Christmas Morning Coffee Cake

Christmas Morning Coffee Cake

The holiday spirit has eluded us this year. Because of my surgery, we missed both S’s family Christmas get-together and my own family’s Hanukkah one. We didn’t even bother with a tree, which longtime readers will realize is kind of a big deal for this Christmas-loving Jew. S and I exchanged our gifts last night—we’re both eager types, and he grew up opening his Christmas gifts at midnight—so when I woke up this morning it felt pretty much like any other day. Not so unusual for me, perhaps, since Christmas really is just another day, but I felt bad for S. I wanted him to have something special. Which of course translates into food.

I pulled out my go-to baking book, The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion, and checked the inside front cover. It’s such a massive tome, and filled with such good things, that I’ve taken to recording on the endpapers the results of the recipes I’ve tried. Apparently we really liked the Classic Cinnamon-Nut Coffee Ring on page 95—all I’d written about it was “WOW!” On the page itself, I’d scrawled “Yum,” and made some notations about tweaks to the original recipe, mostly for lightening purposes. Less butter and oil, and more non-fat yogurt. Egg whites instead of whole eggs. Splenda for half the sugar. I also added dried cherries to the nut-chocolate filling, which gave it a lovely tart-sweet flavor. Perfect. This was a Christmas morning recipe, for sure.

The smell while it’s baking is incredible—it takes nearly two hours from the time you pull the flour out of the cabinet until you finally take that first bite, and man is it hard to wait that long. But the end result is absolutely, completely worth it: tender, cinnamon-scented cake, golden brown crust, and nearly decadent filling, and not too too many calories. I dare you to eat just one piece.

Merry Christmas, and Happy Hanukkah, everyone.

Cinnamon-Cherry-Pecan (and Chocolate) Coffee Ring
Adapted from The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion
Serves 18

Nonstick cooking spray
4 T. butter, at room temperature
¼ cup vegetable oil
½ cup sugar
½ cup Splenda (or just use a full cup of sugar)
4 large egg whites
1 large egg
1 t. ground cinnamon
Scant 1 T. vanilla extract
2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
2 t. baking powder
2 t. baking soda
1 ¼ cup yogurt or sour cream [I used nonfat yogurt]

½ cup chopped pecans or walnuts [I used pecans]
½ cup chocolate chips
½ cup dried cherries
½ cup Splenda or sugar
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 t. cinnamon
3 T. butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 350. Spray a 9- or 10-inch bundt or tube pan with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.

For the cake:
In a medium-sized mixing bowl, beat together the butter, oil, and sugar/Splenda until fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the salt, cinnamon, and vanilla and beat until evenly incorporated.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and baking soda. Add the flour mixture to the butter-egg mixture alternately with the yogurt or sour cream, mixing on slow speed just until blended.

For the filling:
In a small mixing bowl, combine all the remaining ingredients. [Don’t do what I did and forget the butter! I realized it about two minutes after the cake went into the oven, so I quickly pulled it out and drizzled some of the butter on top of the dry filling…]

Put it together:
Spoon half the cake batter into the prepared pan. Smooth the batter to level it and sprinkle on two-thirds of the filling. Top with the remaining batter [an offset spatula comes in really handy here] and sprinkle with the remaining filling.

Bake for 45 to 55 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. 9-inch pans will take the longer time to bake. Remove the cake from the oven and let it cool in the pan for 15 minutes. Turn out onto a wire rack. Cool it completely, then sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar before serving, if you’re feeling fancy.