By Suzanne Lenzer
[Following up on her popular On Eating Alone, Suzanne suggests the opposite: inviting someone over, for an old-fashioned coffee cake. – mb]
Remember how in old television shows neighbors visited each other in the middle of the day for a cup of coffee and a slice of cake? Ethel and Lucy would hatch plans over coffee, and long before Samantha made Darrin his evening martini, Esmerelda would have been around for a cup of Sanka and a touch of bewitching mayhem.
Back then everyone seemed to have time to sit and talk over coffee and cake, with no one checking their blackberry in the midst of a chat. And in those days, an afternoon coffee wasn’t just a jolt of caffeine, but an excuse for a real break. The cake was a further reason to linger an extra half hour or so. Now it seems a nostalgic reminder of the days before Atkins, personal trainers, and Pilates.
The notion of a friend swinging by for a coffee and a slice of cake may be old-fashioned but it seems to me a nice idea. There’s something deliciously decadent about having time––in the middle of a workday no less–– to sit and talk with a cup of joe and a friend. In the movies there was always a pot already made, and even better, there was that alluring cake, inevitably just out of the oven.
But who has a fresh pot of coffee, let alone a coffee cake, sitting on the counter? Not me, but too much work has me hankering for a way of life that only seems to exist in reruns, one where friends linger idly, the air smells of French Roast, and cake in the middle of the day is a guilt-free affair.
With all this in mind, I decided a homemade coffee cake was in order—something that would leave a trail of moist yellow crumbs and brown sugar, evidence of an afternoon well spent doing pretty much nothing.
While the recipe is utterly old school, I did take a few liberties in an effort to modernize it. Based on the traditional Sour Cream Coffee Cake (the kind with that nutty streudel strewn on top and in the middle), I’ve substituted Greek yogurt for the sour cream and added lemon juice for a fresh, brighter flavor. When you’re after the reassurance that only a slice of cake can bring, this will still do the trick. Invite your neighbor.
Updated Old-Fashioned Coffee Cake
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Zest of a lemon
2 cups of flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup Greek yogurt
1 cup blueberries or other fruit
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup cold butter, cut in small pieces
1/4 chopped pecans
1. Heat the oven to 350dF. Butter and flour a bundt pan well (you can also use an 8-inch pyrex baking dish if you prefer to serve the cake in squares).
2. Cream the butter and sugar together with a wooden spoon or electric mixer until it’s light and fluffy; add the eggs one at a time, combining well after each addition. Stir in the lemon juice and the zest and set aside.
3. In a smaller bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, soda, and salt. Add one third of the dry ingredients to the butter mixture and combine well, then mix in one third of the yogurt. Continue alternatively adding a third more flour and yogurt until it’s all well integrated and the batter is smooth; set aside.
4. Mix the brown sugar, flour, and cinnamon together in a small bowl. Using your fingers or two knives, cut the butter into sugar and flour until you have a coarse, crumb topping. Stir in the chopped pecans.
5. Spread half the crumb mixture in the bottom of a bundt pan, then spread half the batter over the crumb mixture and spread the berries evenly over the batter; sprinkle with the remaining half of the crumb mixture and finish with the batter. If using a pyrex, start with the batter, add the berries and half the crumb in the middle, and finish with more batter and crumb (basically you want the crumb on the top and in the middle of the cake so depending on your pan, plan accordingly). Bake for one hour or until a thin-bladed knife comes out clean. Let cool for about ten minutes and then unmold the cake and serve crumb-side up.