The Cake Slice: Cinnamon Pecan Coffee Cake

Cinnamon Pecan Coffee Cake 1

When I began working on “Hot Oven, Warm Heart” a few months back, I was absolutely blown away by the warm welcome and positive feedback I received from the baking and blogging community. As I embarked upon this new endeavor, I was hoping to pursue my passion, expand my skills, and chronicle my culinary adventures, but more importantly, I wanted to form meaningful connections with other people along the way. After joining the Sweet Melissa Sundays group, and getting to know many of the amazing members- all talented bakers with shining spirits, open minds, and kind hearts, I realized I had stumbled upon a rare opportunity to become a part of something truly special. United through a shared experience, the many miles that separate us seem to fade away as we all sit down at one huge virtual kitchen table to enjoy the same slice of freshly baked cake, bite of warm, gooey cookie, or forkful of rich, crusty pie. With each supportive comment, piece of advice, or word of encouragement, new friendships are fostered and the close-knit online family that has formed grows stronger. I am no longer alone when tackling my latest recipe- rather, I have a team of lovely ladies, scattered all over the world, who are always cheering me on, whisking, beating, stirring, kneading, and mixing right alongside.

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I am delighted that today marks the start to a new chapter in my blogging career, as one of the most recent additions to another fabulous online baking group called The Cake Slice Bakers. For the last year, they baked their way through arguably the most innovative book on the market featuring layer cakes, Sky High: Irresistible Triple Layer Cakes by Alisa Huntsman. It was through reading many of their posts that I was persuaded to purchase a copy of my own, and I have since utilized it time and again with phenomenal results for all my celebration cake baking needs. When I read that the group would be moving on to a second cookbook, and temporarily accepting more members, I jumped at the chance to join, eager to take the next step on this inspiring journey, and meet a whole new batch of baking bloggers. Each month we will be trying a different recipe from Southern Cakes: Sweet and Irresistible Recipes for Everyday Celebrations by Nancie McDermott, featuring 65 charming, down-home, sinfully delicious recipes that reflect a region steeped in rich culinary tradition. As a Boston girl born-and-raised, I’m anxious to discover some exceptionally unique cakes that reflect this Southern heritage, and have been passed down from generation to generation. The recipes cover a wide range of cake styles, everything from Bourbon Pound Cake, Lady Baltimore Cake, Lemon-Filled Coconut Cake, and Tomato Soup Cake to Charleston Huguenot Torte, Red Velvet Cake, Blackberry Jam Cake with Caramel Glaze, Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake with Divinity Icing, and Mississippi Mud Cake. We’re kicking things off with a winner, an out-of-this-world Cinnamon Pecan Coffee Cake, and if this choice is any indication, The Cake Slice Bakers have succeeded yet again in their book selection, unearthing an impressive literary gem that just might have found a permanent home on my cookbook shelves.

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Coffee cakes first appeared on the table in seventeenth century Europe, where the earliest versions consumed alongside a cup of coffee were more akin to the sweet yeast breads popular at that time. Recipes for the tasty pastry came to America along with German, Scandinavian, and Dutch immigrants, and during colonial times, the German and Holland communities in New York, Delaware, and New Jersey were famed for their delicious variations. By the late 1800’s, coffee cake recipes evolved, and those being published in cookbooks for everyday American homemakers more closely resembled the cake-like sort we’re used to today. Coffee cakes are instantly recognizable and distinguished by the inclusion of streusel, (a German word meaning “something scattered or sprinkled”). This classic filling and/or topping is a deliciously simple mixture of sugar, flour, butter, spices, and oftentimes nuts, that is usually layered between a sour-cream cake batter and baked into a superb treat- the perfect accompaniment to a cup o’ joe.

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The Cinnamon Pecan Coffee Cake from Southern Cakes is a fabulous representation of the old-timey dessert. Supremely moist with a delicate, tender crumb, it is bursting with flavor and contrasting textures thanks to the crunchy nuts and juicy raisins in the generous streusel. While assembling the cake, I was worried that the proportion of batter to cinnamon sugar mixture was off, fearing filling domination. I was pleasantly surprised to be proven wrong, and found the finished product was well balanced, even with a substantial center swirl, and plenty of sweet crusty topping. Exceeding my expectations, it’s a real crowd-pleaser that would be appropriate not only to serve as a casual complement to morning coffee, but also as an impressive and elegant dessert for a more formal occasion.

