Recipe quick takes: Sour Cream Coffeecake from the King Arthur Flour cookbook

I’m about to leave on vacation, and there’s always a bit of concern to use up perishable items that might not still be edible by the time I get back home and am ready to cook again. In this case, because I made that tasty vegetarian chili last week, I had most of a tub of sour cream left over, and experience has taught me that — despite what you’d think — sour cream actually has a tendency to go off before I manage to use it. This is perhaps because, other than chili, there aren’t a whole lot of recipes that use small — or even moderate — quantities of the stuff. I have plenty of recipes that call for a quarter cup, say, and a few that call for multiple cups, but I only found one in my cookbook library that would use almost exactly what I had.

The cookbook in question is The King Arthur Flour 200th Anniversary Cookbook — for a long time, simply the King Arthur Flour cookbook. Now it has been superseded to a great degree by newer cookbooks, both three thick volumes from the company and numerous other bakery cookbooks, not to mention Web sites too numerous to mention. But it’s occasionally still good for something, in this case a coffee cake recipe that can use sour cream, yogurt, or buttermilk depending on what you have on hand and how much fat you want in the end product. Apparently it was in the company’s files for a long time and later reformulated to allow this flexibility; in any case, it calls for nearly a pound of flour and quite a lot of baking powder in addition to three eggs, but not so much butter as I would have expected. There’s a “topping” — almost but not quite a streusel — made from nuts, brown sugar, and spices. I put “topping” in quotation marks because two thirds of it actually goes into the cake itself, as a thin layer in the middle and also on the top of the cake (which becomes the bottom when inverted, although perhaps I misunderstood the directions).

In the spirit of getting rid of things before they spoil, I used all India Tree dark muscovado in this recipe where brown sugar is called for; I had to heat it up in the microwave to loosen the nearly solid block of sugar. I found the batter to be quite stiff — often an issue when I use the Wallaby brand sour cream I usually prefer as a condiment, as it has less water than other supermarket sour creams — and it was very difficult to get it into the tube pan in even layers to allow the insertion of the “topping”, and I made no effort to swirl them together. The recipe calls for adding the remaining third of the “topping” after turning the baked cake out of the pan; I put it on the “top” — which was the bottom during baking — but in retrospect think I should either have re-inverted the cake, or else baked it with the “topping” on the bottom of the pan.

Overall I’d rate this coffee cake as a “meh”. While everyone at work seemed to like it, I didn’t think particularly highly of it, and it has a very high calorie load (nearly 400 kcal when sliced in 16 pieces). I might try it again with fat-free buttermilk to see if that makes it any better, but I have a feeling the issues with it are more than just the dairy ingredients — and there are plenty of other coffee cakes and tea breads to try first. The obligatory photo:
Sour Cream Coffee Cake

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New “Recommendations” page

I’ve created a new “Recommendations” page calling out the recipes that I recommend particularly highly. (This is just a summary of the other pages under the “Recipes” menu.)

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Other people’s recipes: Lan Lam’s Vegetarian (vegan, even) Chili for Cook’s Illustrated

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I’m not a fan of a lot of vegetarian fare: all too often the major flavors, especially the protein sources, are things I don’t care to eat. That goes doubly for vegan food, since without eggs and dairy many of … Continue reading

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Other people’s recipes: Diane St. Clair’s Buttermilk coconut blondies (sort of)

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Usually when I do one of these recipe posts, I try to follow the original procedure as closely as possible — especially for bakery. But in this case — from Diane St. Clair’s The Animal Farm Buttermilk Cookbook (p. 188) … Continue reading

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Other people’s recipes: Rosetta Costantino’a Torta Caprese

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If it seems to you like I’ve spent a lot of time over the past year baking from just a handful of cookbooks, you’d be right. Leaving the same books in a pile on one’s dinner table can have that … Continue reading

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Other people’s recipes: Joanne Chang’s caramelized onion and bacon quiche

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I’m always on the lookout for recipes that will give me reasonably low-calorie lunches and dinners, because my diet doesn’t leave a lot of room for thousand-calorie meals. (Alternatively, I’m always on the lookout for reasonably low-calorie meals so I … Continue reading

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My recipe: Macaroni and cheese with bacon and scallions

