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.

End of Summer Peach Pie

The difference between crimping and fluting is a subject of much debate.
—Carole Walter

Honeyed Peaches ‘n Cream Lattice Pieoverhead peach pie fin

What you need to know:
  • Fresh juicy peaches make beautiful pies, but all that liquid can create a lot of problems. To avoid a soggy bottom, partially cook your sliced peaches so that they release some of their liquid and use slotted spoon to scoop up the fruit.
  • Peaches love honey; take the opportunity to use a nice strong flavoured honey as your sweetener.
  • Finish your lattice with a sprinkle of course sugar, the crunchy texture compliments the sweet creamy filling.
  • Chill before you fill. Fit your shell into the pie plate and roll out the dough for the lattice, cover both with plastic wrap and chill in the fridge or freezer before you assemble with the cooled filling. This step insures that the pastry that holds its shape after baking and remains flaky.peach in shell fin

Peach season comes right at the end of summer in Ontario, and it feels as fleeting as those last few warm sunlit days. The chance to make a pie like this comes only once or twice a year, and so it in of itself is a cause for celebration.

For this particular pie, I chose local freestone peaches that were slightly firm yet ripe and aromatic. I began by cooking down the peeled and sliced fruit, with a little bit of cornstarch mixed with sugar, in a large saucepan on medium heat until some liquid was released. I then rolled and refrigerated the shell and lattice, nestled the completely cooled filling inside, and poured over it a mixture of cream, honey, and a few tablespoons of flour for thickening. To finish, I brushed the pastry with a light egg wash and topped it with a sprinkling of turbinado sugar. In order to promote the bottom of the shell to brown, I baked it on an old dark metal pan. Starting with a high temperature helped the pastry to puff up nice and flaky, and later I decreased the heat and used a pie shield to protect the delicate crust edges from burning. The pie was best when served approximately 6 hours after it had cooled and set, but it was equally delicious eaten right out of the fridge the next day once the rich flavours had had a chance to mingle and develop.

I also picked up baskets of hard and tangy clingstone peaches to make preserves, which was a useful homemade ingredient to have in stock and a small way to make that sweet summery nostalgia last. Follow these directions, but skip the canning process, for a quick and tasty fridge jam that can be used in other adaptable recipes, like these dressed up almond blondies.