Sunday, October 23, 2011

Mary's Coffee Cake

Coffee cake with cherries and macadamia nuts. © Ryan Schierling
Right up front – I don't know Mary or her personal story about this coffee cake. What I do know is that my man likes it a whole lot. In fact, the day I casually mentioned wanting to bake a coffee cake, Ryan suddenly lit up and said "I love coffee cake!" Such strange words to hear from someone who generally prioritizes sweets at the very bottom of his list of guilty food pleasures.

So, yay! I get to bake something sweet that I know he will eat. Funny that he's never mentioned this particular affection to me in all the time we've been together. I think it sort of sprang out of his childhood memory bank like a jack-in-the-box retrieved from burial in a forgotten toy bin. As it turns out, his mom, Sandy, makes one that he ate for 18 years before he ever drank a cup of coffee.

Hearing this and not having a recipe that I was particularly fixated on, I immediately contacted Sandy for this magical formula with its powers to elicit such emotional response. Lucky for me, it was also just the type of coffee cake I was imagining – one with a nice moist muffin crumb and a healthy layer of sweet cinnamon crumble on top.

But... my idea for this coffee cake came to me before the recipe and I am simply not one content to leave well enough alone...

You see, there was a rather large bag of frozen cherries in the freezer begging to be used. Not just any cherries, mind you. These are a mix of beautiful little Bing and wild Rainier cherries which were personally gathered from family trees in Idaho, then kept safe in an ice chest all the way to Austin by our friends Dawn and Jay when they moved here in July. The day they arrived we all sat around the table on the back patio and busied our hands with slicing and pitting buckets of these cherries as we caught up and enjoyed tales of their adventure moving across the country.

Over a pail of cherries. © Ryan Schierling
I also wanted nuts in the topping, but nothing strong or astringent like walnuts or pecans. I wanted the creamy buttery accompaniment of macadamia nuts. Yeah, macadamias can be a bit of a splurge... but I will totally fork over the dollars for those delicate nutmeat orbs when I know they'll so unpretentiously suit a feathery sweet crumble.

So, Mary's cake was adopted and adapted: cherries, macadamia nuts, a bit of butter... and as if the stars were aligned all in favor... I recently found a vintage take-a-cake aluminum pan – complete with original label and a pretty "skylight" slide-on cover. Perfect for coffee cake! 

With all the food experimentation that goes on around here, it's a lovely surprise when a recipe immediately takes on the status of "classic" in our household. Perhaps it was simply a matter of compounding sentimental value: it originated from a family friend, the cherries celebrated the arrival of dear friends, Ryan's dad, Val, is a huge fan of cherries (cherry pie, in particular), finding the cool vintage pan... But even if all these weren't reason enough, my inaugural coffee cake was exactly the one I was daydreaming about, and it makes Ryan very, very happy.

Here is the original recipe as given to me by his mother. I've made notes about my adaptations in italics, because, well, this is Mary's recipe and I may not be the only one with wild and personal notions I need to follow. I have already tried a version with fresh ripe pears on top and it was delicious. A fresh cup of coffee is optional, but highly recommended.

Mary's Coffee Cake (with cherries and macadamia nuts)

Set oven at 350 degrees.

In a mixing bowl combine:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup white sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup vegetable oil (make 1/2 of this quantity melted butter)
Pinch of salt 
(a big two finger pinch, at least)
Stir by hand (or with a pastry blender)

Take out 1 cup of the above mixture. To remainder add:
1 cup buttermilk 
1 egg
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon Saigon cinnamon

Pour batter into greased & floured 9"x13" pan.

In a small mixing bowl toss:
2-3 cup fresh or frozen sweet cherries, pitted and halved
a squeeze of fresh lemon juice

Toss and allow to thaw a bit. Drain and distribute cherries over batter.

Sprinkle 1/2 cup of mixture reserved earlier over the top.

Rough chop 1 cup of raw macadamia nuts and distribute over top, then sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup of crumble mixture over the top.

Bake 30 minutes at 350 degrees, or until toothpick in center comes out clean - mine usually takes closer to 40 minutes.

Instant classic, with coffee. © Ryan Schierling

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