Every so often I make something that’s entirely my own. I wanted to have macaroni and cheese for this long holiday weekend, and after checking out some possibilities in Marlena Spieler’s Macaroni and Cheese, I decided that I might as well roll my own from ingredients I had on hand. I only needed to buy one ingredient: the cheese. I don’t do mac & cheese all that often, but I had plenty of pasta to use (too much, as it turned out), plus milk, butter, flour, onion, and bacon. Here’s the parts list:

500 g fusilli (but see below)
1 oz (30 g) butter
1 oz (30 g) all-purpose flour
2 cups (480 ml) low-fat milk
5 scallions, white part minced and greens roughly chopped
8 oz (225 g) sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1 cup (or to taste) frozen peas
5 rashers smoky thick-cut bacon, rendered and crumbled
  salt and pepper to taste

For the bread-crumb topping:

½ cup (35 g) panko
1 tbl (15 g) butter
¼ cup (20 g) Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated fine
2 tbl (or to taste) chopped parsley

Mise en place
Starting, as always, with the mise en place, you’ll note that I’ve already rendered the bacon. I kept the bacon fat for another recipe — it will not be used here — and let the bacon drain on a paper towel. The scallions (left over from last weekend — otherwise I would have used shallot and/or yellow onion) were separated into whites and greens, and I minced the white part while keeping the greens in relatively large pieces. A variety of cheeses are appropriate for this sort of dish, but I chose cheddar as having a reasonably strong but not overpowering flavor and being easy to incorporate into a cheese sauce. The peas were just leftovers.

Toasted panko
To start, I melted some butter in a small saucepan and used it to toast the panko. Panko generally doesn’t color all that much in the oven unless you really broil it, which I didn’t want to do — this dish is really pretty well cooked before it goes into the oven — so toasting it gives it better texture and color without killing the casserole. After toasting, I put the panko in a bowl, and once it was cooled, I mixed in the Parmigiano-Reggiano and chopped parsley.

It’s really hard to take good photos of the next few stovetop steps, so I don’t have any, sorry. The minced scallion whites are cooked in the remaining butter until softened, then flour is added to make a roux, which is cooked until lightly colored. The milk, having been previously heated in the microwave, is whisked into the roux, and the resulting mixture is heated over medium heat, whisking constantly, to make a smooth, moderately thick bechamel sauce. I added a pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper for seasoning, then reduced the heat and gradually added the shredded cheddar to make the cheese sauce. While all this was going on, I was also cooking the fusilli, which I took off the stove a minute or two early, drained, and returned to the cooking vessel. I added the bacon, scallion greens, and frozen peas to the pot, then dumped the cheese sauce on top, mixing everything well. It was at this point that I noticed I had made too much pasta — I almost certainly should have used about a third less to have a more ideal cheese sauce-to-pasta ratio. (So if you want to follow this recipe, try 300–350 g rather than the 500 g package that I used!)

Macaroni, cheese sauce, peas, and scallion greens
At this point, I had to root around in my cabinets for an appropriate casserole dish to bake this in. I had initially grabbed a soufflé dish, but that was clearly too small (I could tell even without dirtying it, which is saying something), so I went for a glazed terra cotta casserole from Italy, leaving the lid behind, which turned out to be almost exactly the right size. (If I had used a smaller amount of pasta, as suggested above, it would have all fit in the soufflé.)

With topping, before baking
I spread the topping over the combined macaroni and cheese sauce, making sure to cover the entire surface, and baked the casserole at 350°F (175°C) for half an hour.

Completed casserole
It came out looking like this, which I’ll admit is not all that different from how it looked before it went in — but it was all completely heated through.

Single serving
I figured a single serving would be about one sixth of the casserole. Not sure how well I did — but you can see quite clearly that more cheese sauce and less pasta would have been an improvement. But what sauce there is does cling nicely to the fusilli, so I got that part sort of right, anyway. And the taste was pretty good, although again because there was too much pasta it’s hard to say definitively whether there was enough of the other ingredients. Next year maybe I’ll try something more complicated from the Spieler cookbook and see how it compares.


This will need recalculating for a smaller amount of pasta (or else a larger quantity of cheese sauce, should you choose to go that route, but I think the former is easier). The calculation below doesn’t reflect the amount of salt and pepper I added, and other herbs and vegetables could certainly be used depending on your preference.

