Super Crumb Coffee Cake

When I set out to create my ideal sour cream coffee cake recipe, I was not surprised when I found the base of it in Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Cake Bible. The batter is thick, rich, and sweet just as it should be. The sour cream lends an unmistakable flavour to the cake, and using the reverse creaming method consistently results in a moist crumb. For the crumble I turned to my own recipe with a higher yield, and because it adds body I bake the cake in a large tube pan with a center that acts as a heating core. Many types of fruits and berries would be delicious thinly layered in the middle, but ones that I have had success with in the past include fresh cherries, blueberries, apples, and stone fruit.

Tips for success:

1. Ensure that the sour cream, eggs, and butter are all at room temperature so that the batter does not curdle.
2. Check that the cake is finished by pushing a little crumble aside with your finger tip and tapping the top of the cake very lightly. If the cake springs back and your finger does not leave a dimple, it indicates that it is fully baked.
3. Pat the fruit dry after washing and arrange it in a thin and even layer. Too much fruit will produce excess moisture and prevent the cake from rising properly.

Sour Cream Coffee Cake
with Fruit

Crumble Recipe

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (188g)
1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted (4 oz)

Method

Melt the butter and let it cool slightly.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, brown sugar, granulated sugar, cinnamon and salt and whisk to combine.

Drizzle the butter over the dry ingredients and quickly toss with a fork to form large and small clumps, until no dry spots remain.

Dump the crumble onto a small baking tray, and use your fingers to squeeze together any sandy crumbs.

Place in the freezer for a minimum of 20 minutes.

Cake Batter Recipe

Adapted from “Sour Cream Coffee Cake”, from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Cake Bible

2 cups cake and pastry flour (200g)
1 cup granulated sugar (200g)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 large egg yolks, room temperature
2/3 cup full-fat sour cream, room temperature (160g)
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
12 tablespoons unsalted butter (6 oz), room temperature (65°-68° F)
1 1/2 small nectarines, or 1 large, sliced 1/4 inch thick
or fruit of choice

Method

Make the crumb topping. Let it chill in the freezer while you prepare the cake batter.

Preheat the oven to 350° F. Butter a 9 inch tube pan with a removable bottom.

Remove the butter from the fridge and cut it into 3/4 inch thick cubes. Allow the butter to warm to room temperature, between 65° and 68° F, while you prepare the other ingredients. If you do not have a digital candy thermometer, use your finger to test the temperature by pushing firmly on a cube of butter. When the butter is ready it will be pliable but still cool to the touch, and your finger will make a smooth indent with no cracks. If the butter is too warm it will feel very soft and offer no resistance to pressure, and it must be returned to the fridge.

Sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and whisk to combine. Transfer the ingredients to the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. In a small bowl, combine the egg yolks, 1/4 of the sour cream, and the vanilla extract.

When the butter is the correct constancy, add it to the bowl with the dry ingredients. Add the remaining sour cream. Mix on the lowest speed for 30-60 seconds until the ingredients are completely moistened. Increase the speed to medium (speed 3 on Kitchen Aid) for 90 seconds. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl. Add the egg mixture in 3 parts, beating for 20 seconds on medium speed and scraping the bowl between additions. In the final 20 seconds of beating, increase to speed to 4 to ensure that the cake is fully aerated as most of its rise comes from the air that is incorporated during this process.

Using a large spoon, distribute 2/3 of the batter in the tube pan and spread it evenly with the back of the spoon. Sprinkle one half of the crumble over the cake batter, and arrange the nectarine slices atop the crumbs so that they are touching but not overlapping. Use the spoon to dollop the remaining batter over the fruit, and carefully spread as even as possible. Top with the remaining crumble.

Place the cake pan in the preheated oven, directly on the middle rack to allow for air circulation. Bake for 60-70 minutes, or until the centre springs back when lightly touched. Cover with a foil tent after 45 minutes to prevent overbrowning. Let the cake cool completely in the pan before removing and serving.

The cake will keep for up to 4 days well wrapped and covered, and actually improves in flavour and texture by the second day.

How-To: Preserve Any Fruit This Summer

Fruit Preserves

Baker’s Note: Although this recipe requires a few hours set aside, it is the perfect project for a morning or afternoon in the kitchen because the fruit needs only periodic stirring, leaving plenty of free time for other tasks.

Equipment: Dutch oven or large non-stick pan.

Ingredients: 

11-12 cups roughly chopped fresh or frozen fruit (blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, peaches, plums, nectarines, cherries etc.)

1 – 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar (depending on sweetness of fruit)

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract or the seeds of one vanilla bean

Juice of 1/2 lemon

Zest of 1-2 lemons (optional)

Method: 

Place the fruit in a Dutch oven or a large, trusted non-stick pan. Pour the sugar evenly over top and turn gently with a spatula to coat the fruit.

