The Ridiculous Coffeecake

…. which sounds like it should be one of the racier Edward Gorey titles, as I think on it, but really, this is about a ridiculous coffeecake.

A friend had a baby last week. This baby arrived a little faster than the parents expected; they’d planned to do the normal thing, show up at a hospital, have the option of an epidural, etc. etc., but things didn’t work out that way, and the proud Papa, a former EMT, wound up delivering his firstborn, a daughter, at about 7.50 a.m.

I knew this couple to be pretty badass, in a quiet, unassuming way, but this just knocked me off my feet. “I gotta bake those people something,” I said to myself. “They’re gonna be exhausted, they’re gonna need to eat something, but damned if I’m bringing them some sad lasagna or something.” First I thought I’d do an applesauce cake, which is nice and wholesome, not unlike this badass couple, but then I thought, “No. I’m having no truck with that. I’m going to appeal to their baser instincts.” And I decided on making some kind of chocolate-swirled coffee cake.

Armed with precisely no recipe in mind or on a piece of paper in front of me, I set up the base of the cake: yeast, sugar, milk, water, salt. I let this sit a while (taking my daughter to school in the meantime). When I got home, I mixed in flour, salt, sour cream, and stirred it with a spoon. When it began to come together, I threw it on my counter top and kneaded in a few tablespoons of butter. The dough felt silky and dense: this, I knew, would make a fabulous loaf of…. something.

I let it rise for a few hours and knocked it down; then I separated it into two fat knobs of dough, one for a large, ring-shaped cake, the other smaller, to be done in a loaf pan. Then I put together a filling. I toasted some pecans and threw them into a food processor with some dark cocoa, a lot of cinnamon, and a combination of white and brown sugars. I rolled out the dough, spread the filling on, and rolled up the cakes, which I placed in two buttered pans, in which I’d also put some of the cocoa/pecan filling (once it had some butter cut into it, and a little flour added, to give it a slightly more streusel-y quality). I let the cakes rise again, and then baked them at 350° for about 45 minutes. They smelled heavenly when they came out of the oven, and looked… well, not handsome, but appealing, in a distinctly-homemade sort of way.

I cut into the ring shape as soon as I felt I could get away from it, and gave one slice to my daughter and one to myself. “Ummmmmmmmmm,” my daughter said, cramming as much of it into her face as she could. “This isn’t bad,” I said thoughtfully. And it wasn’t. The crumb was soft and melting, the filling was delicious… but it wasn’t quite what I’d wanted. I felt bad. But the second loaf was still there to give away, and give it I did, on the theory that while I’m a little disappointed in the cake, a new mother is very unlikely to turn down a sour cream coffee cake with chocolate pecan filling, even if it’s not a product Zabar’s would add to their line.

I’ve had another slice today and have decided that actually this is a very good cake indeed, and that the only things to change are: add more sugar to the dough, and use twice as much filling. I was too stingy with the filling. How could I have made that mistake? But we live, we learn. Next time, I’ll do better.


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