Thursday, January 23, 2014

Pear Sour Cream Coffee Cake

    I mentioned in my last post one of my favorite treats over the holidays was an old fashioned apple cake, and although I promise to share that some time, I wanted to try something new and make sure to use some pears in my baking during their months of glory. I pondered an upside-down cake, or a crisp, but I had some sour cream left over from the German Chocolate Cake and if I am lucky enough to have that around the house it is hard for me to not jump all over making an old fashioned coffee cake.
     I truly love coffee cake. I think it is one of the most wonderfully diverse baked goods in terms of the fact you can eat it for breakfast with your coffee and sit there in wide-eyed happiness that this is how you get to start your morning. If your like me and prefer savory breakfasts, it is the ideal afternoon snack to hold you over and enjoy with (pardon my cliché ) a spot of tea. I dare say its even quite acceptable as an after dinner treat for the gentle soul who still wants cakes but does not care for a thick dose of frosting that particular night. Yes, coffee cake is suitable for everyone's sweet tooth needs.
     Then you cross the bridge of styles of coffee cake: there is yeasted, filled, sour cream, in a Bundt pan, in a square pan covered with large crumbles, with or without fruit, nuts, spices, icing etc. The coffee cake can be adapted to the eaters taste preference, and what time they prefer to eat it.
     Excuse my rambles about the complexity of the humble coffee cake, but perhaps next time you eat one, you will now ponder just how wonderful and what a thoughtful treat it is from the person who shared it with you. 
     This cake in particular is one of the most absolutely moist cakes I have ever made. Period- I am not exaggerating. It was so flipping moist and enveloped in a caramelized outer shell that had a wonderfully deep flavor and contrasted so beautifully with the soft, rich, moist, moist, MOIST inside. My mouth it watering just thinking about it. Now, I did not finish the cake the first day and I have enjoyed it every time I have eaten it, but I cannot stress to you enough the importance of trying this cake a few hours out of the oven. It is a true treat to indulge in and completely necessary. As for the rest of the cake, it has a deep cinnamon flavor that warms you through and through. It has chunks of pear that act as naturally sweet, soft spots almost as if you had used pear butter to spread over the cake. These compliment perfectly the flavors of vanilla, sour cream, and butteriness that are so pronounced in the cake. Finally, the streusel has a heavenly buttery, caramelized pecan flavor, with the lightest touch of salt to balance and enhance the sweet. Where it touches the edges of the pan it turns into bits of joy that resemble a praline. However it does not end there, and adds great richness swirled through the cake. I know this a long post, but I felt in necessary you understand how grateful I am for such a simple baked good, and how strongly I feel you should all make this at home to share with your loved ones as well. 
For the Streusel:
1/4 C packed light brown sugar
1/2 C all purpose flour
1 1/2 TSP ground cinnamon
1/4 TSP fine salt
3/4 C chopped pecans
3 TBSP cold, unsalted butter

For the Cake:
2 1/2 C cake flour (not self rising) or White Lily flour (for the Southern folk) if you can get your hands on it
1 1/2 TSP baking powder
1/2 TSP baking soda
1/2 TSP fine salt
1/2 TSP ground cinnamon
12 TBSP (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted, room temperature butter 
1 1/2 C granulated sugar
3 large eggs, room temp.
1 1/2 TSP vanilla extract
1 C sour cream
1/4 C whole milk
2 medium-large firm pears

*All my recipes are done at altitude. For sea level, use 2 TSP baking powder and 1/2 TSP baking soda. Also, you may use 1 1/4 C sour cream and remove the whole milk if you would like, but you may also follow as the recipe directs.

For the Simple Syrup:
2 TBSP honey
2-3 TBSP boiling water

1. Preheat your oven to 350 F and grease and flour a Bundt pan. 
2. In a small bowl, make the streusel by combining the brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, salt, and pecans. Next cut the butter into small cubes, add it to the dry ingredients and combine using a pastry cutter, your hands (run them under cold water first, then dry), or two knifes. Cut the butter in until it is the size of peas. Place the bowl of streusel in the freezer for later. 
3. For the cake, sift together the flour, baking soda and powder, salt, and cinnamon in a medium bowl and set it aside.
4. Using a stand mixer with the paddle attachment or a large bowl and hand mixer, cream together the butter and sugar for 4-5 minutes on medium-high until they are light in color and fluffy. 
5. Add the eggs one at a time on low-medium speed until they are incorporated. Next turn up the speed to medium-high again and beat for 30-45 seconds until the mixture is a pale yellow and looks thoroughly combined. 
6. Add the vanilla, sour cream, and milk, and beat on medium speed until they are well blended.
7. Finally, turn the speed to low and in three additions, add the flour mixture to the wet mixture and beat until there are no streaks of flour. Make sure to scrape down the sides and around the bottom of the bowl so everything is mixed in and no clumps remain. 
8. Peel the pears and dice into 1/4-1/2" chunks. Add the pears to the mixing bowl and beat for 15 seconds on low until they are spread throughout the batter.
9. Remove the streusel from the freezer and add 1/3 off it to the bottom of the Bundt pan. Next add 1/3 of your batter and spread it evenly around the pan. Repeat with the next 1/3 of streusel and batter and finally repeat one more time with the last 1/3 of each. So the cake should go from the bottom of the pan: streusel, batter, streusel, batter, streusel, batter.  
9. Bake for 50-60 minutes until an inserted cake tester comes out clean. Let the cake cool on a wire rack for 25 minutes before inverting it onto a serving plate. 
10. Add the honey and boiling water to a small bowl, whisk to combine and pour the mixture over top the cake. 
11. Allow the cake to cool 30 more minutes before slicing. Serve immediately and tightly wrap left overs in plastic wrap. Store at room temperature. 

