Challenge accepted! We all have favorite go-to recipes that we stick with because they are either foolproof or we love them. But could any of my grandmother’s three dozen coffee cake recipes unseat my current favorite recipe of several years?
I recently read through over 1,000 recipes my grandmother collected and made throughout the years. These went as far back as the 1940s up through the early 1990’s. (Jello salads, anyone?!) Many were handwritten, but there were also hundreds of newspaper clippings with her notes on them like, “very good,” or, “rinse the sauerkraut, first.”
She was an avid baker and among her thousand+ recipes, she had dozens of coffee cake formulas in her collection. Taking a careful look, they fell into several categories. Buttermilk vs. Sour cream. Fruit vs. No fruit. Nuts vs. No nuts. The proportions of flour, sugar and leavenings were fairly even but with some nuances across the variations as well.
Making one at a time would have taken me half a year, not to mention the many pounds I would have gained. Instead, I developed a hybrid, taking the best of the sour cream-class coffee cakes that added stone fruit, in this case, plums. (Stone fruits are any fruit with a pit such as plums, apricots, pluots, peaches and nectarines). Plums, apricots and pluots work best for this recipe. Peaches and nectarines are too juicy to bake into cakes and are better served in pies and cobblers, in my experience.
Which one won? The hybrid from my grandmother’s collection or my favorite go-to? It’s a seasonal split. When stone fruits are in season, the hybrid wins out. But in late fall and winter, I’ll rely on my old faithful. It’s nice to have choices and shake things up once in awhile. So, thanks, Grandma, for the inspiration!
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Hybrid Cardamom Coffee Cake with Plums
- 3/4 cup unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), room temperature
- 3/4 cup regular white sugar
- 3/4 cup light brown sugar
- 3 eggs, room temperature
- 3 cups all purpose flour (spooned and leveled, or 375g)
- 1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
- 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, or 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 teaspoon finely ground cardamom
- 1 1/2 cups sour cream
- 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
- 5 plums, each cut into 12 thin wedges, tossed with two tablespoons all purpose flour
- 3/4 cup all purpose flour (spooned and leveled, or 83g)
- 3/4 cup light brown sugar
- 1/2 cup (one stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
- 3/4 cup chopped nuts (walnuts and pecans work best)
- Preheat oven to 350F.
- Line bottoms and sides of a 13 X 9 baking pan with foil or parchment paper. Include enough overhang to serve as “handles” for removing the coffee cake. If using foil, spray with vegetable oil.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together and set aside the batter’s dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cardamom).
- Take a quick break from the cake batter and make the topping. In a bowl, mix all the topping ingredients together except the butter. Then, cut the cold butter into small cubes and add it to the flour, sugar and nuts mixture. Hand-rub the butter into the dry ingredients until you’re left with coarse crumbs. Try not to eat it all, it’s delicious.
- Slice each of the plums into 12 segments. Place the segments in a bowl and toss them with two tablespoons of flour. This will help absorb excess liquid as it bakes, preventing “goo” in the cooked coffee cake. Note that the finished coffee cake will be extra moist near the plums once baked. The baking time is sufficient to cook the batter.
- Now, back to the cake batter… With a handheld or stand mixer, cream the room temperature butter with white and brown sugars at medium-low speed for two minutes.
- Mix in eggs, one at a time, and then the vanilla.
- On low-speed, alternate mixing in dry ingredients and the sour cream just until incorporated.
- Evenly spread half of the batter into the prepared pan.
- Place the plum slices in rows onto the batter.
- Evenly spread the other half of the batter on top of the plums.
- Evenly distribute the topping mixture on the batter.
- Bake at 350F for 60 – 65 minutes. Check about 10 minutes before the stated baking time. If the nuts are browning too much, tent foil over the coffee cake until it’s finished baking.
- Remove from teh oven and remove the foil tent (if used). Let cool in the pan for 30 minutes.
- Remove the coffee cake from the pan using the parchment or foil as your handles. Gently remove the foil or parchment and finish cooling on a rack. This is an important step — if you don’t remove the foil or parchment, since the coffee cake is very moist, it will steam and get soggy. Let fully cool. Transfer to a platter or cutting board. Slice and enjoy.
“Hey! What’s the difference between a muffin, cake and coffee cake, anyway?”
- Muffins: A form of bread, less sweet than cake, usually served for breakfast. Muffins are not frosted.
- Cake: Served as a dessert, cake is also a form of bread, but enriched with eggs, an oil or butter, and significantly sweeter than bread. Most cakes are frosted.
- Coffee cake: A form of cake, but features a streusel or crumb topping instead of frosting. Most coffee cakes use buttermilk or sour cream for added moisture, making them denser than regular cakes. Usually served for breakfast, brunch, or with a mid-morning coffee break, thus the name, “coffee cake.”
Will you publish your favorite at a later date?
Sent from my iPhone
I’d be happy to. Most likely in the late fall, or early winter.
My mother used to make something the she called “Scandinavian Braid”, free formed, as a braid, with a chopped almond and sugar topping …..anything in your grandmother’s files that might resemble it??
Will try this version soon as possible.
My grandmother had more than a dozen coffee cake recipes (!). In terms of yeasted breads, though, the closest recipes she has to what you described are: 1. “Cardamom coffee braid (it also has slivered almonds, but the primary flavor is cardamom);” 2. “St. Sava Serbian Sisters Circle nut roll (very walnut forward but I imagine other nuts would work fine)”; and “Bohemian date bread.” These are all from newspapers and the only note she wrote was for the Serbian Sister’s nut roll, in which she wrote, “Good”. I haven’t tested any of these, but if you would like me to send you them please send me your email address through the “Contact” button.