My favorite coffeecake recipe?
That's a tough one. I mean, I could go with oh-so-classic Cinnamon-Streusel. Or, since I'm a New Englander by heart if not by birth, Blueberry Buckle. And then there's Almond Puff Loaf, whose name doesn't come within a moonlight mile of describing its crazy scrumptiousness.
But these days – perhaps because it's been beckoning me from the kitchen counter all week – my favorite coffeecake is Tuscan Coffeecake.
Maybe, to distinguish this "cake" from its truly cake-y breakfast-time cousins, I should call it coffee [space] cake. As in, something to enjoy with a cup of coffee.
Because this restrained, adult-appropriate pastry is more yeast bread than cake, without the bright-gold crumb, crown of crumbly topping, or swirls of cinnamon that hallmark most American-style coffeecakes.
With just 1/4 cup added sugar, this is a cake (bread) that doesn't send you running for your toothbrush afterwards. It's sweet – but its sweetness comes from an effusion of fruits (golden raisins and dates), and an ethereally thin layer of crunchy vanilla sugar glaze on top – with emphasis on the vanilla.
I first discovered this coffee cake in the Pane e Salute bakery in Woodstock VT about 8 years ago. Since transitioning to a restaurant some years back, this bakery, one I described in an earlier post, no longer exists. Thus I'm very glad that I tasted this cake while it was available, then was able to re-create it – right down to its crackly vanilla crust.
Try this cake. (Bread.) Please. If you're one of those whose face scrunches unhappily at the mention of raisins, substitute dates. Dislike both dates and raisins (and toasted walnuts as well)? Unless you're willing to put past prejudices aside, this recipe's not for you.
But if you like bread with distinctive European texture (think challah, or panettone); bread whose sweetness comes in the form of dried fruit, and perfectly balances a cup of dark-roast Italian coffee – then this coffee cake is for you.
We're going to begin with an overnight starter. Making yeast dough this way not only ensures the yeast gets a good, strong start, it creates flavor. As the dough sits, the yeast creates lactic and organic acids, both of which will enhance the taste of the finished cake.
Mix the following ingredients in a small (about 1-quart) bowl:
Cover and let rest overnight at room temperature.
Next day, mix the risen starter with the following:
2/3 cup lukewarm water
2 3/4 cups (11 1/2 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour or Artisan Bread Flour
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
1 large egg
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons instant yeast
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
Mix and knead to form a smooth, supple dough. It’ll be very slack at first; for this reason, I suggest kneading in a bread machine, or with a mixer, rather than by hand. When kneading sticky dough by hand you tend to add additional flour, which can make bread tough and dry.
Place the dough in a bowl, and let it rise about 1 hour. It may not quite double in bulk; that’s OK.
Add the following to the bowl of risen dough:
1 cup toasted walnuts, very coarsely chopped
3/4 cup chopped dates
3/4 cup raisins, golden preferred
Knead the nuts and fruit into the dough thoroughly.
Note: You may be tempted to soak the fruit first, to plump and moisten it. DON'T DO IT. The liquid from the fruit will leak into the dough, making it incredibly sticky and hard to knead while incorporating the fruits. And don't worry, the fruit will stay nicely moist without any soaking.
Shape the dough into a flat ball, and place it in a lightly greased 9" round cake pan. Take the time to gently push any exposed raisins or dates under the surface of the dough, so they don't burn.
Cover the pan with lightly greased plastic wrap (or a clear shower cap, as I've done here), and allow the dough to rise for 60 minutes, or until it fills the pan side to side, barely cresting the top.
Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 350°F.
Stir together the following:
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon water
Drizzle the glaze over the risen dough.
Place the pan on a lower oven rack; the cake will brown quickly, and you don't want the top to burn.
Bake the cake for about 55 minutes, tenting with foil the final 15 to 20 minutes, if it seems to be browning too quickly. The finished loaf will be a deep, golden brown, and a digital thermometer inserted into the center will read at least 190°F.
Remove the cake from the oven, and turn it out of the pan onto a rack to cool.
Wait until it's completely cool before slicing. I know it's hard, but slicing the cake warm will give it a ragged, gummy cut surface.
Serve in slices or wedges...
...at room temperature or, even better, toasted.
The cake is sweet enough from the fruit that you don't need jam; but mascarpone cheese or butter are always welcome. Maybe even a sprinkle of cinnamon, just because.
I figured this recipe might be a good candidate for using white wheat flour in place of some or all of the all-purpose flour. Let's see how that worked out.
Three slices: on the left, 100% all-purpose flour. In the center, about 40% white whole wheat, 60% AP flour. And on the right, 100% white whole wheat.
As you can see, the AP loaf definitely rose highest. The 40/60 loaf would have risen higher had I adjusted the consistency of the dough; my sourdough starter was quite liquid, and the loaf fell a bit in the oven as it baked. The 100% white whole wheat loaf definitely struggled to rise; I let it sit on the counter most of the day for it to even get as high as it did, and it exhibited very little oven spring.
As for flavor, the 100% whole wheat loaf definitely tasted strongly of wheat; I preferred the milder 40/60 loaf. Which is why when using whole wheat flour, I use white whole wheat exclusively; I'm not a whole grains lover, so the less "wheaty" flavor the better.
Now, one more tip I'd like to share with you: I made the 40/60 loaf with active (fed) sourdough starter, instead of the overnight starter called for in the recipe. Notice how purple it looks? If you've made bread with nuts in the past, particularly walnuts, you may have noticed this purplish tinge.
The color is due to the interaction between gallic acid in the walnuts' skin and iron in the flour, exacerbated by acidity in the dough (from the sourdough starter); and time, in the form of the loaf's rising time. Though it looks a little odd, thankfully this reaction doesn't affect flavor.
I feel like the "mother hen" of our recipe site, and I try to love all of my flock equally, from apple pie to zucchini bread. But just as every mom has a certain child who's most in tune with her soul, I do have certain recipes that speak to me in a special way. This is one of them.
In fact, it's all I can do right now to stay glued to my computer, rather than ambling out to the kitchen for "just one more" slice of this cake [bread] [coffee cake].
Tempted? Please read, bake, and review our recipe for Tuscan Coffeecake.