Other people’s recipes: Joanne Chang’s “New Old-Fashioned” Coffee Cake

Continuing my rundown of this past long weekend’s cooking projects, on Monday — Patriots’ Day — I made Joanne Chang’s “New Old-Fashioned” coffee cake from Flour (Chronicle Books, 2010; p. 62). Unlike the last coffee cake I made, which was packed with whole grains, this goes in totally the opposite direction — in fact, it used up most of my remaining Queen Guinevere cake flour (a now discontinued traditional bleached cake flour from King Arthur Flour). Chang credits the original recipe to Rose Levy Barenbaum, but it has her own changes: like many of Chang’s recipes the spices (other than vanilla) are quite subtle, to the extent that some may miss them entirely, and she includes toasted, chopped pecans. Here’s how I made it:

Mise en place for streusel
The recipe begins with assembling a streusel, which in addition to the usual sugar, butter, and spices (in very small quantities), also includes toasted pecans and cake flour.

Prepared streusel
The streusel ingredients are all combined together in the food processor until a uniform crumbly texture is created, and then transferred to a bowl for later use. (Why not leave them in the food processor’s work bowl? You’ll see.)

Mise en place for cake
The main batter for the cake itself is constructed from more cake flour (a full 300 grams), leaveners, more sugar, more butter, three whole eggs and a yolk, vanilla, and crème fraîche. In place of the vanilla extract Chang calls for — two whole teaspoons — I used vanilla paste. Also, since I had already dirtied the food processor to make the streusel, I gave the granulated sugar a whir in it as well, to create a finer texture. (If you’re smart and measure by weight, you could just use superfine or “baker’s” sugar — but not powdered sugar, which is diluted with cornstarch — for these sorts of recipes. But whizzing regular sugar in the food processor works, too, even if it doesn’t create particles quite as even in size.)

Result of "reverse creaming"
The batter is prepared by the “reverse creaming” method, where both flour and sugar are creamed together with the butter (before adding the wet ingredients). My butter was pretty soft and so the mixture came together into a stiff dough (which would probably have been pretty tasty, albeit incredibly unhealthy, as is).

Crème fraîche, vanilla, and egg mixture
The wet works get whisked together separately to make a smooth mixture before adding to the batter. You can see the specks of vanilla in this photo, a result of using vanilla paste instead of extract. (I wouldn’t be surprised if Chang actually uses paste instead of extract in the bakery, just for that effect!)

Cake batter after adding crème fraîche and egg
The wet ingredients are mixed in two portions, with an extended period of beating in between; the “reverse creaming” process prevents excessive gluten development by coating the flour particles with fat. After all of the wet works gets mixed in, the batter is ready.

Measuring out 1½ cups of batter to mix with the streusel
But there’s one unusual step in this process: a cup and a half of the cake batter is pulled out and folded into the streusel. (Yes, there are some air bubbles in my Adjust-A-Cup measure. No, the exact quantity doesn’t matter in this case.)

Batter and streusel mixture
After mixing the reserved cake batter with the streusel, it looks rather less streusel-like, although some chunks are still clearly visible.

Cake pan with plain batter and streusel mixture
The plain batter is put into a prepared angel-food-cake pan (what Chang calls “a 10-inch tube pan with a removable insert”) first, and then the batter-streusel mixture is spread evenly on top. The cake is baked in a 350°F (175°C) oven for a fairly long time — 70 minutes — and then allowed to cool completely before depanning.

Fully baked cake
The appearance of the fully baked cake doesn’t give any hint of what has happened during baking.

Portioned cake
I turned the cake out onto a cutting board — conveniently, the top was nearly as flat as the bottom — to portion it. (Note that it doesn’t just slide out: it’s necessary to use a spatula or a knife to release it from the removable bottom of the angel-food-cake pan; then it can be inverted and should slide down the tapered center tube.) The recipe doesn’t give any idea how many servings one should expect; when doing the initial computation, I assumed it would make 24 slices, but I had to recalculate when I actually sliced it and was only able to get 16. (Probably a bit more care, and maybe a protractor, would have gotten me the 24 slices.)

Close-up of single slice
But what happened here? The streusel–batter mixture, which indubitably started on top of the cake, has mysteriously turned into a swirl right through the middle of the cake. I’m sure there’s some interesting food physics going on here, but I’d have to consult Uncle Harold — or the Test Kitchen — to figure out exactly what. Certainly this doesn’t happen if you make a cake with dry streusel, or “crumbs” like the King Arthur coffee cake I made, on top.


Well, this is not exactly a health food, that’s for sure — lots of sugar, refined flour, and two different forms of dairy fat. And I completely fail to understand how anyone could consider it a breakfast food. But it’s a pretty nice dessert, and I bet would go well with macerated fruit, as you might eat a slice of vanilla pound cake. Here’s the final toll, based on 16 slices:

Nutrition Facts
Serving size: 1/16th cake
Servings per recipe: 16
Amount per serving
Calories 390 Calories from fat 207
% Daily Value
Total Fat 23g 35%
 Saturated Fat 12g 61%
Trans Fat 0g
Cholesterol 100mg 33%
Sodium 214mg 9%
Potassium 52mg 1%
Total Carbohydrate 42g 14%
 Dietary fiber 1g 3%
 Sugars 26g
Proteins 3g 7%
Vitamin A 18%
Vitamin C 9%
Calcium 3%
Iron 10%
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