Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Day 5 with Rose: Sour Cream Coffee Cake

When I'm home alone, I bake.  It's what I do to relax; it's how I treat myself; it's what I do to feel grounded.  Amidst my mixing bowls and baking pans, I am content.

On occasion I'll have a friend over and we'll bake together.  A dear friend from school has been reading my blog and expressed an interest in learning how to bake.  Two weekends ago, she came over for an afternoon of baking.  She is a novice, and we had a lot of catching up to do.  So I chose something simple: a cobbler.  Nothing quite says home like a freshly baked cobbler. It is warm, inviting, and satisfying.  The cobbler is also a very forgiving dessert: you can mix and match just about any variety of stone fruit or berry that you want, and no one ever minds what it ends up looking like.  After all, any way that it's cobbled together, the fruit and crust end up mingling, the crust absorbing the juices from the fruit.  We served our mixed berry cobbler topped with a generous serving of vanilla bean ice cream after a meal of Bombay-style chicken with red split lentils.  

But, by and large, baking is a solitary activity for me.  Today is no exception, although I am home alone out of necessity more than desire: I have temporarily lost my voice.  I cancel my plans and decide to bake instead.  Day 5 with Rose is a lesson on breakfast cakes.

I don't know what clever soul coined the phrase "breakfast cake," but I am eternally grateful, because it allows me to eat cake for breakfast without any pangs of guilt.  Today I make a sour cream coffee cake.  Ever since I visited Levain Bakery and devoured their coffee cake, I've been eager to bake my very own.

This particular sour cream coffee cake recipe is one of Rose's favorites.  The cake is moist and buttery, with a dark middle layer of cinnamon filling, and a sweet, crunchy streusel topping of sugar, butter, and ground walnuts.  

My first attempt at making the cake is rather disastrous.  Rose's recipe calls for the use of a cake pan.  I, however, want a coffee cake in the shape of a loaf.  So I use my loaf pan instead.  But it holds less volume than my cake pan, and yet knowing that, I pour the entire batter into the loaf pan because there is still room left in the pan once I'm done (granted, the pan is nearly full).  An hour into baking, the center of the cake is wet and the edges are starting to overcook.  I am running late for an appointment.  I turn off my oven and reluctantly abandon my under-done cake.  Lesson learned: don't overfill your cake pan.  If the pan is too small for the amount of batter on hand, use the remaining batter to make cupcakes.  If I'd had the presence of mind, that's what I would have done.

My second attempt yields a perfectly baked cake, although the streusel topping lacks the characteristic crumbly texture and some of the filling has sunk to the bottom of the cake.  I may have overmixed the ingredients for both the filling and topping: I recall they held together too well and had to be plopped onto the batter rather than sprinkled.  The cake, though, tastes delicious.  And what's a better way to start the day than with a generous slice of cake?

Sour Cream Coffee Cake
Recipe from The Cake Bible, by Rose Levy Beranbaum

Streusel topping and filling
1/3 cup light brown sugar (firmly packed)
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 cup walnuts or pecans
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 cup unsifted cake flour (dip and sweep method)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter 
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

4 large egg yolks
2/3 cup sour cream
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups sifted cake flour
1 cup sugar 
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter 

Streusel topping and filling
In a food processor fitted with the metal blade, pulse the sugars, nuts and cinnamon until the nuts are coarsely chopped. Reserve 3/4 cup to use as a filling.  To the remainder add the flour, butter, and vanilla and pulse briefly to form a coarse, crumbly mixture for the topping.

In a medium bowl, lightly combine the yolks, about 1/4 of the sour cream, and vanilla. 

In a large mixing bowl combine the dry ingredients and mix on low speed for 30 seconds to combine.  Add the butter and remaining sour cream.  Mix on low speed until the dry ingredients are moistened.  Increase to medium speed and beat for 1 1/2 minutes to aerate and develop the cake’s structure.  Scrape down the sides.  Gradually add the egg mixture in 3 batches, beating for 20 seconds after each addition to incorporate the ingredients.  Scrape down the sides.

Reserve about 1/3 of the batter and scrape the rest into the prepared pan.*  Smooth the surface with a spatula.  Sprinkle with the streusel filling.  Drop the reserved batter in large blobs and spread evenly with the spatula.  Sprinkle with the streusel topping and bake for 55-60 minutes or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.  Cover loosely with buttered foil after 45 minutes to prevent overbrowning. 
*One 9-inch springform pan, greased, bottom lined with parchment, and then greased again and floured.

Let the cake cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes. Loosen the sides with a small metal spatula and remove the sides of the springform pan. Cool completely before wrapping airtight. Serve at room temperature. 


  1. this looks lovely, coffee cakes are my fave breakfast treat and adding walnuts would only make it better!

    1. I agree -- the walnuts do add a distinct flavor to the cake and is a nice balance to the sweetness of the sugars!

  2. oh my, this looks delicious. love coffee cake.

    1. Thank you for stopping by! If you try your hand at the recipe, please let me know how it turns out! I do love this recipe!