How intolerably cliché it would be to begin this post by quoting Scottish poet Robert Burns! But alas, all too often those plans – well laid or not – “gang aft agley” despite our own efforts. Our “agley,” regrettably, was COVID: early last week our three-year avoidance streak came to a sudden and sniffling end, and thereafter the closest I got to the Cooking section of The New York Times was a few half-hearted Wordle guesses.
But then on Saturday, the latest King Arthur Baking catalog was unceremoniously shoved through our mail slot, and got no further than this recipe because why would I? The mash-up of tender cake with streusel-y crumbs on top, and the familiar-seeming ripple of what turns out to be chocolate, not the cinnamon sugar you were expecting, felt like a treat we were due. And since I’m thankfully feeling a bit better now, it also felt doable.
There is, and has almost always been, great pleasure for me in following a cake recipe. The expected ingredients, the method, the comfort of the procedure so familiar I can often guess: oven preheated to 350F, a spray of non-stick in the pan, a heave of the stand mixer out of the cabinet and up onto the counter… baking was my first foray into food creation and it remains, when I have the time and the inclination, my favorite.
I changed very little here. I went a touch heavier on the cocoa in my filling, and used not the custom KA product from the recipe, but my own, from a little baggie in my pantry that contained a mixture of cocoa powder and blitzed hazelnuts from a previous baking experiment (what can I say – Tamar Adler made an impact on me). I’ll also admit to adding just a pinch of espresso powder here: it brings out the chocolate flavor, and intellectually I appreciate the wink of including actual coffee. We skipped both the sprinkles and the optional glaze, deeming the quantities of sugar in filling, crumb, and cake sufficient to make the evening dose of NyQuil a true necessity.
I did find some of the method unusual: you’ll see the procedure directs you to add eggs and flavorings to the dry ingredients and then mix “until no dry spots remain.” I may have overdone this a bit, but when I determined I had no more dry spots my mixture looked like playdough. This consequentially made adding the buttermilk messy and resulted in a suspiciously lumpy batter, but the end result was just fine. For a truly centered vein of filling you might also add more than half the batter before sprinkling on the cocoa sugar – ours landed, as you can see, near the bottom, as though it weighed down the batter below while the top “half” ballooned high above it. The bake time took me a full hour – although the cake rose beautifully and willingly (at least the part above the filling layer), the middle was still quite raw at the 50 minute mark the recipe dictates.
But the important part is: it was incredibly delicious, and it was worth the relatively small effort to make and the not-quite-so-small effort to wash up after, and we glutted on the sweet and uncomplicated comfort it gave us. The crumb of the cake is tender and light, and thanks to the buttermilk, pleasantly not as sweet as I’d thought it would be. I would hesitantly say I might slightly prefer the standard cinnamon sugar ripple through the center to this chocolate version (and perhaps a sprinkle of cinnamon in the crumb topping as well), but this one is undeniably good and certainly a worthy pick-me-up, though one that may be most appropriate after lunch rather than before.
For King Arthur Baking’s Birthday Coffeecake recipe, click here.
Beautiful cake. Sorry you got sick!
Glad you’re feeling better. Your cake looks great! I’ve been planning on making this, and thought I might prefer more cinnamon and leave out the cocoa. Now I will.
Let me know how it comes out! I also thought about nixing the cocoa and folding some cooked apple chunks into the filling for an apple cinnamon ripple.