By Ed Bruske
aka The Slow Cook
The first thing my wife said when she heard that my food appreciation classes would be making this classic coffee cake by hand was this: "Be sure to tell the kids that it will be a lot better if they make it with an electric mixer."
We don't use electric gadgets in our cooking classes. We make everything by hand. In the case of this particular cake, my wife was dubious because the batter requires quite a lot of beating to get it to expand to its proper volume. But then she tasted the cake.
"Hmmmm," she said. "This is pretty good."
So I guess you can make these things by hand. But she's also correct: the batter does need a lot of beating. If you're doing it alone, your arm will be tired. So invite a bunch of kids to help. Or, just use your electric mixer. (And do be afraid to use your Cuisinart where chopping is called for, if that's your preference."
This is one of the more complicated recipes we've tackled. Getting the cake finally into the oven took the better part of an hour and you'll get numerous bowls and tools dirty. But the effort is worth it. Everyone exclaims that this is the best coffee cake they've ever eaten, with swirls of cinnamon and brown sugar inside and a topping crunchy with pecans (and of course more brown sugar and cinnamon.)
Be sure to read the recipe through entirely once or twice or even three times until you have a firm understanding of all the ingredients and how to use them. There are several steps.
First, make a streusel filling and topping for the cake as follows: In a bowl, mix 3/4 cup all-purpose flour, 3/4 cup granulated sugar, 1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar and 2 tablespoons cinnamon. Transfer 1 1/4 cups of this mixture to a second bowl, mix in another 1/4 cup dark brown sugar and set aside. This will be your streusel filling. Save the remainder for the topping.
For the topping, chop together 1 cup pecans and 2 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small pieces. Mix this with the remaining flour, sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon mixture. Set aside.
For the cake, blend 4 large eggs with 1 cup sour cream and 1 tablespoon vanilla extract. Set aside.
In a separate, large mixing bowl, mix together 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar, 1 tablespoon baking powder, 3/4 teaspoons baking soda, 3/4 teaspoon salt. Blend with 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) softened butter and 1/2 cup sour cream until the dry ingredients are moistened. Then add about 1/3 of the egg and sour cream mixture and beat until fully incorporated. Continue adding the egg and sour cream mixture in two more batches, beating briskly until the batter has increased substantially in volume, becoming aerated and lighter in color.
Pour two cups of the batter into a greased angel food cake pan. Use a rubber spatula to smooth the surface of the batter. Sprinkle with 3/4 cup of the streusel filling mix (the one without the nuts). Add another two cups of batter as before and add the remaining streusel filling. Scrape the remaining batter into the pan, and finish by sprinkling in the topping with the nuts. In fact, this will be the top of your cake eventually.
Place the cake on a rack adjusted to the lowest setting in a 350 degree oven. Bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes, or until a long toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean. (The original recipe called for baking 50 to 60 minutes. But using two different ovens, I found that consistently to be not long enough.)
Remove the cake from the oven and allow to cool in the pan 30 minutes at least. Then carefully score around the edges of the pan with a slender knife and invert the cake onto a cutting board. Invert it again onto a decorative platter so that it is right-side-up.
Plan to present this to family or friends at a special occasion. We're making it as part of the parents tea we are planning for later this month to conclude our baking classes.