When I’m visiting, especially for an overnight stay, there’s one hosting gift I turn to every time: coffee cake. Specifically, a familiar-tasting, cinnamon-swirl treat that can hold up for a few days — not that it ever hangs around for that long.
Yum Yum Coffee Cake was my grandmother’s secret weapon. Mary Solomon was an excellent baker, and this was her signature “bake.” She attributed the recipe to her Aunt Sophie, who would make it whenever the seven nephews and nieces visited.
My grandmother carried this cake to new neighbors, served slices of it at mahjong night and offered it whole at bake sales. But because she kept my grandfather on a perpetual diet, at home it was wrapped in foil and hidden inside the toaster oven. As kids, we knew just where to look. She cut thick wedges, tucked them into paper napkins and then sent us outside to devour that cinnamon ribbon, the tender, tangy yellow cake and the sugary, nutty topping.
Coffee cake is a wonderful, old-fashioned treat. It calls for a pot of coffee or tea and a pretty plate, and it suggests a break in the day. It’s good for a last sweet bite after a savory breakfast. It’s the one you want to store under a dome so you can sneak the occasional sliver.
If you’re visiting a family with young, curious children, consider making this cake on a sleepy Sunday morning; it may inspire a new generation of bakers. It worked for me: This was the first cake I learned to bake. (To this day, I keep the recipe, written on a Peanuts recipe card, in a metal box.) Making it teaches several basic skills: how to measure; how to soften butter; how to beat the sugar and butter until fluffy; how to stir until no streaks remain. I have wonderful, happy memories of sitting at the kitchen table with my grandmother, our fingers breaking just-toasted, hot pecan halves into small pieces.
It’s likely that your host, or you, will have the cake’s ingredients on hand. Plan ahead and bring a tube-style baking pan with you (or a paper version, available online and at most kitchen stores). Such a pan is slightly narrower at the base than at the top; has a hollow core that encourages a nice rise; and has a removable bottom that makes for a simpler cake release.
Simpler, perhaps, but not without some stress — as in the terrifying moment when the entire cake must be dislodged on its way to being served. Be sure to butter, then flour that center-tube part of the pan, which will help. If the cake cracks, place it on the plate in slices, with the cinnamon ribbon exposed. No one will know that wasn’t your intention.
Because the pecan topping is loose, it will not work in the bottom of a Bundt pan. I’ve been-there, tried-that. All the topping and a good bit of cake remained, burnt, in the pan’s crevices when it came time to invert the thing. It wasn’t pretty.
For a festive gift, wrap the cake in wax or tissue paper, and tuck it inside a round tin. Remember to include a recipe card, because I’ve never served Aunt Sophie’s Yum Yum Coffee Cake without someone’s asking for the recipe.
It tastes like home.
Barrow is a Washington cookbook author. She’ll join Wednesday’s Free Range chat at noon: live.washingtonpost.com.
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12 to 16 servings
This is the one cake to have on hand — and present as a gift — for the holidays, because its tender crumb, ribbon of cinnamon and sugary pecan topping have universal appeal.
MAKE AHEAD: The cake can be wrapped in plastic wrap or stored under a dome at room temperature for up to 4 days. Or wrap the cake in plastic wrap and foil, and freeze for up to 1 month.
From Bring It! columnist Cathy Barrow.
For the filling
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
3/4 cup (5 1/4 ounces) packed dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
For the topping
1/3 cup (2 1/2 ounces) packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup (1 3/4 ounces) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup (3 1/2 ounces) pecans or walnuts, toasted and chopped (see NOTE)
For the cake
8 tablespoons (1 stick) good-quality unsalted butter, plus more for the pan
2 cups (8 1/2 ounces) flour, plus more for the pan
1 cup (7 ounces) granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (8 ounces) sour cream
For the filling: Stir together the melted butter, brown sugar and cinnamon in a medium bowl.
For the topping: Stir together the brown and granulated sugars, the cinnamon and the toasted, chopped nuts in a separate bowl.
For the cake: Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Use the removable bottom of the pan as a template to cut a parchment round with a hole in the center (corresponding with the pan’s tube center). Generously grease the pan with butter, and then coat it well with flour, shaking out any excess. Place the parchment in the bottom of the pan, then butter and flour the parchment.
Combine the 8 tablespoons of butter and the granulated sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer or handheld electric mixer; beat on medium speed for several minutes, until light and fluffy. Stop to scrape down the bowl. (You can also mix the cake batter by hand using a sturdy wooden spoon.)
On medium speed, add the eggs one at a time, beating to incorporate after each addition. Add the vanilla extract, beating just until well blended. Stop to scrape down the bowl.
Whisk together the 2 cups of flour, the baking soda, baking powder and salt in a bowl. On low speed, add half that mixture to the mixer bowl, then the sour cream, then the remaining flour mixture. Beat on low speed just until no streaks of flour remain.
Add half the batter to the pan, using a large spoon to gently dollop it around the bottom, then use an offset spatula to gently spread it evenly. Scatter the filling over the batter. Spoon the remaining batter in big dollops over the filling (they don’t have to be spread and will come together fine in the oven), then distribute the topping.
Bake (middle rack) for 55 minutes or until a tester inserted into the thickest part of the cake comes out clean. Cool completely before releasing the cake from its pan.
To remove the cake, run a table knife around the inside of the pan and around the tube center of the pan. Lift the center out so the cake is still on the removable bottom. Carefully work your fingers and/or a cake lifter under the bottom of the parchment paper, then either lift the cake over the tube center or let the removable bottom fall away as you transfer the cake to a plate, removing the parchment if you can.
NOTE: Toast the pecans or walnuts in a dry skillet over medium heat for a few minutes, shaking the pan to avoid scorching, until the nuts are fragrant and lightly browned. Cool completely before using.
Nutrition | Per serving (based on 16, using pecans): 310 calories, 3 g protein, 43 g carbohydrates, 15 g fat, 7 g saturated fat, 50 mg cholesterol, 140 mg sodium, 1 g dietary fiber, 30 g sugar
Recipe tested by Cathy Barrow; email questions to email@example.com
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