Sunday, January 12, 2014

German Chocolate Cake

     I did not post much recently, and I wanted to give some explanation for my disappearance. In the food blogging world, the holidays are a frenzy of recipe testing and posting to pair with the merriment and holly hanging around the house. I was definitely recipe testing through the month (top contenders go to an old-fashioned apple cake with bourbon brown-sugar icing and a chocolate zucchini clove cake with whipped honey hazelnut frosting). However, the beginning of November through New Years Day is my absolute favorite time of the year and I was already working and thinking about baking in that fashion all the time. I needed some time to bake for myself, for my friends, and for my family. I needed to enjoy the time baking for what it sparks in me and what I can give to those around me with a brief intermission from writing and photographing it. 
     Luckily, I felt very rejuvenated in this process. I hope you guys all had a chance to bake for your own peace and to share with those you love over the holidays as well. Coming back, I was thinking about what I wanted to post next and in the fashion of baking for my soul, I settled on a German Chocolate Cake. I have wanted to make one for a long time and really what could be better for your soul than that?? 
     Then I made the cake...the filling did not thicken up as much as it was supposed too, so instead of being a thicker frosting-like consistency, it was more coconut and pecans as the filling with a lighter liquidy mixture. I was so bummed and I felt I could never post what in my mind was seemingly a "disaster cake." However, then I tried it and good god, I went back and forth deciding what to do. It is true, it was not the perfect traditional German Chocolate Cake. However, such a delicious resulting mishap could not be hidden from people. The cake had to be shared.
      The cake is moist chocolate, whose depth comes from cocoa powder, semi-sweet chocolate and sour cream. The edges caramelizes ever so slightly on the to form the perfect sugary bite in the cake with just the right balance. Then the two layers are cut in half to form four thin layers of cake. This is absolutely perfect for maximizing coconut-pecan goo enjoyment. Since the frosting did not thicken up enough, it formed a slightly thick, rich, moist, milky, sweet simple syrup that soaked through each layer into pure bliss. It left the coconut and pecans behind to form a sugary coated delicious filling between each layer. It was decadent and rich. You know what, folks? I don't care if it wasn't like your traditional German Chocolate Cake. It was to die for and I at more of that cake than most I have ever made. So now, I am sharing this unique treat, embracing my imperfection, and enjoying the heck out of another giant slice of this lovely cake. 
(If you want the thicker frosting, we will go over that in instructions, but really I think you should give this a try!)
Very very barely adapted from Cook's Illustrated "Baking Book"
4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate (broken up)
1/4 C Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1/2 C boiling water
2 C all-purpose flour
3/4 TSP baking soda (a scant 3/4 TSP at altitude)
12 TBSP unsalted butter
1 C granulated sugar
2/3 C packed light brown sugar
3/4 TSP salt
4 large eggs, room temp
1 TSP vanilla extract
3/4 C sour cream

4 large egg yolks
1 (12 ounce) can evaporated milk
1 C granulated sugar
1/4 C packed light brown sugar
6 TBSP cold butter, cut into pieces
2 pinches of salt
2 TSP vanilla extract
2 1/2 C sweetened shredded coconut 
1 3/4 C toasted, chopped pecans

1. Place oven rack in lower two thirds of oven and preheat it to 350 F. Grease two 9 in cake pans and line them with parchment paper.
2. Combine chocolate and cocoa powder in a small bowl, then pour the boiling water over it and stir until it is all melted together. Allow the mixture to cool.
3. Sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl.
4. Using a stand mixer (or hand mixer and very large bowl) beat the butter and both sugars together on high until light and fluffy (about 3 minutes). 
5. Add the eggs, one at a time and beat until combined.
6. Add in the vanilla extract and beat until light and fluffy on medium-high speed (for about 45 seconds.) 
7. Add chocolate, beat on low to incorporate, then increase to medium speed for an additional 30 seconds.
8. Reduce the speed to low and add the flour and sour cream in alternating additions (3 additions for the flour and the sour cream in 2; start and end with the flour mixture.) Scrape the sides down as necessary and give the mixture a final stir by hand to make sure all is fully incorporated.
9. Divide the batter evenly into the pans, smooth the tops with a rubber spatula, and bake for 30 minutes until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
10. Remove the cakes and let them cool for 10 minutes before inverting. Then let the cakes cool for an additional 2 hours before assembly. 

1. Whisk the egg yolks in a medium-sized saucepan, then gradually pour in the evaporated milk. 
2. Add both types of sugars, butter, and salt and continue to whisk constantly over medium-high heat, until the mixture is frothy and thickened. The mixture should coat the back of a spoon and not fill in the lines if you were to draw your finger across it horizontally (Nappe consistency).
3. Remove from the heat, transfer the liquid to a bowl and stir in the coconut.
4. Cool until warm, cover directly with plastic and place in the fridge until it has completely cooled.
5. When you are ready to assemble, stir in the pecan pieces and begin. 

-There are not photos for most this this because I had to be whisking constantly to prevent the eggs from curdling.

 1. Using a sharp, serrated knife, cut each 9 in cake in half so you have 4 thin disks. Begin by tracing an even line around the perimeter of the cake with your knife then following that line, cut in and around the cake.
2. Lay down one piece, then scoop 1 cup of filling onto the cake and spread evenly, making sure to bring it all the way to the edges. Repeat with each layer until all four have been place down. Pour all of the remaining filling mixture over top and spread in the same fashion as before.