Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Hello there, September . . . Would You Like a Piece of Cherry Streusel Coffee Cake?

It's been unseasonably cool here lately, and people keep saying things like, "Well, I guess summer's over." Personally, I think the days of chillier than average temperatures are simply a late summer fluke, but I must admit I'm enjoying them. It's so much nicer to bake when you don't have to hermetically seal yourself into an air conditioned house, just so your oven won't seem like a blast furnace.

So, taking advantage of the good weather, I was in my kitchen yesterday morning contentedly measuring and mixing and slicing. My intention was to make a plum-ginger upside-down cake. I made it alright, but it was an unmitigated disaster. A real mess. It was with resigned disgust that I threw it in the trash shortly after taking it out of the oven. It looked so awful I couldn't seriously have contemplated keeping it, let alone serving it to another living mammal. Here's a picture of the whole revolting mess, just as I'm tossing it out . . . pretty gross, isn't it?

I can't really fault the recipe, though. I screwed it up to start with by accidentally leaving out an important ingredient (milk), the absence of which I didn't discover--of course--until after the cake was in the oven. It had occurred to me, as I was spreading the batter over the plums, that the batter seemed unusually thick. I was pondering this when I glanced over at the window above the sink, and there on the sill I noticed my glass measuring cup containing the designated milk. Ahh, that explains why the batter's the texture of spackling paste, I thought to myself. I heaved a heavy sigh. But, since the plum cake was just something I was making for fun, I didn't sink into complete despair and I figured, perhaps, it could be salvaged. Then, to add insult to injury, I foolishly took the cake out of the oven way too early. The visible part of it looked completely baked to me, but I had nagging doubts. Now, I've been around the block enough times to know that until a cake like this is flipped over and the pan is lifted off, one never really knows exactly what an upside-downer is going to look like. I knew the danger, and yet I ignored my instincts. The unveiling isn't supposed to be a shocking event, in any case. It's not supposed to be like unmasking the phantom of the opera. And yet that's exactly what it was like. (Ooooo . . . I shudder at the memory of its abject hideousness.)

Good riddance to bad plum cake. Moving on . . .

To exorcise the specter of the nasty plum-ginger upside-down cake, I then decided to make an uncomplicated coffee cake and vowed to follow the instructions with military precision. This I did, and as a result we have today's recipe. It's a Martha Stewart recipe, from her Baking Handbook. I squelched my perennial desire to tweak it. Well . . . okay. . . almost squelched it . . . I admit I tweaked the streusel, and maybe I tweaked the amount of sour cream in the cake's batter, but all to good effect I swear! And, of course, I rewrote the directions (naturally).

Anyway, it's a fine coffee cake. I'd recommend it. Nice texture, not heavy. Nice flavor, not too sweet. You can eat it with a fork or hold it in your hand. The streusel topping has a lovely buttery flavor, and it's a pretty cake too. Neither hideous nor revolting. It doesn't even remind one of unsightly phantoms.

Cherry Streusel Coffee Cake

(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9" tube pan, or a springform pan with the tube insert (butter it well).

For the streusel:

1 cup and 2 Tbsp. All Purpose flour
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

In a medium bowl, combine the dry ingredients with a fork. Add in the butter, and blend it in with a pastry blender. The streusel should have some little chunks here and there; no need to blend it too much. Put the bowl aside, in the fridge, until you're ready to use it.

For the cake:

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups All Purpose flour (I used bleached)
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup and 2 Tbsp. sour cream
1 cup frozen sour cherries that have been thawed and well drained (important that they're well drained and not too wet)

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and soda, and salt. Set aside.

In a large mixer bowl, with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, sugar, eggs, and vanilla until light and fluffy--about three minutes. Add in the flour mixture in three parts, alternating with the sour cream in two parts; begin and end with the flour mixture. Beat until just combined, and stop to scrape the bowl and the paddle as needed.

Spread about half the batter in the buttered pan. Place the cherries evenly on top of the batter, being careful not to let any of them get close to the sides or center of the pan. (They all need to be completely covered by batter.)

Carefully spread the remaining batter over that and smooth the top. Sprinkle the streusel topping evenly over that.

Bake for approximately 35 to 40 minutes. When the top is golden, and it springs back slightly when gently pressed, the cake is done. (I also did the toothpick test. I was gun shy after that plum cake incident!) Let the cake cool on a rack for about 15 minutes. Invert the cake onto a dish or flat baking sheet, then immediately reinvert it back onto a rack to finish cooling. Glaze the cake when it's fully cooled, if you prefer. Or leave it plain. Delicious either way!

For glaze:
1 cup confectioner's sugar
2 Tbsp. milk or half & half

After the cake is completely cooled, mix sugar and milk together until completely smooth. Drizzle on the cake. (If you prefer, you can flavor the glaze with just a couple drops of vanilla or almond extract. Remember, though, brown vanilla will make the glaze look beige instead of bright white.)

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