For frozen fruit: Turn the heat to low, and place a lid over top the pan. Allow the fruit to thaw completely, while giving it the occasional stir.

Once the fruit has thawed, add the vanilla, lemon juice and zest.

Allow the fruit to heat gently over medium-low until most of the water is released, approximately 25-30 minutes.

When the fruit is swimming in its own juices, it is time to cook it down slowly until the water has evaporated and all that is left is the jellied pulp.

The reduction process can take anywhere from 1.5 to 2 hours, and during this time you will need to stir the fruit to ensure that it cooks evenly and does not stick and burn. In the beginning, the mixture will require less frequent stirring, but as it thickens remember to concentrate on scraping the bottom of the pan often with a heat-proof spatula.

The preserves are ready when they are very thick and no liquid remains. You should be able to scoop up a little glob with a butter knife.

Store the preserves in the freezer if you plan to use them over the winter, or in the refrigerator for up to two months.

Blueberry & Cherry Pie with Pecan Pastry

For the seasonal baker, summer is an overwhelmingly bountiful time of year, lush with fresh and local produce. As the crops take their turns coming into season this year, I find myself feeling inclined to bake a dessert celebrating each one. And what I am discovering is that nothing showcases juicy fruit or ripe berries like a deep, double-crust pie.

Living among the rural farms of Midwestern Ontario means that everything comes to me a month after it hits the cover of Bon Appetit, but that hardly makes the harvest less exciting. First the rhubarb crops up around the yard, then some refreshing greens sprout in the fields. Before long summer hits and the berries are pouring in by the pint, and it is not hard to find a place to pick all that you can carry home.

Pecan Pie Pastry 

Ingredients:

1/2 cup pecans (approximately 58g)
2 1/4 cups cake and pastry flour (9oz)
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
3/4 teaspoon fine salt
8 oz unsalted butter, cut into 1/2” cubes and very cold
5-6 tablespoons water, depending on humidity
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Method:

Combine the water and lemon juice in a small glass and place it in the freezer until the liquid is icy cold, but not frozen.

Toast the pecans at 350° F for 5 minutes, then allow them to cool completely on the tray. Take a wooden rolling pin or the bottom of a sturdy glass and crush the toasted nuts into a rough meal.

Combine the flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Add the nut meal and whisk to combine.

Add the cold, cubed butter to the bowl with the flour and toss to coat the pieces. Cut in the butter using a pastry blender, just until the largest bits are the size of peas. Pour the cold water evenly around the bowl and immediately toss with a fork to combine. The mixture will form small clumps, like cheese curds, and should appear slightly dry. Gather the clumps together and knead them a few times against the side of the bowl until you have the beginnings of a cohesive dough. Divide the rough dough evenly into two balls, then form into discs and wrap them very tightly in plastic wrap. Chill the discs for at least 1 hour or overnight before continuing with the recipe.

Blueberry-Cherry Filling

Ingredients: 

4 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen
3 cups fresh cherries, halved and pitted
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon lemon zest
6 tablespoons tapioca starch

Method:

Place the prepared cherries and blueberries in a large non-stick pan. Sprinkle the sugar over top, then add the vanilla extract and lemon zest.

Cover the pan with a lid and let it sit over low heat for 20-30 minutes, stirring gently but frequently, until the sugar has melted and most of the juices have run out of the fruit. The mixture should just be reaching a simmer at this point.

Sprinkle the tapioca starch over the fruit and stir gently until all the starch is absorbed. Allow the mixture to approach a simmer, frequently scraping the bottom of the pan to avoid burning. After 3-4 minutes, when the filling is thick enough that the fruit holds together and the liquid coats the spatula, remove the pan from the heat and let it cool to room temperature (the refrigerator may be used to speed up the cooling process).

Assemble and Bake: 

Roll out both discs of pastry into 12” wide circles. Fit one circle into a 9” pie plate and cut the other into 2” wide strips for a simple lattice top crust. Chill the pie plate (preferably in the freezer) and refrigerate the strips while the filling cools.

When the filling is completely cool, scrape it into the prepared shell and spread it evenly to the edges. Depending on the dimensions of your pie plate, you may need to reserve up to one cup of the filling in order to avoid over-filling the pie. Arrange the strips of pastry over top the filling in a lattice, then trim and crimp the edges.

Place the prepared pie on a level surface in the freezer for 20 minutes to re-chill the pastry after shaping. Preheat the oven to 400° F while you wait. Set the pie on a sturdy tray and bake for 60 to 70 minutes, until the pastry is golden brown and the filling is bubbling. Use a pie shield in the last half hour to prevent the edges from over-browning. I like to broil my pies (with a pie shield on) for several minutes at the end of baking for an even golden color across the surface.

Store the pie in the fridge, and serve it sightly cool or at room temperature.