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Although I’m confident I will be baking it again in the future, my only grievance with this yummy cake is due to the extensive preparation. I dirtied many a bowl while assembling the different elements, and temporarily turned my kitchen counter into a (well-organized) mess. With a few other coffee cakes under my belt, I felt that this one was a bit fussy by comparison, especially when it came to distributing the rather thick batter on top of the filling. It was not feasible to simply spoon on a mound of batter and spread it evenly with a spatula without pulling up the carefully scattered mixture, and eliminating the possibility of maintaining defined layers. To circumvent this issue, I used a teaspoon to place small dollops of batter close together all over the filling, and then carefully smoothed them out with the back of my spoon, taking care to bring batter all the way to the edge of the pan. It took some extra time and patience, but in the end it paid off, and I was quite pleased with the finished cake’s visual appeal. I also utilized two of my favorite tricks when prepping ingredients- plumping the raisins in boiling water (with a touch of vanilla for flavor) so that they would remain moist during baking, and toasting the pecans. Even if it’s not indicated in the recipe I always toast my nuts, which does wonders to bring out their intense, robust flavor. Of course, these are small touches, but sometimes it’s the little things that elevate a baked good from ordinary to extraordinary, and allow it to realize its full potential.

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If you’d like to give this memorable coffee cake a try, here’s a link to a printable recipe. I can’t wait to experiment with more of the delectable delicacies found in Southern Cakes, and I’m so happy to be exploring this book with The Cake Slice Bakers. A big thank you goes out to the other members who permitted my admission into the group- I’m really looking forward to getting to know all of you! Isn’t it wonderful that cake has the power to bring people together?

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SMS: Spiced Pumpkin Cookie Cakes

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As a special treat, my Mom used to take my big sister Jessica and I to our local bakery, where we were each allowed to make our own selection. While I always hemmed and hawed, usually allured and distracted by the cupcakes topped with a huge pile of frosting meant to resemble Sesame Street characters (to this day I’m baffled by their appeal), I ultimately chose one of two pastries: a half moon cookie (also known as a black-and-white cookie) or a classic whoopie pie. Both featured two contrasting elements, had a soft, tender texture, and were utterly delicious. I have fond memories of savoring every bite of my preferred snack, knowing that I had done something my Mom recognized and appreciated worthy of a sweet reward. To this day, whoopie pies bring back encouraging childhood memories, and yet this recipe marked their inaugural appearance in my kitchen. After completing Melissa Murphy’s Spiced Pumpkin Cookie Cakes, and receiving nothing but glowing reviews from both my family as well as the hospital nursing staff currently caring for Jess (I figured that sharing these pies with her medical providers would be a wonderful way to express my sincere gratitude for all their help), I knew it would not be their final showing in my home this season.

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A whoopie pie, also referred to as a gob, bob, or black-and-white is a type of cookie sandwich composed of two round, mound-shaped pieces of cake, usually chocolate or pumpkin flavored, that are filled with a sweet, creamy frosting. According to Pennsylvania Amish tradition, generations of Amish women would utilize leftover batter to prepare these baked treats, and pack them in their farmers’ lunchboxes. Legend says that upon discovering the cookie cakes in their lunches, farmers would shout with excitement, “Whoopie!”, giving the sweets their unique name. While most renowned in New England, and adopted as a state tradition in Maine, whoopie pies are gaining popularity across the United States.

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Melissa must have missed the memo about the animated farmers’ exclamation, because she titled her recipe “Cookie Cakes”- although it may be a more descriptive name, it’s nowhere near as entertaining to say. Regardless of designation, these delectable little morsels are the ideal antidote to blustery New England weather. Puffy pumpkin cakes accented by warming fall spices and thoughtfully paired with a citrus spiked cream cheese frosting make for an exceptional flavor combination which dances on the tongue. As a New England native, I’m accustomed to the colossal sized saucers sold in bakeries up here that are challenge for one taster to finish without sharing a bite or two. But Melissa’s cakes are of a daintier nature- I made mine a bit bigger than stated in the directions, and my cookies were still only 2½ to 3″ in diameter. The pumpkin imparted a deep burnt orange hue to the cake portion, which contrasted beautifully with the bright white creamy filling. Speckled with finely grated orange zest, the cream cheese, butter, confectioner sugar frosting had that extra punch of bright flavor, a nice twist on the original straight-up vanilla cream. I’ve come to the conclusion that Melissa considers citrus zest one of her secret weapons in the kitchen- elevating the level of sophistication many of her baked goods embody and offering a surprise twist to the classics. In certain applications, I’ve felt it was misplaced and detracted from the overall appeal, however, I feel it gives just the right amount of pep these pies need. I’m even thinking about adding it to my favorite pumpkin loaf recipe- a killer quick bread I will definitely be sharing with you soon!