Nutrition Facts
Serving size: 1/6 casserole
Servings per recipe: 6
Amount per serving
Calories 637 Calories from fat 216
% Daily Value
Total Fat 24g 36%
 Saturated Fat 13g 65%
Trans Fat 0g
Cholesterol 69mg 23%
Sodium 535mg 22%
Potassium 109mg 3%
Total Carbohydrate 76g 25%
 Dietary fiber 4g 17%
 Sugars 7g
Proteins 29g 59%
Vitamin A 21%
Vitamin C 8%
Calcium 41%
Iron 22%
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Recipe quick take: Ovenly’s Salted dark chocolate pudding

It is absolutely true that I panned this cookbook (Agatha Kulaga and Erin Patinkin, Ovenly: Sweet and Salty Recipes from New York’s Most Creative Bakery) on Amazon, for what I thought was a particularly unforgivable editorial error. But there were still things I wanted to make in it, so it made it into my recipe pointers page anyway. This recipe — Salted dark chocolate pudding — was simple and used ingredients that I (mostly) already had on hand, and it had been so long since I had made cooked pudding, and I had milk that I wanted to use up before it spoiled, so I figured this would be an easy weeknight experiment. (Although this post is publishing on a Saturday, I actually did the cooking on Wednesday night.) As a bonus, it’s only 230 calories per serving, which is comparable to a good piece of chocolate.

Mise en place
As usual, we start with the mise en place. I made a few minor substitutions: I used vanilla paste rather than extract, low-fat milk rather than whole (which I can’t stand drinking and for that reason never buy), and I used Valrhona cocoa. Judging by the appearance, this recipe would have benefited from an even darker cocoa, like the “black” cocoa King Arthur Flour’s Baker’s Store catalogue sells. There’s rather a lot of salt — ¾ tsp — which I found excessive in the final product; other than that, it’s a fairly standard cornstarch pudding. For the chocolate, I used Valrhona Guanaja (70%); the authors recommend “60 percent … or higher”.

Cornstarch and milk slurry
The pudding is thickened with a cornstarch-and-milk slurry. (This contrasts with Joanne Chang’s pudding, for example, which is a much much richer egg custard — at three times the calorie toll per serving!)

Melting chocolate in milk
All of the ingredients except the cornstarch slurry are heated together to combine and melt the solid chocolate, then the slurry is added and the whole thing is simmered until the cornstarch granules gelatinize and a thick pudding is formed. I suspect I didn’t cook it quite as much as I should have, but I also noted that the instructions in this recipe called for far lower heat than makes any sense — or else the authors wrote it for high-output commercial-style gas ranges. After waiting twelve minutes for the pudding to even come up to a simmer, I finally gave up and turned it to medium, and then it only took five more minutes to thicken. (Total cooking time was about 40 minutes, and I felt like it should have been more like 15.)

Finished pudding
The recipe headnote states a yield of “about 2 cups, 4 servings”, so my first approach was to measure out one half-cup into a dessert cup, then replicate by mass. That left a lot of pudding in the pot, so I kept on pouring to determine the actual yield, which was 620 grams, giving 155 g per serving (about 5½ oz or ⅔ cup).

As I said, I thought that this was a bit too salty, although to be fair, when a recipe title begins with “salted” you can’t complain too much about it. If I were to make this again, however, I would probably cut the salt in half — which would probably make it just an ordinary chocolate cornstarch pudding.


This reflects the recipe as written (with whole milk), not how I prepared it.

Nutrition Facts
Serving size: about ⅔ cup (155 g)
Servings per recipe: 4
Amount per serving
Calories 230 Calories from fat 60
% Daily Value
Total Fat 7g 10%
 Saturated Fat 4g 20%
Trans Fat 0g
Cholesterol 13mg 4%
Sodium 473mg 20%
Potassium 103mg 3%
Total Carbohydrate 40g 13%
 Dietary fiber 2g 4%
 Sugars 32g
Proteins 5g 10%
Vitamin A 2%
Vitamin C 0%
Calcium 16%
Iron 5%
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Other people’s recipes: Christopher’s oven-baked potato and red pepper tortilla from Joanne Chang

Long title, short article. This recipe, from the “breakfast” chapter of Joanne Chang’s Flour, too (p. 93), was developed by Flour’s opening-day savory chef, Chris, and then reworked by Chang’s husband and fellow restaurauteur Christopher Myers. It’s a pretty straightforward Spanish tortilla. (Note for non-North American readers: we almost always call it “Spanish tortilla” because the default meaning of “tortilla” here is the Mesoamerican flatbread used in Mexican and Mexican-American cooking.) A Spanish tortilla is a kind of crustless egg pie, essentially the Spanish version of a quiche, and is a popular menu item at tapas restaurants; in place of the crust, the tortilla has a layer of potatoes on the bottom to provide structure (so I guess it, too, is a New World food).

