europe. The Germans have a word for such a gathering, “kaffeeklatsch” which was later Americanized to coffee klatch. The Germans called the cake they served with coffee, bundkuchen and the Hungarians called it gugelhupf, but most shared the trait of being cooked in tube pans that created a hole in the center of the cake. One of the first coffee cake recipes to appear in an American cookbook was for bund kuchen in The Settlement Cookbook (speaking of, check out Gordon’s faithful recreation of schnecken from the 1931 edition) which calls for “a deep, round, fancy cake pan with a center tube”. Sometime in 1950 the women of the Minneapolis chapter of Hadassah asked a designer from Nordicware to create a pan that would allow them to recreate the cake recipes that their mothers brought over from the old world and the result was the bundt pan that served as the mold for cakes served to gossiping women and Shabbat Onegs everywhere and eventually became the best selling cake pan in America. Somewhere along the line the kutchens came to be called coffee cakes for the beverage they are served with, as most of them contain no coffee. Nowadays you cannot enter a Starbucks or Peets without a wide array of coffee cakes from bundt pans to accompany your non-fat, half-caf, chai latte, and you have a group of mid-western Jewish ladies to thank for it. I personally find coffee cakes to be a fantastic excuse to eat cake for breakfast.
I was inspired to make coffee cake by this months issue of Cook’s Illustrated which called for a regular tube pan to support an almond sugar topping on a lemon cake with a swirl of cream cheese in the center. Since cream cheese is the Jewiest of cheeses, and I love lemon cake, it seemed the perfect start to a new year of cooking. It turned out to be a complete disaster with the total collapse of the cake onto the filling. After consulting with the master cake baker, my stepmother, rather than torture myself I decided to go with the more tradition cinnamon crumb style with a some extra topping thrown in the middle, for version 2.0. I mistakenly put double the baking powder in version 2.0 and it bubbled over on itself and the topping sank to the bottom, so you are witness to version 2.1. Cake is clearly not my thing … Actually, the thought of all these cakes is making me a little verklempt, so talk amongst yourselves. I’ll give you a topic: coffee cake is neither coffee nor a cake… discuss.
Well, it took me a week and a half, two recipes and three tries, but here is the final coffee cake recipe :-)
Crumb Coffee Cake with Cinnamon Swirl
adapted from The Best Recipe
- 2 C flour
- 1 C plus 2 Tbs sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 10 Tbs unsalted butter softened
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 3/4 buttermilk or low-fat plain yogurt
- 1 eggs
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 3/4 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
- 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- additional small mixture of brown sugar (about 1/4 C) and cinnamon (about 1/2 tsp) if you would like a swirl in the middle of the cake
- Adjust oven rack to center position and preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a tube or angel food cake pan.
- Whisk flour, sugar and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add butter and cut into the flour mixture with the whisk or your hands until it looks like coarse crumbs. Remove 1 C of mixture to a separate bowl.
- Whisk baking powder and soda into the remaining mixture. Add buttermilk (or yogurt), egg, and vanilla. Whisk vigorously until batter is smooth and fluffy (I used my mixer).
- Add nuts, brown sugar and cinnamon to the reserved flour, sugar butter mixture and mix together until blended.
- Pour half the cake batter into the prepared pan. Sprinkle the extra mix of brown sugar and cinnamon in the center of the batter, avoiding the edges. Pour the remaining batter on top and smooth with a spatula. Sprinkle the nut, flour, sugar, mixture on top of the cake and press lightly so that the mixture adheres. Bake until a cake tester comes out clean, about 55 minutes. Allow cake to cool in pan about one hour. Place a pan or place on top of the pan and invert the cake, then invert again onto a wire rack, so the topping is on the top and let the cake cool completely.