My friend Padma had a hilarious misunderstanding with this cake over the weekend. She made the logical assumption that a cake bearing the name “coffee” would be made with coffee in the same way that say a banana cake is made with bananas, and not intended to be eaten alongside a banana. Of course she’d be hoodwinked one of the many ridiculous nuances of the English language.
It got me thinking about coffee cake, and later tea cakes, both named not for the cake itself, but for the cake’s alleged taste in beverage. Strangely enough, at least in the case of the coffee cake, we have a fairly distilled cultural image of the cake in question; this isn’t just any cake you might serve with a cup of coffee, this is something moist, baked in a single layer, sometimes containing berries or nuts, and always with a crumbly topping.
All of which, I admit it, meshes pretty well with a steaming mug of coffee, which got me thinking that maybe this cake’s been trying to tell us something all along. (Rain + snow + February = me talking to my cake.) Next time around, I’m going to put the coffee back in coffee cake – imagine brown sugar crumb, moist sour cream cake, with a little nutty espresso powder whisked in. Sounds pretty delicious, no? I included my suggestions to take the cake in this direction below.
In the meantime, I leave you with this charming little number, an adaptation of this cake, which bakes up insanely moist, crumbly, nutty, and berry specked (or everything a coffee cake should be, save the actual coffee) and makes great company at brunch. Makes 1 large cake, which can be cut into 12-15 pieces.
For the Crumb Topping
- ½ cup, 100g brown sugar
- ¾ cup, 100g chopped pecans
- 2/3 cup, 100g spelt flour (can substitute all purpose or whole wheat; I had spelt on hand and like the nutty flavor)
- 1 tbsp ground cinnamon
- ½ tsp ground allspice
- Pinch of salt
- ½ cup (1 stick), 113g unsalted butter, cold and cut into cubes
- ¼ cup maple syrup
Combine the dry ingredients and nuts in a large bowl. Add the butter pieces and, using your hands, mix until the mixture is crumbly. Drizzle in the maple syrup, mix again, and set aside. The crumb will be quite wet.
For the Berries
- 2 cups blueberries, blackberries, or a combination
- 2 tbsp granulated sugar
- 2 tsp finely grated orange or lemon zest (optional)
Toss all ingredients together in a medium bowl and set aside.
For the Cake
- ½ cup plus 2 tbsp, 135g unsalted butter at room temperature
- ¾ cup plus 2 tbsp, 185g granulated sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 3 large eggs
- 1 ¼ cups, 265g sour cream
- 2 ¼ cups, 300g all purpose flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp baking soda
- Pinch of salt
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9 by 13 inch baking dish. Cream together the butter and sugar using a stand or hand-held mixer until light and fluffy. Meanwhile, combine the vanilla, eggs, and sour cream in a small bowl. Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in another bowl. Add half of the flour mixture to the butter and mix well. Add half the sour cream mixture, and mix again. Repeat to add the remaining ingredients. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, mixing well one final time.
Fold the prepared berries into the batter using a rubber spatula and spread the batter into the prepared pan. Top with the crumble mixture – you’ll have to break this up a bit using your hands. Bake 40-50 minutes until set and golden. A toothpick inserted into the center of the cake should come out clean. Cool 30 minutes and then enjoy! While it is best eaten fresh from the oven, this cake stays moist wrapped at room temperature up to 1 week.
To Make a Coffee Coffee Cake
- Omit the berries
- Whisk 4 tbsp espresso powder into the sour cream mixture and then follow the recipe as it’s written