Mise en place
The principal ingredient in a Spanish tortilla is of course egg, followed by potatoes. There’s also some dairy (here in the form of both milk and cheese), but what differentiates one tortilla recipe from another is what you use to flavor it. This tortilla has scallions, garlic, red bell pepper, smoked paprika, and parsley. The fat for cooking is of course olive oil (how could it be otherwise?), and there’s salt and pepper too. That onion turned out to be rotten; thankfully onions are cheap and I had an alternate onion at the ready.

The recipe, rather unfortunately in my view, calls for the chopped onion, cut red pepper, and minced garlic all to be cooked at the same time, over medium-high heat. As a result, my garlic was overcooked if not entirely burnt before the bell pepper was even softened. If I were writing this recipe, I’d probably say to give the peppers a head start, followed by the scallion, and then the garlic at the very last minute — and I’d probably specify lower heat and a longer cooking time, too. (The recipe is also pretty unclear about cutting the peppers: it says “1-inch pieces”, but it clearly can’t mean one inch squares, and that’s clearly not what’s in the photo. I cut the pepper into quarter-inch strips and then cut the strips so they were about an inch long.)

Minced scallion
Unlike the onion, the minced scallion — along with Parmigiano Reggiano, salt, and pepper — is mixed without cooking into the egg-and-dairy mixture that will form the base of the tortilla.

Cooked potatoes, after peeling and slicing
The potatoes are boiled with skins on, then peeled and sliced into disks. I had trouble figuring out when the potatoes were done, but I think I got it close to right.

Finished tortilla, with one small mistake visible
Now we skip way ahead. The potato disks were fried in a 12-inch stainless-steel skillet — I bet cast-iron would be even better, but I don’t have one that big — and then the other cooked vegetables are spread on top. It was at that point that I should have added the smoked paprika and the remaining salt and pepper, but I forgot — which is why you see those red streaks across the top, as I tried to compensate by mixing the seasonings together and scattering them across the top of the tortilla. After the egg base is poured in, the whole skillet gets transferred into a hot (450°F) oven to finish cooking, and when it comes out, it looks like this. (Well, except for those red streaks, which wouldn’t be visible had I not fumbled the instructions.) The tortilla has to finish cooking out of the oven, and it’s then ready to depan and serve:
Tortilla slice on a plate with some steamed spinach
Even though it’s in the “breakfast” chapter of the cookbook, I had my first serving for dinner, with a side of steamed spinach — and the following two days, when work was closed due to snow, I had another slice for lunch.


The recipe says it serves 6 to 8. As the main protein component in a meal, I think 6 is reasonable; you could easily get 12 or 16 pieces out of it to serve as an appetizer or hors d’oeuvre. Even at the largest serving, it’s still quite low-calorie by my calculations (1/6 pie is about 243 cubic centimeters, for a nutritional density of 1.3 kcal/ml). Here’s what the nutrition calculator has to say:

Nutrition Facts
Serving size: 1/6 recipe
Servings per recipe: 6
Amount per serving
Calories 314 Calories from fat 198
% Daily Value
Total Fat 22g 34%
 Saturated Fat 7g 36%
 Monounsaturated Fat 8g
 Polyunsaturated Fat 1g
Trans Fat 0g
Cholesterol 201mg 67%
Sodium 259mg 11%
Potassium 484mg 14%
Total Carbohydrate 15g 5%
 Dietary fiber 1g 6%
 Sugars 4g
Proteins 15g 30%
Vitamin A 22%
Vitamin C 86%
Calcium 27%
Iron 11%
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Other people’s recipes: Ming Tsai’s Chocolate five-spice flourless cake

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I do not know when I first saw this recipe, but I do know where: it was on Ming Tsai’s PBS series Simply Ming, and that season he was still doing the “Asian ingredient, Western ingredient” thing. The featured ingredients … Continue reading

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