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I highly recommend you hop over to the kitchen and bake a batch of your own, or bookmark this yummy recipe to serve at your next soiree this season- they’d be the perfect hand held single serve dessert for your Halloween party or even Thanksgiving. If you do whip up some of Melissa’s cookie cakes, I have a few recommendations to expedite the process. Melissa advocates using a pastry bag to pip the batter onto prepared cookie sheets- I found this step unnecessary, and really, if you can avoid the hassle of cleaning out a bag and tip, I say take advantage of the opportunity. I found that my handy dandy small-sized ice cream/cookie scoop worked perfectly, and bonus!- it ensured that all my cookies came out nice and round and exactly the same size, which made for even sandwiches. My scoop distributed about 1 tablespoon of batter per cookie (much more than Melissa’s suggested rounded teaspoon, which seemed kind of measly to me), but the baking time remained the same- mine passed the toothpick test in about 13 minutes. I also ditched the pastry bag for dispersing the frosting- my small offset spatula, which I can’t live without, by the way, worked just fine. I didn’t bother measuring out a specific amount of filling per pie, I simply spread on an even layer that was enough to support the top and leave space between the two halves. A little squish, and you’ll be in business.

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Sending out a big “WHOOPIE!” to Debbie for her fabulous SMS selection. You’ll find the recipe over at Every Day Blessings of The Five Dee’s, in The Sweet Melissa Baking Book, as well as catalogued in my keeper files. And don’t forget to take a peak at the plethora of pies produced by all the other ladies on our blogroll.

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SMS: Whole Orange Poppyseed Cake

Whole Orange Poppyseed Cake

Citrus recipes and I go way back. The first thing I ever attempted to make solo was fresh lemonade for my Grandma and Papa. I was so proud of myself as I presented each of them with a full glass, and I watched eagerly with anticipation as they took their first sips. My grandmother smiled ear to ear and declared it the best she’d ever had, while my grandfather winced intensely, unable to hide his tastebud’s acute reaction. Apparently, I had forgotten a rather important ingredient (it’s hard to remember all TWO components of lemonade, you know)… the sugar! I didn’t have much more success a few years later when I tried making fresh squeezed orange juice on Mother’s Day, after presenting my mom with a beautiful antique-style juicer. After cutting, pressing, and praying over an entire bag of oranges, I emerged from the kitchen with a pathetic, measly 1/3 of a cup of juice to accompany her breakfast in bed. I later realized I had purchased the wrong kind of oranges, unsuitable for juicing- who knew such citrus fruit existed?

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Despite my early citrus centered failures, I’ve had much better luck utilizing these fruits in my baking. A few months back my Mom returned from California with a bag full of the most vibrant, juicy lemons picked from a tree at my great aunt and uncle’s home in Encino. I did some recipe searching, and settled on Ina Garten’s lemon cake, a moist, bright, lightly glazed loaf that my family raved about and quickly devoured. And thanks to Melissa of the delightful blog, Lulu the Baker, I’ve now found it’s orange counterpart, Whole Orange Poppyseed Cake.

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This exceptional cake employs a unique method of infusing citrus flavor. As the name implies, it’s not only the zest and juice of the fruit incorporated into the recipe, but literally the entire orange! It’s cut into segments and simply thrown into the food processor with some sugar, pulsed thoroughly, and broken down into the most aromatic orange-flecked mixture imaginable. With all the essential oils residing in the peel, every ounce of orange essence is incorporated into the batter, not just the flavor from a few teaspoons of zest. You would think that the white pith might add bitterness, but fortunately, this is far from the case. A lovely finishing touch of a citrus glaze adds a gorgeous sheen and sticky sweet-tart bite. I utilized the same technique I used with my lemon cake when applying the glaze- first, I poked the top all over with a toothpick, and then brushed on the glaze, allowing it to seep down into the cake, and enhancing the delicate crumb with tremendous moisture. The poppyseeds are an unexpected and fun mix-in, which pair just as well with orange as the more commonly matched lemon.

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And bonus! Oranges just so happen to be packed with health benefits, especially in the often discarded peel. A great source of Vitamin C, oranges also contain phytonutrients with healing properties- the most powerful of which, Herperidin, is found in the peel and inner white pulp, has strong anti-inflammatory properties, and can reduce blood pressure and cholesterol. Because it’s found in the peel and pulp, rather than the liquid orange center, you usually miss out on these powerful health benefits. Not so with Whole Orange Poppyseed Cake! Each bite packs a punch of flavor and nutrition.

