Saturday, July 10, 2010

Sour Cream Coffee Cake with Chocolate Cinnamon Swirl

Once again, the Baked cookbook has proven to me why it (and the New York City bakery these recipes come from) is so popular. I really wanted to make a coffee cake for the weekend of my birthday; it gave me an excuse to indulge! This coffee cake is definitely a splurge, with 2 sticks of butter and a 16 oz. carton of regular sour cream (the cookbook advises you not to use low-fat or fat-free), not to mention 2 1/4 cups of sugar just in the cake alone. The crumb topping is a thing of pure decadence, and pure beauty. Made with dark brown sugar and finely chopped pecans, butter, flour, and salt, it smelled like heaven while it was baking and tasted even better.

The cake turns out huge. It's made in a 9x13 baking dish, and rises all the way to the very top of the pan. I don't know if I've ever eaten a coffee cake that was so very...tall. And every last inch of this cake is moist, flavorful, and just completely yummy. If you're having a lot of people over for breakfast or need to take something to a morning potluck, this would be perfect. It could probably feed a small army.

My favorite feature of the cake, and probably the deciding factor for me to finally make it, is the chocolate cinnamon swirl contained inside. It does require a little extra work while you're filling the baking dish with the batter, but it is worth every second. You simply mix together a bit of cocoa powder with a bit of cinnamon, then add some sugar, and you've got an amazing little ribbon of goodness that darts through your cake and provides an extra little dimension of flavor with every bite. It gave me an excuse to crack open my brand new Penzey's natural high fat cocoa powder, and it did not let me down. It's fantastic cocoa; I'd never baked with anything other than good old Hershey's before this. Now that I've tasted the high-quality stuff, I don't see how I could ever go back. I've been missing out, clearly!

I recommend that you find a reason to make this cake for company sometime soon. It's classic enough to be a welcome addition to a breakfast table (or, heck, even dessert!), but it's got that kick from the cocoa to make it a bit of a conversation piece. I'm already fantasizing about the next excuse I can possibly concoct for making it again myself....

Sour Cream Coffee Cake with Chocolate Cinnamon Swirl
makes 1 (9x13-inch) cake (serves 16-24 depending on the size of your slices)

For the crumb topping:
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 cup pecans, toasted
6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cold, cut into 1-inch cubes

For the chocolate cinnamon swirl:
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. dark unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp. cinnamon

For the sour cream cake:
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup unsalted butter, soft but cool, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 1/4 cups sugar
4 large eggs
16 oz. sour cream
1 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract

Make the crumb topping: 1. Put the flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor and pulse for 5 seconds to mix. Add the pecans and pulse until the pecans are finely chopped and thoroughly incorporated.
2. Add the butter and pulse until combined. The mixture will look like very coarse sand. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside in the refrigerator. (In my opinion, this was very important for the overall outcome of the crumb topping. I made mine the night before I assembled the cake, and having the topping in the fridge overnight made it firm enough that the crumbs were set already once sprinkled over the cake. They maintained their shape while in the oven and were large and extra bumpy on top of the cake. Yum!)

Make the chocolate cinnamon swirl: 1. In a small bowl, whisk together the sugar, cocoa powder, and cinnamon and set aside.

Make the sour cream cake: 1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9x13-inch baking pan. If you use a metal pan, the edges of the cake will be crispy (not altogether a bad thing).
2. Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together into a medium bowl. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter until smooth and ribbonlike. Scrape down the bowl and add the sugar. Beat until the mixture is smooth and starts to look fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Scrape down the bowl and mix again for 30 seconds.
3. Add the sour cream and vanilla and beat just until incorporated. Add the dry ingredients in three additions, scraping down the bowl before each addition and beating only until each addition is just incorporated. Do not overmix.
4. Pour one third of the cake batter into the prepared pan (I used my kitchen scale to make sure each of my thirds was even). Use an offset spatula to spread the batter evenly. Sprinkle half the chocolate cinnamon swirl mixture over the batter, covering the entire surface of the batter. Spoon half of the remaining batter over the swirl mixture and spread it evenly. Top with the remaining swirl mixture, then the remaining batter, and spread the batter evenly. (I found that the spreading part was easier if I dropped smaller dollops of batter over the whole surface, then gently spread all the dollops together. Otherwise, the spatula would pick up the batter and the chocolate cinnamon swirl with it and become a mess.) Sprinkle the crumb topping evenly over the top of the batter.
5. Bake in the center of the oven, rotating the pan three times during baking, for 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. (I believe mine took 5 minutes more.) Let the cake cool in the pan on a wire rack for 30 minutes, then serve. The cake will keep for 3 days, tightly covered, at room temperature.

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