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Incredibly fragrant, quick to pull together, and simple yet sophisticated, this cake is a lovely choice to serve guests and pairs well with coffee or tea. My dad’s review noted that it tastes as good as it looks and smells, a compliment I’ll take any day! A big thank you goes out to Melissa for selecting this fantastic SMS pick- definitely check out her adorable site, and give the recipe a try. Also, take a look at what the other SMS bakers cooked up this week by exploring the Sweet Melissa Sunday’s blogroll.

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SMS: Lemon Blueberry Cheesecake with Cornmeal Crumble Crust

Lemon Blueberry Cheesecake with Cornmeal Crumble Crust

Food is a consummate communicator. When made from the heart, a special meal or sweet treat can say “I love you,” “Congratulations,” “I’m proud of you,” or “I appreciate all you do.” I decided to utilize this week’s SMS recipe, Lemon Blueberry Cheesecake with a Cornmeal Crumble Crust, to offer sincere thanks to my neighbors, Toby and Rebecca. A few weeks back we experienced a very close call when my puppy (and the love of my life), Bella, narrowly missed oncoming traffic while running across our street. Though both my Mom and I yelled for her to come, and tried desperately to catch her, our efforts proved futile. In all my fervor, I ended up tripping over my own two feet (yeah, I’m super coordinated like that!), eating the pavement, and acquiring open abrasions on my hip, palms, and knees. Bleeding, heart racing, and feeling scared-to-death, I stood up to find Bella safe and sound in the yard across the street, showering Toby and Rebecca with kisses. They had heard all the commotion and acted heroically and without hesitation, calling out to Bella and in effect, saving her life. In my mind, they were two angels that day, and I simply can’t thank them enough for being there in our moment of need. With the desire to express my deepest appreciation, my mind immediately went to food, and more specifically, cheesecake, Toby’s favorite dessert- it was the perfect choice to say “Thank you, thank you, thank you!”

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A beloved dessert with different variations all over the world, cheesecake is said to date back to 776 BC, when the Greeks served it to the athletes at the first Olympic games. The Romans soon caught on, spreading recipes throughout Europe, and eventually the confection made its way along with immigrants to America. In 1872, while trying to duplicate the popular Neufchatel cheese of France, American dairymen developed a formula for an un-ripened cheese they named cream cheese, which was even richer and creamier than the original. As the main ingredient of the modern cheesecake, this breakthrough ushered in a new age of cheesecake baking. Today, while there are many different styles reflective of various regions, most Americans can agree that cheesecake holds a special place in our country’s heart.

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Despite its popularity, cheesecake is one dessert that I’ve never attempted before. When my baking first started catching on, I quickly learned the individual tastes of my two best testers, Mom and Dad. Though very few things were outlawed on his account, my dad made clear that cheesecake was blacklisted in our house. I like to think of myself as a well-rounded baker, so I was giddy to find an excuse to end the cheesecake ban in my kitchen. I did a little research prior to my first baking foray, and quickly realized there are LOTS of things to consider when baking cheesecake. Here are some of the tips and tricks I picked up along the way:

*Use room temperature ingredients- It is much easier to whip softened cream cheese, and will help achieve the creamy and smooth consistency you want for your batter.

*Don’t over-beat the batter- If too much air is incorporated into the filling, the cheesecake will puff when baked and sink as it cools, and is also likely to crack. It is actually the eggs that will hold air in the batter, so add them last, and then mix as little as possible, only until combined.

*Bake the cheesecake gently using a water-bath- A long, slow bake allows for a more uniform internal temperature, and a water-bath, or bain-marie, keeps the oven moisture high and the heat gentle. Wrap the bottom of your springform pan in aluminum foil, place it in a larger pan, and pour hot water halfway up the outside of the springform pan- by using this technique, the cheesecake will cook more evenly.

*Don’t over-bake!– An over-baked cheesecake tends to crack and be dry, not creamy. The cheesecake is done when the top jiggles as a whole and the center two inches look softer and slightly moist. Remember, the cheesecake will continue to bake after it is removed from the oven, and the texture will smooth out as it cools.

*Loosen the cake from the edge of the pan after it comes out of the oven- Run the tip of a knife or narrow spatula between the top edge of the cake and the side of the pan, which allows it to pull away freely from the pan as it cools.

*And finally, chill, baby, chill- After the cake comes to room temperature, refrigerate at least 6 hours, but ideally, overnight. Chilling the cheesecake allows the cream cheese to sink into the crust and ensures the dessert is firm and easy to cut. It’s definitely worth the wait!

Thank you to Eliana of A Chica Bakes for choosing this great cheesecake recipe, and pushing me to expand my ever-growing baking repertoire. And of course, a big thanks to Toby and Rebecca for taking care of my little girl.

Bella

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